5 Ways to Be Better at Practice

5 Ways to Be Better at Practice

Practice…we talkin’ about practice, man

As an instructor who mainly teaches clinics and private lessons, I know that my students leave our sessions and want to take their new skills into their next match our tournament. But what we work on rarely translates into real play that quick. Sometimes it does, but it isn’t often. The only way to make things second nature is through dedicated practice.

Now I’m not talking about dedicated practice as a certain day and time you set during the week and go out and hit balls. The truth is, you can do that every week for 4 years and not improve the way you want. Dedicated practice means we have specific targets and goals we want to reach with those practice sessions and we are working intently on isolated areas, skills or strategies. We have to bring purpose to our practice.

I’m going to share 5 ways that you can practice with intention.

1. Vision - this is the most underutilized aspect of practice but it’s the one that we have the most access too. We can practice vision while sitting on the couch in silence or wherever we find ourselves when we aren’t distracted by anything. Envisioning our shots, patterns, and mechanics helps us translate new things into our play. For instance, if I’m envisioning a pickleball point being played out and I hit a good third shot drop in my mind, I can go through the sequence of what I want to do with each ball that comes back to me. If it’s high enough, look to maybe be aggressive…if it’s at my feet, reset into the kitchen. There are many different ways that we can use our vision or our minds eye to help our decision making on the court. I promise, if you start thinking through the elements of your game on a regular basis, you will see your decision making improve on the court.

2. Watching film - yes…this is practice. Whether you are watching yourself or watching the pros on YouTube, watching film and analyzing why certain shots are made at certain times and even noticing small things like mechanics will help you make necessary adjustments when you get a paddle in your hand. Stop watching pickleball for pure enjoyment, watch with the intent to learn as much as you can!

3. Mechanics - the first way we can isolate our in-court drilling sessions is to focus on the mechanics of our shot. Of course, mechanics aren’t just things you can fix. Most of the time it requires a good coach to show you and help you feel the necessary changes, but once you know what needs to shift in your mechanics, take some time and develop those in a specific drilling session. If you are working on keeping your paddle tip down to create more topspin on your attacks, don’t just expect that to happen in a match. You need a drilling partner and you need repetition incorporating that new mechanic. The more you rep your new mechanics, the more you will see it translate into your match play.

4. Patterns and Processes - your mechanics are very important, but they aren’t any good if you don’t know why you are using that specific. Working on our patterns and processes helps us to make better decisions on the court instead of just aimlessly hitting the ball and hoping for something to go well. For example, if you are working on your speed ups, don’t just hit a speed up and live with that result. Practice hitting your speed ups to certain spots and train yourself to get ready for the next ball. The more you do this, you will learn where that ball is coming back which will allow you to incorporate these learned patterns into your game. The same thing goes with your 3rd shots and transition balls. Start incorporating different parts of the game together to develop a more natural flow when you play.

5. Open play - rec play, open play and even private play are no longer opportunities to win or lose. THEY ARE PRACTICE! During your play, don’t focus on the outcome, select one area that you really want to intentionally work and focus on that. If you have been working on blocking and countering, intently work on that and throw everything else out of the window. By selecting certain areas to work on during our play, it helps us think solely on that one area without getting too distracted with others. This targeted work will help improve quicker than trying to focus on everything at once. Once you feel like you have improved to the point where you want in one area, choose another and start again. If you focus on winning/losing, it’s easy to abandon all the things you’ve been working on and lean towards the things that feel more comfortable. You will never improve if you choose the things you already naturally do. Losing is often your best passage to improvement.

Of course there are many other ways that we can practice and different elements we can incorporate into our practice that makes us better, but being intentional is key. If you enter into your drilling sessions without developing a plan or being able to choose one area that you can specifically work on, you may as well just stay home. Practice doesn’t always make perfect, but intentional and focused practice will always make you better!

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