Why is it important to watch the shoulders of your opponents?
One thing I hear over & over is how “relaxed” I look on the court.
Sure, part of it is just my personality — and a good ability to look like I don’t have the butterflies, even when I do. But another important factor is that, most of the time, I have anticipated my opponent’s hit two, or even three shots ahead, rather than simply reacting to the shot they just hit.
Think about it: If you don’t know where your opponent’s ball is going until AFTER they hit it, you’ve only got milliseconds to react and respond.
Whereas the further in advance you know (or can make a strong prediction) about what direction they are going to hit the ball, the more time you have to prepare, get in position, and plan YOUR next shot.
In this article, my hope is to give you at least an extra second of time to prepare for your shot.
Whether you’re a beginning player or an experienced tournament player, having even just this short amount of extra time is likely to have your opponents ooh-ing & ahh-ing over your “quick response times” when, secretly, you know that you were getting ready before they even hit their shot.
Here is best tip for how to “see into the future” and predict your opponent’s shot…
Look at their Leading Shoulder
There are other parts of the body (such as the foot and the wrist) that provide a “tell” as to where the ball is going to go, however for the majority of players, the majority of the time, the only thing you need to pay attention to is where their leading shoulder is pointing, and that will tell you where the ball is going.
What is a “Leading Shoulder”?
The leading shoulder is the shoulder on the opposite side of where they are hitting the ball. For right-handed players, the leading shoulder on a forehand is their left shoulder. On the backhand, it’s their right shoulder.
For left-handed players, the leading shoulder is their right shoulder on a forehand and the left shoulder on the backhand.
What does the Leading Shoulder tell you?
The leading shoulder pretty much tells you exactly which direction they are going to hit the ball. Wherever that shoulder is pointing, is where the ball is most likely going to go.
If the Leading Shoulder is pointing left, get ready for the ball to come to your left side. If it’s pointing right, get ready for a ball at your right.
(Even if many good players couldn’t consciously tell you that this is how they know where the ball is going, they probably pick up on it subconsciously.)
In the photo above, the most likely shot that I would hit would go to the near left side of the court. Do you see why?
Why is This So?
It has to do with the mechanics of the arm and shoulder. Once you are in position & your shoulder is planted, that’s virtually the only shot you can hit if your wrist is firm & in line with your forearm.
Does This Really Apply to EVERYONE?
As I said at the beginning, this is true for the majority of players, the majority of the time.
Chances are that anyone who is coming from a tennis, baseball golf, football, volleyball or basketball background is going to keep their wrist firm at the point of impact and their shoulder positioning will be a perfectly reliable indicator.
The smaller percentage of pickleball players who come from a table tennis, badminton, racketball, squash or cricket background are the ones who are more likely to be able to disguise their shots by throwing in a wrist movement at the point of contact.
But again, that is for a minority of their shots. Looking at their shoulder should still give you a head’s up on the majority of their shots.
(BTW: There ARE other body mechanic “tells” for how predict where a wristy player is going to hit the ball, but that is highly advanced (I only know because of my background as a silver medalist in the French National Table Tennis Tournament) and I could tell you, but then you can guess what might have to happen afterwards…) Just kidding!
So give it a try next time you’re on the court.
Sacrifice a point or two (or heck, a whole game!) for the sake of paying extra close attention to your opponent’s leading shoulder & then seeing for yourself how that predicts where their shot is going to go.
Once you get used to reading this valuable clue, you too, will be able to predict the future.