If you’re one of those pickleballers who plays indoors and never has any intention of ever playing outdoors OR playing in any major tournament, then this article is NOT for you.
But if you play outside regularly, dream of a midwinter vacation down south, or intend to compete in any of the bigger tournaments, you MUST get comfortable playing in the wind.
Many players stay home when the wind blows. Or if they don’t stay home, they at least go home early because they believe that you can’t play as well in the wind.
And they aren’t the only ones.
I would hazard to say that the majority of players think they can’t play as well in the wind.
But the idea that it’s too windy to play pickleball is nothing more than a hoax. And buying into it will cost you points, if not games and matches.
In this month’s article, I’m going to give you my 4 Ways to Play in the Wind (Which Will Actually Make You a Better Player) and then we’ll move on to my Top 5 Strategies to Compensate for the Wind..
Playing in the wind actually forces you to play better, not only on the day you play, but playing through the gusts and gales will improve your game the NEXT time you go out, too.
Unlike playing in the rain, playing in the wind is not a safety issue. It’s a comfort zone issue.
And I have no problem asking my students to step outside their comfort zone when I know it’s going to help them play better and feel more confident in the end.
The windiest conditions I have ever played or practiced in have been in Arizona at the National Tournament and at the Grand Canyon State Games. You can’t win in these top tournaments if you aren’t comfortable and confident playing in the wind.
So let’s delve in to my 4 Ways to Play in the Wind (Which Will Actually Make You a Better Player).
#1) Keep Your Eye On the Ball
This one is pretty self explanatory.
When you can’t anticipate the ball’s trajectory, it means you actually have to watch it ’til the very end to make sure that your paddle hits it. And this is something most players could do more often.
How to Apply It:
Use playing in the wind as an opportunity to practice keeping your eye on the ball through the moment of impact.
#2) Heighten Your Senses
Sure a windsock or flag is helpful to let you see how strong the wind is, and in which direction. But don’t ignore the most personal indicator you have of how strong the wind is: how it feels on your skin and clothes.
As you’re about to serve the ball, FEEL the wind on your body and serve accordingly.
Strong wind on your face?
Follow through and hit that ball harder.
Wind making the left side of your body cold?
Point your leading toe to the left a little more than usual and serve toward the left side of the box.
#3) Don’t Take the Conditions for Granted
Whether it’s the sun coming out from behind a cloud, your partner getting tired and therefore not moving as quickly, or the wind being high one minute and slow the next, you MUST stay abreast of the current conditions in order to take them into account as you hit the ball.
When you play in the wind, use it as a reminder to stay in the moment and play what will work best for you NOW–not what worked for you 10 minutes ago.
#4) Rein In Your Game
Whether it’s a match point in a tournament, when you just need to keep the ball in play, or playing in the wind where you need a much wider margin of error, we all have times when we need to play smart, stick to high percentage shots, and give ourselves plenty of room to avoid unforced errors.
As I often tell the students in my clinics, there’s a minute difference between making a hero shot and a zero shot.
When you’re playing in the wind, don’t go for the hero shots.
Don’t take the slams just because they are there.
Focus on keeping the ball in play. Focus on getting it over the net one more time than your opponent.
Simply keeping the ball in play may not wow the spectators but it WILL keep you from kicking yourself. It’s amazing how many pickleball games are won or lost simply based on who kept the ball in play longer.
So those are my 4 Ways to Play in the Wind (Which Will Actually Make You a Better Player).
Here are some specific strategies for adjusting your game based on which way the wind blows.
My Top 5 Tips to Compensate for the Wind
Some of these are more obvious, some less so. Most are good for everyday play, some are specific to tournaments. All will help you play better and win more in windy conditions.
#1) In a cross wind, aim 5′-10′ left or right of where you want the ball to land, depending on the speed and direction of the wind.
Hopefully this is the most obvious of these 5 tips, but it is also the most fundamental, which is why I listed it as #1.
#2) When you are are receiving serve with a strong headwind, step backwards 3-5 feet so you aren’t backing up to hit the ball.
Again, not rocket science, but super important. Missing a serve simply means you don’t score. But missing a return of serve is like handing your opponents a point on a silver platter.
Obviously, if you’re backing up, you should always have your weight on your toes, ready to move forward.
Also, remember to take into account how your opponent tends to serve, but in general, backing up will greatly improve your returns in strong headwinds.
#3) If you’re serving into a strong headwind, shorten the distance FROM you to the net and lengthen the distance you are serving TO on the other side of the net.
That means, move toward the T when you are serving and aim toward the back corner of the service box on your opponent’s side.
#4) If you’re serving with a strong wind at your back, increase your margin of error by lengthening the distance FROM you to the net and shortening the distance you are serving TO on the other side of the net.
That means, move toward the outside corner of your service box and serve to the near corner of the service box on your opponent’s side.
#5) In a tournament, if you win the toss, and there is a very strong head/tail wind, choose to start on side with the wind at your back and make your goal to just get the ball over the net.
The obvious reason to do this is because, so long as your team keeps the ball from going long, you’ll most likely get a head start and the added confidence that goes with it. When your opponents are hitting into the wind, the ball moves more slowly, which gives your more time to react and adjust.
The LESS obvious reason to start with the wind at your back is because it’s easier to go from finesse to power than to move from power to finesse. For the first half of the game, while you’re barely touching the ball to get it into the court, your opponents will be slamming the heck out of the ball just to get it to reach the net. Then, once you switch sides, chances are that it will still take them a few points to readjust their muscles to hitting with enough finesse to keep the ball in play, which means even more points for you. (Assuming you can soften your game.)
I hope you found these tips helpful.
If you aren’t practicing in the wind, you’re not developing yourself as a player as fully as you could be. If you just play for fun, it’s not such a big deal, but if you want to play in a tournament, I hope you’ve realized now the fallacy behind the great “too windy to play” hoax and how it’s costing you points.
Side out. Over to You.
Now it’s your turn. Please post your comment below and tell me:
Where were the windiest conditions you have ever played in and which strategies did YOU use to counteract the wind?
When my opponents are serving into a headwind, I don’t always stand on the baseline to receive but step up a yard or so (depending upon wind strength and who is serving) as quite often the serve will die on its way to me. That puts me in a great position to return the serve.
Also, since I play socially as opposed to competitive, if the wind is an issue, we will often switch ends halfway through a game (say first to 6 points) to make it fairer.
Here in Texas played two weeks in a row in crazy gusting wind conditions. I’m not sure we could call it playing. Wind would grab the ball and suddenly send it off in 90 degrees. One shot the ball was about to cross the net and the wind suddenly sent it directly back 180 degrees towards the person who hit it. We were laughing the entire time. Now we can be playing in calm conditions but if we mess up a shot we yell, “Dang that wind!”
Note that we are not serious players. We usually have 5 people so we play it like four square, whoever misses a shot rotates out. No scoring, just fun. We’ve been doing it weekly since November.
Dan Harmic says
I find a great shot into the wind is the slice/chop. All that backspin and it can literally about stop after the bounce. Makes the opponent have to be nearly right on top of it and lift it even more than usual to get it over the net. If they don’t gauge it right it goes into the net, and if they overcompensate it can sail long with the wind at their back.
Rick Ward says
Found your article on my way down to Florida for work, and hoping to get some pickleball in. With a hurricane off the Gulf coast, it will be pretty windy, even over on the East Coast. I was thinking about bagging it, but after reading your article now I’m even more eager to play and see if your tips make it more enjoyable. Thanks!
Have you ever played in Palm Springs? There’s a reason we have the second largest concentration of wind turbines in the country. Your points are well taken, but there are times when it’s simply too windy (not to mention too hot when it gets to 120 degrees) to play here, at least enjoyably. And if you’re not enjoying the game, what’s the point? But when the weather is good here, it’s really good. We probably tolerate more wind on the pickle ball courts than most people would.
Yes I have played in Palm Springs. And it is hard in windy conditions but some minor adjustments can still be very effective in those conditions