There’s a lot of things that 5.0 players do well that separate them from the pack.
There’s a select few of these skills that make up a huge chunk of the difference as compared to others.
We’re going to cover five core skills that you’ll find in every advanced player’s pickleball game that when combined make up a large percentage of their skill base and are largely responsible for what makes them so good.
We’re going to unpack these five components so that you can learn from them because there’s no reason why you can’t notably get better in all these areas and become a whole new player that’s more complete and more of a threat every time you step out onto the pickleball court.
Incidentally, you’ll tend to have more fun as well.
Skill #1 – Excellent Footwork
The first skill that we’re going to unpack today is basically a prerequisite for advanced level of play and it’s having excellent footwork.
Advanced players move well across the board.
They do so before their opponent strikes the ball, after their opponent strikes the ball, while they themselves are lining up to strike their shot, and after they’ve struck the ball.
There’s always something that they’re doing with their feet to keep their legs engaged and ready to deal with that next ball.
Even when they’re up at the non-volley zone line where at times there’s less movement required, they’re still engaged with their legs and moving their feet and ready to deal with anything.
Lower level players are often too upright as they play and just not ready to move generally in all areas of the court.
There is too much reactive footwork as opposed to advanced players having proactive footwork and movement.
Tracking the ball well and timing your footwork well as far as how you use it to approach the ball, and ultimately how you’re positioned when you strike the ball, all play a critical role in how stable your contact points are.
The more consistent and stable you can get your contact points to be, the better and more consistent your shots will be.
It all really starts with your footwork.
Consistent contacts are a huge deal in pickleball. If you’re not aware of that then you really need to be.
You need to work to have consistent contact points as much as you possibly can.
Refer to image below to see general zones and distance in front of your body for consistent contact points.
You don’t want to have what I call “creative contact points”.
Refer to video to see visuals of “creative contact” points at time marker 2:42.
I see all kinds of funky stuff that is all over the map.
Sometimes you’ll be pressed and put in difficult positions with difficult contact points. But what separates advanced players from those below that level is that they allow contact points outside of their ideal contact zone to happen much less frequently.
It only happens when they are very pressed, and the opponent has sent a really challenging ball over.
Lower level players are allowing creative contact points to happen on run-of-the-mill regular routine shots.
Be disciplined about your contact points and it all starts with leveling up your footwork and working for those strong contact points on each and every shot.
This will elevate your game tremendously in a short time if you take it to heart and apply it. No question about it.
Skill #2 – Consistent At All Core Skills
The next core skill advanced players have that players below that are lacking is that they are incredibly consistent at all the core pickleball skills.
They also play within themselves which means that for the most part they go for shots that they are confident that they can make with a 90% success rate or thereabouts.
It takes only one miss to lose the point so you can’t really afford to go for shots you don’t have command of.
You’ll notice that at high levels there are long rallies and it’s because they hit shots that they know they can make.
Yes, their repertoire of shots is bigger than most which is also what makes them advance but they can also land that repertoire of shots more than most which also contributes to them being advanced players.
None of this happens by accident.
Advanced players take the time to work on their game and work on all the necessary shots needed to play it well.
They make sure that their serve is on point, their return is on point, their dinks are good, their drives are strong, etc.
And I can tell you they spend a tremendous amount of time on drops, blocks, and resets.
Those are some of the most challenging yet necessary shots, so they spend lots of time on those defensive skills.
They work on their shots moving in various directions.
Every which way they will have to move to deal with that shot that could come up in a point, they work on it.
They’re constantly working on sharpening their shots as well and being able to hit them with more spin, more pace, hit from every which angle, to every which target imaginable.
They put in the reps which is what leads to their tremendous consistency.
And, once they’re in a game they play with the skills they have.
They don’t go for crazy stuff that’s out of their range. Because as they say in competition, “you don’t rise to the level of your expectations you fall to the level of your training “.
Advanced players have made sure, through time and effort, that they do have all the shots they need to be successful in pickleball and that they can execute them well under the pressure of competition.
They work on those shots not only until they can hit them right but until essentially, they can’t hit them wrong.
They’re at the stage where hitting the shot incorrectly would just be very uncomfortable.
You want to work towards that too. Towards getting all the key shots to that level where it would just be really uncomfortable to hit them badly.
When you achieve that goal, you’ll be a very well respected and feared player. I can virtually guarantee it.
Skill #3 – Good Reaction Time & Hand/Eye Coordination
Next up as far as a skill that advanced players have locked in that separates them from the pack is really good reaction time and hand-eye coordination.
These are separate skills but when it comes to the fire fights and hand speed battles in pickleball they both have to work together to make that happen.
Advanced players can deal with most pace that comes their way and it takes a lot to overwhelm them with speed and power.
It ultimately can happen, but the onslaught of pace is usually quite heavy by the time they cough up the error.
They routinely counterattack on higher struck hard shots or block and reset when attacks got down on their body.
Will errors happen? Sure, they do. But they are far fewer than most other players will give up and they can handle a lot more by the time they’re making an error.
I recently listened to an interview with the current GOAT of pickleball, Ben Johns, where he himself said that he is not the most athletic player out there but what he feels is his big differentiator is his hand-eye coordination.
Lucky for us, this skill is highly trainable.
You can get on a wall and train this.
We cover it in a detailed training program that you can do to ramp up this skill in this video.
You can also translate these drills and do them in a similar fashion with another player instead of a wall.
You can do that on a court, or even on grass, on the beach, in sand or wherever since the ball doesn’t touch the ground.
Because you’re volleying, you don’t need to be on a hard surface.
You just need to be on an even surface, so you don’t slip trip and fall.
You can find that training in this video.
When you do this training, you want to start slow and work your way up to faster speeds over time.
As your control and reaction time get better you also want to make sure you’re contacting in the sweet spot of your paddle all the time and that your contacts are not all over the paddle face like towards the edges, the sides, and top and bottom.
Check out these two videos because I really cover it all in them as far as what you need to do to ramp up your reaction time and hand-eye coordination.
Skill #4 – Read The Room/Shot Selection
The next core skill that advanced players have is their willingness to read the room and to make adjustments accordingly.
This is also commonly referred to as shot selection.
As mentioned earlier, advanced players make it a priority to be strong and consistent at all the pickleball shots which means they can hit all those shots in a variety of spins and a variety of speeds accurately.
They also know when and where to use them in the general context of what’s smart for the phase of the point that they’re in.
They also inject into that decision making what they know about themselves, their partners, and their opponents, as far as preferences and weaknesses.
To be clear, they go beyond simply what would make sense from a general pickleball strategy knowledge standpoint and they evaluate the players to try and orchestrate play in such a way that they can play their strengths into their opponent’s weaknesses.
In addition to that, they also play shots that will minimize the chances of the opponents playing their strengths back into the weaknesses on their side of the court.
They don’t just stick to hitting the shot or shots that they like to hit because it’s fun to hit them.
I see far too many players doing that.
Maybe it’s your strong shot and generally works but against a particular team it doesn’t work well.
It would be wise to abandon that and pivot to a different strategy that may not be your top choice as far as the preference but it’s going to work, and you do it for that reason.
I find that lower level players are often not willing to abandon their losing strategy because it includes shots that they like to hit so they just keep hammering away at that ultimately failing strategy.
Advanced players are happy to pivot from this strategy, to that strategy, and even to another if the second choice didn’t work out that well.
They do so happily and regularly.
It’s largely due to the fact, and this is a nod back to the previous point that we mentioned, that they spend a lot of time making sure they have all the core pickleball skills locked in and they don’t lean too heavily on one skill or another.
They’re good or great at all the things. They do if for this very reason – so they can pull the right strategy out of the bag for the particular team that they’re facing and they have the skills to do it.
You must be willing to adapt.
Play high percentage and smart shots for the situation at hand and use the right variety of shots, at the right time, if you want to be an advanced player. That’s what all advanced players can do so it’s clearly hugely important.
Advanced players are typically advanced because they are complete pickleball players.
Skill #5 – Strong & Resilient Mindset
Last yet certainly not least on the list of things advanced players do better than the rest, and in fact it may be the greatest differentiating skill they possess, is a strong and resilient mindset to all types of adversity that they will face on the pickleball court.
They generally have a strong and stable way of thinking and a helpful response to how things are going, whether good or bad, to keep them on track and headed in a positive direction.
When I say a positive direction that doesn’t always mean winning and losing.
Certainly, we want to win but it’s not always our day.
But, even if it wasn’t our day on the scoreboard, that doesn’t have to mean that we played poorly.
Maybe our opponents just played really well on that day, and they totally deserved the win.
We played well too but they just played better.
We gave them everything we had regardless of the situation.
That’s what we’re talking about here. Bringing your best to the table regardless of what’s going on and what the ultimate outcome may be as far as the scoreboard.
The best thing that you can do in life, and in pickleball, is take extreme personal responsibility for all the things you can control and then let the rest of the chips fall where they may.
I don’t mean be hard on yourself but be very objective about what happened and your role in it.
As humans we have a strong tendency to lack self-awareness and play the blame game.
Unfortunately, that’s not useful in the long run and it only serves to keep you stuck.
No one is perfect. We’re all guilty of having blind spots, including myself.
I routinely need to keep myself in check and get real with myself about what my role was in contributing to the outcome and what I could have done better.
Where may I be blaming things outside myself? Like the weather such as the wind or the sun, my partner’s play, my opponents play, how I’m feeling that day or whatever.
There might be things going on around you and you should make note of them so that you can figure out how to overcome them.
But the problem is not out there, it’s how you deal with it inside of you.
Block it out, put it aside, or work with it and figure out a solution to overcome it when you have to.
The best are the best because part of what they do well is they make the best out of what’s there no matter what that is.
The cards that are dealt on any particular day could be bad. Are you going to fold or are you going to find a way to play those cards and still come out on top?
That’s what advanced players tend to be able to do consistently – make the best out of a bad situation.
Be honest with yourself. Own your mistakes and shortcomings and get to work unplugging those holes.
The answer always lies within you.
These are the five hugely important lessons that we can learn from advanced players and with some effort over time, we can develop in all these areas and be well on our way to becoming advanced players as well.