CAVEAT: I had rotator cuff surgery two months ago and am playing at about a 25% level. I cannot hit anything above my waist! If not for that fact, I would have CRUSHED it at this camp (wink wink nudge nudge).
The camp was held at the Tres Palapas Pickleball Complex in Los Barriles, Mexico, where we had tried to go to this camp two years ago, but COVID interfered. (Donna had gone to one in Palm Desert just prior to the outbreak and loved it).
All of the pros at the camp were excellent, especially Cammy MacGregor, who had won the Women’s Senior Pro Singles and doubles a number of times. She was also once ranked number 75 in professional tennis, which is quite an accomplishment. She filled in for me for a while on the last day when my arm would no longer accommodate me. Excellent instructor.
Anyway, Tyson would hold center court and explain the drills we were going to do and when you might use the shots he was describing. Here are some of them in the order they were presented (I think).
PUSH DINKS AND LIFT DINKS
Tyson discussed both types of dinks before demonstrating them.
When should you use a push dink? The answer is – when you are on offense and you want to put pressure on your opponent. Here is how to do it – pretend you are standing in water that is waist high, and you don’t want your paddle to go into the water. If you can get a dink that is waist high or so, then you can push it. Tyson emphasized that “less is more” – you are trying to get your opponent to pop the ball up, then you can finish it off. Also, the push dink is best when you hit it crosscourt. He also said that you can use a flat dink, topspin dink or slice dink when you do a push dink.
When should you use a lift dink? The answer is – when you are on defense and you want to wait for an opportunity to apply pressure. Tyson emphasized that you should have a margin of safety – that is, lift the ball high so you can drop it close to the net. That will force your opponent to do a lift dink and, hopefully, you will get a chance to go on the offensive.
This diagram hopefully shows when you would lift and when you would push.
PUSH AND LIFT DINKS
As far as drills go, he gave us several to practice. Obviously, one was just straight on dinking, with the emphasis on making sure you got your dink into your drill partner’s NVZ. The most advanced drill (according to Tyson) was the figure-8 drill, one in which you hit a straight on dink to your drill partner, and your drill partner hits cross court to you.
This is pretty self-explanatory – you hit volleys to one another for practice (not to win the point). The difficult drill is one in which you try to hit cross-court volleys to each other. That takes a lot of concentration.
However, he showed us another drill, one called dink-drive-block. Here is how it works. You dink to your partner, they drive a volley at you (again, not trying to win a point), you block it, they then have to dink and the process repeats. I have to admit that, when we practiced this, I lost track of what we were doing, so (as suggested by one of the pros watching me) we had to say out loud “dink, drive, block, dink…” Kind of embarrassing.
This session was about the “classic” third shot; i.e., the shot in which you try to drop the ball in your opponent’s NVZ. Here are some points Tyson made: stay back after you serve (don’t creep into the court), give yourself time to respond, take the ball at the apex – avoid half-volleys, and don’t try to hit a third shot on the run or you will run right through it.
This is the drill he showed us, one Donna and I do all the time. He calls it the “slinky” – a great name for it. So, you and your drill partner stand at the NVZ. You begin to dink and your drill partner starts to drop backwards. You make sure you feed the ball to your partner nicely (again, not trying to win a point) so they can continue to practice dropping the ball in your NVZ. When you drill partner reaches the baseline, they start coming forward until they reach the NVZ. Then it is your turn to drop backward.
WE HIT THE COURTS
When it was time for us to hit the courts, Tyson said “4.0 players go to courts one and two.” Because of my arm, Donna suggested that we go to court five. We started dinking and one of the pros came up to us and said, “You two come with me.” He took us to a higher court.
So, we practiced until Tyson said, “Okay. Now play skinny singles. Winner moves up a court, loser moves down a court.”
Here was the court layout.
We started on the lower half of a court – not sure which one – I think it was court 4. So, those of you who know Donna know the results of our skinny singles. I moved down to the upper half of a lower court and she moved up to the upper half of the court we were on. After I won, I moved up to face – guess who – Donna. Just great. (I have to add that at one point she lobbed me! One of the pros watching said “that was dirty.”)
So, I moved down again and won again. When I moved up, I saw that Donna had moved up, but I had to face some very good woman. I moved down again. I won, moved up again and saw that Donna was no longer on the court we started on – she had moved up to a higher court.
It was a good day. Most of the people I was on the courts with understood the purpose of drilling.
Next blog will be about Day 2.