Calvin Keeney in a yellow shirt holding a Pickleball Paddle next to Tyson McGuffin in a black jacket holding a Pickleball Paddle

Pickleball Tips I Learned from Tyson McGuffin

Tyson McGuffin came to Austin, Tx. to host a few weeks of Pickleball camps. I was fortunate enough to meet the current ranked #1 Pickleball player in the world during one of those weeks.

I had seen him play on YouTube videos as he’s won several gold medals at huge events such as the U.S. Open. So I was excited to learn from him at the camp.

My mind was anxious before meeting him. Would he be nice? How would he be as a coach? Are my shoes even worthy enough of being on the same court as him?

I was immediately calmed and felt like I belonged right after meeting Tyson. He seemed like a genuinely great guy and I was able to switch focus to excitement about his camp.

Here is what I learned from Tyson as a Pickleball player and coach.

(Related: Here is info on Pickleball coaching I offer for those wanting to up your game or for new players wanting to learn the basics.)

Where to Find Tyson McGuffin Online and His Upcoming Camps

Along with winning a lot of gold medals, Tyson has done a great job of keeping several of his social media sites up to date. Follow along his journey at one of the following:

And you can also find upcoming Pickleball camps that Tyson will be head coaching here. (Note: Some of the camps listed are taught by other Pickleball Pros).

Big Takeaways from Tyson McGuffin for Pickleball Players

Let’s jump into some of the key concepts I learned as a Pickleball player from Tyson.

3 Zones of Hitting the Pickleball

Tyson talked a lot about 3 important areas that players hit the ball from.

  • Red Zone – Below the knees
  • Yellow Zone – Knees to waist
  • Green Zone – Above the waist

You likely want to be attacking every ball in your green zone (or dodging them if they are going out). And you should be playing defense with most balls hit to you in your red zone. The yellow zone is more of the grey area and it depends on how difficult of a shot you can hit back.

Things to consider when attacking a ball include…

When is a Good Time to Attack the Ball?

When you have great BPS (Balance, Position and Strike-zone) then you should likely be attacking the ball. Let’s discuss each in a bit more detail.

Balance – Make sure that you have a good center of gravity and that you aren’t moving forward or backwards too much.

Position – It’s often a bad time to attack when you or your partner has been pulled out wide. Most attacks don’t win the point outright so it’s important to wait and attack when both you and your partner can cover the counterattack shot.

Strike zone – When the ball is in your greenzone then you have the green light. Yellow zone and you should use some caution. It’s very rare that you should want to attack from the red zone. Though one of the few shots I’ve seen that is effective when attacking from the red zone is a top spin lob from the kitchen when you have good balance and position.

See how your balance, position and strike zone are the next time you are playing and attacking the ball. Notice how much more effective your attacks are when you are hitting balls primarily in your green zone while in good position and balanced.

Mindset – Land of Opportunity vs. No Man’s Land

“No Man’s Land” – What I used to call the area between the base line and the kitchen line.

“Land of Opportunity” or “Transition” – Now what I refer to the court between base/kitchen lines.

Tyson explained this area really well and when you should be in the land of opportunity. Here are a couple of times you should be happy that you are in Transition:

  • When working your way up to the kitchen on the 5th, 7th and 9th shots of the point. Often times you don’t have enough time to get to the kitchen line after your 3rd shot drop or drive. So it’s common that you take a step or two forward and then do a split step, hit a 5th shot and take another step or two up, hit a 7th shot and so on until you reach the kitchen.
  • Another great time to go to Transition is when you are at the kitchen and you notice your opponents about to attack. Taking a step or three back into Transition will give you more time to block and defend their aggressive shots. Your goal then comes trying to make it back to the kitchen line with drops, blocks or whatever else you may hit.

I have been feeling more comfortable in Transition or Land of Opportunity when I have been playing since the camp ended. You should try practicing some shots in Transition. One way to do this is to have a friend feed you balls from the kitchen. You hit several drop shots from the baseline working your way up to kitchen. Then back from kitchen to baseline.

Then you feed for your friend and see how many times you can “slinky” back and forth from baseline to kitchen.

Big Picture vs. Small Picture

When you focus on the “big picture”, you are looking at a macro view of the point. Big picture items of focus include:

  • Where are your opponents standing?
  • How are they holding their paddles?
  • What is your partner doing?
  • Etc.

And when you are focusing on the “small picture”, then you are hyper focusing on hitting the ball that is approaching you.

Tyson encouraged players to really try and focus more on small picture when about to hit a ball. He also pointed out that your opponents best move is to concentrate on small picture when hitting the ball. Knowing this, it’s often times a good strategy to do things that may divert your opponents attention from small picture.

Several moves that you can do to distract your opponent from small picture could be:

  • Moving around the kitchen in preparation for an Ernie.
  • Switching with your partner at the appropriate part of the point.
  • Poaching a shot when you are at the kitchen while your partner is at the baseline or land of opportunity.

There are other ways to distract your opponent from small picture when they are preparing to hit a ball but these are the very common. The important part is for you to get your body in a position and ready to hit a ball before it gets to you. That way you can focus more on small picture when hitting the ball.

Who Has the Advantage? Serving Team vs. Returning Team

A lot of you may know that the returning team is more likely to win a point because they are often first to get to the kitchen. But by how much?

Tyson said that the returning team is 60-65% likely to win the point. Though he reminded everyone that the serving team actually has the advantage because they are the only ones who can win an actual point. So don’t forget that 🙂

Taking more risks when on the serving team might be more beneficial knowing that it’s tougher to win the point.

Pickleball Dinking Tips with the #1 Ranked Pickleball Player

Here are some tips on dinking the ball inside your opponents kitchen when you are at your kitchen.

  • Use shoulder more (less wrist)
  • Engaging your wrist a bit can cause your arm to naturally use its shoulder more.
  • Keep lower body in an athletic ready position (knees bent) but rather still. Don’t move a lot and take few steps.
  • Be composed in both your upper and lower body.
  • A great tip he gave was to have a set pattern when dinking. Hit two balls to their left foot, then one to their right. Maybe next point alternate hitting to each foot. This causes your opponent to hit both backhand and forehand dinks back to you.

These are some great tips I’ve been using myself and they work very well! Tyson also pointed out to notice your opponents position and comfort level at the kitchen. He said it’s often a good idea to hit it to the player who moves a lot more and looks uncomfortable at the kitchen.

Ways to See Out Balls Before they are Hit

The best way to know when to move out of the path of a ball that is likely to go out is to know that it’s probably going out before it’s hit.

But how do you do that?!?!

Well, here are 3 common scenarios to look for as your opponent gets ready to hit the ball.

  1. When they are driving the ball and moving forward as they are hitting the ball (vs. having their feet planted prior to hitting).
  2. If your opponent takes a huge back swing from the kitchen.
  3. When they are off balance and taking a big swing.

These are general guidelines and don’t always work, but I have personally found them to be a great rule of thumb when reading my opponents ball before they even hit it.

3 Types of Volleys in Pickleball

There are 3 main types of volleys which include the:

  1. Push Volley – This is where you are pushing the ball out in font of your body. Making contact about a foot away from your body is good. Try not to reach too far though. This is used mostly to attack a ball that is around your stomach/chest area. It’s also quite good at counterattacking an aggressive dink.
  2. Block Volley – Brace yourself. This is the volley we use to defend from a hard hit ball. Our goal is to drop the ball into the kitchen and get ourselves back into the point. Keeping the paddle close to your body for this shot is generally a good idea.
  3. Roll Volley – Ping Pong players are naturals at this shot. When you see a player attacking a poorly hit drop shot out of the air when the ball is around net level, then it’s usually a roll volley. A roll volley has a lot of topspin and is used to keep your opponents further back in the court (closer to the baseline).

A few general tips that Tyson gave when hitting most volleys include:

  • Pretend that you have a ball tucked beneath the armpit of your hitting arm. This helps you have more accuracy.
  • Focus on small picture when hitting volleys.
  • Less is more. Use your opponents ball pace against them.
  • Keep your upper extremities quiet (don’t move your upper body a lot. Stay calm)

Again, these are general tips. A lot of shots depend on many variables. I will reiterate that Tyson was amazing at coaching and one attribute that made him so good was that he could give very valuable feedback for very specific shots that were happening in the game he was watching. I would highly recommend his coaching to anyone wanting to become a great Pickleball player.

Tips on Having a Better Pickleball Mindset

I loved a lot of the tips Tyson had on how he views Pickleball. I think this could be helpful to a lot of players whether you are a 3.0 or 5.0. Some of them include:

  • It doesn’t have to be perfect. Sometimes just getting the ball over is enough for your opponent to make a mistake. Even at the pro level you would be surprised.
  • Change up your strategy from time to time. Particularly if you are losing. Make it a slow and painful death trying new things vs. a quick loss to the same mistake(s).
  • Pickleball is a roller coaster of momentum. There are a lot of huge point swings in Pickleball so hang in there when on a downward spiral. Try new strats or hit a more high percentage shot and see if you get back in the game.
  • Most faults on a serve come from rushing the shot. Rushing a shot usually happens because of frustration from a previous point.

There were many more great sayings and outlooks Tyson had on Pickleball but these were some of my favorites. If you ever get a chance to get coaching from him, try and remember some more golden nuggets to help out your own game.

And you are always welcome to set up a coaching session with me as well.

Power Serving Tips

I used to be in the camp of “safe serve is better than a risky power serve.” My mindset has changed after helping out Tyson at his camp.

Because the returning team has such an advantage to win the point, I have started thinking that I should work on my serve to be able to hit a shot that’s tougher to return. I watched Tyson play against several other 5.0 players (pros) up close. It was amazing seeing how many errors he was able to force with his powerful serve.

Some of the tips Tyson gave on the serve were:

  • Have a closed stance to get more torque which will generate more power. A closed stance is where you have one foot forward and the other behind it. Transfer your energy from your back foot to your front foot as you hit the ball.
  • Hit the ball higher above the net with a lot of topspin. Deeper in the court the better.
  • Have a good follow through but don’t finish your swing high like you would a groundstroke. You should hit through the ball but finish your shot lower, using your wrist a bit more to generate topspin.

And he also had some tips for the returning team.

Pro Tips for Returning Serves

There are several things to think about when hitting a return. These are both from hearing Tyson at the camp along with seeing him play. Try not to take these as “the right way” to hit a return, but more of tools in a tool belt to try out the next time you are returning.

  • Hit a return that gives you plenty of time to get to the kitchen. The big advantage the returning team gets is from when both you and your partner get to the kitchen after the return while keeping the serving team back at the baseline.
  • If you find yourself not getting to the kitchen before they hit the 3rd shot back, then add some more loft to your return.
  • Having a lot of backspin on your return can be used against you when facing a strong hitter. Specially if the return you hit is short.
  • Less spin and a higher return is usually more effective when facing hard hitters that drive the 3rd shot a lot.

He also talked about how it’s good for the non returner to have an open stance. This allows them to help with out calls and to know to poach on short returns.

Berts and Ernies

An Ernie is where you hit the ball from outside of the court near the net (to the side of the kitchen). To accomplish this during a point, you can either:

  1. Step through the kitchen with one or both feet.
  2. Step over the kitchen
  3. Or jump over the kitchen as you hit the ball

I remind players that the kitchen is 2 dimensional, not 3-D. So you are allowed to “enter” the kitchen above it. You just can’t hit the ball while it’s in the air and be in the kitchen (or end up there with your momentum).

But you can be on the side of the kitchen and hit the ball which is what is referred to as an Ernie. Based on a recreational player named Ernie 🙂

Some key notes on hitting an Ernie:

  1. You have to make contact with the ball on your side of the net
  2. But you can follow through onto your opponents side of the net
  3. If you ever hit or touch the net with any part of you (your person or paddle), then you lose the point.
  4. And you must establish both feet outside of the kitchen before hitting the ball. This is important if you used the “walk through the kitchen” method above. It’s not enough to just establish one foot outside of the kitchen and lift the other foot in the air. You must actually have both feet outside the kitchen and on the court surface before hitting the ball.

A tip Tyson gave on setting up an Ernie

Move your opponent across from you to the inside of the court with a dink, then outside of the court with a dink. And when your opponent accross from you is looking at small picture, move outside the court and prep for the Ernie.

Your partner can also set you up for an Ernie when hitting cross court dinks. The important part is to wait for your opponent across from you to be “casting”, or reaching down for an outwide ball, then to move over for the Ernie.

**Note – It’s also important for your partner to cover the middle of the court when you go for an Ernie.

What’s the difference between a Bert and an Ernie?

A Bert is when your partner does an Ernie in front of you. For example, if my opponent across from me is in a dinking rally with me, my partner will jump over/through the kitchen and hit the ball out of the air.

This is even less common than an Ernie but sounded really cool! I haven’t even pulled off an Ernie yet but I have been trying. A Bert sounds extremely difficult considering I couldn’t even jump that far across the kitchen when my partner was there as well. Hah!

The Benefits of Drilling vs. Playing

Tyson suggested that 1 hour of drilling is equal to 3 hours of playing. So next time you are preparing for a tournament, make sure you drill various shots with your partner. You can get much more practice done drilling than you can in a pick up game.

What I Learned from Tyson McGuffin as a Pickleball Coach

I learned a lot from Tyson as a Pickleball player. But I was also fascinated by all the things I was able to improve on as a Pickleball coach myself. I became a Pickleball coach back in October of 2018 in Austin, Texas. Throughout the last 5 months I have mostly taught beginners how to play the game. But have also started teaching more advanced players the in depth strategies that go on inside the Pickleball court.

My passion for coaching tends to thrive on helping players improve their game. So I naturally was happy to learn a lot as a player because that helps me be a better coach too. On top of that, I was intrigued by observing other players and what they liked seeing from coach Tyson too.

Here’s some things I learned from Tyson that I plan on implementing into my own coaching sessions in hopes to bring more value to players.

Students Enjoy Playing Against the Coach

Practicing new shots and improving on existing strategies are helpful for your players. But sometimes they just want to take a few minutes to practice against you and see how you play.

As a coach this sometimes feels odd. Like I’m not providing a proper lesson or maybe that my student isn’t getting good value. But honestly, it’s something I’ve noticed in my own tennis and pickleball lessons that I teach. It’s also what I noticed Tyson’s students enjoy for the brief moment they got to hit with him.

Now I’m not saying that the whole lesson should be the coach vs. student, but know that players tend to enjoy seeing how their teacher/coach plays out the strategies against them that they are teaching.

Repeating Important Concepts is Essential

This is something I do a lot in my lessons. I feel like I tend to over communicate if anything. My philosophy is to repeat the most important concepts I am wanting students to understand. I noticed Tyson did this as well and I found it very helpful.

He repeated the 3 strike zones (red, yellow and green) quite often as well as big picture vs. small picture. There is a reason I remembered some of these key ideas and that is because Tyson did a great job of reemphasizing them.

Players Find Visual Examples Very Helpful Alongside Verbal Explanation

Explaining strategies and techniques are a helpful way of teaching students. It’s easy to get a bit lazy and to not show them visually what you are talking about though.

Tyson would often give a visual example of what he just explained in words. Even when I knew what he was talking about I found the visual explanation to be valuable.

Humans are good at mimicking other humans so it’s good to show your students what you are explaining. This allows them to mimic you with their own playing.

Thanks for All of the Help and Great Pickleball Advice Tyson!

It was great having you visit here in Austin, Tx. I know I learned a lot both as a player and coach and I look forward to teaching that new knowledge to others as well.

For those of you wanting to learn from the best, then don’t forget to check out Tyson and his upcoming Pickleball camps.

And if you are in the Austin, Tx area and want to improve your game, I offer Pickleball coaching as well.

Thanks for reading!

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