Pickleball 101— Practice, Practice Practice!!
I have a confession to make: my pickleball game is not improving. In fact, if I am really honest with myself, my game is regressing. I used to be a better player than I am today. Not too much has changed — I still play three or four times a week, but maybe that’s where the problem lies — I am only playing the game and never practicing or doing drills.
My muscle memory, which is defined as “the ability to reproduce a particular movement without conscious thought, acquired as a result of frequent repetition of that movement,” is re-enforcing my mistakes and this is now becoming my new way of play.
I know practicing and doing repetitive drills is not as much fun as going out and playing PB with friends; however, if I want to improve my game, I know I must practice. I need to schedule my practice/drill time with as much efficiency and energy as I schedule PB play time.
In doing research, I found that the best players schedule more practice time than actual play time. A common ration is practice 60–70% and play 30–40% of the time plus going online to watch PB videos on different drills and skills, and watching how the better players (4.0+) play the game.”
As a player seeking to improve PB results (and mental toughness) in “real” games, I ask, how does a person bridge the performance gap between practice play and game play?
Practice cannot be about randomly hitting the balls back and forth. There is no purpose or intention behind repeatedly hitting the ball to sustain a rally. During practice play you must have a focus, intention and purpose to the practice/drill session.
Decide before you start your session the shot that you would like to improve. Go online and find drills that focus on ways to improve this shot. One of the first objectives during practice is to make your weakest shot into your best shot and the only way to do this is with practice until you change your muscle memory.
Practice with an intention will improve your game. Logically we all know this, yet we still do not practice. Playing a “real” game is fun because we enjoy the competition and we have a winner at the end of the game. What if we incorporate an accountability into our practice session? This should encourage more practice time because it will simulate a “real” game.
During practice with your partner, set a goal for the session and see who can achieve it first. For example, if you are trying to hit a deep return after the serve, set up cones and position these cones and count how many times you achieve a set goal.
No matter what skill you would like to improve during your practice, it is important to set a specific goal. A successful practice session needs to have an agreed upon achievable result/goal with your partner.
We love to play a “real” game because we love the competition. Then, have a competition with your partner when you practice! Practice will be more fun when you have a focus and an achievable goal.
In short, PB practice time needs to mimic the focus, intention and purpose of a “real” game, all while adding in a layer of mental pressure — pressure that you are sure to encounter in a “real” game. The more time spent on practice, the faster you will see your “real” game improve!
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