I played my first tournament (PAO in Oshawa) on August 16, 2013, only a few months after I was introduced to the game of pickleball.
My partner and I won 2 and lost 1 in the round robin and moved to the quarter-finals.
We played a long, tough game which we lost 15-1. We had many good plays, but couldn’t score on our serve. We'd drive the ball hard - didn’t work. We'd try to lob - no luck. We were frustrated and puzzled. A week later I find out that there is something called "the third shot". I was relieved to figure out the reason for our 15-1 blow-out.
There are many aspects of the game of pickleball: body and court position, footwork, stroke technique, strategies, and tactics. The best way to improve any skill is by doing the proper drills. But in order to do drills you need available court space. Available court space can be difficult to come by given how busy pickleball courts always seem to be.
After my first tournament, I promised myself to learn and master "the third shot".
I didn't care what the score was or if I'd win or lose the game. I used every opportunity during my games to practice this new skill.
I was even returning the serves using "the third shot". Many times, I was hitting the net or putting the ball high. It was probably frustrating for my partners, but I kept trying and eventually got better.
A year after, in August 2014 I played in the OSG (Ontario Senior Games) in Windsor. I noticed that the opponents were not passing to me. I became a better player in one year by "practising" while playing.
Here are my answers to the question "How to move from 3.5 to 4.0"?
Next time you go to play pickleball, pick one skill or something you want to try and do it during all your games for the day. Last Sunday for example, my goal was "not to hit the net". I made many other mistakes that day but hit the net 4 times only. The list of skills is endless: short serve, deep serve, return to the middle, backspin return, offensive lob from dinking, body shot, etc.
The two most important skills that separate 3.5 from 4.0 are the quality of the third shot and the consistency of dinking. You must force yourself to use them even if you feel uncomfortable at the moment.
If you are too competitive and you want to win every game, register for a tournament.
But if you want to improve your game, stop hitting the ball to the weaker player all the time, because this most likely will end the rally. You want the ball back in your court if you want to become a better player. Always play both opponents. I sometimes try to play the better player if we are up and the weaker player if down in the score.
There are several good pickleball books and many videos on YouTube. Different skills are well described together with drills how to master them.
My goal with this article was to give you simple and practical advice. I hope you find it helpful.
PAO # 1211