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In Volume 3 of For The Coaches we addressed the psychological side of playing pickleball well. Specifically, we looked at the role that fear can have in undermining a person’s ability to perform at their desired level. In this edition of FTC we take aim at the physicality of playing pickleball and think about how it may be integrated into a PB training regime.

The physical component of pickleball is one that is largely unaddressed by players and coaches alike. Rarely do I see people engaged in serious physical training as part of their attempts to improve their game. And this is for a variety of reasons:

  • players and coaches fail to appreciate how physical training can improve their performance.

  • there is a lack of awareness about what kinds of activities would benefit the players.

  • it is assumed that the players (who are mostly adults) won’t be able to improve their fitness in a meaningful way.

  • hitting the ball is seen as being more fun than physical training and fun is a priority.

In this edition of For The Coaches we are going to look at four of the key physical skill blocks that you may want to work into your training programs and why they matter.

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The Big 4

The four areas of physical fitness that are most important to pickleball are: Agility, Co-ordination, Balance and Endurance. You will notice that Speed and Strength are not on this list (more on that later). Let’s unpack these a little and look at how they could be incorporated into your coaching practices.

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Agility

noun: ability to move quickly and easily

The main skill in pickleball is movement. A person can have the most beautiful swing in the world but if they cannot get to the ball — or they get there poorly — then they cannot use it. And since this movement is multi-directional, it is not merely speed that we are interested in, but agility.

One of the best ways to get players to focus on agility (and please adjust the degree of difficulty according to your players’ abilities so that everyone is as safe as possible), is to play throw pickleball. You can see a mini-lesson on it (as well as how to make it fun and interesting for your players) in the video below:

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Co-ordination

noun: ability to use different parts of the body together smoothly and efficiently.

One of the reasons that strong players are so pleasing to watch is that they move in such a fluid way. That comes from co-ordinating the various parts of their body in a way that is efficient — each part does the right thing, at the right time and no more than necessary. Good co-ordination is the foundation of repeatable technique which allows players to make the same shots consistently and when under pressure.

One of the great things about pickleball is that it is relatively easy to begin to play. This means that people who have limited athletic experience can still get involved in the sport, and that is a good thing. But it also means that there will be people in your lessons who don’t have much awareness of what their body is doing. And lack of awareness is a common reason for poor co-ordination. As a teacher, if you can help them become more cognizant of what they are doing with their body, they will reap considerable rewards.

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Balance

noun. an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.

Pickleball is full of improvisational moments where players need to reach for a ball or lean over the NVZ without falling into it. And the better their balance, the more likely your players will be able to execute these shots and then be ready for the next one. While it is nice to be perfectly still when hitting the ball (static balance), it is much more common that your players will need to be under control when on the move (dynamic balance).

Training activities that emphasize being under control — even when not perfectly set up — will really help your players. A wide variety of on-line balance training ideas are available. Have fun thinking about how you can incorporate them into your training.

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Endurance

noun: the capacity of something to last or to withstand wear and tear.

Pickleball is not often thought of as an endurance sport. After all, there are breaks between each point and matches don’t last that long. But do you know anyone who goes out and plays just a single game of pickleball and then goes home? Most people play for multiple hours and if you want your players to be able to compete as well at the end of a day as at the beginning, some endurance training is in order.

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(One Reason) Why Coaches Fail to Incorporate Physical Training Into Lessons

Sometimes instructors omit specific physical training in their lessons is the fear that the players won’t respond to it well. After all, the players there for pickleball lessons, not jumprope, jogging or juggling. And if a portion of the valuable lesson time is spent on physical activities that don’t seem to connect to playing better pickleball, then there is a very real chance that the players will view that time as being wasted and they’ll be happy to take their business elsewhere. So, what to do? 

One option is to do what most instructors do: just skip it. Focus on technique and tactics, keep the participants paying games or doing drills that are aimed exclusively at how they hit the ball. This is a relatively safe move to make since the lesson will more or less feel like other lessons the players have done. Sure, it means that one aspect of their game won’t get any attention, but you’re not likely to have any complaints that you did anything weird

But this solution, obviously, isn’t ideal. The players aren’t getting the well-rounded training that would most benefit them. If you want to incorporate physical training and simultaneously avoid the bewildered look that says “why are we doing this?”, you need to do a good job of drawing the connection between physical skill development and improved performance. That is, the players need to see how improving their general physical abilities will help their specific pickleball skills. In the video above (the 6 minute clip showing ‘throw pickleball’) you’ll hear how I explain to the players at the outset why this activity matters. They understand that if they can’t move effectively then they will not win many challenging dinking exchanges. This primes them to not only accept the physical training, but to be eager to get it started so they can improve their play.

Finally, if you want to incorporate physical training effectively, find ways to make it fun. Create little competitions or contests. Adjust the challenge so that they have to try hard in order to have success. Working hard physically can be fun — your job is to make that happen.  

Physical Training Examples

We asked Tyson McGuffin what he liked to do as part of his fitness training and he directed us to these clips. Check out what one of the world’s best PB players does to keep physically fit (and read about the modifications you can make for your players). Thanks to Tyson and to Foundation Fitness in Hayden, Idaho for this inside look.

A good modification for this is to use tape or chalk on the court. Even skipping ropes.

A good modification for this is to use tape or chalk on the court. Even skipping ropes.

This activity can also be done against a wall. Even in a swimming pool!

This activity can also be done against a wall. Even in a swimming pool!

This can be modified so that players touch pylons on the ground or just move to a specified location.

This can be modified so that players touch pylons on the ground or just move to a specified location.

There are a range of co-ordination activities you could do. Check out YouTube for some more ideas!

There are a range of co-ordination activities you could do. Check out YouTube for some more ideas!