Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Session 3 - The Basic Strokes in Pickleball

Forehand, Backhand and Volley Shots

This session introduces new players to the basic strokes of pickleball. Players will advance at different rates depending on the amount of racquet sports they have played. I recommend using a cooperative strategy during this session matching stronger and weaker and having all players helping each other with strokes. I suggest that unless spouses want to help each other, that coaches may want to jokingly separate them.

Shake hands and introduce yourself to all the players and after they finish shaking hands with you have them shake hands with their paddle. At this point you may want to spend a few minutes talking about paddles, starting with wooden, graphite, and compsoit. Size of the grip of the paddle and the weight are the two most important criteria. A standard paddle is 15.5 inches long and 8 inches wide.
Ping pong and tennis players often like the lighter composite or graphite paddles.

Beginning players can start the game by buying a cheaper wooden paddle shown at the top left. These tend to be heavy and are designed to get you started. However, I play with excellent players who still use a wooden paddle.

If a player wants flex or whip to the paddle, they may wish to consider the lighter graphite paddle as it weighs just over 7 ounces. People who have tendencies to get tennis elbow should consider a light weight paddle so as not to aggrevate the problem A lighter paddle is recommended for indoor play as well.

The size of the grip depends on the size of your hand and feel. If you have smaller hands, you would want to consider a smaller grip. The grip must feel comfortable for you. If you play a lot, you should have your paddle regripped regularily.

Paddles are now being made that have a longer handle to give even more flex and female players prefer these. The Pro-Lite Enforcer paddle, second left, is an example of a longer handled paddle. Some former tennis players are developing a two handed back hand and want a longer handle.

The Elite, third paddle, is a lighter graphite paddle with a weight under 7 ounces. bottom, is a heavier composite paddle weighing approximately 8.5 ounces. It is one of the heavier paddles for people who like the weight of a heavier paddle. A composite paddle has a honey core of material sunch as aluminum and covered with graphite.

I will list some of the online companies under additional resources below.

For most of us, the problem is not the paddle but the person swinging it. When I took up golfing, I was forever buying a new driver to cut my slice, a chipper to improve my short game, a hybrid to help me out of the rough, and I finally said to myself “I am not buying any more clubs until I can use the ones I have”. I don’t golf much anymore. I feel the same is true of pickleball paddles, learn to use the one you have. However, if you press on the middle of your paddle and it feels soft or indents easily, it is probably time to replace it. Experts recommend that you wash your paddle lightly with soapy water on a frequent basis.

Practice the Serve

Have players practice their serves to start. Review the key point, contact with the ball below the waist, paddle head below the wrist, upward swing, and aim for the center of the opposite court. With two players on each side of the net, have each player serve until they get 3 serves into the directionally opposite service area of each of the two courts on the other side of the net. The team that does that with the least number of tries wins the serve. Make sure the player that is not serving is assisting and observing his or her partner.

Instructors should demonstate the ready position, backhand, and forehand as they talk about them. Keep it short and to the point. I suggest watching the folowing youtube video before reading on Basic Strokes .

A forehand shot is the most common shot made on the return of serve. In fact right handed players should place themselves on the far left side of the service court to receive the serve so it is on their forehand. Note: everything in this session should be reversed for left handers. The forehand shot is going to be used when you are at the baseline or deep in your own court.

Ready Position
Have players start by lining up in a ready position with feet shoulder width apart and facing the net. Encourage players to stay low with knees slightly bent and with paddle out in front of them at the middle of their body. The paddle should be chest high. They are now ready for a shot either to the forehand or backhand. See the positioning of the lady on the right.

Assuming the ball is coming to the forehand for a right handed player, take the paddle fully back with the arm, step back with the back or right foot until it is behind the left and turn the shoulders in the same direction. Weight shifts to the back foot. The paddle should be at waist height or slightly lower. Keeping your eye on the ball at all times and keeping the right arm straight, bring the right shoulder forward along with the right foot. Continue to swing through the ball parallel to the floor and continue through with the right arm until it ends slightly above the left shoulder. Try to make contact with the ball just in front of your body. After contact with the ball the right foot should end up in front of the left and the body weight should have shifted forward. Immediately go back to the ready position for the next shot.

At the beginning stages, the paddle face should be coming through straight up and down so the ball is hit cleanly and straight. Open and closed paddle face contact can be developed by experienced players but should not be attempted by beginners. If the ball is going way up in the air or constantly into the net, the player is not hitting the ball cleanly with a “flat” paddle face or bringing the arm through parallel to the floor.

Backhand Stroke

Most players will admit that their backhand is weaker than their forehand. Opposition players will try to take advantage of that fact and try to hit to your weak side. Try to position yourself to take as many shots as you can on your forehand. However, you still should strive to improve your backhand with hard work. If you try to “run around’ the ball to take it on your forehand, the shot may be by you before you get set. You can communicate with your partner that when you are on the right side of the court, he or she should take everything up the middle and to the right of the line by approximately an additional foot to the right of the centre line (assuming your partner is right handed.

A backhand is the same stroke as the forehand taking the paddle back on the opposite side. Player starts in the ready position, takes the paddle back so the shoulder goes back, weight shifts to the back foot and the paddle face is square and hits the ball in front of the body. Arm follows through ending above the shoulder. The beginner should not try to put spin on the ball at this stage put make clean contact with the face straight up and down.

Players are now ready to practice these two stokes. Have one player throw the ball over the net to the person’s forehand on the bounce. It is recommended that players throw the ball to begin with because they will probably not be able to place their shots at this point. The player catches the return shot and continues throwing the ball to the player’s forehand. After several minutes have players reverse roles and have the second person hit forehand strokes. Encourage players to help their partner correct mistakes.
Once they have practiced forehand strokes have players do the same routine with the backhand.
Now that they have practiced forehand and backhand strokes, have players see how many times they can rally the ball, ball hit on the bounce, over the net trying to hit to both the forehand and backhand of the other player. See which duo can keep the ball going the longest. If players are having trouble rallying over the net have them hit back and forth back on the same side of the net. Then go back to hitting over the net making sure the paddle is straight up and down when contact with the ball is made. Hitting into the net may be an indication the face of the paddle is closed at contact.

The Volley

To practice the volley shot have four players to stand at the non-volley line and volley the ball back and forth. Each player should attempt to hit the ball to the other player’s forehand in a manner that will allow them to keep the ball going. This will mean hitting the ball fairly slowly and softly. Again have players see how long they can keep a volley going by counting shots over the net. Have them practice volleys to the backhand in the same way. Then have them practice both forehand and backhand.

It is important that you stress the non-volley zone and that players cannot step on the non-volley line or in the non-volley zone. Have one partner observe the other to make sure they are not committing a violation. Stress in a real game you must call a fault if you see your partner step in.

Now that players have practiced the basic baseline strokes, served and volleyed, they are ready to start playing a game

Additional Sources

Online pickleball suppliers approved by the USAPA – Pickleballs and Accessories. All of the suppliers on the USAPA listed are reputable and will ship paddles and other equipment and request payment only after you are satisfied with the product. Payment must be made by cheque in US funds, which is a drawback for Canadian consumers.

There is one supplier of pickleball equipment that I am aware of in Ontario. They are called Marchant School Sports and their website is Marchant's School Sports. They are reputable and prices are in Canadian funds but they have a very limited supply of pickleball equipment.

For more information on drills for volleying go to AZ Pickeball Drills Ground Strokes by Bob Halpin

A video on effective volleying by Alan Christensen is found on the USAPA site at Effective Volleying

A video demonstrating the serve, ready position, forehand and backhand can be found on the USAPA website at Teaching High School Students

Youtube has a good demonstration video of the forehand and backhand for new teachers. The instructor does not show the ready position, however. Watch Basic Strokes to review the forehand and backhand stroke.

Review Quiz – (optional)
1. When you return the ball on the bounce from your paddle side, you have hit a ….
2. When your return the ball on the bounce from your non paddle side you have hit a…………
3. When you stand at the baseline with your paddle in front of you with your knees bent slightly, you are said to be in the …………….
4. Forehand and backhand shots are referred to as ………………… strokes
5. Hitting the ball in the air before it bounces is called hitting a ……………
6. Ground strokes are hit at the baseline, volleys are hit at the ……….. line.
7. Stepping on the non-volley line or in the non-volley zone is a ………..
8. Name one material that a pickleball paddle may be made of.
9. You try to take as many shots as you can on your …….. hand.
10. In hitting a volley ………… is more important than power.

1. Forehand 2. Backhand 3. Ready position 4. Ground 5.Volley or volleying
6 Non-volley 7. Fault 8. Wood, graphite, composite 9. Fore 10. Placement

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