-1- The 3.5 Cucumber Guru for Pickleball Newcomers “After all, one has to be a Cucumber before becoming a Pickle!” Phil Rowan Creative Spirit and Lead Jokester email@example.com www.pickleballcukes.com (under construction) 248-214-2016 Introductory Lesson Plan with 6 Drills for “Cukes” Information and an invitation for potential adherents to the fastest growing sport in American: PICKLEBALL! The purpose of this tutorial is to describe the basic structure and dynamics of my four week, 2 hour/session Pickleball training course designed for entry level players. The admittedly detailed instructions below are provided with the hope recipients will be able to appreciate the nature of the program, as well as eventually teach it themselves. The overall philosophy is to involve players (called “Cukes”) in the program before they have developed the damaging habits of spinning, slicing, chopping, cutting, excessive lobbing, and the disabilities called “banging” and “wandering”. This course has two specific phases. The first phase is to teach the three basic strokes found in any typical beginning pickleball point: 1) The Serve, 2) The Return of Serve, 3) The 3rd Shot Drop. The second phase takes place during the two scheduled 15 minute hydration breaks at the end of each hour. This is the time to discuss health in general, nutrition specifically, importance of hydration an hour before competing, the need for 15 minutes of non-bouncing stretches, strategy, sportsmanship, -2- scoring, court etiquette (especially protocols and assumptions when making line calls) along with the history of Pickleball (including the story of the mythical dog, “Pickle”). I prefer to teach in multiples of four students per class as the drills described below work best when all four positions on the court are filled. No need for diagrams, a video is attached demonstrating the teaching points and methods for the 6 specific drills. There is little reference to the “dink game” in my course (and no need). One exception is found in Drill #6 Mini Matches to 6 with an explanation and a brief demonstration of dinking. Cukes need to understand dinking is initiated as a result of a well executed 3rd shot drop. Dink drills, strategies, and other more intricate aspects of the game, however, are the subjects of a specialized course for advanced players (those with a certified USAPA 3.5 skill rating or higher with tournament experience or aspirations), known as the “So, You Want to Get Really Pickled?” class. There is a “Potential Cuke Evaluation” form attached. When completed by an applicant, it will be useful in deciding whether there is a good ‘fit” for this program. Remember, the course is strictly limited to newcomer/beginners. I always hope for at least one Cuke in each class to have developed 3.0/3.5 player skills by the end of the course. As a result. they would then be ready to be evaluated for certification and inclusion in USAPA’s national database of members’ skill ratings. The course fee is $20/session for four students ($15 if eight), and is paid in advance. Such a financial commitment tends to focus the Cukes’ attention, and demonstrates a desire to improve their playing skills. Any unused portion of a deposit would be refunded, or credited toward any subsequent classes. Recommended Drills for Introducing Pickleball to Cukes: Drill #1 Breaking the Ice (10 minutes): For familiarization with the ball and paddle, have the students simply bounce a ball with just their paddle. This goes along with simultaneous introductory remarks to explain what is planned for a regular first training session of which the following is a shortened version. a) Don’t suggest any competition or the importance of a continuous string of bounces. Some will find this exercise easy, others not so much. Some will keep count of the highest number of bounces anyway. Without suggesting it’s of interest, get a fix on those players with bounces in excess of 30. Those Cukes will more than likely be among the highest achieving players. b) For more of a challenge, have them do another bounce routine, but this time alternating between face heads as they hit (show them). If you wish, give them a demonstration of hitting a ball against a wall and then “catching” it in the air with just the paddle. It’s a cool looking move, though of no value directly in games, but it does suggest excellent paddle control. c) Silence is golden during drill time. Cukes need to store their questions for later. Hopefully they will be answered in the course of the exercise itself. d) Not much time for discussion using the scheme envisioned here lasting only an hour. Hopefully a longer session can be scheduled so Drill #6 Mini Matches to 6 can be fully utilized. e) I have found scoring protocols are a common early struggle and a source of frustration for Cukes. Just ignore it early on, focusing instead on the three basic strokes as described. It is explained and applied, however, during Drill #6. -3- Drill #2 Going to the Wall (10 minutes): From 8 feet (tape on floor) have the students strive to reach a goal of 10 consecutive strokes forehand, and again separately with the backhand. Record the highest score. To qualify, the hit must be above the “apparent” net line taped on the wall. If possible, have the line actually be 40” straight across, not the standard 36”/34”/36”. a) Introduce Dave Weinbach’s rule, “Respect the Net!” (my Rule #1). By that, he means two things. First, it is far better to hit a bad shot OVER the net, than a good shot INTO the net. Second, the net is actually a friend when on defense at the Non Volley Zone (“NVZ”) line. It protects the lower body. Stay at the line, retreat if necessary under pressure, but regain the NVZ line ASAP. b) If the students seem to be enjoying and benefiting from this drill, add an additional step. Hit twenty consecutive shots alternating between forehand and backhand. c) If there is any frustration at this task, reveal the secret of the “illegal” elevated net line, and tell them they’re sure to do better with a real net. Drill #3 Cross Court Serving (10 minutes): Have diagonally opposed players take turns serving to each other which allows all four players to remain active. Describe and demonstrate the type of serve they are to learn. It is a straight forward, basic style sometimes referred to as the “bowling ball swing”. Simple, but without variation (that is for later). The ultimate goal is no more than one error per day! a) Repetition is the heart and soul of teaching at this level. Stress that the serve merely starts the point, and is not suitable for scoring on a reliable basis. This is NOT tennis. b) Demonstrate an efficient, traditional profile. Use a full back and forward underhand swing. The server should be located midway between the center line and side line (NOT at either end of the serving box). I prefer they not step or move forward at all. That keeps them from developing the habit of “wandering”. c) The odd and often confusing limitations of the NVZ (the “kitchen”) needs to be explained. The difference between volleying and a bounced rally (which cancels the importance of the NVZ) is difficult for a Cuke to understand in the beginning. They need to understand it is not an area filled with wet cement, and need not be treated as such when a return bounces. d) This is the point at which Rule #2 is explained: “If you’re not right in front of a line, YOU ARE IN THE WRONG PLACE!” e) Of all the persistent problems beginners exhibit, the most common is “wandering”. Stepping over the baseline into “no man’s land” (the area between the baseline and the NVZ line) following a serve is unwise as it exposes the receiver’s feet to attack, and often results in a forced, awkward half-volley return. For some reason, beginners tend to creep forward (“wandering”) after serving. To make matters worse, they then stay there, never advancing to the NVZ line as they should have been attempting to do all along. -4- f) Therefore, the final move after each serve is for the player to step BACK out of their service stance, and remain solidly behind the baseline. This technique will also keep them from charging forward to volley the opponents’ return of serve, thereby violating the two bounce rule. As a safety matter, Cukes charging forward after a short return is far better than awkwardly backing up. [As a side note: Mention should be made about one of the “curses” of Cukes competing against similar players during rec play. It entices the server into violating Rule #2. Most beginners consistently hit “short” returns of serve. Therefore, the unwitting server gets in the poor habit of sneaking forward in anticipation of such a return, and thereby becomes a “wanderer”. Therefore, invite advanced “guest” players to participate when Drill #6 is underway. They will challenge the Cukes to play better with proper deep returns. This is an example of the well known advantages of playing “up”. It is very important over time for Cukes to be challenged by arranging such matches.] Drill #4 Cross Court Return of Serve (10 minutes): The importance of a lofted, soft return, deep to the opponents’ baseline, is the goal of this drill. A hula hoop-sized ring is placed on the receiver’s side inside the baseline “T”. It should be put next to whichever receiver will have to hit a backhand. That ring is the returners’ target. Two left handed opponents presents a unique situation with two backhands either down the middle or both on the outside. a) The server catches the return and the two-shot sequence is repeated. After 10 attempts, switch roles. After another 10 attempts, switch one side so players are now serving/returning to a different player. Repeat the two, 10-attempt routines again. b) This drill has the same rhythm as Drill #3: c) Time for Rule #3: “Hit the Return of Serve (2nd shot) Deep and Charge the NVZ Line.” (Actually one only has to walk to the kitchen line.) d) The “walk” part of the “charge” demonstrates that a high, deep, soft return of serve (for which the opponents have to stand and wait for the 2nd bounce”) gives ample time to get to the NVZ line, and be ready for the opponents’ eventual 3rd shot drop. Drill #5 Cross Court 3rd Shot Drop (20 minutes): This is the longest routine, and the most difficult shot to teach for basic pickleball play. a) Start out with just teaching the 3rd shot drop. Once some success is achieved (apogee of the shot cresting before crossing the net and then landing softly in the NVZ), add the serveand-return-of-serve sequence. This is the standard “brick-by brick” teaching method. b) Have found it helpful to first make sure the “shape” of the shot is right (high and early enough) regardless of whether it is too strong, and therefore may land beyond the opponents’ NVZ line. Recall Dave Weinbach’s rule, “Respect the Net”. In its most basic application, it means to make sure the shot FIRST clears the net so the point can continue. c) Important to remember, as the third shot of each point, this shot though often missed at times (it is a hard but delicate maneuver) will never result in the loss of a point directly. If unsuccessful, it will only result in a “change of server” or “side out”, but never a point lost (except in the rarely used “rally” scoring format). -5- d) Once a 3rd Shot Drop is starting to develop, have the Cukes “soften” and throttle back on paddle speed so the shot is now just clearing the net consistently, landing only in the kitchen. e) Without being told, better players will unconsciously add a slight undercut to the shot. That is just fine and should be encouraged. There is more control (“feel”) and an added softness with a slight undercut which can produce the necessary early “loft”. The ball is legally longer in contact with the paddle. In the next course (“So, You Want to Get Pickled?”), an alternative stroke is taught involving a topspin of the 3rd Shot Drop. Drill #6 Mini Matches to 6: By now, the hour has already expired. If possible, run these minimatches, acting as the Referee and rotate players for each game. Cukes will have been anxious to play “real” Pickleball all session. It is hard work to make drills fun and exciting, so keep everyone involved. a) This is where the intricacies of the scoring system is explained along with the agonies of the NVZ rules. As a referee, announce the score and make explanations when necessary. Have the Cukes repeat out loud the score sequence. Eventually, turn the responsibility over to the server, but still have everyone repeat it (if correct) in unison. Such a step helps everyone learn and catches any mistakes. b) Stress Rule #4: “Allow the point to continue, hit to the middle, and always remember “Center-Center-Center” is the ongoing mantra!” c) Finally Rule #5: “ONLY go for ending a point when reasonably assured of a successful shot.” d) Typical “ending” shots are generally of 4 types: 1) Traditional drop shot with opponents still at the baseline. 2) Wide angled smash of a high return. 3) Low shot down the center. 4) The lob. Stress limited use of the lob. It is frequently a desperate, defensive reaction easily handled by the opponents. e) At the end of the regular 4 week course, Cukes will have supplemented their training with regular rec play (at least 6 hour’s worth per week), reading assignments, and viewing videos of matches found on thirdshotsports.com, pickleballchannel.com and youtube.com, along with their personal video prepared throughout the course for later review as needed. f) Cukes should be ready for general rec play at the 2.0/2.5 level, if not 3.0. -6- The Nineteenth Hole: Students may become like most Pickleballers. They love to talk about Pickleball in general and their experiences specifically. Provide time during the final session to listen to their comments. There will be important feedback for improving the program. Always remember, “When one teaches, two learn” (Old Zen saying) But Do Not Forget To “PICKLE ON!” (New Pickleball Saying) Wrapping it up. If willing and time allows, please send me your thoughts about the potential for such a program at your facility. Right now it is designed to be run over a 4 week period. However, it works quite well in a concentrated format over a weekend. For either the 4 week version or the weekend option**, I prefer training 2 local players to take over the program completely. In either case, my involvement would be to use the forgoing tutorial as both an introduction for invited Cuke candidates, as well as an opportunity to personally work with future coaches of the extended version. I had anticipated taking the program “on the road” in association with other clinics which focus on more experienced players. Right now, there is no complete, intensive program I am aware of which is directed specifically to entry level players as described here. So far, I have been unable to expand my activities due to the continual influx of newcomer/beginners here in the Hartland, MI area. Our sport is growing that fast everywhere. My original class was created for working with 4 invited players who fit the proper profile. However, on the first day word had spread apparently, and 12 candidates showed up! I rejected 4 as too skilled. The other 8 remained and completed the program which took 5 weeks. My second class had five students, and I was pleased with the results. They completed the course, then turned into “snowbirds” and quickly escaped south. We will be re-forming that class when they return. -7- In the meantime, I’m forming a new class to start in the early Spring, but only for 4 Cukes. Looking forward to hearing from you. Phil Rowan The 3.5 Cucumber Guru for Pickleball Newcomers “After all, one has to be a Cucumber before becoming a Pickle!” firstname.lastname@example.org www.pickleballcukes.com (under construction) 248-214-2016 ** The weekend course is intense and challenging. Saturday and Sunday schedules: 3 hour (9-12) structured session. Lunch and study break (12-2) followed by 3 hours of supervised general rec play. Sunday has a “cool down” session to end the weekend with Certificates of Completion, Evaluation Summaries, and an Official USAPA Rating Evaluation (if available and requested). [Version 02/09/18]
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Art has been playing pickleball since Nov 2017. He enjoys playing this active, low physical impact game of skill and strategy. And finds that it can be played at all levels competitively while being a wonderful way to make new friends.