7 “Hit to the Middle” Secrets Every Pickleball Player Should Know
If you’ve been playing pickleball for any length of time you’ve probably been told by some player (probably more advanced than you) to “Hit to the Middle”. Maybe you’ve even congratulated your team on a winning shot by saying “Down the Middle Solves the Riddle!” (With or without a somewhat obnoxious “Yeah, Baby!” added before or afterwards…)
Hitting down the middle is often an excellent strategy, but it’s also frequently mis-understood and incorrectly implemented. In this article, we are going to cover some of the lesser-understood strategies and nuances tied up in this oft-repeated phrase.
#1) Hit to The Middle Because the Net is Lower There
Basically, you’ve got 3 options.
Hit in front of you, hit to the middle, or hit cross-court.
As long as you are hitting to the middle (even if you are correctly aiming a few feet left or right of the center line depending on where your opponents are), you’ll still be able to take advantage of the fact that the net is up to a full 2 inches lower in the middle, and that mean’s you’re less likely to hit the ball into the net.
And THAT, is always a good thing.
Because… Hitting the ball into the net is NEVER a good (or winning) strategy.
We ARE clear on that, right?? 😉
#2) Hit to The Middle Because It Takes the Angle Off
There’s a time and a place for sharp cross-court dinks or sharp angles down the sideline, but unless you are very accurate and can end the point with your sharp angle, most of the time, hitting a sharp angle just leaves your partner’s sideline wide open for your opponent to take advantage of.
When you hit to the middle, it limits your opponents options and helps you keep control of the point.
#3) Hitting to The Middle Does NOT Mean Hitting to The Middle
And you thought it did, silly you. 😉
Okay, to clarify, maybe when your frustrated partner grumbles under their breath “Hit to the middle!” they DO mean to hit to the middle of the court. But that’s only because they haven’t learned this particular nuance.
I’ll say it right now.
DON’T hit every shot down the line in the middle of the court. (Yes, that would be convenient if it were that simple, but sorry, Charlie, it isn’t.)
It’s not that simple because your shot placement MUST take into account where your opponents are.
I know, shocking, right?
Well, for some of you, especially with more racket sport experience, this might be obvious.
But for MANY players, especially when you are just starting out or working on a new skill, you focus so much on hitting a particular shot (can you say d.r.o.p.s.h.o.t.?) to a particular place that you forget to see where your opponents are and what they are doing.
If you are blindly aiming for a particular spot on the court without considering where you’re opponents are, chances are you might be hitting it directly TO them, and at the very least, you will miss out on taking an opening because you literally aren’t looking for it.
So what should you do instead?
Hit to the MIDDLE of the area between your opponents.
If your opponents are each positioned exactly in the middle of their side of the court, then it would happen that you would be aiming near the centerline of the court. But MOST of the time, the spot you should be aiming for will be left or right of the center of the court.
But even then…
#4) Don’t Always Hit EXACTLY to the Middle Of the Two Players
For Newbie-Beginner players, just leave it at the point I made above. But for Novice-Advanced players, it will probably help to hit slightly off center from the middle of the two players, slightly toward the person with the backhand in the middle. (Assuming you have two rightys with better forehands than backhands).
No matter what level player you’re at, sometimes you’ll be playing against opponents who both have strong shots toward the middle (for example, a right-left combination with good forehands in the middle, or two righties, one who prefers their forehand and one who prefers their backhand.
These are STILL good times to hit to the middle because chances are they will BOTH go for it and confuse themselves. Which brings us to point #5.
#5)Hit to the Middle to Construct Your Point
Now this is key.
This is where pickleball can start to be like chess.
Yes, your opponents may get confused when you hit to the middle, but don’t be disappointed if one of them manages to get the ball back over the net to you because, Grasshopper, you are smarter than that.
You were not hitting to the middle to win on THAT shot, you hit to the middle to set yourself up for an even BETTER shot down the road.
And it is that second (or even third or fourth shot) after you hit to the middle (when your opponents are STILL off balance after the confusing middle shot they are still congratulating themselves for returning) when you can take advantage of their teetering stance or their open sidelines to take your winning shot.
#6) Hit to the Middle Because it Keeps Your Partner in the Game
If you’ve watched the national matches you’ve likely seen those loooooong cross-court dinking ralleys where two players are hitting back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, on the diagonal, while their partners are doing their best to stay awake.
Well, when you have 4 top players on the court, that is sometimes the way to go. But whenever you hit a sharp cross-court shot, your opponent will probably return that shot to you, which makes it VERY difficult for your partner to even reach the ball, and it also puts a lot of pressure on you to make sure you are consistent and keep the ball in play.
When you hit to the middle instead, you open the possibilities back up, where you OR your partner can be ready to hit the next shot, which will often be a put-away.
So, if you’re reading between the lines here, you’ll realize:
If you’re playing with an equal-or-better partner, hit to the middle to keep them involved.
If you’re playing with a weaker partner, STILL hit to the middle to keep yourself involved. Because if you go for a sharp cross court shot and your partner is not shifting correctly to cover their alley, chances are your opponent will go down the line on your partner’s side.
#7) Hit to The Middle, but Probably Not ALL the Time
Call me Captain Obvious, but if you are hitting toward the middle chances are you aren’t hitting to the side.
Sure, you might mess up and hit it in to the net, but hitting it wide is probably not going to be a problem.
Also, you may know that just keeping the ball in play is often enough to win a point (more often than not, your opponents will inevitably hit the ball long, wide or into the net).
So, thinking yourself extremely smart, you might decide to hit every single shot into the middle. After all, you’ll keep the ball in play and reap all the benefits outlined above, right?
Well, depending on your skill level, hitting to the middle ALL the time may or may NOT be a smart strategy.
So how often should you hit to the middle?
Well, like I said, it depends on your skill level.
So do you know what it is?
Yes? Awesome. Keep reading
No? Click here to request your FREE copy of my Ratings & Goals Guide, which will help you figure out your exact skill level and will also give you skill-level specific goals to help you take your game to the next level. Once you’ve identified your skill level using that guide, then come back here to read the rest of this article.
Here are some quick, skill-level specific guidelines for how frequently to hit to the middle compared to going for a cross-court shot or hitting straight on.
Newbie (2.0) – Aim 5/5 Shots to the Middle
If you are a Newbie, aiming for the middle on every single shot actually IS an excellent strategy. It will reduce your unforced errors and stay in the rally. Just do it until you can come back to my Ratings & Goals Guide and be sure that you’re at least a beginner.
But for other skill levels, hitting to the middle every single shot will cause you to become way too predictable AND it will keep you from taking advantage of the openings when you have them.
Beginner (2.5)- Novice (3.0) – Aim 4/5 Shots to the Middle
Yep, I know, it’s still kind of a lot. But trust me. For the level of player that you are, in order to keep the right balance between keeping the ball in play, you should still hit the vast majority of your shots to the middle, but make sure to keep an eye out for the opening, and even if there isn’t one, throw the occasional cross-court or straight-on shot in to mix it up.
Novice (3.5) – Aim 3/5 Shots to the Middle
That’s right. The majority of the time you should still be hitting to the middle but at your level, you’ll need to make sure that you are a little more strategic about it. Hit to the middle when you want to involve your partner. Hit to the middle to construct your point. Hit to the middle when you’re off balance and need to keep the ball in play. But don’t go there 100% of the time.
Intermediate (4.0) – Aim 2/5 Shots to the Middle
At your level, you’ve got to keep your opponents on the move and you MUST have a variety of strategies to create your opening. You’ve got to know exactly when to hit to the middle and make sure to use it to your advantage.
Go for the cross-courts and the straight-on shots when you can, but make sure to hit to the middle when…
- You are in a cross-court rally and the opponent diagonal to you moved wide to get the ball and doesn’t return to position.
- You are in a straight-on dinking rally and your opponent’s partner (diagonal to you) has not shifted to cover the middle of the court
- Almost any time there is more than about 6-7′ between your opponents paddle reach.
Expert (4.5 – 5.0) – Aim 1/5 Shots to the Middle
Once you’re at this level, my friend, it’s all about consistency and constructing your points.
Review all the recommendations above for 4.0 players as those all apply to you, and again, if you or your partner is fatigued, it is always wise to up the percentage of the time you are hit to the middle.
Side Out. Over to You.
So, I hope that you can rest assured and feel more confident next time you play now that you know The 7 “Hit to the Middle” Secrets Every Pickleball Player Should Know.
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