You’ve read my article on strategies to play against slammers, but did you know there’s other strategies that you can use against bangers?
And that these strategies are on the first two shots?
And you may not even have to use the third shot drop?
Intrigued? I thought so! Read on to learn how to play against your friendly neighborhood bangers!
A Quick (and Not Very Good) Physics Lesson
I vaguely remember physics way back in high school (not my favorite subject!). But I do remember something along the lines of equal and opposite reactions!
In pickleball, if you hit the ball hard, it’s probably coming back hard – if not harder!
When playing against a banger, that may be the last thing that you want! Bangers love to hit the ball hard – they love being able to hit it even harder!
Let’s Say You’re Returning a Serve…
You’re playing against a couple of bangers – they serve hard, and you just know that third shot is going to be a drive and not a drop.
This is why I recommend a high, loopy return of serve, as near the baseline (preferably about two to three feet) as you feel comfortable with.
Bangers don’t like this!
They’re forced to hit the ball pretty much flat footed instead of moving towards the ball and the Kitchen – if they’re going to power the ball, they have to use their own power, none of yours!
And if they are hitting it flat-footed, all the power comes only from the arm, not from the entire body.
This return of serve has an added benefit! It gives you more time to join your partner at the Kitchen!
And you know I’m a huge fan of making the shot that gives you more time. That high, loopy return of serve gives you time to run, walk, or maybe even stroll to the Kitchen and get set and relaxed for the banger’s third shot!
Serving It Up!
You’re serving against a banger – can you guess what type of serve I recommend?
If you guessed “a high loopy serve like you recommend for the return,” you’re absolutely correct!
The same principle applies – you’re not giving the bangers any of your power – they’re forced to generate their own. That’s good news, right?
And there’s even better news!
If the banger hits a really hard return of serve, he’s not buying himself time. He’s losing time! Losing time to get to the Kitchen!
When you see this happen, get ready to do a third shot drop – NOT!
If your opponent is powering the ball from near the baseline, that ball is getting to you much quicker than your opponent is getting to the Kitchen. That means your opponent is back.
And what do I say at my bootcamps?
KEEP THEM BACK! DO NOT BRING THEM IN!
Whoever gets to the Kitchen first usually wins the point. It is in your best interest (and your partner’s!) to keep your opponents back. When you notice your opponent struggling to get to the Kitchen, try hitting a ball that bounces somewhere near their feet.
Doesn’t have to a hard shot or even a drive – and it’s a much easier shot from your baseline than trying to drop the ball into the Kitchen!
And because this shot doesn’t need much power behind it, you’re giving you (and your partner!) time to get to the Kitchen!
How Good a Poker Player Are You?
I’ve got a great poker face – that’s because I don’t know how to play poker! (I know a full house is good, and I think it beats a flush!)
In other words, I would have no tells if my hand was good or bad. I would be sitting there with the same expression on my face if I had a royal flush or a pair of threes!
The next time you’re playing a banger, and you make a good dink or he’s about to strike the ball fairly low (mid-calf or lower), look for the tell.
And the tell is the paddle behind the player. When you see this happen, that’s a really good indication the banger is getting ready to really power that poor little pickleball.
You know how you have to pull back on a slingshot’s rubber band to make that stone go farther? Same thing! The banger is pulling his arm back behind his body to generate more power to hit the ball harder.
Now comes the easy part!
Get out of the way!
Slide to the left, slide to the right, or duck! The ball may go into the net anyway, but if you notice that tell, be prepared to get out of the way so you can watch the ball sail out of bounds!
After all, you’re not auditioning for the role of a baseball backstop!
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I’ll just come out and say it – I’m not a big fan of the lob. Especially the defensive lob!
What do I mean by that? If you’re going to lob, I recommend an offensive lob – you’re already at the Kitchen dinking, and you surprise your opponents by looping the ball over their heads.
It’s not a high percentage shot, but it’s a higher percentage shot than the…
…defensive lob, which I don’t recommend.
When you attempt the lob from the baseline to mid-court, it’s a really low percentage shot, and it gives your opponents more options (and time!) on how to handle it, especially if it’s not a really good lob!
Imagine tossing up an easy overhead smash!
But just because I don’t lob often, and just because you don’t lob often, doesn’t mean that other players aren’t going to lob you!
Here’s what (and who!) I recommend on how to defend that pesky lob!
Who Takes the Lob?
If you know that you’re facing an opponent that likes to lob, before you start play, you may want to have a quick discussion with your partner about who is going to take the lob.
If you are much more mobile and agile than your partner, graciously make an offer to take ALL the lobs!
This has two advantages. First, there’s no confusion about who is going to take it – this will prevent both of you running back to the same spot on the court (and maybe even colliding!).
It will also prevent the ball bouncing near the baseline while you and your partner look at each other at the Kitchen while shrugging your shoulders!
The second advantage is the obvious one – the more mobile player has a better chance of running the lob down!
How to Get in Position for the Lob
For this, we’ll assume that it’s a GOOD LOB, meaning it’s going over your head (you’re not going to have the opportunity to take it in the air and smash it!).
In the first example, let’s assume that you and your partner are both mobile on the court. If it goes over you, your partner should run at an angle crosscourt to take the ball. Over your partner’s head? Yes, YOU should run crosscourt for the lob.
Notice that I didn’t mention who has the forehand or backhand? That’s because running crosscourt behind your partner gives you more time and gets you in a better position to return the ball.
You’re better able to get set with the ball in front of you to make a better return. (But yes, if the lob is in the middle, the forehand should go for it!)
For the second example, YOU are the more mobile player, you graciously offered to take ALL the lobs, and your partner (also graciously!) accepted your proposal! You already know what to do when the lob goes over your partner’s head.
What do you do when it goes over your head?
Here’s what I DON’T want you to do – I DON’T want you to BACK UP!
Bad things generally happen when you back up, more so with lobs!
When you back up, you’re focusing on the ball in the air, you’re getting your paddle in position, your feet are moving back to get your body in the right position…
…and that’s where you get into trouble! Often when backing up like this, your legs have a better chance of crossing and getting tangled. Your balance is already off, so you may trip yourself and fall backwards.
I don’t want you lying down on the court and then lying down in bed recovering from a lob-related injury! I want you on the courts playing pickleball!
Instead, turn around (180 degrees, or ABOUT FACE!)! Run back to about a foot or two behind where you think the ball will land, and turn around again so you are in position with the ball in front of you.
Did you notice the recurring theme? You are working to get the ball in front of you so you have the best opportunity to return the shot.
I’m in Position, Prem – Now What?
You successfully got in position. If you went crosscourt, you may have even remembered to yell SWITCH! to let your partner know to shift to the other side of the court!
So what shot should you take?
Well, it depends! It depends on what your opponents did!
If your opponents are in position at the net, I recommend trying to drop the ball into the Kitchen, just like a third shot drop.
But what if your opponent lobbed from the baseline and he’s still standing there admiring his work (in other words, he forgot to get up to the Kitchen!)? Go ahead and drive the ball to all that open space that he’s giving you and work your way back up to the net!
Now you could lob the ball – you would be lobbing the lobber!
But remember, this would be a defensive lob – a very low percentage shot, and because you’re not in a good position to lob, this gives your opponents more time to figure out how to combat it!
A low percentage shot plus giving your opponents more time equals BAD NEWS!
Remember – you want to give YOU AND YOUR PARTNER MORE TIME! Not your opponents!
Happy Lobbing! (Or Happy NOT Lobbing!)
So there you are having fun on the pickleball courts when something, we’ll say something odd, happens, and the point ends. AND play ended on one of those ‘special case’ rules.
And everyone looks to you for the ruling!
Most of you have reviewed my easy to follow Yes or No Ratings and Goals Guide. And many of you want to know exactly what are the ‘special case’ rules that you need to know to advance from the 3.0 Level to the 3.5 level.
So from paddle hits to posts to strings to nets to Ernes, here are the explanations to those special cases for the sport that we love!
When Hitting the Line, It’s In; Or Is It?
When the ball bounces on the line, the baseline or the sideline, the ball is in. When serving, the ball is in if it bounces on the sideline, baseline, or centerline.
So you serve the ball short, and it bounces on the Non-Volley Zone Line. The receiver can’t get to it in time.
It seems like a great serve! But it’s actually a fault because the NVZ Line is part of the Kitchen.
I Have to Get Out of the Kitchen Immediately after I Make Contact with the Ball, Right?
Nope. This rule is often misunderstood by new players. In actuality, you can hang out in the Kitchen as much as you want (and maybe fold some laundry, check your emails, fix a sandwich).
You just can’t hit the ball in the air.
For example, you step into the Kitchen to take the ball on the bounce. You don’t leave the Kitchen, and take the ball again on the bounce. Perfectly legal.
But here’s where it gets a bit tricky (or in this case, special!). If you jump out of the Kitchen, take the ball in the air, and land outside of the Kitchen, that is a fault because you started your shot in the Kitchen.
Since We’re Talking about the Kitchen, When Does Momentum End?
You and your partner are racking up points. You’ve got momentum! You don’t want it to end!
Unless momentum carries you into the Kitchen on a volley!
But when exactly does this momentum end?
Let’s say you just hit the ball in the air, and you’re standing there, windmilling your arms, trying not to let yourself go into the Kitchen. Play continues for another five, six, seven shots (it doesn’t really matter how many!) before your partner puts it away for a winner. It’s now a dead ball.
And finally, you let your momentum carry yourself into the Kitchen.
Momentum ends when you establish yourself outside the Kitchen. There is no magical time limit or bounce number, nor does it matter if the ball is dead. Momentum ends with you getting reset outside the Kitchen.
Double Taps, Carries, and Knuckles
You know how sometimes during your swing you feel the ball bounce twice on your paddle?
That’s perfectly fine! And you should continue playing the point!
Double taps (and even ‘carries’) are perfectly legal, as long as it happens ‘during a continuous, single direction stroke.’
Just make sure that you know that it’s a continuous stroke – you can’t make the ball pop up in the air and then crush the ball with an overhead smash!
Now that you know that double-taps are okay, you should also know that it’s okay if the ball bounces off your hand that’s holding the paddle – the back of your hand, the fingers or knuckles.
In other words, below the wrist – if the ball bounces off your arm (or any other body part besides your paddle hand!), that’s a fault.
There’s Even Special Rules Depending on the Net You Use!
Many portable net systems have a crossbar that runs along the bottom of the net. In the middle of the net, there is often a post with a foot for support.
If you hit the ball and it strikes the crossbar (or the foot) on your side of the net, and the ball bounces over the net into your opponent’s court, that would be a really cool shot!
But it would still be a fault!
Now, let’s say your shot clears the net, and then hits the crossbar or the center post foot. That would be a really cool shot, too! But in this case it’s a let, and you replay the point (at least it’s not a fault like that first example!).
More Rules about the Nets
Because the net and the wires (or strings) holding up the net are positioned mostly on the court, if the ball hits the top of the net or the top wire or string, and the ball lands inbounds, it’s still in play.
Yes, one of those awwwwwww, man! Shots! (If you are the one on the wrong side of the net!)
Now here’s where it get confusing. First, if the ball hits the post, it’s a fault (that’s because the post is always out of bounds). If the ball goes between the net and the post, it’s a fault.
BUT, and here’s where it quite frankly doesn’t make any sense, “A ball contacting the net, the net cable, or rope between the net posts remains in play.”
So here’s my interpretation: if the ball hits that cable or rope between the post and the net, goes over the net and falls inbounds, the ball is still in play. If the ball hits that cable or rope and proceeds in play through the opening between the post and the net (in other words, does not go over the net), it’s a fault.
But I’m sure that doesn’t happen often!
A Final Note about Nets (and Perhaps the Rarest of Shots)
You can’t touch the net. Period. It’s a fault.
But you can pass over the net.
Here’s an example to illustrate – your opponent hits it (really) high, and it drops a couple of inches on your side of the net. It’s a nice high bounce, so you crush it with your forehand, and the momentum of your swing carries your paddle over the net into the plane of your opponent’s court.
As long as you didn’t touch the net, GREAT SHOT!
Now, perhaps the rarest of all shots – the backspin that carries the ball back into the striker’s court.
There’s a lot that has to go on for this shot to happen, but it happens enough that there’s an actual rule for it!
Picture this: there’s a pretty good breeze coming towards you. You strike the ball; intentionally or not, you put a lot of backspin on the ball. It bounces in the Kitchen, and the combination of wind and backspin carries it back into your court and your opponent didn’t hit it.
And you want to know what’s really cool? IT’S YOUR POINT!
Now, your opponent may be grumbling about this, but there’s also a special rule that he could have used.
You are not allowed to strike the ball when it’s on your opponent’s side of the court EXCEPT when backspin carries the ball back over the net.
So what your opponent could have done was reach over the net to strike the ball so that it bounced into your court.
Provided he never touched the net when he did this! OR, because he’s sooooo close to the net, his foot (or feet!) doesn’t move under the net onto your side of the court – you guessed it – a fault!
Exploiting the Special Case Rules; Part I: Going Around the Post
I know you love making that around the post (affectionately known as the ATP)!
The conditions have to be just right – your opponent makes a crosscourt dink that’s so wide that it forces you well off the court. There’s almost no way that you’ll be able to get that back over the net.
But you don’t have to!
See, the rules don’t say you have to get the ball over the net, you just have to get the ball into your opponent’s court.
And that’s where the ATP comes into play.
While you’re pulled wide out of bounds, you strike the ball at an angle into your opponent’s court. It doesn’t come anywhere near going over the net.
And that’s what’s AWESOME because you went around the net, or more specifically, AROUND THE POST!
Exploiting the Special Case Rules; Part II: The Erne Shot
The Erne Shot is named after the player that invented it – Erne Perry. You see a lot of the pros pull this one off.
I’m warning you now, it’s a difficult shot to pull off, plus it could easily result in a fault (that’s why I don’t recommend it!).
Now, you know that you can’t hit the ball in the air while in the Kitchen. That means you have to be behind the NVZ Line to volley the ball.
But the out of bounds area at the left and right of the court is also NOT in the Kitchen. So you can take the ball in the air there, too.
If you want to pull off an Erne, when dinking at the sideline, if you’re quick enough, if you can recognize it in time, rush out of bounds to the side, and as your opponent’s ball just clears the net, reach out and smash it.
Like I said, it’s a difficult shot to pull off, and you could easily lose the point if you don’t execute it perfectly.
First, you may not strike the ball correctly – you could put it into the net, or you could touch the net, both faults! And like all the other rules about the NVZ, both feet must be established outside the Kitchen when you make contact with the ball.
Or your opponent may recognize that you’re about to try an Erne. And your partner probably didn’t move over to cover for you now that you’re off the court, which gives your opponent LOTS OF REAL ESTATE for an easy winner.
Lastly, there’s a special case rule about crossing the plane of the net onto your opponent’s side of the court. If you successfully pull off the Erne and your momentum carries to the other side of the net (out of bounds, of course!), you successfully pulled off an Erne!
But if you miss the Erne, meaning you don’t hit the ball, and your momentum carries to the other side of the court, you just lost the point!
Now you’re the authority when these special cases come up on the court!
If I missed anything, or you just need a bit more clarification, don’t hesitate to comment on this post!