In the fast-expanding realm of virtual coaching, CJ Johnson, of the online training program WeArePickleball, has become one of the go-to web celebs for her practical advice on how “people over 50 can live their best life on and off the pickleball courts.”
For this month’s tip, we turned to the Lake Tahoe–based coach for suggestions about the best way to approach the net with your partner. “When I’m teaching movement,” Johnson says, “I’m reminded of the hit 1987 movie Dirty Dancing: Once you learn to stop invading your partner’s dance space, things are going to get a whole lot easier for you on the pickleball court.”
In following this simple pickleball drill, remember, she says, “Ideally, our dance space is somewhere around six feet. If we get closer to one another, we expose the sides of the court; if we get farther apart, we expose the middle.” The key, Johnson adds, is “focusing on the directional movement a team should make as they move from the baseline up to the non-volley zone (NVZ),” or as Johnson puts it, teams should learn to cha-cha together.
This drill will teach you how to move with your partner toward the net while covering the highest possible percentage of the court. A pickleball court is 20 feet wide from sideline to sideline, so if you and your partner generally stay between six and eight feet apart as you move forward, you should be able to stretch and cover at least 12 to 14 feet of the court. In this drill, always be sure the doubles players on the receiving side start on the baseline standing about six feet apart.
Follow these drills with your doubles partner and Johnson says you should see a change in the way you approach the NVZ the next time you hit the court together. The key to winning is to cha-cha.
CJ (Cathy Jo) Johnson CJ and Tony Roig (pictured above) are the cofounders of WeArePickleball, an online pickleball community promoting health and wellness
Follow the ball down the line
The player on the serving side drives a shot straight down the line and then moves straight forward toward the NVZ following the ball and staying near the sideline. Staying about six feet away from their teammate, the partner simultaneously moves forward, ending up toward the middle of the court. This allows the serving-side player to cover the sideline and the teammate to cover the center, thus exposing only the far side of the court, a difficult shot for your opponents to successfully execute.
Follow the ball to center court
The player on the serving side returns the ball to the center of the court and then moves forward, following the ball to the center of their side. Staying about six feet away, the partner also moves toward the center of their side, allowing the two players to now cover the majority of the court.
Follow the ball crosscourt
The player on the serving side returns the ball crosscourt from the right side of the court to the other even side and follows the ball toward the center of the court. The partner moves forward, staying about six feet away, toward the sideline, allowing the serving-side player to cover the middle of the court and the partner to cover the sideline. Again, this means only the far side of the court is exposed, which is a hard shot for your opponents to execute.