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Teaching pickleball to a tennis player

Yesterday, I was teamed up in a golf tournament with someone I never played with before.  She was a young woman, probably in her 30’s, who played a great golf game.  The weather was perfect and along with two others, we won the tournament.  At the luncheon after play, I heard her mention that she was a higher level tennis player (4.5-5.0), and had played growing up and in college.  Of course, I couldn’t resist asking if she’d every heard of or played pickleball!  She had, and in fact she was a member of a local tennis club here in Toledo that offers pickleball.  She had just played her first two times earlier in the week!

She shared that she and her tennis girlfriends had decided to add a little bit of pickleball at the club as a change of pace from tennis.  She said that while it was a fun and quirky game, they really loved banging the ball around, and that she loved playing the baseline.  I said, “sounds like tennis on a pickleball court,” which she laughed at and agreed!

As you can imagine, the challenge flag in my brain shot up, and I invited her to come play with a couple of my pickleball girlfriends this morning.   My challenge is to teach her how to play a diverse game of pickleball which would include strategy with soft shots to set up scoring opportunities, but also capitalizing on her tennis skills like drive shots to fulfill her need for power!  She indicated that she really didn’t know the strategy of pickleball, and didn’t understand the scoring at all, and agreed to meet us this morning.

When we teach new players, one of the hardest things to get them to do is to move up to the kitchen line at their first opportunity.  So, before we even started, I told her that I would be showing her WHY she needed to play at the kitchen line.  She loves playing the baseline in tennis so was afraid it would be a hard habit to break.  I assured her that we would remind her to come up if she didn’t, and that she would quickly find herself on the defense if she didn’t.

Her tennis skills were immediately apparent.  She was quick with her feet and hands, and able to cut balls down, redirect them to openings, and drive them past her opponents.  However, sometimes those drive shots went wide or long, were blocked, or caused her to be caught back on her heels at the baseline.  We briefly talked about the basics of a deep serve and a deep arcing return, and the reasons to use these shots for positioning.  Initially, she wanted to drive the return, but found that caused her to want to stay back.  Quickly, she understood that an arcing service return allowed her to get to the net and on the offense first.

She was very receptive to any tips we gave her.  She quickly understood the need for dinking when at the net, yet was always looking for the opportunity for a put-away.  While she had some initial success at her dink shots, she was cutting the ball and it was only clearing the net by an inch or two, and sometimes not at all.  It’s path angle often carried it a little deep, allowed the opponent to volley it, which sometimes resulted in a put away.  I suggested that while she had a good cut shot, she should also learn to hit the ball without the cut on it.  In other words, get the paddle under the ball and LIFT it so it cleared the net by 10-15 inches and dropped into the kitchen, forcing the opponent to wait for it to bounce before hitting it.  This would help ensure her shot was un-attackable and she and her partner would have more time to anticipate the next shot.  Learning to vary the angle and height of her dinks, and also the type (with a cut or not) would keep her opponents on their toes.

Other things she learned

  • Staying at the baseline is NOT beneficial.  Your opponent will constantly hit to you to keep you deep.  This will often result in difficult shots at your feet, or hitting into the net.  It also leaves your side of the court wide open for an angle shot, not to mention leaving your partner as a target if they don’t move back with you.
  • Pickleball is an exciting game when played at the kitchen line.  Strategic soft shots create scoring opportunities, but also can result in fast paced rally’s if someone hits to score, but misses.
  • The middle is the best place to hit a ball, unless you have a wide open alley to aim for.  But even then, there’s no room for error, so choose those shots carefully.
  • Pickleballs don’t spin as much as tennis balls, but you can use some spin to your advantage.
  • Scoring isn’t as hard as you think, once you get the hang of it!  And even experienced players often forget the score!

I think we have the potential for a high level player here in Toledo!  I was impressed with how easily she put instruction into practice.  We played 6-7 games, and towards the end, our scores were very close.  With practice, she is going to be a formidable player!  While I’m sure tennis will be her preferred sport, she found that pickleball is a similar yet different kind of fun!  I hope to see her soon on both the golf course and the pickleball courts!

When you find yourself chatting with a tennis player, invite them to give pickleball a try!  You will enjoy teaching them the nuances of our game, and I think they will find a secondary game to add to their recreational schedules.

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3 thoughts on “Teaching pickleball to a tennis player”

  1. I often tell my tennis players that the only think in common between Pickleball and tennis is that both sports use a net and the serve has to be performed across court. My goal is to attempt to get them out of the “tennis mentality” quickly. The cuts, staying back at the baseline to drive every shot does not work against even moderate level Pickleball players. Love your posts Betsy.


  2. Great post Betsy! Now when I play with someone who stays back at the baseline and ask me for tips or if I’m going to be introducing the game to a new player, I’ll just direct them to this post. It’ll keep them from me being long-winded. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

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