Pickleball Poaching: If you’ve been playing pickleball for any length of time and you play against people who are determined to win, you’ve probably been in the situation where the only time you get to hit the ball is on the serve or return of serve because your opponents hit every other shot to your partner (presumably the weaker player).
At the recreational level, it’s just plain annoying when this happens, because it’s like a game of 2-on-1 and you spend most of your time on the court watching the ball go by. (To get some empathy for other annoying things people do on the court, and to make sure you’re not one of them, check out my article called How to Graciously Get to Play with Better Players (a.k.a. How to Make Sure You’re NOT That Person Everyone Hates Playing With.)
Why It’s a Good Strategy to Hit to One Person
At the tournament level, targeting one person is a common (and usually very effective) strategy for all doubles events, and is ESPECIALLY seen at the higher levels of mixed doubles, where the female is (generally correctly) presumed to be the weaker player (if only due to strength & power differences).
At lower levels of mixed doubles, it can be a mixed bag and, due to the fact that success in this game we love is very much a matter of patience & finesse, it’s not safe to always assume that the woman is necessarily the weaker player.
In men’s or women’s doubles, it’s a good idea to identify and target the weaker player. If you’re not sure who is weaker or they seem to be at about the same level, just pick one person for a few points and if it isn’t effective, try hitting to the other one.
In addition to keeping the ball away from the stronger player, targeting one person increases the likelihood they will make an error because that person may not have time to get ready between shots and it can be intimidating when they feel like all the pressure is on them. Plus, when you and your partner can anticipate which side of the court you’re both hitting to, it makes it easier to make sure that you are covering the line or the middle at the appropriate time.
What to Do When Your Partner’s the One They Are Targeting
My main focus for this article is in response to a reader who asked last month for some tips on pickleball poaching. In case you’re not familiar with the term, poaching is what happens when one person moves out of position to take shots that would otherwise be their partner’s shot to play. It’s what you might consider doing when your partner’s the one they are targeting.
The main reasons to poach are in the hopes of:
- Finishing the Point
- Catching Your Opponents Off-Guard
- Give Some Relief to Your Partner When They’re Being Targeted
5 Tips for Pickleball Poaching
1. Ask Your Partner’s Permission First
2. Poach When Your Opponents Are Being Predictable & Don’t Be Predictable When You Poach
If your opponents haven’t established a set pattern, don’t try poaching because chances are it will only move you out of position & they will easily take advantage of the empty court you leave behind you. (This is there reason you see less poaching in the higher men’s & women’s doubles, because players are looking for that opening and ready to take advantage of it.) It’s even worse if you’re predictably poaching because then your opponents are just waiting for the open court.
Instead, wait until there are several points where they have consistently hit to your partner, look for the pattern, and poach only when you are pretty confident that you know where the ball is going before your opponent even hits it.
3. Only Try to Poach When Your Forehand is In the Middle
4. Have Your Partner Hit Toward the Middle
When your partner gets in a tight cross-court dinking rally or a head-to-head volley you can’t do much more than just stand back and watch. Instead, ask your partner to hit balls toward the middle. This cuts off the angles your opponents can play and makes it easier for you to step in and take a ball, hopefully catching your opponents by surprise or at the very least giving your partner a few extra seconds to regroup and prepare for the next shot. This is a very important time to call the ball. (For more on calling the ball, read my article, When It’s OK to Talk Like a Top Player Even if You Don’t Play Like One.)
5. Get a Better Partner
And I mean this in the nicest way possible. (If it was even possible to say something like that nicely….) Recreationally, if you just want to have a fun, competitive match, find someone at about your same level and the game will be much better.
If you really want to improve your game, find a partner who is better than you so that YOU are considered the weaker player and receive most of the balls. This will go SO much further toward improving your game than learning how to poach better.
Fred Young says
Prem, you make a great point when you say to talk it over with your partner about taking balls they may be able to get. Letting your partner know you may poach is very important.
I enjoy all your articles Prem, keep it up. I’m not sure though that I agree about the forehand preference. Certainly on a higher ball the forehand is stronger. But someone in ready position at the net is often a stronger player with their backhand. I’ve been told my signature move is the backhanded poach and certainly in The Villages I see many good players that are better with low backhands than with low forehands.
You are right about the ready position being a continental grip position meaning a backhand. But remember your forehand when extended can reach more whereas a backhand is crossing your body. And this is when you poach. That means you are moving away from your position to hit to your partner’s ball. But if you can get a great poach on the backhand all power to you. I am writing to the majority of players who find their forehand lot stronger than their backhands
Appreciate your feedback John.
Happy New Year
Sandy McConnell says
Ii have wanted to try this. So many times, but thought it wasn’t nice to do. I’m going to give it a try next time I pla following your instructions Hope you got this okay. I can’t see what I’m typing!
you can only try and see how it flows
Let me know
Carol Amos says
Thank you for another great post Prem. I will be sharing this in Fallon when I get back. And I might just highlight “use your forehand” for me to remember and for my spouse…. I am up in Boise visiting my twin sister and we will be playing tomorrow!
Happy New Year to you Carol.
Just saw a post about pickleball in Boise. Glad you enjoyed the article
Hope to see you both sometime soon
Cheryl Morrison says
Happy New Year to you and family Prem and enjoyed the article on poaching.
Looking forward to lots more.
Loving the paddle and thank you for all your return calls.
Happy New Year Cheryl
And enjoy your honest insights.
Gary Williams says
Hi Prem, I just wanted you to know I enjoy your emails and tips. My wife, Patty True and I are the USAPA ambassadors for the Sun Lakes/Chandler AZ. area. We have 3 PB clubs in Sun Lakes with a total of over 400 players. Let me know if you ever plan on being in the area. I have forwarded coach Mo’s strategies to some of the players here. I would like to forward some of your info.Excellent stuff. My Aunt and Uncle live in the Villages and I will try to look Mo up when i visit there. Thanks
Happy New Year and thank you for your kind words and appreciation.
I would be happy and honored to come and teach out in Chandler. Last fall I came and taught at Palm Creek in Casa Grande,AZ. I will send you an info packet. Let me know and we can surely make it to your place this spring.