Part 1 – Call the Ball
Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “Down the middle solves the riddle.” In pickleball, a soft or hard shot down the middle often leaves your opponents both thinking the other person was going to get the ball and as a result of a lack of communication, neither of them gets it. — Score one for your team!
Of course, it’s fantastic when it’s your opponents who are confused. On the other and, it’s frustrating and sometimes embarrassing when you and your partner are the ones to be confused.
Equally as frustrating is the situation in which you are all set up to make an excellent shot and your partner goes in to make a less-than-stellar smash into the net. (Not to mention–AHEM!!–the case in which you are the one to take a great shot from your partner…)
So what’s the answer to these pickleball conundrums?
One of the best solutions is partner communication.
Easier said than done, right? I know a lot of people who say, “It’s hard enough for me to concentrate on hitting a good shot, and now you want me to talk during my shot?” (Plus, my wife says that men sometimes have an especially tough time getting their brain to do two things at once…)
Here’s the good news:
- You shouldn’t have to talk WHILE you’re hitting the ball.
- You probably know how to talk while walking (if not, maybe you should go work on that first). This isn’t very different. It’s just a matter of practice.
Here’s why and what to do about it:
- Forgive me for stating the obvious, but if you’re calling the ball WHILE you are hitting it, it is already way too late. When you call the ball, it should be just a millisecond after your OPPONENT hits the ball, and BEFORE either you or your partner is going to hit it.
- Here’s what to do the next time you’re out on the court:
- Let your partner know that you are focusing on practicing calling the ball. (It’s true, and anyway, when you do that, you’ll have a good excuse for any balls you miss.) 😉
- Choose your words and tell your partner what you’re going to say. I like to use “Yours!” and “Mine!” or, “Me!” and “You!” Make sure the words you use are clearly distinguishable. Don’t use “I go!” because it’s easy for your partner to miss the “I” and just hear “Go!”
- After the serve or return of serve, call EVERY SINGLE BALL your opponents hit, no matter how obvious it may seem. Remember, the focus at this point isn’t about communicating, it’s about conditioning your brain to get used to calling the ball during a point.
- Practice doing this during the first 3 games of the day for the next 3 days you play pickleball and I promise you’ll feel more comfortable calling the ball during the point.
Of course, it’s nice if you can call the ball most of the time, although 80% of the shots will be obvious. But the great thing about practicing like this is that your brain will be in good shape to call the ball on those shots that really count — like when your opponents hit it straight down the middle.