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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Establishing your Target

At the risk of disappointing those of you who came to this site to look for your picture, you'll remember I DID warn you that, from time to time, I was gonna have some game-improvement thoughts here. With this in mind, the second series of tips goes to the subject of target - or perhaps, given its importance, I should say Target (with a capital "T"). Let's begin with a little introspection - where do YOU aim the ball when you hit it? What is YOUR Target?

If you've answered "it varies", technicially you're right but in a larger sense you're wrong. It doesn't vary as much as you'd think. There are several Targets that I regularly use and while opportunity dictates which I might use in a given rally I consistently am waiting for one of these several...and it's not a large number.

(1) Backhand. Given the absence of anything better, I will go to your backhand side 2 out of 3 times. Many of us believe we have great backhands and you may, but chances are you will hit a slightly less-controlled shot from your backhand side - perhaps a ball a bit too high, or one hit a bit too hard, and I'm looking to exploit that with my following shot. (Note that this reality is different for pickleball from, say, Tennis, where often a backhand is a MORE controllable shot than a forehand.)
(2) Unweighted side. Once I have you moving your weight to one side (e.g. covering your backhand), I will go to the other side. To be obvious, if you've noticed that I do in fact go to your backhand two out of three times, it will be natural for you to move your paddle or weight a bit to get ready for the next shot to your backhand side. Then I may be able to slide a shot past you, just outside your forehand side. (This also makes a case for waiting as long as you can before hitting the ball. Too many of you hit the ball as quickly as you can, as if the opportunity is gonna disappear if you wait another 10th of a second. That's wrong-think. Often times, waiting that heartbeat gives your opponent a chance to precommit themselves and shift their weight...and then you simply hit the other way.) By the way, this is true of dinking contests, too...if we are moving each other back and forth, I might try "patterning" you a bit...hitting a dink ( a dink being by my definition a short, in-the-kitchen drop shot hit from the no-volley-zone line), say, cross-court to your backhand several times until I see you move over ahead of time...and if, that time, your partner does not move over with you, then my Target becomes the hole that just opened up in the middle. If we are going backhand to backhand cross-court at that point, with me being in left court), I will shift myself quickly (my being right-handed) further to the left so I can get a quick, flat forehand shot into the middle. I am stretching this to call it a true example of hitting to the unweighted side, but the Target develops because of you getting stuck in a pattern and getting your weight on your backhand side at the far edge of the court, so maybe it isn't too far off the mark.
(3)  At a line about level with their feet. If my opponent has made the critical error of backing away from the net, or, more often, they are a heartbeat slow in getting up to the line, hit the ball at a spot off to the side of a line even with their feet. If you must hit it right AT their feet (and risk their being able to get a quality paddle on the ball), go into the middle of their body-mass. This shot isn't always a winner in and of itself, but like many shots will often force your opponent to hit a return off-balance and then you are putting away a pop-up.
(4)  At the oponent. This takes several forms. If you are off-balance for any reason and I can target away from you, I'll do it, going every time to the side you have unweighted. But if that risks letting your partner get into the act, I will go back more directly at you two or perhaps three times - for as long as you are off-balance. Or, if you hit a strong shot right at me, your tendency might be to wait and see how well you did with it and your paddle may drop just a bit below your chest line. If you drop your paddle at the line I may try to hit youm, and in this case my Target WITHIN the target will be chest or perhaps your FOREHAND shoulder...typically the hardest point for you to get a quality paddle on...unless I suspect you are wanting that shot and are dropping your paddle intentionally to attract it. (My friend Al does this, and I still fall into his trap from time to time.)

Much of somehow knowing which shot to hit, Target-wise, comes from experience, but if you were to think about these Targets for a bit and put them firmly into your mind as possibilities, then, when the opportunities arise, you'll be more ready. But as a final thought...targets do come and go and sometimes in the same point or rally you will have several good opportunities. Don't waste emotional energy worrying about one you've missed when you are still in a live point. Hit a safe return (a soft dink over the middle, for instance), get your body square in position, and wait for the next one. It will be there, and this time you'll be there, too.

1 comment:

  1. You might not believe this, however, at 4 this morning I am laying in bed eyes wide open trying to come up with how do I keep AJ from pounding me in the chest with the ball. So just maybe I am shifting my weight to one side to much throwing me off balance and the unspeakable happens "I GET NAILED". Good job on covering Targets with a "CAPITAL T"