Wednesday, October 20, 2021

On Final Approach

Coach Wayne’s Corner

Photo by Wayne Clark

In last week’s column titled “Going Through the Gears,” I discussed the thought process and patterns required to effectively make decisions on my shot options, as well as what kind of and how much spin to apply to the ball. 

In addition to all of that knowledge, we also need to have the comprehension and understanding of how gravity impacts the flight of the ballwhich leads us to Newton’s law of gravity. 

As we all remember from our High School Physics classNewton’s law of universal gravitation usually states that every particle attracts every other particle in the universe with a force that is directly proportional to the product of their masses and inversely proportional to the square of the distance between their centers. 

Simplistically and fundamentally speaking for the purpose of pickleball, we want to utilize the effects of gravity to encourage our ball to have a downward flight path as it is crossing the plane of the netunless we are hitting a lob. To accomplish this with the understanding of Newton’s law of gravity, we also need to understand the physics of flight.  

Think of it like being on final approach in an airplane. The pilot has the aircraft traveling at a specific speed, at a specific descending height, on a specific glide path, which will land at a specific point on the runway. The pilot will utilize the flaps and the speed of the engines to adjust to constantly changing variables associated with the height and distance and to descend to the final touch down on the runway. 

This same theory applies itself to the flight of a pickleball. 

The first thing we need to determine is where the apex of the fight of our ball needs to be.  

When hitting a pickleball, we need to apply the proper amount of spin and speed to the ball to adjust the height in relation to the distance, to effectively have it descend to the specific location where we want it to land. Just like a pilot utilizes the flaps and the speed of the engines to adjust the height witthe distance to effectively descend to its final touch down on the runway. 

A “landing location” for the placement of my shot with a distance farther away from the point of the ball leaving my paddle will require a different apex, speed, and spin on the ball than a “landing location” that is closer (aka, shorter in the court) from the point of the ball leaving my paddle. 

So, think like a pilot on final approach when hitting your shots and make sure you don’t come up short or overshoot the runway when landing your ball in the court. 

Now that we perceive and understand the mental aspects of choosing our shots and deciding what type of and how much spin to apply to the ball, in upcoming columns I will discuss the fundamentals of the physical aspects of applying underspin to the ball. 

Wayne Clark is a professional tennis instructor with over 25 years’ experience coaching players on all levels of the game. Wayne is also qualified in pickleball instruction and is on staff as an instructor with The Pickleball Academy of Southwest Florida at East Naples Community Park. Contact Coach Wayne by email at, or by phone or text at 239-450-6161 

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