If you want to improve your game (and not just keep beating the same people you always beat) you HAVE to get up to the kitchen and play from right behind the no-volley line.
You life-long tennis players — Yes, I’m talking to you!
You’re not playing tennis anymore, and although the racket-skills you developed in tennis will serve you well, the physics of a pickleball game are simply different.
You. Must. Get. To. The. (No-Volley) Line.
Not ON the line, of course, but RIGHT BEHIND it. I mean, plant your feet 1-2″ from the line and don’t move back. Move side to side as needed. Step one foot into the kitchen to take a ball on the bounce, but play from RIGHT BEHIND the line.
Reason #1: You Can Hit the Ball DOWN
First of all, a pickleball will never bounce as high as a tennis ball, and will rarely bounce as high as the net, so anytime you take it off the bounce, you’ll have to add some loft to your return shot and effectively hit the ball on an upward trajectory.
In pickleball, if the ball is going at an upward angle after it crosses the net, this is always bad news. This is true at the the net, of course. But the farther back you move from the line, the more likely you are to have to hit the ball at an upward angle. (Until eventually, you’re forced to either lob or hit a drop shot and in case you missed that article, here’s why lobbing isn’t a great strategy.)
Because any shot you hit when you are not up at the line is either a defensive shot or is likely to go into the net.
Reason #2: You Drastically Reduce Your Opponents’ Options (And Have Less Court to Cover)
Here’s another tidbit to chew on:
Because a pickleball court is only 20′ wide, a doubles team at the net can effectively cover 50% of the court without moving an inch side to side (assuming even just a 5′ wing span for each player). As you may know, in tennis, you can barely cover 25% of the net, so it makes sense to stay back and move laterally to cover the court, plus you have time after the ball bounces to get to where it’s going to be.
In pickleball, though, you don’t NEED to move back to cover the court and in fact, the farther back you are, the more angles you open up, unnecessarily giving your opponent many more options to play against you.
Reason #3: It Puts You On the Offensive
Why run around trying to get balls your opponent hits past you when you can stay at the net and practically force them to hit a great shot or hit the ball right to you?
It’s a rare shot in tennis when a player can smash the ball down on the other side, or even at their opponent’s feet. But this is the bread & butter of a winning pickleball game. (Assuming, of course, your opponent doesn’t make an unforced error first.)
The farther you move back from the net, the less of a view you have of the other side of the court.
That means the less likely it is you can hit a smash at your opponent’s feet when they pop the ball up. Instead, you’ll have to wait to hit a less offensive shot off the bounce. (And if you’re like a lot of tennis players, you’ll try for what amounts to a line drive, and swear under your breath as the ball hits the top (or even the middle) of the net.
The farther you are from the no-volley line, the easier it is for your opponent to drop a ball very short.
If you’re not very mobile, then you probably just lost the point. If you ARE quick on your feed, then you’ll probably race in to get the ball. But chances are, you will lose control of your shot & hit it up into your opponent’s wheelhouse, where you’ll give them a great put-away shot and if they have even a 20% clue about how to play the game, they will smash the ball at your feet.
End of point.
All because you chose to hang back instead of play up at the line.
I’m not saying you can’t run around like a headless chicken, make amazing defensive shots and potentially, eventually win the point. I’m just saying it’s not particularly “smart” pickleball and you’ll never take control of the point when you’re hitting from mid-court or behind.
For those (few) of you who have speed to use instead of smarts, more power to you. Many a singles player has gone far (and won national medals) on speed alone. But doubles is a different game.
I Bet You’re Telling One of These Two Lies To Yourself About Playing at The Line
Now, many players, have at least some sense that they should get to the line, so they head that way. But they make 1 of 2 mistakes.
Lie #1: I am “at the line” if I am within 36″ of the line.
No way, jose! Plant your feet about 2″ from the line, and get in the habit of never stepping forward except to hit a ball off the bounce in the kitchen, and then quickly stepping back out. (Drill on that so you don’t get called on foot-faults, or worse, NOT get called on them & marvel at the excellent shots you’re hitting, only to find out in a tournament that they weren’t actually so legal as you thought. At the most, you might step back 8″ or so to take a ball before it bounces, but being 2′ from the line is NOT considered playing at the line.
Lie #2: Getting up to the line at all is the same as staying at the line.
I always tell my students, never, ever, ever back up from the line to take a ball. Because once you back up, it’s hard to come back, and it’s more likely your opponent will just keep hitting them at your feet to push you back from the line, shot by shot.
Instead, take the ball in the air. Many people think that if they are standing at the kitchen line and the ball is bouncing at or near their feet, they HAVE to back up to take it off the bounce. In fact, this is just because they are taking the ball later than they should be. If the ball is going to bounce at your feet, then the trajectory is such that you probably could have taken it in the air.
The diagram above is relatively conservative. Often the ball will be even closer to your body if you are right up at the kitchen line, so again, this is something you’ll have to drill on, but get in the habit of taking the ball in the air instead of backing up from the kitchen line.
So does that all make sense to you? Any questions? Comments? Hypothetical situations?
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Danny Lew says
Great information. I have been trying to master my dink shot for a while.