Fitness Tips

How To Get Better at Pickleball, the Fastest Growing Sport in America

Tehrene Firman

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Photo: Stocksy/Rob and Julia Campbell

Pickleball has been around for decades, but its popularity is skyrocketing in 2020. The clever combination of tennis, badminton, and ping pong is having its moment as people of all ages are taking their paddles to the court. The best thing about this game is that you don’t need to be a professional to have a great time.

Aside from being a great way to get outside and enjoy a socially distanced activity, there are a few other reasons why Mark Renneson, professional pickleball coach and founder of Third Shot Sports and Pickleball Coaching International, thinks pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America.

“I’d boil it down to three key features. First, it doesn’t take up much space. Since it’s only the size of a badminton court, you can play it pretty much anywhere, be it at schools or even old parking lots or driveways,” he says. “Second, there’s a low barrier to entry. Whether you have a history with sports or not, pickleball lends itself to people of all backgrounds. You might not be the next superstar if pickleball is one of your first sports, but there’s a good chance you can find people to play with at your level. Third, it’s really fun. Who doesn’t like smacking a ball back and forth over a net?”

It’s also a really great way to benefit both your physical and mental health. “Sure you get some exercise, improve your flexibility, and work on hand-eye coordination. But the most significant health benefit I see is related to mental health,” says Renneson. “I see the joy that people have when playing pickleball and the community that builds around it. Whether it’s coping with loss, dealing with health issues, entering a new phase of life, or even battling addiction, I know many people whose lives have been changed by playing pickleball.”

If you’ve been wanting to learn how to get better at pickleball, Renneson has some tips and techniques that can help you up your game.

How to get better at pickleball

Renneson points to three specific exercises that he says can help to improve your pickleball performance.

1. Do some skipping

Renneson says the main challenge of pickleball isn’t hitting the ball, as that’s relatively easy. It’s receiving the ball—especially when your opponents are trying to hit it away from you. “Developing some basic agility and movement skills is really helpful,” he says. “Skipping can be great, as can moving [in] different directions as though you’re chasing a ball.”

2. Hit a ball against a wall

Another exercise Renneson says can help improve your performance only requires a wall and your pickleball equipment ($24). “A really useful skill is being able to remove speed from an oncoming shot—especially against hard-hitters,” he says. “Hitting a ball against a wall and then trying to catch it—on your paddle, not with your hand—is a great way to develop an absorbing feeling, which is useful for removing speed. It’s also really fun and challenging.”

3. Work on your judgment skills

Something that can really help you up your game is getting used to knowing when to let fast balls go out of bounds, says Renneson. “You can get a friend to stand on the other side of the net and hit a variety of fairly fast balls in your direction. Instead of hitting them back, let them go by you. But before they pass, predict where the ball will land and yell ‘out’ or ‘in,'” he says. “This is a good way to train your judgement skills so that you know which balls to hit back and when to earn a free point.”

How to improve your pickleball technique

In addition to targeted exercises, you’ll want to focus on what you can do to improve your pickleball technique—especially when you’re just starting out.

1. Work on how you receive the ball

Renneson says you can have the nicest swing in the world, but if you can’t get to the ball, you can’t use it. That’s why he says it’s so important to work on how you receive the ball. “Work on receiving the ball with a consistent impact point that’s between your body and the net, and a comfortable distance from you,” he says. “This will make it easier to control where you send it.”

2. Work on your backhand

Because most people have weaker backhand (when you hit the ball from the non-dominant side of your body), Renneson says it’s something worth working on in order to get better at pickleball. “While you may be able to avoid backhands early in your pickleball career, better players will find a way to attack it,” he says. “Try to spend some time hitting against a wall or with a friend using only your backhand. It’s amazing how much better it can get with just a little deliberate practice.”

3. Work on your height

According to Renneson, most pickleball points end because someone hits too high or too low. “The high balls get smacked for winning shots or land out of play. The low balls that are too low hit the net,” he says. “Work on controlling your paddle and swing path so you can consistently send the ball just a few inches over the net. While you probably won’t want this on the serve or the return, from the third shot on, low balls are worth their weight in gold.”

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