When I think of a player who uses the lob most effectively, my good friend Enrique Ruiz comes to mind. I’ve had the good fortune of playing many games with Enrique, both recreationally and competitively, and have observed and learned many of his secrets to successful lobbing. In this article, I’d like to share seven Ws of effective lobbing.
1 Why I would want to use the lob?
A good player will use the lob as an offensive weapon that’s difficult to run down or will only allow for a weak smash or return.
2 Who are you playing?
One of the most important things about successful lobbing is knowing what skills your opponents have and how athletic they are. I keep a mental list of players I’ll rarely, if ever, lob. For example, if I were playing against a team comprised of Wes Gabrielsen and Kurtis Campbell, a top 5.0 team like this has too much athleticism and the odds of being successful with a lob would be very low. Even if I put up a perfect lob against these players, they’d more than likely jump and I would be in big trouble with an attacking smash, or they’d run and retrieve the lob from the baseline and get back so quick I wouldn’t have gained any advantage. On the other hand, if I’m playing against a senior team that doesn’t have the mobility or power of younger players, I may choose to use the lob fairly often.
3. Where are your opponents located?
Knowing exactly where your opponents are on the court is vital to great lobbing. This can be the difference between getting a lob out of your opponents’ reach or giving them an easy smash.
I always tell my students to closely watch where their opponents’ feet are while in a dinking rally. If your opponents are very close to the kitchen line and leaning forward, this is a great time to use a lob that’s just out of their reach. Most of the time when you do this, you’ll either force them to hit a weak overhead or you’ll force them to chase down the lob. Most bad lobs occur because they’re attempted when the opponents’ feet are a step or two behind the kitchen line. Lobbing at this time is difficult because you have little court to successfully work with.
4 Where is your location on the court?
Being aware of your location on the court is also a very important factor in effective lobbing. Most top players will only lob from either a spot very close to the kitchen or from a few steps behind the kitchen. I’m definitely not a fan of lobbing from behind the baseline. This is because it allows plenty of time for the opponents to move into position to hit an aggressive smash. The worst time to use a lob is when you’re behind the baseline and your partner is at the net because your opponents will have plenty of time to hit a smash and have an easy target to hit, which is your partner!
However, by using the lob while you’re close to the kitchen line, your opponents will have less time to react. In doing this, you can often catch them by surprise and turn that lob into a winner.
5 Where are your opponents moving to?
If your opponents are moving or leaning forward, you often can catch them by surprise by throwing up a lob. Your opponents may be able to hit this lob, but you’ll be forcing them to hit a weak overhead. However, if your opponents are taking a step back or two just before you hit the lob, you’ll probably see that ball being smashed right at your feet.
6 Which shoulder are you lobbing over?
The lob can be much more effective if you can lob over your opponents’ backhand shoulder. To do this, you and your opponents will need to be close to or at the kitchen line. This will ensure your opponents don’t have time to move so they hit the smash on their forehand side.
Wind direction is an important factor to successful lobbing when playing outdoors. If the wind is behind you, it’s probably not a good idea to use the lob because a lob that was very effective before—by being just out of reach of your opponents—will now land behind the baseline.
On the other hand, if the wind is at your face, it may be a great time to lob the ball, which will be just out of your opponents’ reach. The wind can be a factor in helping the ball curl back inside the court.
So, next time you’re playing, give these Ws of successful lobbing a try!
Steve Paranto, sponsored by Onix, has been playing tournament pickleball since 1974. He’s been teaching the sport of pickleball for over 35 years and is one of the first IPTPA instructors. Steve’s a very active senior tournament player with many national medals and world senior medals at the 5.0 level.