Yes, it’s true. There IS a time when it is absolutely OK to talk like a top pickleball player, even if you don’t play like one. But I don’t mean trash-talking or even friendly banter (though you can do that if you want).
What I mean is: You can communicate with your partner the way top players do — even if you don’t play like one.
For the technical details of how to get comfortable learning to “talk” to your partner, click the link to read article that outlines the basics of how to call the ball.
This article is about learning to communicate with your partner like top players do, so that you can begin to work better together as a team.
If you play with a partner regularly in tournaments, you should have plenty of time to perfect these communication strategies, but they will also be very helpful for recreational play, when you play each game with a different partner.
Before the Pickleball Game
Tell Them Your Weakness
Let your partner know what you’re working on. Specifically, let them know what areas of your game you are trying to improve, and how that impacts them.
NOTE: Don’t be concerned about giving away your secrets in case you play against that person later on. Giving them this information will help you become a better player faster, especially if they then decide to use it against you. (Remember, the goal is for you to become a better pickleball player, not to just keep beating the same people you always beat.)
Here are some examples of what you might say to a new partner:
- I have a tendency to creep in on your forehand, but don’t let me!! You go ahead and take those balls (or even better, call them “Mine!”) just to make sure I let you have it.
- I have noticed that I keep backing up from the kitchen line lately. If you notice me dropping back, will you please remind me to come up, either during or after the point?
- I am trying to develop my soft game, but I always seem to get suckered into slamming the ball. If you can, please just say “Slow…” during or after the point to remind me.
Point Out Your Opponent’s Weakness
Is one (or both) of your opponents left-handed? Do they have a tendency to hit shots down the line? Or, do they love to lob?
Share this info with your partner so she or he knows what to expect. Also share this kind of information between points, as each of you notice new patterns in your opponents’ play.
Decide Who You’re Hitting To (Essential for Tournament Play Pickleball, Optional for Recreational)
For a number of reasons I will cover in another article, in tournament play, your team should pick one person to hit 80% of your shots to, and it’s important to communicate beforehand about which player that is.
In recreational play, if you are playing against a team that is equal to or stronger than your team, then I recommend sticking to this strategy.
If, however, you are playing against a team with one stronger player and one weaker player, you should keep to this strategy, but alternate which player you hit to based on the score. (Remember, the goal is for you to become a better pickleball player, not to just keep beating the same people you always beat!!)
When you’re winning, hit to the stronger player. When the score is tied or if you’re behind, hit to the weaker player.
(Need I remind you again, the goal is for you to become a better pickleball player, not to just keep beating the same people you always beat, right?!) 😉
During the Point
Besides just calling “You” or “Me” to decide who hits the ball, you communicate with your partner by saying:
- “Lob” when you’re about to hit a lob, so they know when to stay back or rush to the net.
- “Bounce it!” when you’re not sure if a ball they are about to hit is going to be out.
- “Out!” if you know that a ball they are about to hit is going out.
One of the top players in the country and my good friend, Billy Jacobsen, can’t hear a word his partner says during the game (he’s deaf) but he always knows when his partner is ready to hit the ball because he is so attuned to his partner’s posture, position and movements.
- Pay attention to the non-verbal messages you send to your partner, by leaning in, hanging back, or feigning a shot, so that your body doesn’t contradict your words.
Once you’ve started putting these concepts to work in your pickleball game, you’ll be talking like a top player — even if you don’t play like one! (But don’t worry, if that’s your goal, I can help you get there, too.) 🙂