With indoor closures and winter weather preventing you from getting on the courts, one way to make progress in your pickleball game is to put less focus on what you can't do right now and focus on what you can do to prepare for brighter days ahead. While opportunities to improve with a paddle in your hand may be limited, you can work on the physical and mental aspects of your game. Start thinking of your seasonal pickleball glass as being two-thirds full rather than half empty!
Now is the time to create your Overall Performance Plan, local pickleball player Ian Greig leads us through the two crucial areas:
1. Physical Conditioning for Pickleball
General physical conditioning programs can be found online and personal training options are still available in the Lower Mainland at this time. While access to community centre gyms and group exercise classes is limited or prohibited, you can go a long way using only your own bodyweight, minimal (if any) equipment, and a small area in your own home.
The program I started using in March is freely available and designed by one of the internet’s top strength and conditioning coaches, Jeff Cavalier. As your pickleball game improves, you should find that more of your time is spent rallying at the non-volley zone where precise lateral footwork is key to keeping control of the ball and to counterattacking. Although it is ideal to drill footwork on a court surface, there are plenty of footwork drills that can be performed in a limited space indoors or on grass fields (using the appropriate footwear).
Intense strength and conditioning programs might not be ideal for you if your body or mind is stressed in other ways. At such times, perhaps your break from competitive pickleball play is best used to recharge the batteries by running in the Pacific Northwest’s beautiful trails with your partner and dog, or engaging in some slower form of mindful movement such as yoga, Pilates or tai chi.
Do what works best for you, now.
2. Mental Conditioning for Pickleball
As professional pickleball is a relatively young sport, there hasn't been a lot of talk about improving your game though a focus on the mental aspects of play. One notable effect of the lockdown earlier the year, was that a number of professional players began to communicate more widely about the mental aspects of the game. Some of the most interesting insights came from a series of presentations given as part of a freely available two-day online workshop.
In over eight hours of streaming I found that the presentations by Helle Sparre and Lauren Stratman were particular highlights. Helle is a former tour tennis player and now top Senior pickleball player who is a fantastic communicator and teacher of advanced pickleball strategy. In recent years she has taught in the Lower Mainland and now shares her knowledge online. Lauren Stratman is an up- and-coming West Coast player and collegiate tennis convert.
I have also worked with a Victoria-based mental performance coach, Zoran Stojkovic and his business, Kizo Performance, which helps athletes and teams improve all aspects of their game. Zoran is a personable and knowledgeable coach (who works well over Zoom!) and his expertise in the mental aspects of tennis performance translates readily to pickleball play. His greatest contribution to my game, though, has been to help me enjoy playing more when I do get the chance – obviously important at any level of play.
The mental aspects of sports have long been a key component of maintaining performance at the elite levels. In recent times I’ve really enjoyed settling down with Brad Gilbert’s book ‘Winning Ugly, Mental Warfare in Tennis – Lessons from a Master.' His tales of tennis player antics (at both professional and club levels) are both hilarious and eye-opening. Perhaps my favourite read in this area, however, is George Mumford’s ‘The Mindful Athlete: Secrets to Pure Performance.' Though these stories are told from the perspective of elite basketball (Mumford was the mental performance coach for the Chicago Bulls of the Jordan era) the advice is widely applicable to other sports and life in general.
By building this Performance Plan now, you will be ready to hit the courts again and be stronger in the New Year.