FEELING RELAXED WHEN PLAYING
I have been around sports most of my life and when playing a sport, having fun first, and then winning, always feels good. There are always people who are gifted with more physical talent, able to practice more, have more mobility, and are probably smarter.
However, it seems like the most successful players in ANY sport are more relaxed when playing. So, forget about all the above when you can learn how to play relaxed. But, how does one play “relaxed”? We know that if you can calm your brain, then your brain will calm your muscles, and your muscles can channel your emotions into positive activity. You see some pro athletes take a deep breath before their next swing, or close their eyes for mental visualization. What are they doing? They are calming their brain.
So how do we calm the brain when playing pickleball? If you have been around me, two of my favorite sayings are “pickleball is so simple, but we make it difficult” and “less is more.” Let’s start there.
Pickleball starts with someone serving the ball and it’s also where the first mental challenge shows up. The server often struggles to figure out how to serve the ball. I see the tension in their hands, arms, legs, bodies, and especially their brain. The relaxed player doesn’t overthink it; they just swing and make sure the ball goes deep into the receiver’s court. The mechanics of how you serve a ball deep are not really as important as the goal, and your technique will depend on the level of your game.
The second challenge comes up when people receive the serve. I see way too many brains work overtime. A relaxed player will just return the ball deep to the center of the court. Again, your skill level will determine exactly how you hit the ball deep.
Can you see what my two examples are trying to tell you? For you TO FEEL RELAXED, you need to feel confident about what you are going to do before you do it. It is that simple. Can you figure out the game strategy of hitting deep when serving and returning? Understanding these strategies makes shot selections easier and keeps you relaxed.
Here’s another example of being relaxed and not being relaxed. When a ball is tossed to someone, they can catch the ball with their paddle hand with no problem. Their hand is relaxed and moves forward to catch the ball, requiring no thought. To hit a pickleball, put a paddle in that same hand and “catch” the ball with forward motion – simply meet the ball out in front of the body – no extraneous movement. The secret of consistent relaxed play at the kitchen line is to use the paddle and volley the ball by keeping the paddle in the “funnel” area when hitting the ball. The “funnel” area is a V-shaped area in front of your body where your eyes can always see the paddle before you strike the ball. When you can keep your head and body “still” when making contact with the ball, that’s when you’ll understand “less is more”.
Now you know how to be relaxed for the serve, the return of serve, and at the NVZ line. Practice these tips and you will feel how simple it is to play the game well. Knowing what you are going to do before you do it will give you the confidence to make a relaxed shot. WOW!
The most recognized planned pickleball shot is the “third shot drop.” Let’s get to that third shot drop together!