Important Pickleball Tactics
While technique is important, it is merely a tool you use to do things with the ball. And what you choose to do with the ball is based on the tactics you are trying to implement. Here are some key tactics that are valuable for players of any level.
Pressure with Consistency. All it takes to win a pickleball point is to put the ball in play one more time than your opponents. It is important that players take this simple — but valuable — concept to heart. While it is nice to win on an amazing shot, teams that can consistently get the ball back in play will put considerable pressure on their opposition.
An effective way to instil in your students the desire to be consistent is to collect data from their matches (use the charting tool in Pro Tools). Record the number of times a point ends because of an error and compare that with point-ending winners. If they are like most beginning, novice and intermediate players, they will see that there are considerably more errors than winners over the course of the match. Seeing the data first-hand can be a powerful way to understand how important consistency is to playing effective pickleball.
Take Away Time. In general, people prefer to have more time to prepare for a shot rather than less. It is important that players understand that they can pressure their opponents by manipulating the amount of time they give them to react. There are two important ways in which players can apply pressure by taking away time:
Minimize Distance the Ball Travels. All things being equal, the farther the ball needs to travel the longer it will take to get there. By reducing the length of the flight path, players can make things more difficult for their opponents. One of the most important moments to take away time is after returning serve. Players ought to return serve and approach the net (better yet, the returner’s partner is already at the NVZ and the returner joins them). By being up at the NVZ as opposed to back at the baseline, the serving team will have less time to react after hitting the third shot. A similar principle applies throughout a pickleball point. All things being equal, the closer players are to their opponents, the less time there will be to react. This principle is emphasized in then Pro Tools section Selling the Topic in 15s under the title Why You Should Go to the NVZ After Your Return.
Use Speed. Sometimes people think (erroneously) that pickleball is a slow game. While there are moments that soft shots are used, it is important that players hit hard at the appropriate time. Fast shots give receivers less time to prepare their body and paddle, as well as less time to think about what they are doing. The optimal time for hitting hard is when a player is also able to hit the ball on a downward trajectory (i.e. when receiving a high ball). These opportunities are important because players are more likely able to ensure that their fast shot can stay in play, as opposed to fast balls hit on an upward trajectory which are more likely to go too far. This principle is emphasized in the Pro Tools section Selling the Topic in 15s under the title Why You Should Consider a Third Shot Drive.
Keep the Ball Low. As stated above, good teams look for opportunities to hit hard and take away time from their opponents. It is important for your players to understand that they can limit these chances by sending low balls to the other team. Forcing an upward hit (i.e. making opponents have an impact point that is below net height) is an incredibly useful way to limit the damage opponents can do. Whether it is playing a drop, drive, dink or volley, teams that can force upward hits from their opposition have a distinct advantage. This principle is emphasized in the Pro Tools section Selling the Topic in 15s under the title Why You Should Dink.
Avoid Strengths and Isolate Weaknesses. It is important that players learn to be selective about where they hit the ball. Since not all of their opponents will have the same skills, strengths and weaknesses, players must learn to identify the characteristics of their opponents and take them into consideration. When considering strengths and weaknesses there are two categories worth considering:
Individual Players. Typically, teams have one player who is stronger than the other. Or at the very least, one who is more likely to play a good shot at any given time. It is useful for your players to understand the importance of isolating the player who is less threatening. Use the return of serve, drops, drives, dinks and volleys to force the weaker of the two players to hit the majority of shots. While this may not be a great strategy ina social setting where everyone is presuambly ‘playing for fun’ it is highly effective in a competitive context. This principle is emphasized in the Pro Tools section Selling the Topic in 15s under the title Why You Should Return Serves Away From the Middle of the Court.
Specific Shots. Most players tend to have areas of the game in which they are stronger (e.g. forehand volley) and areas in which they are weaker (e.g. backhand volley). It is an important tactic for players to try to make opponents play shots they don’t like as much and to avoid their strengths. This requires identifying a player’s traits and having the control to send the ball precisely. This principle is emphasized in the Pro Tools section Selling the Topic in 15s under the title Why You Should Try to Aim Your Serve Precisely.
Make Opponents Move. Whether it is chasing the ball left or right (e.g. on a dink or a serve) or making them move up and back (e.g. a drop volley or a good lob), if your players can make their opponents move to hit the ball they are more likely to cause trouble. This principle is emphasized in the Pro Tools section Selling the Topic in 15s under the title Why You Should Try to Aim Your Serve Precisely.