These tips are the result of years of study and passive research. Speaking just for myself, I’ve learned things, unlearned things, made mistakes, triumphed, and everything in between. I know these tips work.
With any sport (or truly with anything you do in life), it helps to know how to go about practicing and how to maintain the progress you’ve made. What good is progress if you don’t keep it?
I hope these tips will be valuable as you implement them in your own practice. I urge you to think about what you do now and how it’s working or not working. Then judge how you can apply these tips to better utilize your own practice sessions.
- Slow Down. Practice doesn’t have to be (and probably shouldn’t be) fast. You’re not in a tournament, and there’s no need to hurry your strokes. Practicing slowly means you have time to think about what you’re doing, analyze your body position and your state of mind as you go, and sort out problems as they come up. If you go too fast, you’ll skip over the little details that the great players of world pay attention to.
- Break Each Problem into Small Chunks. The smaller, the better. Don’t be afraid to break down your play to the barest of bones. Start with the very first thing that happens, and do each step carefully to the end, making sure every step is clean and precise. This goes for anything: if it’s a problem, think about why it’s a problem, and deal with pieces you can chew.
- Build Momentum. Practice every day. Progress is only useful when you can keep it up and build on it. If you improve a small bit of your playing but then leave it for a few days, chances are it will revert back to the bad habits or techniques you had before. You have to keep it going. Those small achievements then multiply, improving your playing by leaps and bounds.
- Do Everything Ten Times. Doing something correctly once isn’t enough. It’s a fluke. Doing it ten times consistently is not a fluke—it’s an improvement. It may seem tedious and boring, but that’s because you’re not approaching it the right way. Turn it into a challenge. Make it a game. Get to the end, mastering each repetition consistently, without reverting back to your old habits. Which brings me to number 5:
- Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes. You will make lots of them. It’s inevitable, and it’s ok. Learn from those mistakes. Analyze them. Take the emotion out of it and understand that making mistakes is part of learning. Everyone learns at a different speed, so stop wondering how your friend is progressing so quickly. If you work at it, you will improve and overcome those areas.
- Start Every Practice with Technique. So you’re ready to start practicing. You pick up your paddle and launch right into a game without warming up your body—and your mind. You miss shots and skip over technique, and your play is neither fluid nor clean. Your body needs to wake up first. Your arms’ muscle memories need to be refreshed before you can count on them to do what they’re supposed to, leaving the rest of your mind to deal with actually playing the game, not micromanaging your legs, arms, hands, feet. Do 15 minutes of basic warmup exercises: start with the soft game just behind the non-volley line. Get those dinks working perfectly. Concentrate on consistency and good form (using all the angles: backhand, forehand, etc.). Then move to the baseline and work on forehand, backhand, overhand strokes until they’re smooth and working easily. Your efforts will be rewarded later.
- Practice The Biggest Problem First. It’s like eating the thing on your plate you like the least (how many of our parents told us that?) and deal with the issue head on. Spend time on it. Move on if you have to, but come back to it. Don’t let anger and frustration cloud your mind and mar your practice. Your body will tighten up and physical tension destroys good play.
- Video Yourself. Record yourself playing when you believe you have good form. How does it look? Are you happy with it? Does it look different from what you thought you were doing? Chances are, it does. What we feel we are doing is rarely the same as what we see afterward. Video recording your practice session allows you to see little things that you might not see from your perspective in the moment. That being said: Don’t Despair. No one is watching—only you. Now that you know what the problem is, you can fix it.
- Emulate Better Players. While I was learning to play pickleball, I watched other players constantly. I was fortunate to be surrounded by some of the best pickleball players in the nation, and that burned into my subconscious a solid foundation for what my interpretation of what great play should look like. I examined their technique. What makes his play seem so effortless? I love the way she directs her shots so consistently. How can I make mine do that? How are she and her partner playing so efficiently together? Ask yourself these kinds of questions and attempt to answer them.And last but definitely not least:
- Enjoy Your Practice: That may sound silly, but the more you enjoy it, the more you’ll want to do it. It’s a process—a kind of game. Practicing the right way is going to take your game to the next level, and allow you to reap the rewards associated with being a better player.