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 the 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 that makes 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.
He/she may make an error; however, this is not necessarily the goal. The goal is to pressure your opponent to the point where he/she puts a ball up into your strike zone. You then gain an advantage and have an opportunity to hurt your opponent 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. one of your two primary purposes, should be to keep the ball out of your opponent’s strike zone. This way, he/she lacks an opportunity to hurt you. You simultaneously ought to seek to make opponents 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.
DJ Howard is a Head Instructor for LevelUp Pickleball Camps. With a background in multiple sports and an education in exercise science, DJ Howard has been playing pickleball for five years—winning multiple medals locally and nationally at the 5.0+ level—and has been recognized nationally by his students and peers as an elite coach and teacher of the game.