In my time coaching players in the 2.5, 3.0, and even 3.5 levels, I have noticed in many cases there is a distinct lack of communication between the two players on the same team.
One client told me it is mainly because she is so focused on doing what she needs to do in each point so she isn't really thinking about the communication part. She also would never like to be seen as bossy.
With this in mind, and also knowing it doesn't come naturally to some people, I wanted to give some suggestions as to what chatter usually happens at the higher levels of play. In my opinion, this communication that takes place is really as important as any other component of the game.
1. Prior to the game, the team sums up the other two opposing players and has a strategy that they discuss briefly in private at the baseline. This would include who they might target i.e. the weaker player, who doesn't move to the net, who to keep deep, who has a bad backhand, and /or any other strategy. This only works if you know the opposing players.
2. At the same time we discuss our own limitations to prepare our partner with what they could expect while playing with us to help make us stronger as a team.
I'll give you an example…. I have a low mobility. I often return the serve deep but with a lob to give myself time to get to the non-volley zone. Sometimes these serve returns fall short into the transitional zone and when that happens, the other team is going to drive the ball hard and low. I always warn my partner to be ready for this drive in case my return is poor/short so they are ready to deflect it.
I always remind them to help me with “short” or lob balls that I cannot get due to my mobility.
We could talk about who is going to take the middle shots…usually the forehand player if right handed when they are on the odd side court. However, sometimes a right handed player has a better backhand shot than their forehand shot and can take those middle shots. This gets agreed upon. If we miss a shot during the game due to confusion, we discuss it briefly. I could say “ Sorry, I should have left that for your forehand (instead of taking it with my backhand)”
or “ Sorry, that was your ball that I took. I’ll leave that for you next time”
Another example from today was my partner telling me in advance she was going to return the serve cross court and I should poach middle for their third shot return. Our strategy was discussed. We changed course when the opposing team sniffed into our plan with new communication between us.
There could be a million examples, but this all goes on BEFORE the game starts.
3. During the game there is a lot of chatter between the team players. I love it when my partner reminds me throughout the point even as it's being played to "keep them deep” or “hit down to the Joe’s feet” or “go middle”.
If I am so slow to get to NVZ and we lose the point because of it they may say “Cheryl where the heck were you?!” And we laugh, it is just a friendly reminder I have to get my ass out of gear and get to the non-volley zone faster.
This helps me, does not distract me, and helps us win points. All players would NOT like this, so you need to know who you are partnered with and talk appropriately.
One other thing that I noticed is that so many players are not even trying to get to the non-valley zone. They get stuck standing in no man’s land every point.
I get that there is nothing worse than being told what to do when the person you're playing with knows less than you do or plays worse than you do. Everybody hates a know it all so that's another thing to consider. But when you see someone so obviously NOT doing what they need to be and it is losing you points, you need to say something!
4. Here are some things that we say all the time either to our own partner or to the opponents after the point is played out. Using their first name makes it more personal. (By the way, it goes without saying you MUST call balls “OUT’” or “NO” or “LEAVE IT” if that is the case to help your partner judge those balls.)
-Great shot John!!
-Way a hit down to his feet Jimbo!
-Corrinne, nice hustle!
-Wonderful fast hands at the net there, Mitra!
-Good get, Jamie!
-Great defense Heather!
-Nice try Norm!
-Keep at her, she’s the one (ie target)
-Let's play the soft game now (ie change of strategy is your current one is not working)
-Drive hard to Jay’s backhand
-(before serving) Let’s get off 6! (if stuck on a point forever!)
-Nice deep serve Lynn!
-Great returning down the middle to his backhand, Brigit!
-Way to keep them confused in the middle, Dom!
(While down 0-8 “ We got them where we want them now Stacie!” or getting to 1 point after being in a big deficit “ We have them shaking in their boots now Maggie!) Make light of a lousy situation.
You get the idea. There are just 1 million things you can say that are sincere and encouraging.
5. Some players don't want to ever be told anything and if you suggest anything, they absolutely don't want to hear it and they have their backs up. These are shallow players that probably won't progress, and that's okay. Lots of players are just out there for a good time and don't care if they really get better or not. This game accommodates everyone. Don’t bother wasting your energy on these people b/c you know things will never change until they, themselves, realize their game needs improving upon with constructive encouragement.
6. After each point, whether won or loss, it is important to reconnect with your partner by tapping paddles. In competition, my mixed doubles partner Jamie and I tap, and always have eye contact like when you toast a drink and look one another in the eyes. It helps me a lot, especially when I was the one who just lost the point. I especially like it when he quietly says “ that was the right decision” after I missed the shot.
7. If you are with a player who simply talks way too much and analyzes every point after it has been played and is driving you nuts, tell them kindly to “Please keep quiet. Let’s focus on our next point”.
Remember that not all personalities work well together on the court and sometimes it is even hard to explain why. Its okay. The game ends before you know it. Tap paddles and say “good game”.
Another small point…..it is your job to watch for and call foot fault on serve and foot fault at the kitchen line on your own teammate. I realize this means you lose the point and everyone hates that, but these are the rules of the game. I notice this rarely happens in many instances.
If you doubt that a shot is “IN” but are not positive, call it “IN’ anyhow. People will admire your honesty and class. When in doubt, call it in! If you have a player that regularly calls balls out that are not, don’t let them get away with it. Usually these players develop a reputation for their unsportsmanlike conduct and whomever they are partnered with in that game knows that reputation too. If he/she calls a ball out that you think was in, look directly at the partner and ask “ Jim what did you think? Did you see the ball in or out?” Then whatever the answer is, go with it. A replay of the point is usually the best option.
Well, so many more thought going through my mind, but that is about it for now.
I hope something in this article helps you improve your on court communication. Feel free to pass it along to anyone who might be interested.
Happy pickle balling out there!