As thousands of students head back to school, I think of the years and varieties of learning environments in which I have had the thrill of fulfilling the role of “teacher.” Throughout my career as a USTA National Trainer, public school teacher, PTR certified teaching professional and educational consultant I was fascinated by how people learn, the ideal methods of engaging the student and how to make learning fun and meaningful.
As many enthusiasts experience the sport of pickleball, I am asked the question, “How can I get better?” This applies for back to school as well, and trust me, there is a pathway to success! Several recommendations include:
- Developing consistency in groundstrokes, volleys, dinks and dropshots is essential to improvement. Consistency builds confidence which is important to being a successful competitor.
- Through research in the field of the psychology of motor learning, we know that it is not practice that makes perfect but perfect practice that makes perfect. Avid learners have dedicated practice times and partner(s) – the most skillful players at a minimum honor the play/practice ratio of 1 hour of play to 1 hour of practice.
- With the understanding that pickleball is an open-skilled sport, players realize they must do more than 50 cross-court dinks in a row to improve. Open-skilled sports demand physical motor skill proficiency but also problem-solving (What is the court position of my opponent? What is the angle of their paddle face? What is their swing pattern?) and decision-making (What should I do with the ball? Should I hit a dropshot or drive my opponents deep?). Ideal practice sessions involve competitive games and drills to practice all three of these skills.
- To effectively learn and grow, players must experience actual game-like situations. If the player has difficulty closing out the match for a win, during the practice session teams can start the game with a score of 8-8. If the pair gets to 10 points but then loses, their score reverts back to 8. The game continues until one team wins 11 points!
To improve, the player must have a plan. We cannot develop our skills simply by sitting down and wishing to become an advanced player. Several keys to success as you head back to school this season include developing stroke consistency, purposefully practicing with the ideal in mind, committing to a specific time and drilling partner(s) and integrating physical motor skills with problem-solving and decision-making through situational games.