What happens if you don't make it up to the non-volley zone line and get caught in mid-court? This isn't the area you'd like to be, but it doesn't matter where you are on the court -- even if you're still at the baseline, halfway up to the non-volley zone line, or waiting there -- the moment your opponent's paddle makes contact with the ball, assume the ready position. Really do this! Don't just think, "Oh, I can just stop moving." Put your paddle up in front of you. Keep your weight on the balls of your feet and be ready to move, keeping your eye on the ball. Then, after you hit the ball, head for the non-volley zone as soon as it's safe to do so.
The ready position most people are familiar with is with your feet about shoulder width apart, knees bent slightly, your weight on the balls of your feet, and your paddle pointing toward the net so that you are ready to move to your forehand or backhand, depending on how the ball comes to you. This position comes from tennis, where the court is large and there is more time between your opponent's hit and your return. Using this ready position is fine when you're at the baseline, but it may not be the best choice when you are up at the non-volley zone.
This close to the net, there often isn't time to move from this ready position and make contact with a shot coming at you quickly, especially a volley. Try this instead: hold your paddle in the backhand position up in front of your chest. This way, you can return most shots by simply rotating the paddle. If the ball comes to your forehand side, just rotate your body toward the ball and you'll be able to reach the forehand volley.
The little things can win or lose a game. UCLA basketball coach John Wooden used to start every season by teaching his players how to tie their shoes. Actually, he had them learn to put on their socks properly first. All this because it avoided blisters and made game play much more comfortable. It's the little things that can make a large difference in your game. The grip of your paddle – is it too large or small? Is your paddle too short or too long? Too heavy? Not responsive enough? Take time to analyze the details and try new things to make your game better.
Gale Leach lives in Arizona with her husband, two dogs, and a cat. When she's not writing pickleball tips, she's working on the second in a new series of novels for young adults and updating The Art of Pickleball.
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