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Tue, Oct. 15

Atherton: How muscle memory makes a difference in pickleball
Paddle Up

Unlike many sports, people come to pickleball with very little sports background; and a lot of background, particularly in tennis.

Pickleball was invented to solve a problem of how to get kids to play together with adults in a short time and have a lot of fun. Same history, same problem today. The game evolved from kids and adults learning together and now its more adults learning together. That means a lot less, experienced sports-minded adults and a lot of experienced sports minded adults learning basics at the same time.

The biggest problem for sports-minded players turned out to be muscle memory difficulty between pickleball and tennis when the game is first learned.

For example, I would ask former tennis players and racquetball players to put a paddle behind their back and ask them what you are holding. Often they would say a “racquet.”

Nothing unusual about that at all but good old muscle memory kicking in. They would go and take a swing at the ball and miss it off the end of the paddle.

Then on the court the first time they would often see a miniature tennis court, which is two-thirds larger than a pickleball court. So what often needed to be done, for example, is build a wall between the two sports, like, “we paddle canoes and pickleball, but we don’t racquet canoes nor pickleball.”

On the other hand, the less sports-minded person did not have this problem mentioned above. Their bigger problem was developing muscle memory and skill into the game right away and frankly, seeing the sport for what it was and that was pickleball on a pickleball court not tennis on a miniature tennis court.

Still, when both players were brought together on the same court initially, more experienced tennis players, for example, had the advantage over less experienced players at least for a while. Some experienced players assumed correctly they could win a lot of games by just hitting hard shots at less gifted players and win a lot of games. The result of that was the idea they did not need to improve on other parts of the game. Sort of like why work harder when I already can win all the games. Then as they improved, they got the wakeup call against better players.

The less experienced players found they would have to continue working harder to improve and develop new muscle memory skills specifically for the game. That allowed them to discover earlier that pickleball is a unique game unto itself.

Bob Atherton is the Northern Arizona District Ambassador for the USAPA, a credentialed teacher and coach. He can be reached at 928-499-2498 or

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