Advanced Strategies & Tactics

Jeff Shank
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Jeff Shank – a 5.0 rated pickleball champion from The Villages in Florida – held a master-level class in Cranberry’s pickleball enthusiasts on July 17.  Shank, who played at the top-rated 5.0 level in the 50 and older age group, has won gold medals at prior Nationals in both mixed and men’s doubles. He made the finals at the 2017 U.S. Open in Naples, Florida.

His free clinic was presented by the recently-formed Cranberry Township Pickleball Association. After the clinic, Jeff gave the following insights with CTPA:

How did you become a 5.0 player?

I never knew pickleball (PB) existed until I moved to The Villages 11 years ago, and in 2009 won Nationals in the over- 50 category at 5.0.  I had played a lot of racquet sports prior to PB and I think that helped, but basically is was drilling and practicing with opponents who had equal skills that rapidly improved my game.

How can a person improve in Pickleball?

Two ways:  First, learn the basic strategies and implement them. If you do not have a lot of free clinics locally, a lot is available on YouTube. I recommend using Sarah Ansboury's free blog and her YouTube videos, as she is one of the best instructors.

Next, I also recommend starting or attending drills clinics. Drilling with others is the best  way to improve your game. My wife, who had no racquet skills goes to two clinics each week and is now a 4.5 player.

How important are ratings?

If you want to get better, it is very important to have a PB rating. This way, you can test your skills against other players at your level. Most players enjoy the sport more if they are able to play against those at their level. And having a solid rating is the only way to place like players together. You are very fortunate to have CTPA  provide ratings from the start.  Honestly, it is the nirvana of PB to be able to go to the courts and be assured you are playing people your own level.  It also is great that you recognized that some people do not care about ratings and I appreciate that CTPA has a Social Membership for these people.

Do people get better by playing people with higher ratings than they have?

That is the biggest mistake people make is by thinking they have to play higher rated people to improve. When you are winning 85+% of your games with similar rated players then you may want to move up.  If you want to  improve in pickleball, you must constantly  practice and drill, and then use these improved techniques in your game.  Again, my understanding is CTPA plans to have regular practice and drill sessions and therefore I recommend anyone looking to improve to be part of this association.  

At the same time in the Villages, there is an unwritten obligation that top players should step up and volunteer to help those who are looking to develop their PB skills. They are the volunteers who provide these practice sessions and clinics. I highly recommend that philosophy be adopted by higher rated people of CTPA.

Any other comments after your visit to Cranberry Township?  

My wife and I loved your community and your overall enthusiasm for sports.  We are very impressed with your parks and saw the construction of your eight outdoor pickleball courts!  I hate playing pickleball indoors, and feel playing pickleball outdoors in the elements is how the sport was intended to be played. We see there is strong enthusiasm for PB here, and know that in no time you will begin building additional outdoor courts to accommodate the growth.  Good luck with CTPA!