I have been playing this great game of Pickleball for 42 years now. I started playing competitive intramural tournaments in college when I was 18 years old. So, now that I am a 60-year- old player, I have had the experience of competing as a young player and now as a senior. This experience has given me
a good insight on sound strategies for senior players to use when playing with and against today’s good young players.
In the Pacific Northwest we are very fortunate to have many of the nation’s top young male and female players. Most of my playing time involves games with and against these players. I have loved mentoring many of them and it has been a kick at my age to hang around and play this sport with such great players.
These players have also taught me shots that I never thought I would see on a Pickleball court. I just love their energy and optimism about life in general, and I feel just by hanging around these young players that I have gained a more youthful perspective of life. I know for sure that they definitely know how to make me laugh and have a good time on and off the court. If I only played with fellow senior players, I would be missing out on much of the enjoyment of this sport. So, if you are a senior player and you would like to mix it up a little more on the pickleball court with today’s young players, I highly recommend it. You will probably find yourself being a mentor in some way to a few of the young people you play with too.
In this article I will share some of the strategies that I recommend senior players use when playing against, or even with, those athletic young players. First off, I want to make it clear that today’s pickleball game is very athletic. Today’s top young players have tremendous speed, great jumping ability and lightning-quick reflexes. This athletic factor of today’s game is what clearly gives the young players the advantage.
The strategies and tactics I am going to give you in this article will help the senior player take as much of the athleticism out of the game as possible. In other words, we don’t want the match to mainly consist of which team can move the fastest, jump the highest or have the quickest hands.
Hit a 3rd shot dink on almost every 3rd shot. Most likely, if you hit a hard 3rd shot to young, fast players, the ball will just come back faster and it may even come back to a place on the court that you are unable to get to. The teams that are successful hitting hard 3rd shots are almost always very quick players that
can get to the ball blocked onto the open court.
Now that you have hit a 3rd shot dink, I want you to keep dinking!
Not only do I want you to keep dinking, but I want you to learn how to dink shorter than you are used to dinking. By dinking very short you have gained a “blocker.” With this strategy you are using the net to block the young players from hitting the ball hard at you. If they do hit hard at you, you only have to duck because the ball will be going out.
After dinking the ball low and short, make sure you keep your paddle up and out in front. By dinking short and low you are only allowing your opponents to hit high. So learn to block all the balls that are coming right at you. This block will usually be done by using your backhand. If the ball is hit hard between you and your partner the forehand player should block it back. Learn to block all these shots down to your opponent’s feet. Since you hit the ball short and low, you should be able to block it back down.
Dink most of the balls to the middle. By hitting the middle you are taking away a lot of the sharp-angle dinks. Remember, we don’t want this to be a speed contest. If you hit sharp angles to young players, they will probably easily get to the ball and then hit another sharp angle back and make you run. They may even hit a winner around the net post!
Buy time! Remember the young players are quicker than you are. So, anytime you are being pulled off the court, hit a dink back so you can buy some time to get back to your correct spot on the court. If you are being pulled wide and just hit a hard ball, your senior partner will be left all alone on the court. Another example of a way to buy time is learning to hit a dink when a lob has gone over your head. Don’t just panic and run after it and hit a lob back or, even worse, hit a hard ball. Learn how to dink that ball.mThis shot is no different than a 3rd shot dink. The odds are better when you dink the ball back after a lob has been thrown over your head. You can buy yourself time when hitting this shot by letting it almost fall to the ground before you hit this dink.
Learn to hit volley dinks from anywhere on the court. This allows you to reset the rally so that you are able to get to the net and resume the dink game. If you just try to volley a ball hard from the middle of your court you have just allowed the younger players to play the reflex power game to their advantage.
Don’t lob from the baseline... and maybe don’t lob ever. If you are lobbing from the baseline you are just letting your younger opponents hit the ball down and make you run! I would rather you learn to hit a dink from anywhere on the court so that you can reset the point and turn the game into a dinking game. I have a mental list of players back here in Oregon that I will almost never lob to. The only time I can possibly get a lob over these top young players is by hitting a volley lob just over their heads while they are riding the kitchen line and leaning forward. Even then they might jump straight up and smash it.
Be consistent! Get rid of as many unforced errors as possible. You may not be as athletic, but you can learn good mechanics and cut down on errors.
Make sure your senior partner understands these strategies and is willing to play this way. Both senior players must be on the same page to make these strategies work.
A Couple of Strategies When Your Partner is the Young Player
• Be willing to take much less court. Remember your partner is faster than you; let him/her take most of the court. I always hear weaker players say, “It’s not fair that I don’t get to cover half the court.” Just remember that even though you are taking a smaller section of the court, you will still be hitting most of the balls.
• Since you won’t be taking up so much court you should be able to easily dink the ball into good positions that might give your younger partner a set-up.
• Your job is just to keep the ball in play and not give your opponents pop-ups.
I think you will enjoy trying these strategies, and at least you should find that your points are much longer and your matches are a much better challenge for the young teams. You might even pull off a couple of upsets! These strategies could also give you more tools when playing against the other senior players too. •