What is a meaningful warm up?

What is a meaningful warm up?
Mark Renneson

Source: Pickleball Canada Scoop Newsletter - May 2023

If you are like most people before you start playing a game, you hit some balls with your partner or opponents; probably a bunch of dinks, maybe a few volleys and smashes, some forehands and backhands from the back of the court, and possibly some drops and lobs.

But how deliberate is your warm-up, really? How focused are you during it? Again, if you’re like most people, the answer is probably not very. Let’s look at why the warm-up matters and what you can do to make it great.

First, whether you are preparing for a match or a lesson, this is a chance to not only get sweating a little bit, but to build confidence in yourself and set the tone for what’s about to come. Here are some tips:

Hit all the shots you’ll need. Don’t focus on your favourite shots or the ones that you hit best. Make sure that all the shots you’re using the game will get some love. That means drops and drives, dinks and volleys, smashes, lobs, serves and returns. And these should be hit not just with your forehand! Your backhand isn’t going to magically get better by avoiding it.

Have clear targets. Where, exactly, are you aiming your serve? How about your drop? Where do you want your volley to land? Whether you’re trying to keep the ball low, hit it deep, or to the sideline, it’s important that you have a clear target in mind each time you hit the ball. After all, you’re going to be aiming for a specific spot when you’re playing, right? — might as well start now.

Don’t miss (much). In addition to getting physically warm, the warm-up is a chance to build confidence. If you’re hitting every third or fourth ball out of bounds, you’re probably not going to feel great once you get to 0-0-2. Give yourself nice big targets at first and a decent margin for error. It’s really important to initially hit the ball at a speed that you’re super consistent with.  As you get loose and start making those shots, you can make the targets a little more precise and start hitting harder too.

Coaches, you should also make the warm-up section of your lesson meaningful. We spend a lot of time with this in Instructor 2: Developing Recreational Players. While you shouldn’t be teaching new skills in the warm-up (reinforcing previously learned skills is fine), you should give your players specific tasks and connect those tasks to the game: “Let’s see if one team can hit 20 balls in a row. That’s the consistency you’ll need against good opponents”; “Try to get the return of serve to land within 5 feet of the baseline – that will make it harder for the other team to attack”. Give the players clear targets and make a tactical connection so they understand why that target is important. Praise and encourage effort and focus. The warm-up is a great chance for you to set the tone for the whole lesson.

Can you have a great warm-up and still play poorly? Of course. But a thoughtful, focused warm-up increases the likelihood that you’ll perform well when the game gets going. And with a little care and attention to detail, it’s really not that difficult to do.

Mark Renneson is Tennis Canada’s Head of Pickleball Coach Education. He oversees Canada’s National Pickleball Instructor Certification Program which is a joint project between Tennis Canada and Pickleball Canada. He can be reached at mrenneson@tenniscanada.com

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