Thursday, May 15, 2014

Breaking Down 4 of the Best Players in America

While looking over videos of pickleball play on You Tube recently, I came across a two part video of a game to 15 played in The Villages in May 2013 between the eventual teams that met in the USAPA Nationals Final in the Fall of 2013 in Arizona.

This match was at the home court of Brian Staub and Phil Bagley, who ultimately won the USAPA Nationals later in the year, and Timothy Nelson and Billy Jacobsen from Seattle Washington Area.  Jacobsen and Nelson prevailed in this particular game.

Because I have recently watched some instructional videos prepared by Brian Staub, I was watching for certain play characteristics, and unsurprisingly found some of them here in this game linked.

All of these players are excellent players and both pairs are at the top of their game.

One thing in evidence is that unforced errors, particularly getting the ball up too high when at the net usually result in loss of the serve or loss of a point in the particular rally.  Both teams are quick on their feet and kept balls in play that most of us would miss.  They also have an age advantage on those of you who are likely looking at this article.

Notice no intent to mislead the opposition with a serve or power a serve past the opposition.  The same is true of the return of serve.  This is pretty common among better players.  If one team is going to beat the other, then it will happen after the third shot.

Use of Stacking

Stacking is an approach that is meant to have one player always playing on a particular side of the court during rally play.  You will see both players on the same side of the court during a serve, where the server will move over to the other court after serving for example.

This strategy is often used when one player is left handed to keep both forehands in the center of the court.  It can also be used to allow both players to better know their partner and what he will do since his backhand and forehand are always in the same place on the court.

Jacobsen and Nelson used stacking periodically in the match.  Did it help them?  You be the judge.

Balance on Court

The balance I am referring to is the balance of one's own body.  If you watch Brian Staub or Phil Bagley, you see that when they get to the net, they are in a partial squat almost all the time.  Their weight is well balanced over the center of their mass, so that they can move their feet quickly, but extending to a shot does not put them off balance, because their feet are sufficiently apart as to provide balance even then.  They are in a partial crouch, and do not come up after every shot to an upright position, but stay pretty much in that stance throughout the rally.  The upper body is mainly upright, with some lean forward.  The upper body is relatively quiet during execution of shots, reducing unforced errors.  As a result of the squat, and their hand placement, their paddles are usually no higher than the white fabric at the top of the net.

This contrasts somewhat to the stance of Tim Nelson and particularly Billy Jacobsen.  In their case, they are more upright usually, and their paddles are most often higher than the top of the net.  You can notice particularly with Jacobsen that he bends over for a lot of shots, and does not squat regularly.

For them at their skill level, I am not sure that it matters.  However, particularly for those of us who are learning the game, and developing in hopes of one day being in their league (fat chance for most of us, but dreaming is good) I believe that adopting a stance like Bagley/Staub will reduce unforced errors, and make shots smoother.

Open Paddle Face/Roundhouse Swing

Phil Bagley has a good reach to begin with.  Reach can not be taught.  It is in the genes, but he has a way of taking advantage of his reach that is interesting, and that can be taught.  As stated earlier, both Bagley and Staub have very good balance on the court.  Phil Bagley does not move his feet towards a lot of balls that he knows he can reach.  Instead, he has a roundhouse swing where by leaving his paddle face open until the last moment, he is able often to create misdirection on his shot, and put it in a less obvious place than anticipated.

To be aware of your length and use it effectively whatever it is, requires lots of practice.

Topspin at the Net

Brian Staub has a very effective topspin shot at the net, both forehand and backhand.  No doubt this comes from lots of practice, but his positioning makes it easier for him.

Since his hands are usually at net height during a rally at the net, he is able to quickly turn a shot near net height into a topspin drive shot to win a point or create an advantage.

Anyway, these two videos which capture one game to 15 are a good example of what we can aspire to, though not necessarily achieve.

These 4 men got good by practicing to make these shots effectively, and after practice then put what they practiced into use in games.

Enjoy the videos.

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