By Barbara Wintroub
“Float like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee” – Muhammad Ali
Great words of advice for all us pickleballers.
Do you sometimes feel that your feet are stuck in one spot on the court floor and you’re unable – or unwilling – to move? So many players find a position on the court and never move from there. I see their feet ‘locked in cement’, so to speak, so they reach for the ball instead of moving their feet to the ball.
If you watched the US Open tennis matches on TV, you may have noticed that the commentators all talked about how quickly some players got to the ball and some did not. Their comments were to take your feet to the ball.
Balance is another key issue. Not only should your feet move, Feet under bodybut your body should stay over your feet most of the time for good balance. If you reach over with your foot and stretch for a shot, you cannot get back into position in time for the next shot. (See photo at left showing INCORRECT position.
Photo at right shows CORRECT position.) Are you on your heels when you’re at net or on the balls of your feet? Here’s a law of physics that applies: “A body in motion tends to stay in motion and a body at rest tends to stay at rest.” If you are on the balls of your feet, you are in motion and can keep moving. If you are on your heels, you are at rest and will have to restart your momentum to get to the next shot.
Let’s figure out what all this means to playing pickleball. If you keep your feet moving, you may be pooped before the first game is over, if your endurance isn’t great enough. If you reach for the ball, you will probably hit up on the ball allowing the opponent to blast you with the return. If your feet are not under your body, your chance of falling will increase.
We need some work to fix these potential issues.
Let’s address foot movement and endurance first. Pretend you are jumping rope one foot to the other like Mohammad Ali did in “Rope a Dope”. Start jumping for maybe 20 seconds, then 30, then 45 etc. Your goal is to make it through the first game with energy to spare.Sidestepping
Second, do some shadow drills like side stepping on the base line and pretend hitting a forehand, then side stepping down the baseline in the opposite direction and pretend hitting a backhand. This will help you get more energy to do this when you play a real game and you will be building leg strength and balance and taking your feet to the ball on each shot.
Third, have someone hit to you at the kitchen line, but remember to be leaning forward with weight on the balls of your feet at all times. This position helps you “float and sting” when hitting your net shots.Stand on one leg
Fourth, see how long you can stand on one leg. Then try the other leg. Is one weaker? Stand on that one several more times to strengthen it. How’s your balance? Try closing your eyes while you stand on one leg, then the other. You can both strengthen each leg and improve your balance with this exercise.
Being in shape is of utmost importance when playing pickleball. Presently, I am at the San Diego Senior Games playing and especially watching the players. I watched some wonderful matches. The thing that I noticed was that some players seemed to move better. The ones who won the matches were usually active the entire match, weight moving forward all the time, following the movement of the ball with their body.
Try some of these suggestions and see if they help. If they do, let me know. I would love to hear from you.