Play with Purpose

“Play with Purpose” is my pickleball mantra for two reasons.  First of all, the phrase represents the primary focus of my pickleball training programs.  Too many players hit the ball as if they were swatting flies – they swing at the ball with the sole objective of making contact with it.  When swatting flies, we don’t really care about the direction the poor fly takes after you hit it.  But in pickleball, where the ball does after contact is critically important.   Each and every time you swing at a ball, you should have a target in mind in terms of where you want that ball to land after making contact.  Once you know how to target your shots and hit those targets with regularity, you’re on your way to becoming a great pickleball player.  This is a central element of how you “play with purpose” on the court – have a target for every shot you hit and be able to consistently hit those targets.

The second element of “Play with Purpose” is about the strategy behind how you choose the targets you’re trying to hit.  For example, what’s the purpose of your serve?  To win a point directly from your serve?  No, that’s not a realistic purpose.  A reasonable objective for your serve might be to force your opponent to hit a weak return that lands near the middle of your side of the court, so you can attack it and not be forced to hit a third shot drop – perhaps the most difficult shot in pickleball!

Let’s assume you’re at your no-volley line and your opponent hits a fairly hard drive directly at you from about three feet inside their baseline.  What should be the purpose of your shot?  If the drive is well above your waist and hit quite hard, you should not have to hit the ball at all – just get out of the way and let the ball land out of bounds.  But let’s assume the ball is coming in just above your waist and is going to stay in bounds.  What’s your purpose?  Your purpose for your shot should be to keep your opponents back by targeting their feet with a roll volley.  If your shot lands close to your opponent’s feet, they will likely be forced to hit half-volley – a shot that often results in a pop-up that you can put-away to win the point. 

One more example.  All four players are at their no-volley lines engaging in a dinking rally.  An effective dink is hit at you that you are not able to attack.  What should be the purpose of your shot?  Your shot should require your opponents to move, hopefully not in a coordinated way so a gap between them will be created.  Or you might choose to hit a lob over the heads of your opponents and force them to hit a difficult drop shot or lob from the back of their court.

There’s a common element in all three of these examples.  Can you notice what it is before I tell you?  None of the purposes of any of these shots was to hit the point immediately.  Only” bangers” hit just about every shot to win a point every time they strike the ball.  Winning pickleball is not that simple.  The purpose of most of your shots should be to create opportunities for kill shots to come.  So most of your shots should target your opponents’ feet, into gaps, at their paddle-holding shoulder, or over their heads. 

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