I am frequently asked the correct way to hit this shot, or that shot. The good news is that to ask those questions already means you are improving.
My pickleball point this week is there is never a 100-percent correct way, but there normally is a suggested way, a standard, to do this or that, and that method typically serves the masses well. A great deal of community tinkering, thought, debate, publication and updates over the last century have been typically given to the best standard method to use a racket or paddle. The standard stroke (volley) does no more than put you in position to hit the ball hard, or soft, to any place on the opponent’s side of the court, without broadcasting your intentions, and with the capability to exactly repeat the same results time and time again.
If, however, you are comfortable with your own shot, and it is more reliable than the standard method, then do not change it. Tennis funny-man Charlie Owens was a little over-the-top with his shots when he would jump on the canvas awning stretched over the audience watching the finals, then run down to the opposite end of the court to retrieve his own lob. But I have seen both tennis and pickleball players sometimes adopt strokes almost as outrageous because they have incorporated so much body english in their preparation and execution.
Before Jimmy Connors, the book (the equivalent of the modern day YouTube) on how to hit the tennis backhand was with one hand. The rationale was that the two-handed backhand reduced a player’s reach by several inches, and world-class tennis is a game of inches. When Wilson started to think about building a long term endorsement agreement with Jimmy, there were plenty of tennis experts whispering to our stockholders that he would not be good for Wilson for the long run because of his two handed backhand. Pepsi owned Wilson and various teaching professionals teaching Pepsi executives were suddenly experts. An internal private joke among those of us who made these type decisions was, “Yes, and the kid doesn’t have a (classic) forehand either.” Today, the two-handed backhand is all that is being taught despite the fact that Roger Federer, with his one handed backhand, might have one of the top backhands in the game today. So both type backhands were correct for each of those players and thousands of others.
Your question — should I convert to the standard suggested stroke — can become a serious confidence issue for someone who has started pickleball and is in the comfort zone with the strokes or volleys they started with. Jimmy’s strokes were a function of starting the game at such an early age and this explained both his backhand and forehand. A player’s physical size or weakness, or prior sports experience like soccer or lacrosse might override the adoption of the standard stroke or volley. What is important is that the exception to the rule shot needs to produce the same, or better, results. Will your shot put you in position with the ability to hit anywhere on the court, at any speed, without broadcasting intentions, ninety percent of the time. If it doesn’t do that, but actually limits your future development, then the standard should be adopted. And this is most often the case! But if you do make the conversion, then you need to be prepared to practice it for hours, days and weeks.
Using a Harry Truman quote, “The buck stops at this desk.” You need to listen to advice, and then try and process and understand the thought behind it. But despite what you are told in a lesson, or by the best-meaning friend, YOU the player must make the ultimate decision at your desk as to what is best for you. You are the person who must hit the ball and play the matches, not them. And don’t feel that you need to explain your decision to anyone. In college while nursing serious injuries from being pulled along a highway by an automobile, I had to temporarily alter my forehand. I was not about to explain why to my coach who issued my scholarship, or teammates with whom I competed for team position.
As William Shakespeare wrote about pickleball, “Correct, or Not Correct, that is the question.”
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