Serving Tips

RELATING PICKLEBALL SERVES TO OTHER SPORTS

INTRODUCTION

One of the great things about being a pickleball ambassador is that I have to think (perish the thought) about how to explain things to people who have never played before.

Yesterday, I had six new players out and, after reading about some coaching techniques, decided to start with the serve (after dink practice, of course). I read, and I believe, that starting with the serve reinforces proper groundstroke technique.

Normally when I serve, I don’t have to think about it other than to decide if I am going to hit top spin, underspin or a big loopy serve. When I got to our tennis courts, I put down the temporary lines and decided to see how accurate my serve was. I put a bag on the other side of the courts and tried to hit the bag with my serve. In total of about 50 serves, I actually hit the bag on the fly 4 times! I was thrilled. On the other hand, I hit the net the same number of times and had a few serves fly wide right. I can chalk some of that up to the wind, but there was more going on.

So here is what I thought about.

THE STANCE

No matter how hard I tried, I could not find anything on the internet about how to line up to serve. That’s amazing, considering how important that is. Almost every article/YouTube video is – is your serve legal? So, I thought I would take a crack at it.

I often hear people relate serving in pickle ball to bowling or, better yet, softball pitching. Let’s take bowling first. Unless you are a little kid, you are not going to set up like this.

Why not? Because the ball has one place to go – straight ahead (for a while at least).

When I used to bowl a lot, I preferred the type of lanes that had two markers on them. Here’s why. Assume I am trying to make a spare on the 10 pin. I would use both sets of markers to decide where to aim my ball. I knew the curl I had and could pretty accurately determine where the ball would stop going straight and turn toward my object.

How about golf? A proper stance in golf (unless you are intentionally trying to draw or fade a ball) is a stance that has your feet pointed toward your target. If you have a natural draw, or a natural fade, you will pick your target accordingly.

How about softball? The picture below shows how softball related to pickleball.

Take your arm way over your head, stride forward, grimace…oh, wait. Wrong softball!

I am talking about slow pitch softball, which is what pickleball discussions relate to. Below is a picture of someone pitching in slow pitch.

Note that he is striding toward his target and has his hand below his waste.

So, how about a picture that shows the proper alignment for a pickleball serve? The only one I could find was on Sarah Ansboury’s blog site, and that site had nothing to do with alignment. But I think the picture below will help show what that alignment is.

Based on the score, and because I have met Sarah, I know this is Sarah serving. Note how her body is facing her target. Note also that her follow though is in front of her body and probably winds up over her left shoulder.

Yesterday, after 10 or so really great serves, I decided to experiment. Don’t ask me why because I don’t have a good answer. I decided to try NOT following through over my left shoulder. Result – the ball went wide. The reason was that the paddle face would be slightly open, imparting spin to the ball.

So, golf, bowling and softball all have something in common. You pick a target, set up toward that target and follow through in front of your body. These are good things to think about.

KEEP YOUR EYE ON THE BALL

Here is a great picture showing a pro golfer on her follow through. Can you see that her eyes are still on the ball, even though she has already hit it?

There is plenty of time to follow your ball after you have hit it.

So, what happens when you “pop” your head up during your swing in golf? One of the main causes of topping the golf ball is lifting up just before hitting the ball. Another result of lifting up is a “snap slice” (golfers do not use the term shank). The reason your ball will fly to the right is that the action of lifting up may result in the club face being open at impact. Conversely, your club face may be closed, causing a snap hook.

I have never had a problem keeping my eye on the ball in golf. Tennis, on the other hand, was a different story. I have a very bad habit of trying to peek at where I want to hit the ball just before I hit it. Guess what? I never hit the ball where I want to hit it when I do that.

Keeping your head down in pickleball is easier than it is in tennis, I think. Why do I say that? Basically, you have four strokes in pickleball – an overhead, a volley, a dink and a ground stroke. We all know what may happen if you fail to watch the ball on an overhead – a whiff. That happens very rarely, though. You normally hit a volley either as a reaction shot or up close to the net. In any event, the shot happens pretty quickly.

During a dink or a ground stroke, the ball is normally below your waist, so you are looking down on it. The court is smaller, so you have less latitude picking a target than you do in tennis.

Nonetheless, there are times you may pop up your head. That’s what happened to me on occasion yesterday during my serve practice. The reason this happened was simple – I was trying to hit my serve very hard and, in doing so, lifted up for more leverage. I know better. I know that a hard serve does not give you much of an advantage, not, at least, at my age level. In any event, on those occasions one of two things happened – I hit the top of the net (I topped the ball as in golf) or I flew it wide I opened the paddle face).

Keeping your eye on the ball is such an easy thing to do, yet a lot of us fail to do it. The next thing I am going to work on is just that – keeping my eye on the ball until I have hit it.

I would love to hear your comments on this topic.

PS: One of the players showed up with a “Kanga” paddle. The ball really few off this paddle! I researched it and discovered that it is USAPA approved. Hre is a link to that product on Amazon: https://amzn.to/2CdQ7bZ

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