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Getting Behind the Ball

Getting Behind the Ball

Many shots are missed because the player didn’t get behind the ball. That means taking the extra energy necessary to step into the ball’s path so your body is aligned to have the best control for a return shot. This is especially important with diagonal dinking in the kitchen. Even though you will have to quickly return to a neutral position, you’ll have much better control if you step to where you need to be.

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What If You Can’t Drop The Third Shot Into the Kitchen?

What If You Can’t Drop The Third Shot Into the Kitchen?

No doubt you’ve heard that the best pickleball action depends on dropping the third shot into the kitchen. But what if you can’t reliably drop that third shot into the kitchen? What are your options?

One of the best is to drive the ball hard and low across the net. Against top players this will seldom work because they’ll just slam it back even harder, quite possibly right at your feet, or at an impossible angle. But among average players, this is probably your best bet. If you are a tennis player, or have skill at low, fast shots, you can try putting long shots close to the sidelines. Most players will struggle with this, especially when you place a ball along the edge of the court away from the opponent’s strong hand, forcing a backhand or switch-handed return.

Another good place to put your fast low shot is right between the two players. They will often flub this return because of indecision as to who should return it.

Lobs are another possibility, but can be hard to place. Too close to the net and you’ll eat a monstrous return. Too far back, and it will probably land out of bounds. Too low, and it will be slammed back. Too high, and the opponents will have time to run back and return it. However, many beginners and even intermediate players misjudge the timing on lobs and fail to return them.

Have fun! – Jeff

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Why Would a Pickleballer Do This?

An Unexpected Pickleball Exercise

If you’ve never tried it, you may find bouncing a ball off the edge of your paddle is easier than you thought. It’s not like that for everyone. Some people have to practice quite a bit. For all of us, whether natural at it or not, this can be quite valuable.

The reason is that it teaches several skills that are at the heart of our favorite sport.

1. It teaches you to follow the ball right to the paddle. Many people strike blindly at the ball, while looking at the opposing court, the net, or something distant. If one’s shots too often go wild, then following the ball all the way to impact with the paddle is a good habit to learn.

On the other hand, it is also important with some shots more than others, to see to the best of your ability where your opponents are, and hit to their feet, slightly to their left side, and so on. I, personally, tend to hit a lot of shots blind, meaning I don’t watch the ball all the way to impact, but instead, look to where I’m putting the ball. To complicate things further, misdirection with the eyes and body can be a valuable tactic. Glance where you want the ball to go, but then pretend to look somewhere else to throw your opponents off balance.

2. Many players have random shots because their paddle isn’t at the right angle in their hand. I have talked about this elsewhere in One cure is the Thumb Guide Grip. Another is to become absolutely familiar with the angle of the paddle in your hand. This edge bouncing exercise does that nicely.

3. It builds your reaction time. When you get in a popcorn war, you’ll want to react as fast as possible, as fast as you’ll learn to react when you’re bouncing the ball off the edge of your paddle, it goes sideways, and you manage to correct it on the next bounce.

4. It makes new opponents worry that you are better than you really are, or that you are so confident that they don’t have a chance. This last point is a bit of a stretch, but in any case, you’ll enjoy filling your idle time with activities like edge bouncing while players are rounding up balls between rallies or when waiting for everyone to show up on the court to start a game.

Please feel free to experiment with higher bounces, lower bounces, switching from hand to hand, rolling the ball over the edge, under the leg or behind the back bouncing – just anything you can think of.

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More About Lobs

More About Lobs

Most pickleballers come to a time in their development in which lobs seem like a good idea. The typical pickleballer at this stage will lob many times per game, always expecting grand results, but getting very poor results. If this player’s partner is slightly more advanced, s/he’s probably thinking “Sheesh!” knowing they can’t come to the kitchen and play a game where there’s a hope of winning. Yes, a lob can work when you have both opponents at the non-volley line, and if your lob is high enough to get over their heads, yet not so high that they have time to run back to return those lobs. But how often does that happen? The fact is, lobs as an offensive move generally don’t work, except in two situations:

You may be playing with beginners who can’t easily return anything that’s high. The common expression is ‘too much time to think,’ as they swing and entirely miss the ball.

The other case is in 5.0-level play, where a soft, kitchen dinking rally has been going on, and suddenly, someone hits the ball high and deep. Sometimes the 5.0 players can jump high enough to smash this back. Sometimes they can turn around, run backward beyond the range of the lob, continue to turn around, facing forward again, and then return the lob.

A place where lobs does work is in defense. Especially in response to a lob. It gives you time to get back into position. If your lob goes deep into the opponent’s court, they have few options for returning it offensively.

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What to Do About Sun in Your Eyes

Pickleball Sun In Your Eyes

What To Do About The Sun In Your Eyes

If you play outdoors, no doubt you’ve experienced the inability to return high shots because the sun was in your eyes. Sunglasses and brimmed hats do very little with the sun when you have to look right at it, but here’s a trick that will help:

Hold your other hand up to block the sun as you follow the ball’s trajectory. Then you can see it clearly, painlessly, and return it powerfully.

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How To Avoid Embarrassment

How To Avoid Embarrassment

If you’re a beginning or intermediate player, you may find yourself with three others who are all very good players. If you’re typical, you will do one of three things, badly losing every game:

  1. You’ll try really hard to drop balls into the kitchen, but it’s not working very well, because that’s beyond your skill level right now.
  2. You just try to return the balls as well as you can, but they consistently go high and get smashed back to you or your partner.
  3. You are oblivious, wondering why the opponents are smashing everything to your partner so hard no one can return them. It seems your partner isn’t so great after all! By the way, how are they managing to smash everything?

The best response is to disregard any advice to try harder to drop things into the kitchen. You know this won’t work. So instead, just focus on one thing: keep the balls low. Very good opponents can offensively handle most balls driven low and hard, but you’re still better off keeping everything low, even if it isn’t a gentle kitchen drop.

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The Flummoxing Response

The Flummoxing Response

When you are with less-experienced players, one thing you can do that has consistently hilarious results is to hit a ball very high. You need a bit of skill to do this, because until you practice it quite a bit, the ball will tend to go out of bounds way past the baseline. Or, you’ll have it drop so close to the net that the opponents can let it bounce, then slam it back at you.

When you get it right, you’ll find that people have considerable trouble returning it well, if at all. They just can’t make the conversion in their minds about waiting (waiting) for the very vertical bounce, and hitting it horizontally back to you. They’ll often miss the ball entirely, and at other times will hit it remarkably out of bounds.

A good server can also serve very high. Sometimes you’ll see that the very best players, who know there’s no serve the opposition can’t return, will a serve very high. There is a limit to the height at which the height of serve is useful, but the good players will often serve it much higher, just for the fun of seeing how high they can serve.

You don’t generally want to try this outdoors on a windy day unless you are pretty sure you can have it land in the right place. But then, if you do, the problems are compounded for the recipients.

You don’t want to do this indoors unless you are good at getting it as high as possible without hitting the ceiling.

You don’t want to do this on a sunny day, with the sun behind you, because that just wouldn’t be fair, or nice, to the recipients.

And finally, you don’t want to do this with absolute beginners, because unless they are warned, they’ll quite possibly run backward to respond, and fall, resulting in an injury.

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A Strategy For Too Many Players

A Strategy For Too Many Players

I recently attended an indoor pickleball venue with three courts and more than 25 players. The arrangement the people in charge made was not ideal, but perhaps as perfect as real life allows.

The first twelve people to arrive played on the three available courts. As more people arrived, they put their paddles in a row on a bleacher, starting from the left.

As soon as a game ended, the two winners added their paddles to the right side of the line up, and the two losers then added their paddles. Meanwhile, the four people who had paddles farthest to the left picked up their paddles and began a game.

At that venue, I noticed that if someone wasn’t paying attention, and was one of the next four players up, a good bit of confusion ensued as people tried to identify who was missing. Meanwhile, the court was empty. I’d suggest adding a ten-second rule. If one of the four people isn’t ready, even after loudly announcing that another game is to start, move on to the fifth player in the row.

You may be wondering how to take care of friends who want to play together, or advanced players who want to play only with other advanced players. They can clump up two, three, or four paddles together, placing one on top of another. Ideally, the clump will be four people, because otherwise you can have a situation in which you have two or three advanced players, and one or two, well, not so advanced.

So, what if there is a number of paddles in the row that’s not four before the clump? There are two polite options. One is to have one or more of the people in the clump defer to someone ahead of them in the line. This defeats the purpose of the clump and is not recommended, unless the players ahead of the clump are well matched to those in the clump.

The other option is to politely wait so you can all play together, allowing those before your clump to play with players after your clump. In other words, if you have three players ahead of the clump, then the first player after your clump can join them, and the four in the clump wait until the next court is available.

I have played in this system before, and it generally works fine. To my utter shock, when I played in this system the other day, the four players who stayed in the clump consistently jumped ahead of all the one, two, or three individual players before them. When politely confronted by the people they jumped over, they narcissisticly said something like “You don’t mind, do you?” When someone objected, one of the clump players then got right in his face and loudly said, “Oh, grow up, don’t be childish!” And these were all older adults. I just wonder how people could live over 50 years on this earth, and still think that kind of behavior is OK. Hopefully, you will never run into that on your courts!

There are some other ways to relieve the strees of too many players. One is to play games to only seven points, with sudden death (meaning, you need to win by only one point, not two). This way, players don’t have to wait as long between games. Another way is to use rally scoring.

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Where To Serve

Where to Serve

At the beginning stages, most of us are happy just to get the ball in the court. With practice, you can place your serves with a degree of accuracy. Since you have the opportunity to place serves where you want, you might as well know where the recipients will have the most trouble.

First, almost all good serves land far back, close to the baseline. If your serve is short, the opponents can approach the kitchen right away, and in many cases, return a diagonal ball into your kitchen that you’re not ready for. Instead, you want to keep them away from the kitchen as long as possible.

Therefore, you may be amused to discover that when you’re serving from the right half, a serve that’s as diagonal as you can manage, into your opponent’s forward right corner, just behind the kitchen line is ridiculously difficult to return. This serve violates the notion that all serves should be close to the baseline. The recipients have to stand behind the baseline in case you serve deep and direct, so serving into the front right corner will make them run forward, putting them at a disadvantage. You don’t generally want a high, slow serve into the front right corner, because that will give the opponent time to respond with a diagonal into your kitchen or maybe even a dink that will put your team on the defensive. The interesting thing about this serve is that it is to the forehand of right-handed players – 89.9% of the population, and so you’d think it is not hard to return. Oddly, serving from the left court to the very diagonal left corner does not have the same effect on a right-hander. They are more easily able to return that as a backhand.

That being said, the serve to the right front corner gives even left-handers difficulties.

So where do you serve when serving from the left half of the court? Right, as close to the centerline as possible. Both right and left-handers have to stand away from the centerline, in case you give them a very diagonal serve. Plus, most servers do not strive for close to the centerline, so for many opponents, it can be an unexpected serve. But, there is a big difference in serving too close to the centerline. Whereas the right-to-right front corner serve bounces out of the court, the near-centerline serve will bounce nicely into your recipient’s strength. So, for the left-to-left centerline serve, make it a fast, low serve to land as close to the baseline as possible.

You’ll find that it is easier to do the right side serve into the front corner if you stand as close to your right sideline as possible, and for the left-to-left serve, stand as close to the centerline as you can.

pickleball serves
Notice that the serving positions are as far right as possible.

Now that I’ve said all that, I also need to state the obvious: You don’t want to serve this way every time. Your opponents will learn how to return it. The expert server will mix these in with lob serves, fast and direct serves into the center or opposite corners, and anything else that keeps the recipients away from the kitchen.

For beginning and intermediate play, another option is a very short spin serve, as mentioned in the previous section. If you plant a short and very spinny serve just behind the kitchen line, your recipient is almost sure to respond poorly.

When you’re playing with very advanced players, the advantages of these serves go away. For advanced players, any good serve as close to the baseline as possible is as good as any other.