Pickleball sports coaching tips are everywhere. Instructions are readily available directly from pickleball pros in lessons, in books, videos, in magazines, on the Internet, and even on television. This presents players around the world with a common challenge: Who should they believe?
There are nearly as many varying opinions as there are experts. And, unfortunately, at a majority of the multi-pro pickleball facilities, staff training is not set as a high priority and there are frequently conflicting instructions given to the same students at the same facility.
The purpose of this article is to share what I have researched as twelve common ingredients or “keys” to teaching pickleball, or teaching any racquet sport for that matter. These twelve “keys” can be used as a starting point to get pickleball pros and coaches in the same teaching program working on the same page.
Add to these twelve if you like. Just remember that a continuity-based program will always be more successful than a program where the teaching pros and coaches are each “doing their own thing”.
- Key #1 – Fun
- Key #2 – Four stages of learning
- Key #3 – 42 Words
- Key #4 – Retention
- Key #5 – Backwards Learning vs. Forwards Learning
- Key #6 – Oscillation
- Key #7 – Four C’s
- Key #8 – Collaborate
- Key #9 – Face Watching
- Key #10 – Be Generous with Praise
- Key #11 – The Teacher’s Attitude
- Key #12 – Teaching is an Art
Key #1 – Fun
It should come as no surprise that fun is at the top of the list. After all, big shots are little shots who keep on shooting. Keep them coming back for more and they will improve. The more they improve, the more they will love the game. It’s a simple formula.
Now, you may not want to carry it as far as Walt Disney indicates by his quote:
I prefer to entertain people in the hope that they learn, rather than teach people in the hope that they are entertained.
However, you will want to make sure that your players have enough fun that they are eager to return.
How? Keep things fresh, active, inter-active, and engaging by using all the bells, whistles, and tricks you can come up with. Our biggest enemy is boredom. Keep boredom at bay and everyone wins.
Key #2 – Four stages of learning
You are probably aware of the four stages of learning:
- Unconscious incompetence
- Conscious incompetence
- Conscious competence
- Unconscious competence
Just make sure that you remember to guide adults differently than children.
Adults must often learn backwards (unlearning something) before they can move forwards. Children with no bad habits will simply more forwards.
Why? Adults have established neuro-pathways (good and bad habits) and changing them can be challenging and even threatening. They will resist change because they intuitively know it will be difficult and they’ll feel uncomfortable.
Adults will much more easily try something new, rather than change something they already do.
Example: If you are trying to shift someone’s grip on their serve to allow them to hit spin, do not mention that you are changing anything. Rather, just explain that you are adding a new shot to their repertoire. Then, as it becomes strength, the old serve they used to hit can just fade away.
Key #3 – 42 Words
Did you ever wonder why pickleball teachers have to often repeat the same instruction, over and over again, to the same student?
- First, the average adult in the United States has an attention span of 42 words. Speak longer and they will tune you out.
- Second, humans learn motor skills much faster through seeing and feeling rather than through hearing. I always liked the following quote from First Century Philosopher Publilius Syrus.
I have often regretted my speech, but never my silence.
One of the most enjoyable exercises in teaching that I remember was having one of my students in group lessons look at a watch to time how long I took to explain a concept when I pulled the group together. The goal was to keep me from speaking for more than 15 seconds at a stretch (the time it takes an average person to say 42 words).
- Save time, speak less.
For reason number three, move on to Key #4.
Key #4 – Retention
Playing skills and improvement are directly related to retaining what is learned.
Statistically, most pickleball teachers use command style or directed learning as their main approach. In other words, the teacher gives the instructions and the student is expected to follow.
The problem is that professional learning studies clearly conclude that this command style of teaching is far from the most effective approach. Here are the statistics of a national study from the United States National Training Laboratory Institute showing the percentage of learning retention that come from different teaching styles.
The statistics clearly show that students retain the most when they are deeply involved inthe learning process rather than just being told what to do.
- 5% through hearing
- 10% by reading
- 20% of a video or movie
- 30% of a demonstration
- 50% from discussion
- 75% of what they practice
- 90% of what they teach others and use in real situations
Key #5 – Backwards Learning vs. Forwards Learning
The topic of interactive learning raises the question of traditional versus non-traditional teaching.
Another way to describe the traditional approach is to call it backwards learning, a system common in public schools. The teacher gives the answers and then tests the students by asking questions at the end of each week of memorization.
Forwards learning, on the other hand, is the more non-traditional, although common sense approach of asking questions first and guiding the students to seek out the answers by themselves.
An example of how this plays out in pickleball would be to ask students whether most groundstrokes should be hit crosscourt or down the line and then help them discuss the issues to determine the answer.
This concept is commonly known as guided discovery.
Key #6 – Oscillation
Pickleball teachers often work with players who are just starting to compete. Unfortunately, many coaches and teaching pros fail to properly address the issue of oscillation.
You see, in pickleball it is natural to oscillate. A point is played and then there is a pause of up to 30 seconds before the next point is to begin. After every two games there is a break of up to a minute and a half while players switch sides. And, of course, players also alternate serving and then receiving. This is simply how pickleball is played.
Unfortunately, most teaching pros and coaches direct practice sessions in a linear fashion. An example would be running a drill that goes on non-stop for 10-15 minutes at a time.
Players need to learn how to oscillate and not lose focus. They need to learn how to recover physically and then fire themselves up to play the next point.
How? Give your students frequent breaks to simulate the pauses they will experience in a match. Get them accustomed to the natural oscillation of a pickleball match and explain to them why their practice sessions are arranged in that same pattern.
Just make sure that when they are playing, it is with full intensity.
Key #7 – Four C’s
Research also reinforces that learning is best served when the environment is full of nurturing ingredients. Make sure the “Four C’s” are present and your chances of success increase tremendously.
- Create. People will always be most attentive in a creative environment. Keep things fresh and exciting. Use visual and kinesthetic training aids. Avoid boring repetition at all costs.
- Count. People want to feel needed. In a group lesson have students help one another and make it part of the drill that they thank their partners for the help.
- Contribute. The flip side of feeling needed is the very human desire to want to help others and contribute to their success. Pairing students and having them help one another fulfills this need.
- Challenge. Finally, people also need to be challenged. Just make sure that the methods you use to challenge players allow each and every one of them to feel good about their experience.
Key #8 – Collaborate
This key addresses the fact that each person is wired differently. Pickleball teachers shouldn’t make the mistake of employing just one style of teaching for all students.
Not only is each student and player unique, but each also has his or her own path to find.
The best coaches are guides. Collaborate according to each person’s individual optimal learning style instead of demanding blind faith.
Ask a student to tell you about their house. If they describe colors and shapes, they will most probably learn quickly through visual cues and guides. On the other hand, if they describe their home in terms of comfort and how it feels to live their, use kinesthetic aids and provide instructions that include phrases like, “How did that ‘feel’ to you?”
Key #9 – Face Watching
In recent years, studies also have concluded that emotions affect physiology and physiology affects emotions.
A simple idea to keep in mind is to remember to watch the faces of your students. Are they smiling? Are they laughing? Are they frustrated? Are they bored?
It’s said that the face is the mirror of the mind, always giving a clear indication of the thoughts and emotions of the person you are watching.
If a student is having trouble controlling their minds, ask them to pretend like an actor or actress would pretend to be relaxed and happy when hitting the ball. They will probably experience nearly instant improvement from this effort alone.
Key #10 – Be Generous with Praise
Can a pickleball teacher give too much praise and encouragement?
At beginning levels, I don’t think so. Children all respond to encouragement. And beginning adults need it even more. So, as a rule, give praise in all directions.
Encourage self-esteem and confidence in the players and students around you. Think of your students as little seedlings that need water and proper nourishment. Become a people grower.
Key #11 – The Teacher’s Attitude
In numerous workshops over the past ten years, I’ve asked numerous pickleball teachers and coaches, “What is your main responsibility as a teacher?” Repeatedly, they say, “To find and correct mistakes.”
Granted, this may be one of our responsibilities, but we must be careful that this task does not become our mindset.
Why? Because if our primary mindset is to be critical and look for problems and shortcomings, we risk being too negative and critical. I like the expression, “Don’t criticize the moon!” This means that, although the moon has so many craters and potholes, it is still magnificent.
Fix problems, but also emphasize what a player is doing well and build on those strengths.
Key #12 – Teaching is an Art
An entire book could be written on this point alone i.e. on Pickleball Sports Coaching. The best teachers in the world are often the most creative. They keep things fresh, not only for their students, but for themselves. They know that if they are excited and refreshed to try something new, their students will be enthusiastic and captivated by the process as well.
If you’re like me, as you get more experienced as a teacher, you realize more and more how much we all have to learn about the process of learning. After all, the ultimate goal is to have all students reach their potential as quickly as possible, building self-esteem along the way while having a ton of fun.