Friday, March 23, 2018

Speed Zone




As tennis players gain confidence in their abilities and advance their level of play, they start to hit the ball faster (utilizing more MPH’s) and heavier (utilizing more RPM’s). The two kind of go hand in glove with one another, because the harder you hit the ball, the more spin you need to apply to the ball to keep it inside the lines.

String technology has changed the sport of tennis for all levels of players. The hybrid/poly fiber strings, which today’s professionals use, allow them to apply greater amounts of spin on the ball than they could some twenty years ago, when most pros played natural gut string to get more grip on the ball.

This spin factor is not as prevalent in pickleball for a few obvious reasons. Number one, there are no strings on the paddle and the surface of a pickleball paddle face has design and construction limitations on how much grip on the ball it can provide. Number two, we are hitting a plastic ball, which unlike a rubber ball, basically retards wanting to spin, rebound and bounce, as a tennis ball would. Pickleballs, like pickle paddles, also have limitations on design and construction; both of which are governed by the USAPA.



As I watch pickleball players gain confidence in their abilities and advance their level of play, I see many of them make the mistake of thinking a higher level of competition translates to a faster, harder style of play. This approach is not only like that of a tennis player, but also for participants in nearly every other sport I can think of. However, this approach does not necessarily bring success in the sport of pickleball.

Much like an expert level pool player, who will finesse the cue ball to do and go wherever he or she wants it to go, a high level pickleball player realizes that controlling the placement of the ball on the court is a much more effective strategy than trying to overpower an opponent with speed and power.

One of the first things I learned, when training with championship level pickleball players, was the importance of slowing the game down. I must admit that being a tennis player for my entire life, this concept was a bit hard for me to comprehend and accept.

But it did not take me long to discover that I was never going to get anywhere trying to overpower or out hit advanced level players with outright speed. Whenever I attempted to hit the ball hard and fast at them, they would utilize that speed and power back against me with a put away shot. Players at this level also had the ability and sensibility to take speed off the ball, which made it even more difficult for me to run down or get to the next shot.

Now don’t get me wrong, there are times in pickleball, where a good hard put away smash shot is the shot of choice… (“Yeah baby, that felt good!”) However, that good hard put away shot usually does not present itself without it being preceded by several well-placed finesse/touch dink shots to set it up for me.

Being an F1 racing fan, I like to compare playing a point in pickleball to racing through the streets of Monte Carlo. It’s not just the speed on the straightaways, but the drivers’ ability to finesse and negotiate the correct gears, at the correct speeds, for the correct corners, that actually wins the race for them.

So learn to have the soft touch of a good pool shark and the knowledge and understanding of a Formula 1 driver, who always knows what gear to be in wherever he is on the racetrack. You will win more points and games, and better players will begin to ask you to play with their group!

Wayne Clark is a certified professional tennis instructor with over 25 years experience coaching players on all levels of the game. Wayne is also qualified in pickleball instruction. He has been the head instructor at The Marco Island Racquet Center since 2001. The Racquet Center offers clinics, private and group lessons for both tennis and pickleball. Coach Wayne’s Island Kids Tennis/Sports Juniors programs run year round, and offer classes for players ranging from kindergarten through high school. Contact Coach Wayne by email at or by phone or text at 239-450-6161.

One response to “Speed Zone”

  1. Matt says:

    You make great observations- although the paddle industry is coming with textured paddle faces specifically designed to enhance spin, ultimately a plastic pickleball will not get the same level of spin as a rubber tennis ball coming off the racket strings. As you mention, it’s probably better for cross-over tennis players to learn a patient dinking strategy rather than trying to outgun their opponents- or at least use a combination of finesse and power. I like the race driver analogy!

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