Momentum: Use it or Lose it
Opinion by Wayne Kerr, Pickleball Canada – The Scoop – November Newsletter
What is momentum? In Physics or Newtonian Mechanics, linear momentum, translational momentum, or simply momentum (pl. momenta) is the product of the mass and velocity of an object. It is a vector quantity, possessing a magnitude and a direction.
In sports, it isn’t quite as quantifiable. Momentum is used to describe being on a roll, everything is clicking, you and/or your team are making positive things happen, etc. Momentum is a great thing, unless the other side has it.
In Pickleball momentum is built by scoring points. Scoring multiple points when your side is serving and holding the other team to one point or less when they serve gives your team momentum and robs your opponents of theirs.
Momentum can be elusive. Oftentimes neither team has it. Maybe both teams are making errors or both teams are playing equally as well. Sooner or later one of the teams will gain some momentum and start scoring multiple points. If this is your team, that is good, ride the momentum as long as possible. This is sometimes easier said than done. One shot can stop the momentum. A great shot made by an opponent is only one of the momentum killers.
All too often we halt our own momentum by making avoidable errors. Momentum fosters confidence which is a good thing unless it makes you overly brave. Driving (over-hitting) a ball into the net or back fence is the number one momentum killer that I see on the court. Missing your serve will often crush any momentum you have going on. Don’t change your game plan or style of play to avoid making errors, just do your best not to give away the momentum with rash errors. This is pickleball, mistakes happen, shake it off quickly. Nothing gives away momentum like two or three quick errors in a row.
Suppose the other team has the momentum, what can you do to slow or stop this? If you are in a tournament, take a ‘Time Out’. A break between points will often cool a hot team down or give you and your partner time to regroup. If you can’t take a time out during rec play, try changing things up. If you usually return cross-court, try going down the line. If you and your partner have been stacking or switching, don’t for a point or two. If you haven’t been, try switching for a point or two. Do something different to get your opponents out of rhythm. Of course, make sure your partner knows your plan.
Another way to take back momentum is by winning a long point. Focus on keeping the ball in play. If you get a ball you can attack downwards, keep your target large, don’t go for the lines. If you give up an attackable ball scramble, scrape and dig back as many balls as possible. Every time the ball gets back over the net gives you or your team a chance to win the point. If one of your opponents makes an error that may slow their momentum. When one of my opponents makes an error I make it a point to get the ball back onto their paddle right away, especially if they were upset. A couple errors in a row will usually stop their momentum, giving you the opportunity to build some of your own.
Whether I do or don’t have the momentum, I try to stay loose and positive. I always try to encourage my partner after an error. In most cases, it is next to impossible to build or regain momentum if you or your partner are angry or upset. The exception being a partner who is a McEnroe type that gets fired up by adversity. I don’t recommend that you or your partner start questioning line calls or arguing with your opponents or the referee. However, rather than using calming words like: ‘nice try’ or ‘that was the right shot’, try switching to phrases that pump up the intensity such as: ‘Let’s go!’, ‘Come on!’, ‘Fight for it!’, etc.
As I mentioned earlier, momentum can be elusive. It can’t be forced and it can vanish in an instant. Ride it while you have it and do your best to wrestle it back from your opponents when they do.
Momentum is just another fun aspect of this incredible game.
Party on, my pickleball friends!