I want to express my gratitude as to those pickleball organizers who were early to suspend play. It certainly wasn’t an easy decision, in light of how much fun the game is to play, but that plastic pickleball certainly has a way of getting into everyone’s hands. Yet playing in plastic gloves would not be much fun.
But there are some things you can do to in the interim. First, warm up. Not enough of you stretch and warm up before you play. Learn to do it, and make it become part of your regular pickleball routine. This would also be a great time for you to begin flexibility exercises at home. As I watched our better players begin to play younger players in the open categories, it was easy to see that the younger players, with more natural age-related flexibility, were able to return those one or two unexpected returns that eventually determined the winner.
I would hate for you to lose some of the paddle skills you have developed over the last several years. You can keep your hands and wrists comfortable, and in synch with the paddle. Take your paddle and stand in the middle of the room and begin to bounce a hundred balls upwards on your paddle using your forehand grip, then a hundred with your backhand grip, and finally two hundred alternating between forehand and backhand.
This helps you watch the ball better, and listen carefully as you do this to try and always hit it in the center of the paddle. Yes, you can hear the difference between a solid center hit and off-center hit. This exercise will also help strengthen your wrists. Crank up some music and go for 500 times with your forehand, then backhand, and alternate. How did that go? Was that easy, or are you thinking about increasing your homeowners’ insurance?
I have been hitting dink shots against a board leaning against the wall in the garage. I drew a small circle at 36 inches (you need to clear 34 inches in pickleball) the size of the ball on the board, and I attempt to hit it each and every time.
After you get warmed up, just think about nothing but dinking the ball, and not just with your hands, but get your entire body, from your feet and ankles to knees, hips and upper torso, into the same rhythm that you are hitting the ball. Loosen up, relax, bend those knees, synch with the rhythm of the dink against the board.
Another practice routine is the serve. Yes, the serve — but please, not inside. For this you need to step outside. Yes, that bright light is the sun!
When I first started to play pickleball, I recognized the serve was very important because it is the one shot you always hit when you are in a scoring position. I tied a towel in the inside fence corner of the tennis complex at about 5 feet from the surface and then paced off 22 feet.
I began to hit basket after basket of balls at that towel. Those that hit the towel dropped to the ground and pooled together. Those that missed punished me by ricocheting off the fence and behind me, forcing me to chase them down. But after about a week, I started to hit the towel most of the time. This exercise revealed a technique flaw, because I discovered I frequently hit to the right of the towel because I was opening my paddle too much.
Back to your yard. Pace off approximately 42 feet in your yard and put a small basket on the ground. Set up a camp chair at 22 feet, and then go to your original point and serve over the chair into the basket. Get to the point you can hit your serve into the basket every time. Well, you might want to miss a few so your dog (your Pickles) can enjoy the routine as well.
Is someone quarantined with you? Most of pickleball is played in the air anyway, so I suggest pacing off 16 feet, and then hit back and forth with your partner, with the idea of keeping the ball in the air as long as possible in order to get better ball control. You might want to place the chair between the two of you to get a sense of the placement of the net.
At grass court tennis tournaments, when the groundskeeper would not allow us on wet courts except for the matches, we would practice on the back edge by just hitting volleys back and forth. We practiced watching the ball, and getting our feet and rackets into position for rapid volleying.
Finally, why not try shadowboxing or your favorite dance steps. Maybe to a little “I Feel Good” by James Brown. (What do you mean, “Who is he?”). Footwork is king, and 15 minutes of this would help keep you fit.
Of course, please, do your shadow boxing or James Brown where no one can see you, because the police might become alarmed when they see people from every other household at their windows shadowboxing. I laughingly can hear the talking heads on television with their various comments now.
On second thought, it might be fun to play with their heads by getting 10 million of us across the country simultaneously shadowboxing or dancing at our windows.
And when this is quarantine is over — and it will be over — I hope to see all of you on the pickleball courts again. I want to see you have lost nothing, and actually improved in some important areas you might have previously overlooked.