Last week’s mistakes focused on a couple of physical mistakes players tend to make at the kitchen line: taking more balls out of the air and taking a step back.
While we’re hitting on the same theme this week, today’s mistakes revolve more around the strategic and mental side of pickleball- and we all know poor strategy can ruin a game for us.
Without further adieu, here are 2 more mistakes you can avoid as you improve your own game at the net:
Not Knowing Who the Weaker Player is & Where the Safest Shot Is
When I play my most competitive matches, we discuss beforehand who we want to hit our 3rd shots to and who we want to hit most of our dinks at. While that’s overkill in most rec games, it is a good practice on starting to figure out who is the weaker player on the court that you can target when you yourself are in a vulnerable position at the net. If we’ve been backed into a corner and have to hit a defensive shot, if we can control who we hit it to, it might give us a little better chance for backing out of said corner.
Further, if we are targeting the weaker player, we also want to know where we might attack him or her. Typically, we’d want to target the player’s backhand, but we need to know if they’re right or left-handed, when their partner might step in to poach or take their shot, or they might be the rare player (like me) that prefers to play the ball with his or her backhand instead of dinking with the forehand.
Either way, it’s important for us to start to sniff out where the “safe spot” might be to return the ball in each game we play.
Not Playing the Ball to the Stronger Player Enough
Once we’ve identified the weaker player, we should hit every ball that direction…right?
Not so fast.
We’ve talked before about one of the most valuable traits of a good pickleball player is being unpredictable, and if we get too repetitive in only attacking the weaker player, we can expect a stronger player to start to cheat and poach. And when a good player knows where the ball is coming, she’s often going to be able to be in a position to hit an aggressive, attacking shot.
Just as there is no perfect formula on the 3rd shot drop vs drive debate, there isn’t a perfect science about how often to keep a ball going to the stronger player to keep her (or him) honest and in a place where they aren’t trying to poach. However, as you see the stronger player start to creep (especially towards the forehand side), it’s a good indicator that you need to hit a low, unattackable dink in their direction (preferably to the backhand side) to keep them in a position where they can’t get a cheap, easy poach to end the point.
To progress as pickleball players, it’s important that we learn who the stronger player is on the other side of the net, where the safe plays are on the court, and to continue to keep our shots unpredictable to keep our opponents on their toes.
Until next time…