Column: Getting your legs out of first gear

'Paddle Up'

When I was a kid I had a 1936 Ford with a manual transmission. It had a really low first gear. So did my 1960 VW Bug. What both had in common was if you tried to start in second gear the cars would just lug forward slowly if at all. First gear just got the cars going to move faster to the other gears.

Now what you may ask does that have to do with pickleball? It is your legs and feet. Not a popular topic in our sport but crucial to having faster reaction time in the game unless of course you are a kid, which most of us are not as of yet in the game.

In pickleball, the ball travels two thirds the speed of a tennis ball, on a court one-third the size of a tennis court and almost half or more leg and feet movements are lateral in nature. Near the net the ball can go back and forth in a volley 14 feet apart in 1 second. Wow!

So here is the thing. Right after you hit the ball, move up and get set, don’t plant your feet. Bend your knees, get on the front of your feet and click your heels. You can remain stable but you will already be out of first gear and ready to go with your next returned shot. You’re in second gear by doing yourself a huge favor.

By doing so you accomplish many things. Mentally, it keeps you sharp and alert. If older playing against a younger player, you get a chance to stay up with them even if they plant their feet. Since there are so many quick moves in the game it will reduce your chance of turning an ankle or start suffering down the road knee aches. Believe it or not when you are moving slightly left to right it is more difficult for opponents to make quick decisions about where to hit the ball. Most of all you actually may hit a ball on a return and more accurately instead of watching it blow by you.

I know if you’re new to the game you have many things to do but the sooner you start moving your legs and feet in the game the sooner the skill will become second nature. One of the best examples of this skill locally is watching J.T. Schulze a top rated player who is the minister of Starting Point Christian Church. No wonder he is a 5.0 rated player. Or go on line at USAPA.org and watch the nationals. But focus your attention on the players’ legs and feet instead of watching the ball.

Merry Christmas everybody!

Bob Atherton is the Northern Arizona District Ambassador for the United States Pickleball Association (USAPA) a tier two Pickleball coach and credentialed teacher. You can contact Bob at bobca39@gmail.com or phone 928-499-2498.