Reducing Unforced Errors

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by Bruce Hill

One area of pickleball where I excel is repeatedly making unforced errors. I naturally turned to Oakmont’s pickleball coach, Adam MacKinnon, for advice and suggestions to improve my game. Adam believes that pickleball is a game of consistency, and that by following some basic guidelines, you can decrease the number of shots that go out of bounds or into the net.

Common habits that result in unforced errors include:
1. Changing the direction of the ball. You may not have time to properly align your body if you decide to change the direction of the ball. Being out of position or relying on small movements of your wrist or forearm can make your shots less consistent. Adam recommends saving a change of direction for a slow ball that will allow time to optimize your body mechanics before hitting your return shot.
2. Attacking a ball that is not attackable. Knowing when a ball is attackable is a good way to improve the consistency of your offensive game. A rule of thumb is that a ball below your knees should be a soft return. A ball above your waist is a chance for an aggressive return. Anything in between is a judgment call.
3. Trying to hit the ball too low over the net. There is high risk in just barely getting your shots over the net. Allowing a good margin for the ball to clear the net ensures that you will keep the ball in play.
4. Attempting the heroic shot. Many of us dream of making a great passing shot at a full stretch or in a do-or-die situation. This is especially true if you watch professional tennis or play yourself. In pickleball, a better strategy is to do the opposite: when pulled out of position, play a slow shot. The smaller size of the pickleball court makes a hard return risky, and the ball will likely come back with the same amount of pace. A slow return will give you a chance to regroup. “Every shot is about staying out of trouble and getting back into a good position,“says Adam.
5. Letting your mind wander during a point. Being unprepared for a shot that comes to you is a sure way to make an unforced error. It’s easy to “switch off” while your partner is involved in a rally. According to Adam, it helps to have an inner voice that always says “Hit it to me” to keep yourself ready for whatever comes.
6. Lastly, avoid replaying the previous missed shot in your mind or assuming the point is over after the fantastic shot you just made. Your shot is not complete until you have recovered your position and are prepared for the return. This includes always returning your paddle to the ready position; chest height for balls likely to come high and paddle low for shots at your feet. Having a good defensive stance will prepare you for your next offensive opportunity.

For information about working with Adam, you can visit oakmontpickleballclub.com or email him at adammackinnon@gmail.com.

New Player Orientation: Arrangements can be made by contacting Nancy Lande at 978-2998 to schedule a session. Demo loaner paddles are available by contacting Doc Savarese at 349-9065.

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