Falling and the Optimum Striking Position written by Paul Olin
GAMMA Pickleball Contracted Player
Since the theme of this month’s blog is “fall,” I wanted to share some thoughts on how NOT to fall down (like a leaf). All too often, I read articles or Facebook posts about someone falling backwards and hitting their head, bringing an unfortunate and premature end to a fun-filled day of pickleball. This also serves as a follow-up article to DJ’s post on June 8th (https://gammasports.com/news/overhead-smash-shot/).
In a nutshell, it’s all about footwork. Unless there’s some other physical condition, or a mother nature-based event like an earthquake or extreme gust of wind, poor footwork most often contributes to a player either tripping over their own feet or losing balance and falling backwards with their head leading the charge towards the ground. With pickleball not being a contact sport (most of the time), it does not require the use of helmets and our own heads are not designed to impact hard court surfaces with abundant force.
So, to limit further damage to your head, I offer these three pieces of advice when hitting overheads:
- Move your feet. Move your feet to arrive at your Optimum Striking Position (OSP). The OSP is when your body is balanced (not falling over in any direction) and leaning forward into the shot. Reference DJ’s aforementioned article to get your body in the proper position. Reference the feature photo above.
In your mind, think of that easy put away shot where you impact the ball above your shoulder height. From the OSP, you are able to hit the ball effortlessly and can choose the intensity, placement and spin while striking the ball. Prior to striking the ball, if you are not in the OSP, you must move your feet quickly to get there. The most common movement that results in falls and head impacts with Mother Earth occur when trying to move backwards. Most often, when people backup, they move backwards by walking backwards. Because their eyes are usually affixed to the location of the ball, they are not looking where they are going. It reminds me of the family trip to the Grand Canyon and the picture taker (or selfie taker) keeps asking them to backup one more step until…
In pickleball, you are usually not afforded the opportunity to look backwards because you are keeping your eye on the ball. That doesn’t mean that your body cannot move backwards. Instead of walking or shuffling backward, turn your body perpendicular to the net/opponents and begin your next step with a crossover step to allow you to run backwards with your body ‘looking’ and keeping perpendicular. You can also shuffle step backwards if you are not comfortable with the crossover step. For a great video and instruction visit Jordan Briones at PrimeTime Pickleball (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtshclG-DJU&t=213s). In that video Jordan uses the shuffle step which is perfectly fine. For the lobs requiring you to move backwards more quickly, you may want to cross over with your lead leg after moving your body perpendicular to the net. For you football fans, this is very similar to a quarterback’s movement when he is dropping back to pass the football when they use the 3, 5 or 7 step drop. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gPv5c9kF6F4) The first two steps are critical and must be executed quickly to get your body back to a point where you can then transition to the OSP.
- Analyze the situation. Are you at the OSP? Where are your opponents? If you can arrive at the OSP, then put the ball away – point over. If you are truly at the OSP, it doesn’t matter where your opponents are located. If you are NOT at the OSP, then take some power off the shot and think placement over power.
If your opponents are both back, then keep them there. Hit the overhead with a little less power, but aim deep into the court. Too often people over hit an overhead when they are not at the OSP and they give up their offensive position and the point due to an unforced error (missing the overhead).
If one of your opponents is back, keep him/her there with a well placed (deep) overhead shot. If you are at the OSP, either put the ball away or hit the player at the kitchen squarely in the chest (JK – hit the ball at their feet).
If both of your opponents are up at the kitchen, that may be a time to go for a little extra power to reduce their reaction time. Aiming for the middle of the court will provide some margin of error and spilt your opponents. Of course, if you’re at the OSP, nail either of them in the chest – or both of them if you’re really good (again, JK).
- Know your abilities. Perhaps your footwork is not optimum and you cannot get to the OSP. Continue to drill and practice your overhead technique. Be sure to focus on your footwork. Do not try to be Ben Johns, when you’re not Ben Johns. Take something off your shot (use less power, aim for the center of the court, allow for some margin of error), keep your opponents on the defensive and get yourself back into position (usually at the kitchen line). Be ready for the next shot and maybe the following shot/lob isn’t quite as good and you can get to the OSP more quickly this time.
Lastly, if it’s a great lob, and you cannot get to the ball in a timely manner, just let it bounce. Hit an awesome drop shot into the kitchen and reclaim your position at the kitchen in a neutral exchange worst case. This is much better than committing an error or worse yet, falling over and hitting your head.
Don’t fall, y’all!