After the earlier instructional sessions this spring and summer, I finally coaxed you to the net, where the game of pickleball is won or lost. You remember the last time you were at net, and you popped the ball up at about shoulder height to your opponents.
In that brief moment, as your life flashed in front of your eyes, you anticipated that the person on the opposite side might slam the ball directly at your stomach, or down the backhand line, or between you and your partner. You definitely remember you were on the defensive.
But while many people are afraid of the volley, others just love it, because it gives them the opportunity to volley in return.
In the case of the volley, you need to remain in a balanced position on the balls of your feet ready to volley, or dink, or hit an overhead, and very careful not to step on the NVZ line. When you begin to track the incoming ball, you need to pick up and move those things called your feet, and bend your knees for good balance, to get into position to intercept the ball.
There is an assortment of volleys that you can make, depending on the flight of the ball hit to you. If it was floating up above you, you might slam it down to the center of the court, between your opponents but closer to the opponent’s backhand side than their partner’s forehand.
You might hit a very soft angle volley that just clears the net and drops into their NVZ, or you might even hit a lob volley. Depending on the situation, you might hit a slightly harder volley deep to the backhand side of one of your opponents.
Pay attention, because here is where most of you get in trouble: You need a backhand volley. As you come to the net, your opponent hits it toward your backhand. The correct way to do this is to immediately turn your shoulders so you can prepare to volley with a backhand.
Many of you first take your paddle back, almost as if you are going to hit a forehand volley, and then, realizing you can’t hit it from the forehand side, you tend to corkscrew your body around and try to hit the volley coming to your backhand with a forehand volley. As a result, you volley into the bottom of the net.
I prefer what is known as the continental grip, so I don’t have to change grips in the fast exchanges that invariably happen in pickleball. I also build up my grips slightly, to reduce paddle torque in my hand.
But be sure that you play the volley, and don’t let it play you. It is all about working with your partner to protect your side of the court, anticipating where your opponent will hit it, moving into a well-balanced position to intercept it, take the ball slightly in front of your body, and use your shoulder to take the shock or punch to provide the power.
If you are privately afraid of playing at the net, I suggest that you and a friend spend five minutes tossing a foam ball or pickleball to one another from just behind the NVZ. Then spend 10 minutes volleying easily back and forth. With practice, I guarantee you will begin to react sooner and volley better.
We drill by forming two lines at the NVZ in our practices, and try to move the ball up and down to everyone in the two lines to control the ball. After 15 minutes, we speed up the volley. Like all the other shots, the volley takes hours of practice, but when you finally hit it with confidence, your game dramatically improves.
Once you begin to perfect the volley, and the shots that get you to the kitchen, there is nothing quite exciting in pickleball as a fast exchange of a half-dozen rapid shots with your opponents.
So you want to be in the sports business...
This is the final installment of “So you want to be in the Sports Business?”
My attorney had called and suggested I pull over to the side of the road.
As snow fell and the afternoon light faded, my attorney tearfully explained that one of his partners, who specialized in the anything-goes Russian mafia business environment of the 1990s, had been executed in a style intentionally meant to send a message. He was found floating in the river, nude, with an executed prostitute tied back-to-back with him.
The conversation was fairly short, as all he wanted to do was warn me to watch my back. He had just finished a long trial day, and the primary witness testified under oath that there was a contract hit on me — and I’m not talking about the hits when we are playing social pickleball.
Noodling our conversation, I continued into town on remote control, and then pulled off Ludwig Strasse into my parking garage. My first indication that something was wrong was that the automatic barrier to the parking garage did not work. I got out of the car and figured a way to push it into the up position. I pulled into the multistoried indoor car park and began to slowly circle up the incline to my regular parking place on the third level.
My second indication there was a problem came almost immediately when none of the automatic lights in the otherwise pitch-black parking facility functioned. I inched my vehicle upwards behind the power of my headlamps.
I slipped into my normal parking place, which was to the left of an access door that opened into a community shopping area. My third indication there was a problem was when that access door was jammed shut and the emergency exit lights were not operating. I could hardly see the width of a car, and I suddenly was scared.
Have you ever been scared? You can taste it, and I still remember the bitter taste. No guy wants to admit he is scared, but I put my back against the wall, ready for no-idea-what, and tried to calm myself to think rationally.
It seemed to me that if there was a threat, it would be waiting a level below me, away from the community door in the car park, so I inched my way upwards in the parking facility until I found a window-size opening that must have served as an access for utilities or maintenance.
Below me several floors was the parking lot of a Chinese restaurant, and large piles of snow had been bulldozed against the outside wall of the parking facility. I jumped out the window like the coward I was, down into the piles of snow, and when I hit the ground, I started running like the cartoon character the Road Runner. Beep-beep!
I had to run several hundred yards around the back of unlit buildings. I finally turned on Banhofstrasse, found my way to a major street, and then turned down the street to the hotel entrance, still in full throttle, hitting the inward opening door of the small hotel like a barrel bomb. Beep-beep!
My entrance scared the attendant behind the reception desk, who jumped into the air and asked in German what I was doing. Bleep bleep! I subsequently learned that even the maids had been bribed to photograph papers left in my room or briefcase.
I changed my room that very night so that my window had no direct street access, and started to book multiple hotel rooms every day so no one knew exactly where I was staying.
There were several other similar incidents during the year I spent in Germany trying to salvage my client’s business, but after the first incident in the garage, I seemed somewhat hardened to them. After I successfully completed this project in Germany, I retired!
Pickleball is much more enjoyable, less frightening and better for your health. Beep-beep!
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.
By Vaughn Baker
Special to the Coastal Point