Pickleball Tips: Sweet Spot and Sweet Spots

Improve your pickleball game by more than 50 percent

Date Published: 
Jan. 12, 2018

If you want to improve your own pickleball game this season, cut your errors in half.

I know it sounds like an over-simplification, but it is estimated that 80 percent — and frequently more — of all pickleball points are the result of errors. Players tend to think about that one winning shot they nailed down the middle, but then have amnesia about the eight or nine errors they made.

Before you are ready to become a more aggressive player, you need to able to play with fewer errors.

Your success is going to depend on how seriously you take error-reduction. After each game, reflect back on the number of errors. Let’s say you were beaten 11-4. How did those 11 points get on the board? Perhaps eight of them can be attributed to you, and three to your partner. Were those three your partner’s fault, or your fault for hitting weak returns?

Now, of your eight errors, how many were forehand return of serves, normal forehands, forehand volleys, lobs, etc.? How many errors were the result of your team’s weak return of serves that set your opponents up? Maybe you were playing great but serving poorly, which turned the ball over to your opponents.

Then, when you go to your next pickleball clinic, you will actually have some real data that could be addressed in a clinic. If we know that a particular shot is creating your problems, we can help you during the clinics.

Practice reducing errors. We have practices where six people play, and every time someone commits an error, they step off the court and are replaced until the next person makes an error. We also have a practice routine where we play a game and keep score of our errors.

An error isn’t just about missing shots, because we also count as an error a poorly hit return that just floats up to your opponents for an easy put-away. Again, if you don’t maintain a record, the process is not as productive. With fewer sloppy errors, you should begin to immediately see your game improving.

Afterthought: Although I felt strongly that many of you needed to review the basics of pickleball, I worried that some might be bored by simply reading pickleball playability tips. I decided to spice things up a notch and add a short piece about some of the more interesting incidents in my tennis travels.

I was fortunate to have experienced much of the great “tennis boom” of the 1970s in a special unit at Wilson Sporting Goods organized to help promote the growth of tennis, and as a result of that, much of the pickleball boom has been déjà vu.

My job was to recruit the top world-class professionals to play Wilson equipment, manage that relationship with Wilson, contract the better players for equipment endorsements, gain the confidence of tennis promoters around the world so they used Wilson tennis balls in their tournaments, and make sure that Wilson knew the top retailers, teaching pros and upcoming juniors in every influential market in the country.

Of the top 300 juniors in the country, only a half-dozen did not use Wilson. At international tennis events such as the U.S. Open, typically half the men and even more of the professional women played Wilson. It was all grand, unless one of these top players got knocked out on the court in front of a television at a major event anywhere around the world, and then I would become past-tense.

My entire career was not at Wilson. I introduced the Prince Tennis Racket — the first oversized tennis racket — into Europe, Africa and the Middle East. Afterwards, I introduced the Wimbledon tennis racket around the world.

One year, I had planned to meet an old friend on the grounds of Wimbledon near the entrance at ground level. As I stood behind the security rope across from mobs of people, the crowd got very excited when I arrived. Arriving about the same time was another fellow, slightly older, and he was likely someone’s guest and wasn’t from the tennis world.

I had several rackets under my arm, and the crowd continued with their excitement. I told the other fellow behind the security rope that I was not actually playing at Wimbledon, but the crowd must think I am a player to be so excited. Some of the folks kept asking for autographs but I kept ignoring them, not wanting to disappoint.

Finally, my friend popped up in the crowd, and I ducked under the security rope and followed him through the sardine-packed crowd to a small restaurant on the opposite side of the grounds. As we sat down, he was unusually excited and said, “I didn’t know you knew Cliff Richard.”

Of course I responded, “Who is Cliff Richard?” My friend replied that I had been talking with him the entire time it took my friend to work his way through the crowd, and that he was a famous singer who had sold a quarter-billion records.

Something tells me Sir Cliff likely had a belly-laugh later, telling his version of our story to his date, British tennis star Sue Barker.

Stay tuned for Pickleball Tips: Session 2, where I will discuss balance.

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.