“Randy, please don’t back up.”
“Don’t back up, Randy!”
“Randy! No backing up!”
“GRRRRRRRRRR! Randy! Stop backing up!”
I think that’s the equivalent of a growl!
If you’ve been to any of my bootcamps or clinics, you’ve heard me say a few times (or maybe a few hundred times!) “Paddles Up!” and “Don’t Back Up!”
And you may have heard me growl!
Clearly, I’m not a fan of backing up!
Lots of players have a tendency to back up, either a little or a lot, to take the ball on the bounce.
It seems like you’re giving yourself more time, and it seems like you’re getting into a better position to make a better shot.
There are a couple of reasons why I don’t recommend backing up (and as a bonus, I’ll give you one instance where it’s okay to back up!).
One reason that you shouldn’t back up is the misconception that you are buying yourself more time.
I teach that the shot you want to take is the one that buys yourself more time. So why doesn’t backing up buy yourself more time? Aren’t you providing yourself a precious extra second to make a better shot?
When you back up, you’re actually giving that time to your opponents!
If you can take the ball in air, take it! This gives your opponents less time to reset and get ready for their next shot.
When you back up, no matter how little, you’re giving that time to your opponents; time to reset, time to analyze what you’re about to do with the ball, time to shift side-to-side, even ever so slightly, to counter what you’re about to do with the ball.
If you can take the ball in the air, especially when you’re at the Kitchen line, take it!
The other reason not to back up has to do with body mechanics.
Many strokes in tennis are based on a ‘back-to-front’ motion – your weight and paddle goes back, and you power the ball forward.
Pickleball is different – it’s more of a ‘front-to-front’ motion!
When you back up, your body has to compensate for that backward momentum, and that compensation typically translates into a pop up! (Or if you didn’t compensate, it goes into the net!)
Think how many times you (or hopefully one of your opponents!) backed up to take a dink at the Kitchen and served up an easy put away!
One other tip to avoid backing up is stay in front of the ball. For example, if you dink to your right, shift to the right to stay in front of the ball. This will prevent your opponent from dinking the ball behind you to your side, forcing you to get out of position, and yes, backing up!
Get in the habit of taking the ball in the air whenever you can. And if it helps, pretend I’m growling when you think about backing up!
Or pretend I’m standing behind you (at clinics and bootcamps, I actually stand behind students to keep them from backing up, just like in the above picture!).
Now, when do I recommend backing up?
On a not-so-good lob!
Last year, I posted an article on how to defend the lob. This article was on how to defend really good lobs, lobs that are without question, going over your head!
For a not-so-good lob, you can safely back up one or two steps and hit an overhead.
More than two steps, it’s probably a good lob and it becomes unsafe, with the possibility of your legs tangling and you falling over. I really don’t want that to happen to you!
The perfect summary about not backing up comes from colleague and pro player Dave Weinbach: “Good things happen when you move forward, baaaaaaaaaad things happen when you move back!”