The effects of the outdoor environment can really affect your game
Whether you’ve been freezing your derriere off all winter & are heading outside to enjoy the beautiful weather or you’re a “poor soul” like me who is suddenly facing hotter temps down in the sunshine states, thousands of players go back & forth between indoor & outdoor play throughout the year.
That’s why I wanted to give you some of the not-so-obvious differences between indoor & outdoor play, as well as some strategies for how to play smart in a particular environment.
But, first, let me say that the basics of the game are the same. Check out my article on The 7 Principles & Teachings of The Pickleball Guru if you haven’t read my take on the basics yet. Are you a warm weather dweller? Read what to expect when you play indoors…
Now, let’s knock out the obvious differences:
- When you’re playing outdoors, you’re dealing with sun and wind which can each have a major impact on the outcome of a game.
- Indoors, you’ve got a variety of playing surfaces, which often have dead spots, you’ve got a ceiling to take into account, and walls to smack your paddle up against on a serve or deep return of serve. (Grrrr, isn’t it a pain!)
- Echos & overall sound level can also be an issue for many players, most commonly when playing indoors.
- More often indoors, but outdoors as well sometimes, you have multi-use courts with multiple lines in multiple colors.
- And, of course, most places (but not everywhere!) they play with a complete different ball indoors than out.
So how do you make the most of each playing environment?
I’m not going to tell you the obvious things like wear sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, good court shoes and drink plenty of water when you go outside from indoor play, or to take a step away from the wall to hit your serve or return of serve when you’re playing indoors.
(Did you notice how I slipped that in, and managed to remind you about those things, without actually telling you? Always thinking two steps ahead in pickleball and in life, I am…!) 😉
But seriously. I’ve got much better stuff in store for you, so read on.
The Outdoor Environment
For our purposes, I’m assuming that if you’re playing outdoors, you are playing with one of the Singapore Balls such as the Dura-Ball or Onyx. These balls are harder than the Juggs ball, which is typically used indoors, they have smaller holes, and they weigh about an ounce more.
I have actually played pickleball on a clay tennis court (with a Jugs ball) but again, for our purposes, I’m going to assume that if you’re playing outdoors it’s on a concrete or asphalt court.
The most important things to know & remember about playing outdoors compared to indoors.
So what does that mean for you?
- You don’t have as much time to make your shots so be on alert & ready to react faster than usual.
- Wait ’til the ball goes past the top of the arc to hit a ball off the bounce like I explain in my article, 4 Secrets to Get Your Dropshot to Go Where You Want. This is always a good idea but particularly coming from indoor play to outdoors, it can help you recoup a bit of that lost time and get better control of the ball.
- And if you really want to play better, when the ball doesn’t bounce as high, you’re just gonna have to bend those knees a little bit. I know, I know… I’d say 9/10 when I miss a shot it’s because I didn’t bend my knees… We all get lazy sometimes, but bending those knees can make all the difference.
How to Play the Sun
Here’s my big tip, ready?
Don’t look into the sun.
It might seem obvious, but really. Just don’t do it. Instead, turn around and position yourself to be ready to hit the ball off the bounce. Or, better yet, make an agreement with your partner that THEY will take those balls, since they generally have a much better line of sight on the ball because they have a different angle when you are looking into the sun. Then, when it’s gonna be lost in the sun, call “Switch!” and let them take the shot.
(Meanwhile, I can’t say that hitting the ball so your opponents have to look into the sun isn’t an effective strategy. But I would definitely caution you that the lob shot is much less reliable (and therefore less effective) outdoors than in. Rather than playing “dirty” and trying to make your opponents look at the sun (which is just plain nasty anyway) I’m an advocate for playing smart. And I’m not much of a proponent for defensive lobs, read The Pickleball Lob Shot: A Winning or Losing Strategy? for more info.)
How to Play the Wind
Compensate for the wind. Again, my wife (and co-creator for these articles) wondered if this wouldn’t be too obvious, but I can’t tell you how many people I see play exactly the same in the wind as without it. If you’re playing into the wind, you have to hit your serve 3-5 times harder than you would otherwise. And if it’s at your back, just give it a light touch. No matter what, account for drift, left, right, closer to you, farther away, it’s gonna move.
That’s why it’s even more important to keep your eye on the ball when you’re playing in the wind. So often, it’s just not where you thought it was going to be. Sometimes, there’s just nothing you can do, but most of the time, simply making a concerted effort NOT to go for those put-away shots, and to just keep the ball in play, will save the day.
I can’t say it enough, but really: Winning a point in pickleball is 80% about not screwing up by hitting the ball into the net or out of bounds.
One last tip for playing outdoors…
Remember that generally there is more room around the net on an outdoor court than indoors. This means your opponent has a better chance of going for an around-the-pole shot or even the Erne Shot (if your gang is amongst the more cunning & aggressive types) so be prepared for those shots. (Or if YOU are the more cunning & aggressive type, you could try for one yourself.)