By Michael Leonard, GAMMA Contracted Player
Does anyone remember that dreaded word in school called math? That subject your teacher said would be important but you probably ignored or even laughed at? If you are still reading this after I used that word, this article is not about math, but how you can apply math to your Pickleball without even thinking about it.
When watching top players, people usually say: “Wow, look at his (or her) hands! They are so good!” While the top players do have hand-eye coordination, reflexes, and feel around the court, there is another aspect of the game that is crucial to developing your game to the next level. Have your ever heard of anticipation?
The word “anticipation” is often used in this game of Pickleball, but what does it mean? Think of it this way: expecting, waiting, or “sitting on” the highest probability shot to be hit by the opponent given the previous shot that was hit by your team.
Let’s take a simple example that may happen.
All four players are at the net dinking, Players 1 and 2 are playing against Players 3 and 4. Player 1 hits a high ball that is too short to Player 3. Uh oh, you know what’s coming next! Likely, the reaction from Players 1 and 2 will be “Watch out!” or even “Run!”, as Player 1 and 2 start to move back to anticipate a hard shot and attempt to get the ball back in play.
In this simple example, the shot from Player 1 (the high shot) led the opposing team to “anticipate” that a hard, overhead shot was coming next. Player 1 had a strong feeling when they hit that it was not hit hard or high enough, and Player 2 had to see or hear that to be true to react appropriately. You might be thinking, “Okay, that seems obvious,” but even in this example, Player 1 and 2 expected a hard shot to come next based on the poor lob that was hit. This anticipation can be applied to more advanced examples, which can be discussed in a future article with enough interest.
Let’s talk about reacting appropriately. How do you do that, you might ask? In this example, back-pedaling, while still watching the ball, is the first step. When Player 3 is about to hit that overhead, Player 1 and 2 should then stop and get low (bending knees, paddle pointing low), since this is likely where the ball will go (at your feet) in order to have the best chance of getting the hard shot back over the net.
Although it was not explicitly mentioned, did you notice any kind of math in that example? The high percentage of a hard, overhead shot coming given there was a high shot hit previously. Did you visualize Player 1 and 2’s anticipation in that example? Recognizing the high ball and reacting appropriately by getting low and having the paddle down where the ball will likely go.
To best position yourself for the next likely shot, think of it like a teeter-totter when you were a kid:
- The higher the ball is on the opposite side, the lower you should expect the next shot to be – paddle lower, bending knees
- The lower the ball is on the opposite side, the higher you should expect the next shot to be – paddle up in ready position
- If the ball is at net level, be ready for a shot around the hip or torso area
Of course, this may not line up with every shot your opponent hits (power and height of the opponents’ shots will vary). These guidelines give a visual to better position yourself for the most likely shot that will come next.