Quite a few of our local pickleballers are Mom-moms and Pop-pops. I know this not from their chiseled six-pack bodies, nor the way they run like deer across a white winter field, but the way their eyes droop with exhaustion after a weekend visit with their kids and grandkids.
One of the good things about pickleball is that pickleballers begin to watch their weight — so one of the first delights to go are the soda pops. That extra weight slows your court movement and as a result, you are always stretching to get to the ball, never quite in position to hit a winning shot.
Don't know what a pop-up is? Glad I got your attention. It is the reason I wrote about lobs the last time. It is the ball that so many of you hit from mid-court with your paddle face up, and with absolutely no follow through. It just pops up in the air about five to six feet above the opposite No Volley Zone (NVZ) where it suddenly changes direction when it is suddenly slammed at your feet or dropped over the net. That’s a pop-up!
Stretching and warm-up exercises before and after you play will make you more flexible and capable of making a faster first step. Strength training also helps you get around the court into position more quickly as well. Ditto fewer soda-pops.
All of us who play pickleball are constantly on guard not to hit pop-ups across the net because they come back rapidly in the form of plastic sandwiches, which is not pleasant. Take it from a person who has hit his fair share of pop-ups.
Now you might get lucky. When the holes in the pickleball as it rises catch the slightest breeze, the ball might bounce around in the air and your opponents might completely miss the pop-up. But, and there is always a but in pickleball, doubles teams like Bob Zimmer and Bob Cook most likely will just do a coordinated 360-degree team backflip to reacquire the ball and slam it away.
One way to avoid hitting pop-ups is to move more quickly around the court and get in position. It’s called anticipation. From any given spot on the court, your opponent only has a few possible higher percentage shots, and how they hold their paddle and position themselves will tell you even more which of those likely shots they will hit.
Notice that I have not yet written one word how to hit the ball differently to avoid pop-ups, because your position on court is king. But once you are in proper position to hit the ball, then it must be with purpose. Once in position, you have multiple possibilities.
Maybe you will hit an offensive lob. Maybe you hit a red-hot sizzling forehand between your opponents. If so, then it must be struck crisply, with intent, and follow-thru. A third possibility, and my preference, might be a soft-handed volley where you let your paddle absorb the power on the incoming shot and just drop the ball across the net to your opponents’ feet where it can’t be slammed back at you. Ideally, those shots should be hit to your opponents’ left foot (if a right hander) in hopes that you force them to pop-up the ball with a difficult to hit back hand so that you can slam that ball into the opening between your opponents.
I know this is a lot to take in but remember this — a winning shot first begins with purpose, and it is hit with determination regardless of either power or finesse.
And although intentionally slamming a ball at your opponent is a poorly-chosen strategy among better players, that is where I feel it should remain. I have seen some players intentionally slam shots at new players to the game. I am asking all the better players along our pickleball coast to begin calling out such play immediately when it happens.
If these players continue to slam pop-ups at novice players, I suggest we take from them their soda pops, and suggest they spend more time contemplating what they did not learn the first time around from their Mom-moms and Pop-pops.
Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.