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The Silver Bullet; The One Thing a Pickleball Coach Looks For

A good story: the Zen master walks up to the NY hot dog vendor and says….”Make me one with everything.”

Yes, a good story,  but this post is mostly a different story about the need for good pickleball coaching, and Prem Carnot, The Pickleball Guru exemplifies that. But in a sense the above is relevant because we think about “being in the flow” (or being in the moment or the zone, or at least for looking for a silver bullet for our game, ‘cuz we can’t always be in the flow). After all, being one with the universe, once achieved, would undoubtedly be easier (due to the lack of suffering) than would be drilling to get your pickleball basics straight.

So…while being one with our pickleball environment isn’t as easy as the cartoon below, most of us have experienced “flow,” that sense of being “in the zone” from time to time. When we are, amazingly, effortlessly, we know exactly when the opponents are separated just enough and we place the ball, with no thought, precisely between them, just out of reach. And we know, without thinking, where our opponent’s next return is coming and we are already there. And if they make a great shot, one we normally wouldn’t get to, for this one time at least it’s simple to run it down – we are in the moment, playing with ease. Most of us would pay BIG bucks if we could do THAT all the time, right?

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Yes we would! All athletes in every sport cherish this feeling and do what they can to encourage it as much as possible! However, IOHO, playing pickleball in “flow” isn’t really the objective, or shouldn’t be, since we can’t turn it on and off. We can, however, play better and better, and enjoy our game more. It’s understood that training and coaching, and then drilling, working ourselves on correct basics, sets the foundation for consistently better and more enjoyable play.

But is this putting the proverbial cart before the metaphorical horse? After all, even if it’s just basics, who is to say what you really need to work on to improve? No offense but it probably isn’t you. Often we players are the worst possible judges of what we should be working on. So maybe the task is first finding out what to work on.

This is what you should be wanting from a coach, but unfortunately you often don’t get it. Once, when we once took private lessons with a very good coach, we asked for, and got, help in playing together better as a team. But based on how we beat ourselves in a tournament soon thereafter, what we really needed (and would have been far better off having, probably) was a tutorial on court positioning, more theory of where to serve, and where to return (beyond “deep and to the middle”, we mean), and so on.

In other words, even though the clinicians, coaches and teachers in and out of our pickleball club did their best to give us what we asked for, we ourselves, not knowing any better, put our cart before our horse….deciding we needed to practice moving together well, in this instance, and not worrying about where to place the backhand for optimal advantage in a point instead.

Basics, basics, basics – but (to cut ourselves some slack) these are level two basics, not level one. Basics level one is for those who are learning the sport, and, as beginners, we all needed basic instruction. Some may need more help than others – folks with, for instance, strong tennis, badminton, squash, racquetball, paddle tennis or even table tennis backgrounds are far more likely to get the basics more quickly than those who have no racket sport background, and those with any kind of eye-hand-oriented sports background at least have a leg up on those of us who don’t.

Basics level two, beyond that, is more individually-focused…what do YOU need as opposed to what does the clinician know how to tell you to do? When we see a pickleball clinician who says they will teach everyone the six things they need to do to become great pickleball players, we actually see somebody who perhaps knows six things they use to succeed, and is willing to share those things. But there is no sense in telling somebody with limited mobility (for instance) that either they get to the line quickly after hitting their third shot drop shot or they are (literally) losers.

In this second tier of instruction we’d much rather see a pickleball coach who actually watches what a person does, even if (in a larger pickleball clinic) it may only be for a minute or two, and then makes one or just two particular recommendations that will elevate for that player. E.g., if you can’t get to the line quickly because of those pesty mobility issues, can you, instead, hit a series of shots so that you may get up to the line in two or even three tries, working your way up, so to speak? And doesn’t that really mean that you, personally, need to focus on ultra-consistent drop-shot technique, learning to hit back soft shots from everyone on the field of play? So isn’t that the one thing – the improved drop-shot technique – the one thing that allows you to address the mobility issues? With it, you can scrap racing to the net, or feeling bad because you can’t. If you can defend from anywhere, your defense becomes your offense.

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This ability to spot that one key factor is rare. And while naturally there are others we do not know, the top-tier coach we personally have seen and worked with, who himself is focused on this individualization, is Prem Carnot, aka The Pickleball Guru. Prem has a very wide range of services he offers and is among the more versatile, offering everything from Podcasts to live chats to video coaching to clinics and private lessons to overseas tour intensives. (See more of what Prem offers here,) We have taken his video coaching (awesome!), have been to several of his clinics (darn good!) and have had several individual lessons and one couples lesson (even better!). But, the sophistication of his program aside, what makes Prem different, again IOHO, is his ability to watch what a person does and tailor his instruction to helping them overcome their own issues – generally offering just one or two things in a session, but things so fundamental they may take the student quite awhile to fix, and make a significant difference when he or she does improve them.

An example occurred recently in a four-person private lesson A.J. took from Prem. The other three students were friends, and roughly our level of pickleball play. Prem’s comments to A.J. were in response to his having missed several mid-court drop shots in the heat of battle. And his correction was around mechanics and proper use of the knees, suggesting A.J. lift with a continuous integration of his arm and his knees, but just the tiniest bit, thus insuring (at the same time, although A.J. didn’t realize that was what was happening), A.J. was focusing on getting to the ball more, and getting his paddle under the ball more, and lifting just slightly more with his arm (as well as with his knees), and extending and completing…but all Prem talked about was the knees, and the rest of the change showed up on its own.

A. J. thought it was a very good lesson, because (now that we’ve played awhile) we don’t so much need to overhaul our game or do things entirely different and the things we can learn and change and use will be small, albeit sometimes more difficult to implement. So what we appreciate the most in a coach is one who can find a single thing that works across several “issues” – and helps to improve all of them.

We are looking forward to A.J.’s having fully integrated this technique, and for him thus becoming fully in the flow, in the zone, and one with the universe. Or at least, with the integration of improved basic knee-work, for him to stop missing as many mid-court drops – we’d settle for that. And as to Prem, well, we’ll always settle for him – and for that matter if anybody is gonna come up with a technique that results in constant flow and self-realization, it’ll most likely be Prem.