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Mon, Nov. 11

Paddle UP! column: Pickleball with TED - time, energy, depth

Happy New Year, everyone. Are you ready to loose some weight and get in shape? Then learn to play Pickleball! You will take an average of 500 steps each game and burn anywere from 50 to 100 calories to boot. So if you play five games per day say, even three days each week, that comes to 1,175 calories in a week. Not only that, the game develops good eye-hand coordination.

A long-time tennis player came to see me to learn Pickleball. “I heard this is like playing old man’s tennis,” she said. Later, after playing for awhile she confided to me that Pickleball was an entirely different game than tennis.

That is what I call the awakening for this sport.

To be honest, to those who do not know the game it sort of looks like tennis at first glance. Also, whatever skills you learned in other sports you naturally bring to a new sport or activity you have never played. With Pickleball we have folks who have little or no background in sports as well as gifted tennis and racquetball players coming together at the same time to learn this simple game. To some of the gifted sports players they wreck havoc on the less sports minded players until they start running up against better pickleball players. Then for some, the awakening occurs.

Here is a major difference. In tennis and racquetball every shot is a potential winner. In Pickleball five of the seven shots in the game are really set up shots to prepare you for a put away or winner shot. It all has to do with with the difference in the size of the court, the rules, the use of a paddle not a racquet, and a whiffle type ball.

Like a friend and fellow coach Perm Carnot put it: “A lot of Pickleball is all about a stealthy tiger moving through the underbrush and then pouncing on the prey.” As a player evolves in Pickleball they become aware there is a lot more strategy, finesse and control in the game with the use of the skills of altering the pace, angle and speed of the ball than the use of power shots more common to tennis and racquetball.

There is an idea in Pickleball I call TED’s rule:

T stands for time. When hitting the ball give yourself time to get ready for the next shot.

E stands for energy. Whenever you can, make your opponent use their energy not yours in the return of the ball.

D stands for depth. Drive it deep and at their feet.

One of the five set up shots is the serve. A casual person or new player in the game will see a hard fast and low serve and think “wow.” That is what they see in the more powerful game of tennis and racquetball. But in Pickleball because of the rule of the underhand serve and smaller court, most players can easily return the ball you might think would be a point shot. In addition to that, a ball hit low, fast and hard uses a lot of your energy so the opponent can use your energy to return it with his or her control, and it also gives you less time to get ready to receive a return!

So in Pickleball, and among older players in particular, it makes more sense to hit the ball higher to the opponent in more of a lofting shot. In doing so, first it gives you more time to get set and look at the opponents to see how they position themselves. Second, it has to bounce before they can hit it and this makes the opponent not only have to use their control but use their energy (not yours) to correctly hit it back. I have seen the ball driven into the net more than a few times. And like the hard, fast and low serve, the lofty serve can be learned to drop right at the opponents feet.

So there you go TED’s rule in action.

Both types of serves are commonly used in the sport of Pickleball and especially in the recreational side of the game. In this game you do not want to become known as one who can be counted on to deliver the same type of shot all the time. By changing the pace, speed and angle of the serves you gain an advantage over just smacking the ball back and forth. Getting the opponent to have to guess what you will do next is a very powerful tool.

If you want to see a major difference between tennis and Pickleball, for example, watch a tennis doubles match and then Pickleball doubles on TV. For Pickleball you can see the recent Nationals at Casa Grande Arizona by going to, then tournaments, then Nationals.

Pickleball is a unique game, a fascinating game that everyone can play from 9 to 90. Like swimming, it can be a life long sport. It is lot of fun, easy to learn and strangely addictive because it is so much fun to play at the recreational level and challenging at the tournament level. I am still learning every day I play.

Paddle UP!

Bob Atherton is a pickleball coach and the Northern Arizona District Ambassador for the United States Pickleball Association. He can be reached at or 928-499-2498.

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