If you’ve been playing pickleball for any length of time, you’ve probably been told by some player to “hit to the middle.”
Hitting down the middle is often an excellent strategy, but it’s also frequently misunderstood and incorrectly implemented.
First, let’s talk about WHY it is a good idea to hit to the middle in general.
#1) Hit to the Middle Because the Net is Lower There
Basically, you’ve got three options: hit in front of you, hit to the middle, or hit cross-court.
As long as you are hitting to the middle, you’ll still be able to take advantage of the fact that the net is up to a full 2” lower in the middle, which means you’re less likely to hit the ball into the net. And that is always a good thing.
#2) Hit to the Middle Because it Takes the Angle Off
There’s a time and a place for sharp cross-court dinks or sharp angles down the sideline, but unless you are VERY accurate and can end the point with your sharp angle, most of the time hitting a sharp angle just leaves your partner’s sideline wide open for your opponent to take advantage.
When you hit to the middle, it limits your opponent’s options and helps you keep control of the point.
Now, let’s talk about what hitting to the middle really means...
#3) Hitting to the Middle Does NOT Mean Hitting to the Middle
OK, to clarify: maybe when your frustrated partner grumbles under his/ her breath “Hit to the middle!” they mean to hit to the middle of the court. But that’s only because they haven’t learned this particular nuance.
I’ll say it right now: Don’t hit every shot to the line in the center of the court.
It’s not that simple because your shot placement MUST always take into account where your opponents are.
Well, for some of you, especially those with more racket sport experience,
this might be obvious; but, for many players, especially when you are just starting out or working on a new skill, you focus so much on hitting a particular shot to a particular place that you forget to see where your opponents are and what they are doing.
This is particularly common when people are learning to hit a drop shot. They attempt to hit the third-shot drop shot no matter where their opponents are. But a drop shot is only the best shot when your opponents are at the net. If your opponents do not come up to the net, then do not hit a drop shot. Keep them deep!
If you are blindly aiming for a particular spot on the court without considering where your opponents are, chances are you might be hitting it directly to them, and, at the very least, you will miss out on an opening because you literally aren’t looking for it.
So what should you do instead?
Hit to the MIDDLE of the AREA between your opponents.
If your opponents are each positioned exactly in the middle of their side of the court, then it would happen that you would be aiming near the centerline of the court. But most of the time, the spot you should be aiming for will be left or right of the center of the court.
Now, for newbie to beginner players, go out and practice that before applying the next tip. Because the reality is, even though it’s best to hit to the middle of the two players...
#4) Don’t Always Hit EXACTLY to the Middle of the Two Players Like I said, if you’re just starting out, don’t even bother worrying about this. But for novice to advanced players, it will probably help to hit slightly off-center from the middle of the two players, slightly toward the person with the backhand in the middle (assuming you have two righties with better forehands than backhands).
No matter what level player you are, sometimes you’ll be playing against opponents who both have strong shots toward the middle (for example, a right- left combination with good forehands HIT TO THE MIDDLE in the middle, or two righties, one who prefers the forehand and one who prefers the backhand).
These are still good times to hit to the middle because chances are, they will BOTH go for it and confuse themselves. Which brings us to point #5...
#5) Hit to the Middle to Construct Your Point
Now this is key. This is where pickleball can start to be like chess.
Yes, your opponents may get confused when you hit to the middle, but don’t be disappointed if one of them manages to get the ball back over the net to you because, grasshopper, you are smarter than that.
You were not hitting to the middle to win on that shot. You hit to the middle to set yourself up for an even better shot down the road.
And it is that second (or even third or fourth shot) after you hit to the middle (when your opponents are still off-balance) when you can take advantage of their teetering stance or their open sidelines to take your winning shot.
Now, we’re closing in on our last two hit-to-the-middle secrets.
#6) Hit to the Middle Because it Keeps Your Partner in the Game
If you’ve watched the national matches, you’ve likely seen those long cross-court dinking rallies where two players are hitting on the diagonal, back and forth, while their partners are doing their very best to stay awake.
Well, when you have four top players on the court, that is sometimes the way to go. But whenever you hit a sharp cross-court shot, your opponent will probably return that shot to you, which makes it very difficult for your partner to even reach the ball, and it also puts a lot of pressure on you to make sure you are consistent and keep the ball in play.
When you hit to the middle instead, you open the possibilities back up. When your opponents are returning from the middle, you or your partner can be ready to hit the next shot, which will often be a put-away.
So, to sum it up:
Scenario #1: If you’re playing with an equal-or-better partner, hit to the middle to keep him/her involved.
Scenario #2: If you’re playing with a weaker partner, still hit to the middle to keep your opponents from taking advantage of your partner.
If you go for a sharp cross-court shot and your partner is not shifting correctly to cover the alley, chances are a good opponent will go down the line on your partner’s side.
#7) Hit to the Middle, but Probably Not ALL the Time Call me Captain Obvious, but if you are hitting toward the middle, chances are you aren’t hitting to the side.
Sure, you might mess up and hit it into the net, but hitting it wide is probably not going to be a problem.
Also, you may know that just keeping the ball in play is often enough to win a point.
So, thinking yourself extremely smart, you might decide to hit every single shot into the middle. After all, you’ll keep the ball in play and reap all the benefits outlined above, right?
Well, depending on your skill level, hitting to the middle all the time may or may not be a smart strategy. The ideal percentage depends on your skill level.
Do you know what your skill level is? If not, go to www.RatingsAndGoals.com right now to request your FREE copy of my highly acclaimed Ratings & Goals Guide, which will help you figure out your skill level and will also give you skill-level specific goals to help you take your game to the next level.
Once you’ve identified your skill level, then come back here to find your target ration of middle shots on the sidebar.
Prem Carnot, author of the #1 Bestseller Smart Pickleball: The Pickleball Guru’s Guide, is the premier pickleball coach on the planet. Use his simple
“Yes or No” criteria to determine YOUR precise skill rating and EXACTLY how to take your game
to the next level. Go to: www.RatingsAndGoals.com.