What You Didn’t Know About Poaching
Poaching is a doubles play term that means hitting a ball that is coming into your partner’s area of the court.
You may have a belief that poaching is a bad thing. In purely recreational pickleball with inexperienced players, it could be considered bad form. Paddles will slam together, and your teammate will be offended that you’re ‘stealing shots.’
But in real pickleball, poaching is a good thing. First, as you probably know, if both partners are right-handed the person on the left plays two-thirds or even three-quarters of the entire space, so most shots are forehands. The partner on the right guards the line, and is ready to run back to return lobs. Of course the situation is reversed for two left-hand partners. For partners who are opposite-handed, or for those who switch hands, a brief discussion before playing will help resolve who does what when receiving shots down the middle. Poaching is particularly helpful with opposite-hand partners, since there is a general understanding that whoever is best positioned to handle a ball down the middle will do so.
Grabbing a forehand shot on your teammate’s side of the line is not poaching. In fact, it is expected.
But how much is too much? Anytime you feel that you can make a controlled offensive shot with 80% chance of success, go for it! Anytime you’re 80% sure your partner can’t get a shot and you can, go for it!
This will often fix a situation in which an inexperienced partner is standing too far back. The partner may complain that you poached. This gives you an opportunity to explain that your partner was not where s/he should have been.
Anytime you’re heavily involved in a fast rally, you can follow through even if your feet are well over the center line – assuming you’re not leaving your opponent an easy opportunity to put away the ball where you were. In some cases, you can even switch positions with your partner as you’re pursuing a rally that takes you to the other side of the court. This is like a switch for a lob, but happens quickly and naturally, as your partner sees the need to cover your side of the court.
Rather extreme poaching has a psychological effect on your opponents. They quickly come to believe nothing that comes over the net will get past you.
If you’re playing with an intermediate player who is still concerned about poaching, you’ll find it helps your game to invite the partner to poach you whenever a good situation arises, and to expect being poached as well.