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2 Primary Purposes of a Dink

Most people who have played pickleball for more than about 30 seconds know what a dink is. After all, it’s one of the most commonly used terms out on the court. Additionally, a large majority of players have a pretty good idea of how to dink and many times where to dink. But I wonder how many players thoroughly understand why you want to dink the ball.

When I teach lessons or conduct clinics, I’ll often ask what the purpose of a dink is. Invariably, I get a broad spectrum of responses. I’ve also received lots of blank stares! It’s clear many players, even very good ones, don’t know the reasons for dinking. But they have been told it’s a good idea, so they do it.

As with other athletic endeavors, each skill you perform should be done with intention and purpose. Dinking is no exception.

While there may be many variables involved with dinking, if we boil it all down to its roots, we are left with two primary purposes of a dink. What are they?

First, you want to try to keep the ball out of your opponent’s strike zone. You want to keep the ball low over the net which means the ball bounces low. A low bounce means your opponent cannot attack the ball. You take away any advantage the opponent might gain from a ball sitting up higher in their strike zone. Hitting the ball up higher puts the ball in your opponent’s strike zone (read, “power zone”) and allows them an opportunity to gain an advantage or to attack the ball. Keeping the ball down lower and closer to the net denies them this opportunity.

Second, you want to dink in
a way to make your opponent uncomfortable. Don’t be content simply to bump the ball back right to the middle of your opponent’s stance. You must intentionally change the pace, spin, depth, or direction of the ball in order to cause your opponent to hit more difficult shots. They may make
an error; however, this is not necessarily the goal. The goal is to pressure them to the point where they put a ball up into your strike zone. You then gain an advantage and have an opportunity to hurt them or attack the ball yourself. This may require you to adjust the pace or depth or width of your dink.

The bottom line is you must be intentional about what you are doing with your dinks. Hit them with a purpose!

Keep in mind, not all dinks are created equal. Your goal should not be to merely get the ball in- you can do better. At the same time, your goal should not be to hit winners too frequently- that is too risky. Your goal, i.e. your top two primary purposes, should be to keep the ball out of your opponents strike zone. This way they lack an opportunity to hurt you. You simultaneously ought to seek to make them uncomfortable so they will eventually put a ball up into your strike zone. Then you can use that as an opportunity to hurt them.

Deny your opponent opportunities. Create opportunities for yourself. Those are the two
primary purposes of a dink.

Covering the Net Together

Do you ever find the ball passing through openings between you and your partner? You’re not alone. This is a common problem in pickleball—especially at intermediate levels.

Keep these tips in mind to improve your court position—you’ll cover more ground and close those gaps.

Don’t be reactive
In a basic sense, everyone moves to the ball. When the ball comes toward us, we quickly move toward it. Then, one of three things happen—we hit a good shot, we hit a bad shot, or we might not be able to get to the ball at all. This is called being “reactive.”

Be proactive
When you or your partner hit the ball, you should move to a more desired court position. After you move, you might still have to react to hit the ball, but it will be much closer to you than if you hadn’t made a proactive move. By being in the correct position, you may even force your opponents to try to make a more difficult shot. Being proactive and moving toward the ball as it approaches should be your goal on nearly every shot.

Leave some of the court open
To recap, if the ball is on the left side of the court, one player covers the line and the other partner covers the middle. But who is covering the right side of the court? We’re able to leave the right side (about a third of the court) open. If our opponents hit the ball to that side of the court, they can either hit it hard or soft. If they hit the ball hard, it will go out. If your opponents hit a good cross-court dink to the right side of the court, my partner will be able to take one or two steps over and easily get to the ball—as it will be traveling slowly.

When the backhand is the better shot
Assuming you’re both right-handed players, when you and your partner hit the ball to the left side of the court, the person on the left will cover the line and the person on the right will cover the middle. This means that the person on the right will be covering the middle with his/her backhand. The person on the left will need to be focused on the line and stand quite close to it, as that will be his/her backhand.

More reach with forehand vs. backhand
Stand facing the net and put your paddle in your right hand. Move the paddle to the left side of your body like you’re hitting a backhand. Think about how far you can reach. Now move your paddle into your left hand and see how much farther your paddle will reach. You have much more reach with a forehand than you do with the backhand. Keep this in mind when you’re deciding where to stand on the court. If you’re covering the line on the left side, hold your paddle out like you were going to hit a backhand. If you can reach the balls that are coming down the line, you’re standing in the right place. If you’re on the right side of the court and covering the line, reach out with your forehand. On this side you’ll be able to stand a little farther away from the sideline and still reach the balls that come down the line.

Keep this in mind when the balls are coming between you and your partner as well. The person who is on the right side of the court has less reach (backhand), so the person on the left will be able to reach more than halfway to his/her partner (see diagram 1). If you both put your paddles in your playing hand and reach out toward each other like you’re going to hit a ball, you’ll be able to check that you’re standing a good distance apart. The tips of your paddles should reach but not cross.

Taking your partner’s shot
It’s extremely common for the wrong player to hit the ball. One frequent error is when a ball comes above the net halfway between you and your partner, and the player on the right hits the ball with his/her backhand. The player on the left would have had a much better shot with a forehand. Taking your partner’s shot can also leave you and/or your partner out of position.

When your partner gets moved off the court
It’s important to pay attention to where your partner is on the court. If your opponents hit a great shot and your partner ends up off the side of the court, you’ll have to keep following the ball over toward your partner and cover more of the center of the court.

Playing with a lefty
If you’re playing with a lefty, the only thing that changes is the distance between you and your partner. You have a lot more reach on your forehand side than you do with your backhand. When you’re playing with a lefty, you’ll either have both of your forehands in the middle or both of your backhands. When you both have your forehands in the middle, you’ll probably find it quite easy to get the balls in the middle as you have a lot more reach. You may be able to stand a little farther apart. When both of your backhands are in the middle, you have a lot less reach so you’ll want to pinch in closer together to avoid balls passing you down the middle.

When your partner doesn’t move
After you learn how to move correctly on the court, it can become frustrating if your partner does not understand this strategy. There are a few things you can do—explain the moving philosophy and give him/her this article, deal with it, or find a new partner!

Finally, communication is key. It’s important to talk to your partner, especially when the balls are hit down the middle of your team. This starts with the third shot and continues until the point ends. Be sure to say “me” or “you” as soon as you see the ball heading down the middle so that you and your partner can remain on the same page when executing all shots.

Policing the Pickleball

Tim Connor retired from a 33-year law enforcement career at the rank of Commander with the Farmington Hills, Michigan, Police Department. He received extensive training as a firearms instructor and in firearms range operation. As Bureau Commander, his duties included overseeing the department’s officer training and firearms training programs. For six years subsequent to that he served as supervisor of the U.S. government’s Investigative Support and Deconfliction Center, located in Detroit. There he coordinated the narcotics intelligence processing and enforcement efforts of federal, state, local and military personnel throughout Michigan. He continues to support the center on a contingent basis.

Retiring with his wife Diane to warm and sunny Tennessee, he’s been playing pickleball for about three years. His home pickleball court is the Fairfield Glade Racquet Center located at Fairfield Glade/Crossville, Tennessee.

In this article, Tim explains how combat shooting and pickleball are alike. You’ll be surprised by some of the similarities!

Successfully defending yourself in a gunfight is mostly about training, repetition and developing near-instinctual muscle and mental memory; in other words, preparation.

Success on the court is also mostly about these same elements of preparation.

In tactical situations, such as felony vehicle stops or other high-risk felony arrests, police officers attempt to minimize the inherent danger by preselecting the location and methods to be used for the take-down, thereby providing them the position of advantage. Oftentimes, however, where the confrontation occurs is determined by the bad guy. Officers are trained to move to cover (which provides impenetrable protection) and concealment (which provides a smaller visible target) if circumstances allow; the tactical advantage then (and the probability of victory) shifts back in the officer’s favor. If obtaining an optimal shooting position is not possible, they dig in and defend against the threat where they stand. When forced to fight from a position of disadvantage, a well-trained officer can utilize the other elements of solid tactical combat shooting to prevail.

In a pickleball battle, clearly, if you can hold the kitchen line, you have the tactical position of advantage. If pulled off the kitchen line and unable to get back to it to field the next shot, you must defend from elsewhere on the court, a position of disadvantage. In such cases I stop wherever I am on the court before the ball hits my opponent’s paddle. This allows me to establish a good foundation, stance and paddle position. Most importantly, I settle myself, stop all motion, eyeball how my opponent is setting up the shot, and get ready to defend myself. From this position of readiness, it is relatively easy to move forward, back or laterally to deal with whatever comes over the net.

A solid standing combat shooting stance is vital. Officers are trained to take a position with feet slightly wider than shoulder width apart. The posture is in a lower, crouched position. A very slight forward lean places the majority of the officer’s weight on the balls of the feet, but not so much as to pull the heels off the ground. The officer is thus better able to compensate for firearm kickback, and it allows multiple rounds to be fired on target rapidly and accurately. This stance and position facilitates weight to be quickly shifted laterally to move left or right to exit the position of disadvantage when possible.

A stance similar to a combat shooting position is applicable here also. Feet beyond shoulder width apart provides a stable, anchored foundation from which to mount your defense. A lower, forward-leaning, crouched position has several advantages: it provides a smaller target in case your opponent is considering drilling the ball quickly into your body; you can more easily reach laterally to cover the majority of your court responsibilities without moving your feet (not preferable, but sometimes necessary); it provides a lower sight line, thereby a better perspective on the incoming ball, given your opponent is likely going to place the shot as low as possible over the net; and it allows for quicker weight transfer, facilitating your move to the kitchen line after launching your return shot.

Arm Position
Law enforcement has seen the evolution of several combat shooting arm positions, an element vital to placing rounds on target: both arms straight out and elbows locked, one elbow bent, both elbows bent, etc. The preferred arm position is usually tied to the chosen shooting body position: “bladed” so as to present a thinner side target to the bad guy; or a straight-on confrontation, the preferred method of defense for nature’s animals; face and confront your aggressor. In combat shooting situations, the arms and pistol are usually held slightly below eye level, such that an officer maintains a line of sight over the top of the pistol, a technique known as “target-focused shooting” or simply “point and shoot.” Training in this technique results in target acquisition and muzzle aiming to become instinctual, requiring little conscious direction from the officer. Target-focused shooting is favored in close-quarters, rapid-fire situations where the use of the pistol’s iron sights is of less value. This allows the officer to keep a clear view of the incoming threat and maintain a good awareness of his/her weapon's muzzle position.

Arm and paddle position are equally important in pickleball. Arm position finishes off the assumed wide, stable, crouched, low profile, slight forward-leaning stance. Arms held forward, away from the body, shoulder width apart and below eye level, provide good preparation and defense. A stance with the paddle held down at your side is of little benefit and makes you an easy target, much the same as an officer being at a tactical disadvantage approaching a dangerous person with his/her gun at the side, pointed to the ground. Arms and paddle forward and below eye level provide a clear sight line of the incoming ball and allows for continuous monitoring for proper paddle position. It also allows you to take the shot while the paddle is out in front of you, the preferred position from which to hit the ball. The paddle should be at a comfortable angle with the back side facing the incoming ball. This provides for easy lateral movement and a quick punch shot return when the proper ball is offered up. This arm position also facilitates the exchange of the paddle between the strong and weak hands, avoiding awkward and low-percentage backhand shots, when time allows for the hand exchange to be completed.

Police officers grip their pistols firmly, with a force similar to holding a hammer while striking a nail. A weak grip, coupled with a floppy hand/wrist is known as “limp wristing.” This often induces a mechanical malfunction and stoppage of the pistol (a jam), and allows the pistol’s recoil to significantly impact shot accuracy. Conversely, a strong grip and wrist/hand alignment facilitates rapid-fire, accurate placement of shots.

A firm paddle grip provides similar advantages. It provides the stable backstop to fend off and redirect hard incoming shots. It is also the foundation that imparts to your shots power and pop, and increased placement accuracy. A ball strike can cause a paddle that is too loosely held to rotate in the hand, resulting in mishits (duds), low power and loss of accuracy. Note that having a looser grip is good for dinking, when you have control over the speed and placement of the ball.

Swinging Volleys

As more and more people play pickleball, the game and strategies are changing. A great example of this is the use of the swinging volley over the old-school punch volley.

A punch volley is created using leverage mostly from the elbow, by maneuvering the paddle to go over the ball with the butt of the paddle finishing down and often below the net. This type of swing causes tension in the body at the wrist, elbow and shoulder. Since a punch volley is hit closer to the body, issues like getting jammed and the inability to control the contact point are inevitable. Players will often move the grip around to suit the angle of the paddle to counteract errors. However, the angle of the paddle on contact and follow-through yields little control of the ball, resulting in unforced errors.

Power on the punch volley is generated from the dominant side of the body with the non-dominant hand next to the hip, causing the paddle to finish down near the hip below the net. This is the reason most punch volleys go into the net, especially if hit from the transition area, and forces players struggling in the transition zone to step back to let a ball bounce. Also, if the ball does go over, players are not ready for the next shot.

Simply put, for the majority of pickleballers, the odds of winning a point on a successful punch volley are low and will put players in a defensive position, and can cause injury to elbow, shoulders and wrist.

A swinging volley, on the other hand, is an attacking shot that can be utilized in both the transition area and at the non-volley zone. A swinging volley allows the player to take control of the contact point, swinging out through the ball using the torso and the natural kinetic energy of the body, and if hit in the transition area will utilize the natural momentum of the player to move forward to the line, therefore reducing the chance of injury.

When hitting a swinging volley, the paddle usually comes around the ball from the outside using power generated from the kinetic chain of the hinge of the shoulder and rotation of the shoulders and hips. Most commonly the elbow is extended, which allows the tip of the paddle to come around the ball and lead it toward the target. Leading with the tip of the paddle creates more angles of contact and a wider variety of shots. The ball tends to stay on the paddle longer, and swinging through the ball instead of down will result in fewer balls hit into the net as well as better preparation for the next shot.

The swinging volley can be hit from both the transition and the non-volley zone, allowing the paddle to get under the ball from most angles and carry it over the net. Many players fear hitting balls in the transition zone, but a swinging volley would allow a much greater consistency and offensiveness behind the transition to the net.

Considering the simplicity of a swinging volley and the benefits that come with it, more and more players will end up adding this shot to their game if they haven’t already. From a coaching standpoint, less likelihood of injuries comes with the swinging volley over the punch volley. For players, it is a vital shot to continue to elevate their game.

Playing with Your Spouse

My wife, Yvonne, and I have been playing in pickleball mixed doubles tournaments for over nine years now. That’s a lifetime in terms of mixed doubles marriages. People have often said we are role models for married pickleball partnerships. I feel very uncomfortable when they say it to me, because in all honesty it’s Yvonne who is the role model on our team. She is the consummate partner. She never faults her partner, whether it’s me in mixed doubles, or any woman partner she has played with. To her, it’s “team,” win or lose. I’m the one who may give an eye roll or a grunt when she hits a shot I know I might be pulling out of my abdomen. But, if I make the mistake, she is on to the next point without a word. We men have a hard time holding back and not showing any emotion, especially when we think our partner did not execute or hit the appropriate shot at the appropriate time. And, let’s face it, I have the luxury of being married to an excellent player, so being supportive should be easy, right? Yet, I still need to be reminded: “Straighten up, Jim, or I’m walking off the court.” So, fellas, what’s a guy to do? Well, here’s something that, WHEN I MAKE A CONSCIOUS EFFORT TO DO IT, helps our team dynamics and drastically improves our performance.

During my career as a training professional for a large company, I had the opportunity of teaching Stephen A. Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” It was a program our company endorsed as something we wanted our corporate culture to embrace. It was a highly effective program, especially when employee evaluations were based on these important principles and concepts. But, I’m not here to sell his book (Covey unfortunately died from a bicycling accident) or his programs. What I want to do is share with you one “habit” that might help you and your spouse the next time you prepare to take the court as a mixed doubles team.

While the “habits” really should be learned in order, I’ll skip to Habit 2, “Begin With the End in Mind.” This “habit” is based on the principle that all things are created twice. Stephen Covey points out that everything is created twice, first in the mind and then in reality. He shared a story about how this habit was useful when dealing with one of his sons prior to his soccer game. Before the game he sat down with his son and they began with the end in mind. In other words, what are the goals? What do they want to accomplish? They jointly stated the following:

1. Let’s try to win; try your hardest.
2. Lets have fun; its a game.
3. Let's encourage one another. Be supportive of your teammates.
4. Let's take something from the game that we can learn in order to improve.

After the game, in which his son’s team lost, they sat down and reviewed the goals. While winning is more fun than losing, the son still felt he did have fun playing the game. He tried his hardest and felt good about himself for the effort he put forth. He encouraged his teammates throughout the game, and he identified areas of his game he could work on to improve.

These are the same goals that we should openly discuss BEFORE we take to the pickleball court with our spouse. You will be amazed, if you visualize, openly verbalize, and mutually agree upon these goals before you begin your match, how much better you’ll be in realizing them. In other words, mentally creating the desired results and then physically creating them. Now, let’s be truly honest and realistic. Is it the absolute cure-all for everything that happens on the court? Will it mean you’ll win every match? Probably not. But, I can testify that when I/we verbalize these goals prior to competition, win or lose, we walk off the court a stronger team. When your spouse is worried that every mistake made will result in you making a remark, whether verbally or simply by your body language, she/he will play tighter, afraid to make another mistake.

As a great role model, watch Wes Gabrielsen the next time he plays mixed doubles. It’s easy to give your partner a paddle tap after a good shot, but Wes is always there with a paddle tap after a missed shot. In other words, he’s telling his partner, “I’m here for you; let’s get the next point.” So, the next time you take to the court with your spouse, or any partner for that matter, Begin With the End in Mind. Try your hardest to win, but have fun. Encourage one another, and identify what you can do “as a team” to improve. It might be a series of drills or it could be as simple as player communication and positioning. But, more importantly, remember it’s only pickleball!

OK, now I’ve done it. The pressure is on me to walk the talk.

Jim Hackenberg
2016 Men’s Nationals Gold Medalist,
Men’s 65+ Singles,
Men’s Doubles 55+,
Mixed Doubles 65+

Middle, Middle, Solves the Riddle - NOT!

Ihave had quite a few students ask me a lot about various strategies in doubles. Many of these questions concern where they should be hitting the ball. A lot of these players keep reading and hearing that a good strategy is to keep the ball in the middle of the court between their opposing players. Yes, this can be a good strategy against certain teams and it can also be the worst strategy against others. In this article I will explain when to use this strategy and when not to use the strategy of hitting to the middle.

Good Times to Hit to the Middle

1. You are playing against two lower level players that have not quite gotten the hang of communicating to each other. Often a team like this will get confused about who should hit the ball that is right in between both of them.

2. You are playing against two players that are of equal ability. This could even be a team with two very good players. It probably won’t happen very often but even the higher level teams can have communication skills and lose a point just because they were not sure which player was going to hit it. (Don’t overuse hitting to the middle with a good team.) Keep a team like this moving around and don’t keep hitting in the same spot over and over.

3. An occasional hard third shot down the middle rather than a dink can be effective.

4. You have created a gap between your opponents and you see an opportunity to hit a little rolling shot between them. This probably happened because you were moving the ball around during a good dink rally.

5. You are playing against a right-handed player and a left-handed player and they are positioned on the court so that both of their backhands are in the middle. Not always, but usually the backhand will be weaker with more errors.

6. Nothing wrong with hitting third shot dinks to the middle with most teams.

When Not to Hit to the Middle

Now there won’t be as many reasons not to hit the middle, but these situations will occur more often.

1. If you are playing against a team that has one player who is stronger than the other player. Most of the time in recreational pickleball and even tournament play there will be a player on the other side of the net who is the strongest player. When you are playing a team like this, hitting the middle can be the worst possible strategy. When you hit to the middle with a team like this, you are basically just hitting the ball to the best player every time.

2. Playing mixed doubles. I don’t want to be sexist, but generally in mixed doubles the male player is the stronger player. Now don’t get mad at me! I did say generally. There are many times where the female is the stronger player, but hitting to the middle usually means you are just hitting the ball to the male player.

3. You are playing against a right-handed and left-handed player who are stacking with both forehands in the middle (even against two even-skilled players). You are probably just hitting to the strength of this team.

4. Be careful not to dink a ball a little deep in the kitchen area because the forehand player will have more options with this shot and possibly can even use deception when getting to hit this ball. If you let a dink go too far down the middle, the forehand player will just swoop in and pop the ball at you.

Where Should I Hit the Ball?

Against these teams where middle is not your best choice you should be dinking to both edges of the kitchen. If you have good control of your dinks the best places to hit the dink will be a foot or more inside the kitchen line and also within four feet of each sideline. Don’t play it too close to the sideline because you don’t want to hit wide. Playing these edges will make it difficult for the stronger player on the other side of the net to take control of the court. With this strategy and placement you will be hitting to the weaker player and sometimes hitting behind the stronger player. At least you will be making the stronger player move to get to the ball. If you ever get a chance to watch strong mixed doubles male players like Scott Moore or Glen Peterson, pay attention! These guys are trying to hit every third, fourth and fifth shot of the rally. Usually for these guys the point has already been won by this time or they are dictating the play of the game. They are the best example of when, playing mixed doubles, the middle would be a bad strategy. If you hit the middle when playing mixed against them, you just hit the ball to the best player and he didn’t even need to move much to get to the ball.

The Underhand Serve Clarified

Pickleball 411 is a highly successful show on Pickleball Channel that is dedicated to providing helpful information about the sport of pickleball. But we know it is sometimes nice to read something you can turn back to when you’re not on the court. In this article, we’re going to clarify what makes an underhand serve legal. You might think, “That’s easy! Just hit it below the waist.” And you’d be mostly right. But surprisingly we constantly get questions from confused players about whether certain serves are legal or not. As the game has developed over the years, so have the rules. In fact, in February of 2013 the USAPA updated the rules to provide greater clarity. As many of you know, there has been quite a bit of lively discussion about this! We’re not going to cover every aspect of the serve, so we encourage you to read the rules for yourself which you can find on the USAPA website. But in this article, we will lay out a quick guideline of the three key elements that must be satisfied in order for the underhand serve to be legal. Once you read it through, make sure you watch the full-length video that gives you the visual tools you need to fully understand the underhand serve including clear motion graphics of each element.

The serve must be made with an underhand stroke. This is pretty easy to understand. When serving, use an underhand stroke. That means the paddle head must be moving in an upward motion. That can even be as small as one degree upward! As long as the paddle is moving upward, it satisfies the requirement. Zero degrees or a downward motion is not a legal serve.

#2 - BALL CONTACT BELOW THE WAISTContact with the ball must be made below the waist. This is the one that gets a little tricky. There has been some confusion about what exactly constitutes the waist. It doesn’t matter how you wear your clothes. The waist is defined as navel level. And the point where the ball hits the paddle must be below the waist.

#3 - PADDLE HEAD POSITION BELOW THE WRISTThe position of the paddle head must be lower than the wrist. This one can be the deal breaker. When the paddle head strikes the ball, the highest part of the paddle head must be below where the wrist joint bends. To clarify, the paddle head does not include the handle.In summary, all three of these elements must be satisfied in order for the serve to be legal: upward motion of the paddle head, contact with the ball below the waist, with the position of the paddle head below the wrist joint. There are many different types of serves including forehand, backhand, hard and soft, but as different as some of them may be, if all three of these elements are met, they can still be legal.

That’s your Pickleball 411 for today. We really hope this has been helpful. Now there’s only one thing left to do, and that’s Go Play!

Rusty Howes is the Executive Producer and creator of Pickleball Channel. Rusty worked for the likes of Warner Bros and Disney before creating Pickleball Channel to develop and provide fantastic, professional video content for the pickleball community. He is deeply involved in promoting the sport of pickleball at home and across the country.

Improve Your Game with The Soft Return

Pickleball 411 is a highly successful video show on Pickleball Channel that is dedicated to providing helpful information about the sport of pickleball. But we know it is sometimes nice to read something you can turn back to when you’re not on the court. In this article we are lucky enough to have Bob Youngren and Gail Dacey talk about how you can improve your game by working on your soft return. Bob and Gail are great 5.0 players who’ve competed in numerous tournaments, but they also teach other players how to improve their games. They are going to tell us what the soft return is, why it’s important, and how you can improve yours! Once you read through the article, make sure you watch the full-length video that really gives you the visual tools you need to fully understand the concept of the soft return.

Bob Youngren: In all my years of teaching, I think the soft return is probably the easiest shot to learn, and it improves your game tremendously.

Gail Dacey: I like the soft return, and I use it all the time as do most of my competitors. It’s also great for beginners and intermediate players.

Bob: The soft return is nothing more than what some people would call a lob. It’s just a very high, arching shot, and if you can get it deep, it would be perfect. A very common mistake to make on your service returns is hitting the ball too hard. Also, you might hit it in the middle of the court and too short. That doesn’t allow you to get up to the kitchen line.

Bob: One benefit of the soft return is that you’ll have more time to get from the baseline up to the non-volley zone and not be rushed. You have plenty of time to get up there and be ready for your next shot.

Bob: Another benefit is that when you hit a soft shot back to the server again, they’re going to have to use the third-shot drop. And that becomes very difficult with a ball that has no pace. Now they have to create their own pace, meaning that they have to hit the ball very hard versus blocking a shot that’s just been hit to them.

Gail: As you work on your soft return, focus on getting it toward the back three feet of the baseline. This will give time for you to get up to the non-volley zone, and it will keep your opponent stuck in the back court. It’s always an advantage for you to be at the non-volley zone while your opponents are back. You have the whole court in which you can place the ball. That’s your Pickleball 411 for today. We really hope this has been helpful. Now there’s only one thing left to do, and that’s go play!

Rusty Howes is the Executive Producer and creator of Pickleball Channel. Rusty worked for the likes of Warner Bros. and Disney before creating Pickleball Channel to develop and provide fantastic professional video content for the pickleball community. He is deeply involved in promoting the sport of pickleball at home and across the country.

Pickleball Marriages, Breakups, and Lygoism

For those pickleball players who enjoy singles, they don’t tournaments have to worry about the dilemma of picking partners. Purely based on numbers, pickleball is really a doubles sport, and, as much so, a mixed doubles sport. One question then is how do you pick a mixed partner, and do you stay with one partner or switch with multiple partners? Following are a few terms that are becoming more common in the pickleball world.

Pickleball Marriage: an exclusive arrangement between two players that they will only play with the other.

Pickleball Break-Up/Divorce: when a Pickleball Marriage ends.

Pickle-lygomist: a player who plays with multiple partners and is not tied to any one exclusively.

Players have different philosophies on how to deal with the ever-increasing difficulty of finding partners that they match well with. Some players will quickly find a partner that they like and decide on a Pickleball Marriage, while others play with multiple partners, never tying themselves to any one partner. Here are a few pros and cons about each of the philosophies.

In a Pickleball Marriage, you don’t have to worry about finding a partner for each tournament. For many players, signing up for a tournament without a partner is something they try to avoid at all costs. Who knows who you may end up with? But in a Pickleball Marriage, you have the understanding that when you and your partner play in a tournament, it will be together. That may cause trouble if one player wants to play in a tournament and the other can’t or doesn’t want to. Sometimes this can lead to a Pickleball Divorce.

A Pickleball Marriage also allows both players to get comfortable and familiar with the other player’s playing style. This can be incredibly helpful. Knowing who covers the middle, who gets the overheads, who runs back for lobs, knowing when to cover more court if the partner is pulled off, and being familiar with your partner’s shot selections are all huge advantages that longtime partners have over a team that is playing together for the first time.

Unfortunately, players can grow apart in their Pickleball Marriage. This can lead to Pickleball Divorce, which can either be a mutual decision or one-sided. When a partnership breaks up, it can be hard. Some players will just stop playing tournaments. Others will try to find new partners. It can be daunting for many players to find new partners after playing with someone else for so long, but the best way to do it is get out there and play! Pick-up games are a great way to play with people before deciding to partner with them in a tournament.

For some players, having a routine partner is not important. These players have several partners they play with, and there is no exclusivity. These “Pickle-lygomists” have the option of playing with different partners each tournament, if they want. This is not a very common practice for several reasons. Most people want a partner they can rely on to play with in multiple tournaments, mainly for the reasons listed above. It also requires the player to find new partners each time. This can be hard, as many players prefer to stick with one partner. There is also the possibility that a player switches partners frequently because the player is hard to play with. If that is the case, and that becomes that player’s reputation, it can become even harder to find new partners. While it may be fun playing with different partners in each tournament, players should be careful not to hurt their partner’s feelings and should be clear that they are not looking for a Pickleball Marriage!

Some people have said, “Never play with your significant other.” Others say they will never play with anyone but their significant other. What is right for you? There are several factors involved with deciding to play with your significant other. Are you both at a comparable level? In tournaments, players can always play in a division above their rating, but they can’t play below. If you are a 4.5 and your spouse is a 3.0, your spouse would have to join you in playing in the 4.5 bracket. That would be hard for him/her, as well as for you both as a team. Another important thing to consider is whether you both want to play with each other. Would the partnership be because of a desire to play together, or an obligation? If it is an obligation, there is the potential for resentment, which could lead to Pickleball Divorce. Also, a team off the court may not necessarily work well ON the court. Ask yourselves, “Do we play well together?” Are your playing styles complimentary? And most importantly, do you have fun playing together?

No matter what your own philosophy is, be it a Pickleball Marriage, Pickle-lygomy, or if you do decide to choose your real-life partner to be your pickleball partner, it is important to discuss how you hope things will work with your partner, before the tournament starts, so that everyone has fun and your partnership never ends up in a Pickleball Divorce!

Power and Line of Sight

The next time you are on a pickleball court, stand on the baseline and bend down so your eyes are about three feet above the court surface. Look straight at the top of the middle of the net (standard pickleball net height is 34 inches at the center strap) and you will be looking on a straight path parallel to the ground. This is your “line of sight.” Then slowly stand up and walk forward toward the net, stopping at the point where you can look over the net and see a reasonable target size of about five feet inside the opposing baseline.

What can we learn from this exercise? You can only hit successfully at full power when you have “line of sight” on your side, since power shots have little arc. Therefore, before you “rip” a shot with full power, make sure you are:

1. Hitting the ball out of the air (pickleballs do not bounce high like tennis balls).
2. Contacting the ball well above the height of the net.
3. Standing fairly close to the kitchen line.

What happens if you strike the ball at any other height and position on the court? At full power? Chances are you will hit the ball out or in the net. Compared to tennis, pickleball rules and equipment are stacked against power. There’s little or no topspin to help bring the ball down into the court, serving is underhand, and you cannot volley in the kitchen. Control and touch win over power. This makes for longer points. The result? More fun!

The perspective of this image allows us to see what the server sees. What happens if you cover the net with a sheet or blanket? Clearly, most pickleball shots have to be hit up and over the net with control and cannot be hit on a straight line of sight with power.

Ball Speed. The Onix Pure 2 ball will come off of your paddle at about the same speed as a Dura ball, (depending on the weather) but it will slow down faster in the air. This means you actually have a chance to dig out and get to slams that you might not retrieve with the Dura. So, don’t give up, you might make a spectacular dig!

Patience. Be ready for long rallies, especially in the cooler weather when the ball is bouncing lower and slower. So, get your cardio fitness up because generally your rallies are going to be longer. Be very patient and keep dinking until someone pops up a ball!

Spin. Since the ball stays on your paddle a little longer, I feel that you can spin this ball more. The topspin players will probably be able to make this ball dip more than the old balls. Even though you can put more spin, the backspin players will not be able to make this ball skid as much as the plastic or Duratype balls. This isn’t because they aren’t getting a lot of spin, it’s because it grabs the court more and bounces instead of skidding. This is why some top players who are famous for their backspin slices, like Wes Gabrielsen and Mike Gates, would probably prefer playing with the Duratype ball.

Resetting the Point. Since the ball is softer in most weather conditions, you should learn how to reset points from anywhere in the court. Top players already do this with the Duratype balls but I feel that it will be easier to learn this with the Onix Pure 2.

Lobbing. Since the Onix Pure 2 ball is better in the wind, a player with good lobs will have a little more control with lobbing outdoors. I usually don’t like the strategy of lobbing from the baseline, but since this ball will slow down faster in the air, you will have time to get to smashes your opponents hit compared to the Duratype balls.

Deep Serving. In warm conditions when the Onix Pure 2 ball gets a little more bounce, I would use more deep
lob serves. This type of serve will bounce high and push your opponent deep in their court, making it harder to get to the net after returning serve. (Note: I hit this serve to Kyle Yates in my backyard and he handled it with no problem by taking this serve early. This would be very difficult for the average player!)

I do think this is the ball of the future or maybe another company will make a ball with very similar qualities. Players and clubs that play outdoors should give it a try and many of the players will love this ball for all the reasons I have mentioned.

Joe Dinoffer is a USPTA and PTR master professional, the author of seven tennis books and 22 DVDs,
and he has appeared on the Tennis Channel. His company,, manufactures training aids for pickleball and tennis. He shares his experience and passion in this regular column of Pickleball Magazine.

The Split Step

The split-step is a foundation of footwork in pickleball and one of the most important techniques for successful positioning. It is used automatically and habitually by every top pickleball player but is often skipped with recreational players. For those of you who have been skipping this step, this will improve your game immediately and help you to be in the correct position during a point.

The split-step is simply a small hop you take while in the ready position that allows you to react and move explosively around the court in any direction. Rather than rushing straight to the non-volley line and being caught off guard, this simple hop allows a player to be in the best position to react, adjust, and hit the next ball.

When you split-step, you do not need a big jump. The small hop should only be an inch to half an inch above the court. It is also best to stay on the balls of your feet so that your footwork is light and so you can push off and explode toward the direction of the pickleball. While you are doing the small hop, it is also important to have your paddle up in a ready position and legs bent slightly at the knees.

The split-step should be done every single time your opponent is about to make contact with the ball. When you are timing the split-step, you want to start your small hop as your opponent is winding up to hit the ball and be back on the ground after he makes contact and you figure out where he has directed the ball. You should be at the top of your hop as your opponent makes contact.

In doubles, a lot of players have the misconception that they need to rush from the baseline to the non-volley line in one quick sprint. However, if you are making your way between the baseline to the non-volley line, it is better to take 2-3 split-step stops before making it to the line rather than rushing to the net in one sprint and being caught out of position. Incorporating the split-step on the way will improve your game quickly since you are in the most ideal ready position.

Christine McGrath resides in Los Angeles, CA. She was the highest female prize money winner for pickleball in 2015. Christine is a 2016 US Open Pro Champion, 5x Tournament of Champions medalist, and 6x Nationals VII medalist. She also enjoys the outdoors, dirt biking, snowboarding, and spending time with family.

Understanding Tournament Rules: a guide for newbies

When it comes to tournament play for newbies, the thought of entering a tournament may cause some feelings of anxiety. I know – as I felt the same when I first started playing tournaments. My head was spinning with so many questions:
• What is skill level vs. age level vs. skill/age level?
• What does double-elimination mean vs. pool play or round robin?
• What does having a tournament “sanctioned” mean?
• What does a referee do in tournament play?
• Are there lines people?
• Do tournaments encourage beginner play?
• How do I know what rating I should use when entering?

Once I understood the process and had that first tournament under my belt, I was hooked. You’ll never forget the natural high of competing and receiving that first medal. I won mine with my mom. It was a silver. I was filling in for her normal partner who was on vacation. As the tournament director presented our medals, he said to me, “You know, your mom usually gets gold!”


Skill Level vs. Age vs. Skill/Age. Most tournaments award three medals – gold, silver and bronze. My mom and I won the silver in a “Skill Level” USAPA-sanctioned tournament, which means that everyone in our event was competing at the same skill level (regardless of age). Skill Level tournaments usually run at 3.0, 3.5, 4.0, 4.5, and 5.0, although some events may have lower levels as well. Again, 3.0 players will play against 3.0 players, 3.5 players will play against 3.5, etc.

As you might imagine, Age brackets are where all players are of the same age range, which could be in 5-, 10- or 15-year ranges (regardless of the skill). For example, you could have a 3.0 50-year-old playing against a 5.0 54-year-old. The ranges are typically determined based on participation. Finally, the Skill/Age brackets are considered the most equal in that players with the same skill set compete against others of similar age.

Format. My mom and I played in a double-elimination event, meaning we were guaranteed at least two matches. In the main draw, matches are best of three games to 11 (win by two points). Every team that loses a match in the main draw funnels to the back draw. Back draw matches are one game to 15 points (switching sides when one team has 8), win by two. The winner of the back draw gets to compete in the finals against the winner of the main draw for the gold medal.

We’ve also been in tournaments where the format was round robin, as there were few participants; you play everyone in your bracket once in a single round robin and twice in a double round robin. Winners in round robin formats of USAPA-sanctioned tournaments are typically determined by matches won, but
if tied, then you look at points won. If there is still a tie, the tournament director looks at head-to-head results.

Sanctioned Tournaments. Tournaments are either sanctioned by the USAPA or non-sanctioned. Non-sanctioned events often have their own formats, so consult with the tournament director on how winners of round robins are determined. A major benefit to sanctioned events is the use of referees for each match.

Referees. So who helps me keep up with what format I’m in or how many points I am to play? In addition to the brackets posted at the tournament site, the referee will know what format you are playing in, but the referee’s number-one responsibility is to watch that non-volley zone line and call foot faults when they occur. Calling the non-volley zone is essential to ensuring that one team doesn’t gain an unfair advantage over another team by being illegally closer to the net to put balls away. The referee also calls the score each point, keeps up with who the first and second servers are, and can be solicited to validate a call if asked by a player. Otherwise all other lines, except the non-volley zone line, is the responsibility of the players to call.

Line Judges. In my first tournament, I thought we had line judges, so why would I have to call the lines? Well, line judges are typically used in your gold medal matches only; however, some tournaments will include line judges in bronze medal matches as well. The line judge’s responsibility is to call the ball in or out for the line he/she is judging.

Please remember that referees and line judges are volunteers doing the best job they can, so always be courteous to them and thank them when your match is completed.

If after reading about the referees you are thinking you might prefer to be a tournament referee rather than a tournament player, then check out the USAPA’s Rules and Referees at

Refereeing sounds awesome, but I still want to play...can I do both? Yes, you can.

OK, so how do I know what skill level to enter if I’m playing in a skill level tournament? There are multiple ways and it’s not a one-size-fits-all. The best you can do is determine your skill level based on how well you fare against other players who have been given a rating by a club, the USAPA, or perhaps a tournament. If you don’t have access to those options to help assess your skill level, you can always visit the following website that will give you some guidelines as to how best to determine your skill: Once you have a few tournaments under your belt you’ll get a better idea of what your “true” skill level is.

What do tournament directors do to help newbies learn the ropes? This varies from nothing, to providing clinics before the tournament, to offering newbie brackets, to having folks around the tournament site who can answer questions. The best advice we can give you here is to reach out to the tournament director and ask what you need to know for participating in that tournament. This is good advice for the veteran player as well!

We hope you’ve found this article informative, helpful and, most of all, motivating to sign up for that first pickleball tournament. Grab your lucky paddle and go have some competitive fun.

If you have any additional questions please feel free to contact anytime via email
at or via phone at 602.284.2678.