Austin, TX

Improving at Pickleball… or, any skillset for that matter

A topic often discussed is how to improve from a 2.5 to 3.0, 3.0 to 3.5, 3.5 to 4.0, and so on. There are countless videos on YouTube that cover drills and the skills/techniques you need to master at each level. Although, what is often overlooked is how to develop a particular skillset. Coming from a professional sports background in MMA and the various arts involved, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, kick-boxing, Muay Thai, boxing, etc., I’ve been in environments where specific skillsets are developed with both athletes and coaches. While most of us playing pickleball don’t have a dedicated coach, we can learn vicariously through others.

One of the most notable coaches during my time was my Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu coach, Greg Souders, of Standard Jiu-Jitsu. His goal was to be the best coach and produce the best athletes, at whatever cost. He read almost every dry and thick sports psychology book you could think of and watched and learned from countless coaching videos on YouTube. While it would be difficult to convey the type of coach he was or the style of his coaching without actually sitting in on one of his classes, many spoke of him as taking a very ‘cerebral’ approach to the art of coaching.

1st professional fight

Between the time I began pickleball to where I’m at now, I’ve had countless discussions with Greg re-visiting developing a skillset. The following is not my original thoughts and rather a summary of what Greg has taught me.

Who should I play with?

Find 3 different types of people to play with. Those who are lesser skilled, equally skilled, and higher skilled than you. If what you’re doing works on the lesser, try it on the equally skilled. If what you’re doing works on the equally skilled, then move it to the higher skilled. This works inversely as well. If what you’re doing does NOT work on the higher skilled player then you will need to re-asses what it is you’re doing. Based on the results, adjust accordingly.

Why? Different levels will give you different looks. If you started with someone higher skilled than you, you will likely be in a more defensive mindset rather than experimental or offensive. Playing with lower skilled players offers you the opportunity to explore and experiment.

How to improve outside of games

Drill. Find someone to drill with. Playing games involves too many emotions tied with winning/losing and variables that don’t provide the same feedback. Drilling helps with that. Also, with drilling you receive a consistent repetition, allowing you to work on the technique and not the result of a game.


Every time you play a match, play with intention. My coach calls it ‘exploitation’ or ‘exploration’. In exploitation, you’re strictly trying to win and leverage the skills you’ve been working on. Basically, your whole game. In exploration, you’re still trying to win but your first priority is working on a specific skill set. When in exploration, you do not let your partners feelings for winning keep you from working on that desired skill set.

“When your desire to win supersedes your skill to win, you’ll face problems.”

The next part is very important. I won’t even try to put this into my own words and will just quote my coach:

“Once a skill is stabilized it has to be de-stabilized. You have to find a new intention for that action. Try to do something different or you will hit diminishing returns… the brain is a novelty seeking machine.”

Training without a coach can be difficult so I’m hoping this offers you guidance in how to make better use of your time on the courts and helping you reach your goals. I’m still early in my journey so as I learn more I will write more.

Moisture grip aid:

Pickleball discount codes/coupons:

  • Civile apparel: BRIANLIM
  • Kitch: dink20
  • Pickleball savings: Jimmy
  • Pickleball Central: CRGAP, CRLCP



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