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Watch Those Backhand Grips
One of the great assets that pickleball has is that it is relatively easy to start playing. But with that low barrier to entry comes to increased likelihood that new players ‘get away with’ poor technique early in their pickleball career. By “poor” I don’t necessarily mean that they cannot hit the ball back and forth or play. Instead, I mean that they develop technique that is limiting and cannot easily be built on down the road as they desire to do more with the ball.
One of the most common examples of poor technique occurs when people use an eastern forehand grip for all of their shots — including their backhand. By holding the paddle so that their palm is behind the handle when hitting forehands, they are in a strong position. But if they maintain this grip when hitting a backhand, the hand is now in front of the paddle and in a very weak position. This, leads to poor power control as well as a greater likelihood for injury.
New players will often pick up the paddle and just start hitting forehands. Very often, the eastern forehand grip is the most comfortable grip and they will either tolerate the weakness on the backhand or begin avoiding their backhand altogether. And while they may be able to get away with this tactic in the early stages of pickleball, this will be less true as they play better players who can forces them to hit backhands more often.
Some players may find the switch from an eastern forehand to an eastern backhand to be too extreme a shift. In this case, a continental grip on the backhand can be a good compromise. While not as strong as the eastern backhand grip, it is significantly more stable than an eastern forehand.
Developing effective grips can be one of the more challenging aspects of coaching. Since poor grips can be reasonably effective early on, some players will be resistant to trying something new. Do your best to explain that while a grip may ‘work’ today, it will be hard to build on as they improve as players.
Dealing with Challenging Students
One of the joys of being a pickleball instructor is the opportunity to meet a wide variety of people. But that can also be one of the challenges. Each month we will look at one of the different ‘characters’ you may come across in your coaching career and offer some thoughts as to how to best deal with them.
Key Identifying Traits
Regularly interrupts group conversations to ‘correct’ other participants or coaches.
Frequently says “I know” even when evidence is to the contrary.
Is likely to ‘freelance’ with the way that training activities are intended to be performed.
Enjoys asking off-topic questions to either prove their own ‘advanced’ knowledge, or to undermine instructor’s authority.
Unilaterally decides to be the instructor of other players.
What to Do
Maintain your composure. When dealing with the Know-it-All it is important not to get frazzled. Allow them (initially) to say their piece and do so without engaging in what could be construed as an argument. It is likely that other people in the group have also recognized what is going on and you will do well not to let it take you off course.
Redirect. While a certain amount of patience is called for, you should not allow one person to hijack the lesson. When you have heard enough, say things like: “That’s an interesting thought, let’s discuss it later”; “I’d like to hear more about that but right now we have to move on”; “You bring up something important that we will talk about down the road. For now, we have some work to do”. These kinds of responses acknowledge the contribution of the player — that is usually important to them — but makes it clear that it is time to move on.
Talk privately. If the behaviour continues, take the Know-it-All aside and have a one-on-one discussion. Assuming you think they aren’t being malicious, express that you appreciate their enthusiasm but remind them that your job is to keep the lesson on track. Explain that this needs to be a positive experience for everyone in the group and that means that one person cannot take up more ‘airtime’ than anyone else. There may be some embarrassment on their part (ironically, not every Know-it-All is aware that they are one) so reiterate that you are happy they are in the group but reaffirm that you need to be able to do your job. If, however, you think the person is being deliberately difficult, you will need to be more firm and explain that if this behaviour continues, this may not be the right place for them.
Follow up. After the lesson is over, send a follow-up email or give a quick phone call to the Know-it-All. Remind them how much you enjoy their enthusiasm and thank them for adjusting their behaviour after your discussion. If they didn’t change their behaviour, talk to them about what options besides your clinics would be a better fit.
Giving Feedback: Tone and Frequency (Audio)
How you give feedback can be as important as what it is you say. The best feedback is frequent, focused and given with a sense of enthusiasm and encouragement. In the audio clip below, you can here professional coach Mark Renneson giving feedback at the very early stages of an intermediate group lesson. Here are a few things to pay attention to:
the way that he uses players names
the ongoing nature of the feedback
the encouraging tone
the redirection of a student who wants to get overly technical
Note: the exercise the players are doing is a dinking rally where after they send the ball over the net, they must pass the paddle between their legs from one hand to another before the ball is sent back to them. This was meant as a fun ‘ice-breaker’ exercise that also challenged their co-ordiantion and control.
Video: Playing in Without Getting Lost
If you have an odd number of students in your group, you may elect to play in; to act as one of the participants during drills or games so that the numbers are ‘friendlier’. One of the traps that instructors can fall victim to, however, is to become so engrossed in playing that they lose sight of their main responsibility — coaching. Here is an example of how you can fulfill your coaching duties while also performing a drill.