Group Training | An Ethos

The following note resonated with students in our popular Saturday Morning Clinic at Dunbar.

How do cooperation and competition co-exist in pickleball?

Some of you are veterans of both the winter and spring Saturday Mornings Clinics. Some have experienced either the former or latter. Some are coming into this for the first time—but have heard stories.

Which is all to say, we have a variety of skill levels and experiences in the gym. For more practical coaches, it would make more sense to run an “intermediate” clinic separately from an “advanced” clinic. Why combine the two on Saturday mornings?

There is, we have observed, legitimate magic when players at different stages of their journey drill together—in the right environment. It’s not particularly useful, for instance, to ask our more experienced players to rein in their precision and guile during COMPETITIVE drills. (Which is why we’ll be more deliberate this summer in assigning partners and courts than in previous Saturday clinics.)

But for COOPERATIVE drills, we believe there is something to be learned from the ritualized sparring that takes place between partners in martial arts. In cooperative drills, the more experienced partner (3.5+) will take on the roll of uchidachi. The less experienced (3.0~) become shidachi. Uchidachi translates to “the striking/attacking sword.” Shidachi is “the serving sword” (or “the doing/receiving sword”).

Uchidachi controls the pace of the drill, performing each stroke with a precise intention, proper form, strong spirit. In these cooperative drills, uchidachi has the opportunity to demonstrate PERFECT strokes. Through flawless repetitions, we build mastery.

Depending how confident some of you feel in your role as uchidachi, you may even find yourself gently pointing out small cracks in the shidachi’s ready position or footwork. You might, for example, make a subtle gesture to your drill partner to “hold their paddle up” or to “cover middle” before the rep begins. You might also offer a playful lesson in the consequences of leaving, say, the right hip exposed, or an alley open up the line. (Emphasis on SUBTLE and PLAYFUL…because nobody appreciates a know-it-all.)

The coaches might encourage some of you to dig even deeper into your role of uchidachi, finding ways to build the tension of real combat, while maintaining a concise and structured drill. It’s one thing to clearly see the way a point will end before it even begins. It’s another to visualize alternate combinations of shots that will lead to the same ending.

To emphasize, there is nuance to these roles. Please don’t ever hesitate to ask the coaches for advice. In one drill, you could find yourself in the role of uchidachi. But when we rotate partners, you might find yourself shidachi. With an equally experienced partner, you might even find yourselves deliberately reversing the roles through the course of a single rally.

If you’re the newer player (shidachi), and find yourself in drills with the experienced 3.5+ players (uchidachi), take a deep breath before each repetition. Watch the ball. Don’t rush. Keep it simple. Don’t try to outsmart the drill. Remember, the experienced players are more impressed by your control than your power. By your calm and poise. Also remember, nobody in the gym, at any level, is impressed with big backswings, or balls that end up in the net, or whacked into the court beside you. (Each of us are here for the highest quality repetitions—emphasis on repetitions—so please do your best to keep the ball in play during drills.)

The tension in our training comes from attempting to keep the ball in play while giving our partners challenging repetitions.

One thing we’ve learned from the first two programs is, 90 minutes goes by quickly. Please arrive a few minutes early for the clinic, body prepared, mind focused on the session ahead.