A Pickleball Lesson With a Pro - 3rd in a Series of 12 Dee Ahern
The first six weeks of our three month stay in California was very eventful with heat waves, apocalyptic fires and smoke creating some of the worst air quality in the world, threats of evacuation and coronavirus to top it all off.
The second month and a half seemed heavenly with only the threat of coronavirus. Fall was gorgeous and enjoying the leaves turning brilliant colors was worth the decision to stay on for a second tour of duty with our two amazing cats, Finn and Haley.
After our three month stay in California, we returned to Phoenix, AZ. It was a bit odd to say the least. Our time in Sonoma was the longest we have stayed in one place in 5 1/2 years. It was strange to have been in one place for so long, which I know makes us sound a bit bonkers. We get it that most people want to be "home", but for us, home has been wherever we were in the world.
We normally rent out our home long term, and between renters we come back to do any needed repairs and prep it for the next renter. Due to coronavirus, our six month tenant backed out of his visit, and we totally understood. Coronavirus sucks! However, we feel fortunate to be back in our own home for a stint. During the pandemic, it's a great place to be. It doesn't keep us from wanting to travel though. Surprise!
Surprise, AZ that is - that's where we went for a special day.
We met with a pickleball pro, Dee Ahern for our third birthday lesson. She came highly recommended by another pro who wasn't able to meet with us on the dates we had in mind. When we heard about Dee's credentials, we were thrilled that she had an opening for us.
Dee is a 5.0 level player, a professional pickleball instructor, author and certified referee and rater. She has accrued 51 gold, 15 silver, and 11 bronze medals in sanctioned and non-sanctioned tournaments throughout the U.S. since she entered the competitive arena in 2014. Her medals include such wins at prestigious venues such as The World Huntsman Senior Games, Florida State Senior Games, USAPA Nationals, US Open, and the USAPA Regional Tournaments.
Dee received her International Professional Pickleball Teaching Certificate (IPTPA) in 2016 and Professional Pickleball Registry Certificate (PPR) in 2018. She is also the co-author of a games-based competitive Pickleball drill book called, Target Zones: Practicing Pickleball with a Purpose, published by Gamma Sports. She lives and teaches half the year in the Villages in Florida, and she spends part of the year in the Phoenix area.
We arrived at the city of Surprise's beautiful 16 courts at 4534 W Tierra Buena Lane about half an hour early to warm up a bit. Dee arrived professionally early to set up for our lesson. She saw us warming up and came to our court straight away. She didn't waste any time at all, so we started a bit early.
The two hour lesson was comprised of two very distinct parts. The first hour was spent looking at our skills and drilling. The second hour was actual play which was great for strategy and drills.
For the first hour we did drills so Dee could see where we were on our skills. I was Thrilled with a capital T when she complimented us on not being "wristy" while dinking. It has been the bane of my pickleball existence that I had a wrist flicking habit. The previous two lessons and lots of drilling are finally working that out of my system!
We worked on third shot drops by doing a split step drill. This is something Ky and I practice a lot on our own, but for some reason, doing it in front of an instructor made it seem harder than usual. More work needed... always!
Probably my favorite part of the lesson was working to Improve volleys and slowing down hard shots when at the NVZ. This is still one of the hardest things for me, but Ky is doing really well at it.
Dee's made two suggestions that will be instrumental to my improvement in this area. 1) I need to "stay in my seat" meaning to bend my knees and 2) to keep my paddle closer to my body (not reaching out with my paddle before the balls gets to me.)
I tended to have my paddle way too far away from my body which caused me to be out of power and unable to absorb the power from the ball to return it more softly. That last sentence was written in the past tense to show that I'm not going to do that anymore. More work needed... always!
As with any lesson, understanding where the weaknesses are, is the first step to correcting it. There were things that Dee pointed out that I thought I had already fixed, but right there in the videos of us drilling, I could see that I am not always as close to the NVZ as I thought, and I'm giving up some shots as a result. In our volley practice I could also definitely see her point about my stretching to get to the ball rather than letting it come to me.
For a quick peek in to Dee's style which is quick paced and fun, take a look at this video excerpt of her lesson summary. This video will give you some great tips for improvement and the scope of what we covered in the lesson.
For our second hour, Dee invited two women she knew, Deb & Myle (thanks again), to join us on the court for some real game play. Doing that allowed her to see how we move together, and to make suggestions for game strategy. It also helped us to work on muscle memory of the skills we had just worked to improve in the first hour. The two women were lots of fun, so much laughter ensued!
In the video Dee talks about a drill we did called "Hot Seat". Give it a try with friends. It's tons of fun, and it really helps you learn to watch the ball, increase your reaction time and improve your drop volleys.
If you want to improve your game I strongly recommend lessons with qualified pros. The second recommendation that I think has helped me the most is using a video recorder such as my GoPro Hero 7 which I have been using for about a year now.
It has made such a difference for being able to see what I was actually doing as opposed to what I thought I was doing. Ya' know, thinking I looked like Simone Jardim when in truth I was looking more like the famously funny comedians, Lucille Ball, Mr. Bean, or Ron Ponder (who is a combination of the two :-P ). That's not a good thing for me to be thinking if I'm not trying to be funny!
An investment in a video recorder will be well worth the money if you want to play better pickleball. Here is a newer models that is similar to what I use.
Amazon affiliate links: https://amzn.to/2WqgWmZ . If you click here, other models will also show up that fit all budgets.
The other big benefit to recording yourself is that you can be like the famous Glenn Lucey of Pickleball Forum fame. Just record your shots and post the ones where you really shine! Bonus points if your t-shirts are sleeveless or you wear a funny hat!
It is one thing to watch videos and go out and try to mimic the skill, and quite another to have someone watch you and tell you and demonstrate what they see going on and what you should be doing. Again, I encourage anyone interested in upping their pickleball game to take a lesson/s with a pro!
Let me know if you would like to have contact info for any of the great professionals who have given us lessons. Be sure to subscribe to my blog to make sure you don't miss new posts. Sharing is encouraged as well!
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