Pickleball: Thoughts about the Soft Game and Drop Shot

I have written about the third shot drop shot and the soft game on JBRish a number of times. This is a wonderful skill to develop to help win pickleball games…but to be consistently good takes lots of practice. I can hit one every once in a while, but that percentage isn’t going to win many games.

Pickleballers who don’t have a great third shot drop shot, or perhaps a poor soft game overall, need not despair. Jennifer Lucore has an interesting take on drop shots and dinking in pickleball.

I would encourage you to read the entire article:

There’s No Dinking in Pickleball

In summary, however, this is what she concludes:

“So, to summarize there is NO RIGHT OR WRONG way to play pickleball when you are talking about dropping the third shot or a powerful, driving ground stroke. (emphasis mine)”

PS – Some of the comments under the article are interesting as well!

More Pickleball Videos

To See additional Pickleball Videos Covering Many Aspects of the Game Click Here (primarily for beginners and less experienced players)

Check out Additional Pickleball Info and Videos! (for all players including average to more experienced players)


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©Jeffrey B. Ross – 2017


More Pickleball Strategy & Tips from Jeff Shank – Video

Things to watch for in this video

  • Why would Jeff want to “fake” poach a ball?
  • What is a good ready position? Where should the paddle be?
  • What paddle adjustment needs to be made when a ball is hit at your feet?
  • What adjustment to your stroke do you need to make if you are back-peddling?
  • Listen to Jeff’s explanation regarding how to defend a shot going around the post. (see the note below)
  • NOTE – Some players may not realize that a ball does not have to go over the net to be a valid shot in pickleball. If your team hits a ball wide so that it pulls the player to the side of the court and your opponent is able to hit the ball around the post (i.e. without it going over the net) and it lands on your team’s side of the court in bounds, it is a legitimate shot.

  • What does Jeff suggest is a key to getting a shot to go deeper, especially the serve?
  • Watch and listen to how Jeff suggests a player can avoid hitting the ball into the net on an easy, high ball when you are moving forward to the net.
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    NOTE – To find out about this series of posts, i.e. 100 Pickleball Strategies by Jeff Shank, read the first post HERE

     

    To See additional Pickleball Videos Covering Many Aspects of the Game Click Here (primarily for beginners and less experienced players)

    Check out Additional Pickleball Info and Videos! (for all players including average to more experienced players)

    Jeff Shank’s Pickleball Strategy – Opponent Weaknesses, Soft Game Necessities & More

    One of the topics in this segment of Jeff Shank’s tips is how to find the weaknesses in your opponent’s pickleball game and what to do once you have that information.

    NOTE – When playing in a non-competitive environment, if I find that our team is much better than the other team or only one person on the other team, I work with my partner to alter our strategy:

    1 – Don’t try to overwhelm a weaker player with the serve. Give them a chance to return the ball otherwise nobody is going to have any fun.

    2 – Don’t hit every shot to the weaker player. Include the stronger opponent as well. I often go out of my way to hit to a stronger player especially when I know they are better than me. I feel really good if I can score a point off of a very strong player. Keep pickleball a fun game by hitting to both opposing players. One way to do that is to always hit to the person on the other team serving the ball.

    3 – When I hit a ball to a weaker player, I will often hit a shot I think they can handle, i.e. less pace, etc. This gives me practice in learning to control my shot and it provides practice for the receiving player in returning the ball.

    CAUTION: I have found myself in the following situation, but I don’t worry about it:

    I have been on a team and we discovered that we are potentially much stronger than the opposing team. We may find ourselves ahead by five or six points so we begin to lighten up. At times, the opposing team is then able to muster enough good shots to make it a close game or even win. To me that’s OK. If it is a clubhouse game for fun, it doesn’t really matter.

    NOTE: This is my personal philosophy and I am not suggesting it has to be yours.

    4 – I sometimes use a game with less skilled players to practice shots I need to work on such as the third shot drop shot.

    What does Jeff Shank say about the soft game? I know many players who will try very hard to avoid dinking and playing the soft game. Why does Jeff suggest the soft game is so important to learn?

    What does he suggest when you mishit a ball?

    What does Jeff say is “more important than just about anything else?”

    Other topics include the importance of drills, how to anticipate your opponent’s shot so you can be ready and what to do when a high ball is headed to the non-volley zone on your side of the net.

    NOTE – To find out about this series of posts, i.e. 100 Pickleball Strategies by Jeff Shank, read the first post HERE

     

    To See additional Pickleball Videos Covering Many Aspects of the Game Click Here (primarily for beginners and less experienced players)

    Check out Additional Pickleball Info and Videos! (for all players including average to more experienced players)

    Jeff Shank’s Pickleball Strategy – Net Dribbles, Lobs and More

    In this video segment, watch for these points:

    Net Dribbles


  • How to handle balls that dribble over the net to give yourself time to get out of your non-volley zone (NVZ).
  • NOTE: Other top players advise that if you can angle the ball cross court while you retreat from the NVZ, it will give you more time to recover since to hit the ball back to you will take the opposing team member a fraction longer. Presumably your partner is already at the NVZ in anticipation of a possible return to them and they are not on the move.

  • What shot should you hit if the opposing player goes after a ball that dribbles over the net on their side and the ball is returned to you a bit high?
  • CLARIFICATION: The only reason the above technique works is because the ball is returned too high. If the return was a good dink into the half of the NVZ closest to the net, only a dink return would be advised.

    NOTE: At the 27:05 mark the sound gets very low so you might want to raise it!

    The Lob


  • Under what circumstances should the lob be used?
  • What is the best shot to use to recover from a bad (too short) lob and you suspect that it is coming right back at you?
  • Why does Jeff Shank suggest you should say to your partner: “Come up! Come up!“?
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    Keeping the Ball Deep


  • Why should you serve the ball deep?
  • Why is it even more important to get the serve return deep?
  • Lefty-Righty Potential Advantage


  • What advantage would a team have (in many instances) if they are playing against a team with a right-handed player and a left-handed player?
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    NOTE: Jeff points out that his suggestions are not the ONLY way to play the game, but he feels these are appropriate strategies for most players. Many pickleballers will develop some of their own personal strategies and as long as they work for you, stick with them.


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    NOTE – To find out about this series of posts, i.e. 100 Pickleball Strategies by Jeff Shank, read the first post HERE

     

    To See additional Pickleball Videos Covering Many Aspects of the Game Click Here (primarily for beginners and less experienced players)

    Check out Additional Pickleball Info and Videos! (for all players including average to more experienced players)

    Pickleball Video – Importance of Communication at All Levels

    In the next installment of Jeff Shank’s 100 Pickleball Strategies, Jeff points out the importance of at least a minimal amount of communication between each team’s players even at the club or recreational level. If you have a tournament partner, I am sure you have crossed this bridge before reading this post. At least I hope you have!

    Well then, what should you discuss?

    • Are any players on the opposing team left handed? If so, someone should keep track of when both opponents’ backhands are in the middle of the court and announce it to each other during play. The backhand is usually the weakest shot for most players and if each player does have a weak backhand and they are in the middle, this might be an advantage when returning a ball.
    • Which way is the wind blowing (if play is outside)?
    • Have you seen these players play? Anything unusual about their style (do they spin every ball?)
    • Do you know which player is the weakest?
    • Does one player have an especially good lob?

    What words will be used to indicate that a ball is in, out, potentially going out, etc. Who will cover lobs and under what circumstances?

    Watch the video as Jeff explains how to play “smart” pickleball even during recreational play. What additional hints does he offer besides those highlighted above?

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    • Did you hear what Jeff said about calling lobs “in” or “out”?
    • Why is it important to communicate when a shot is returned down the middle of the court to your team?

    These are all fundamental key strategies and they can add a couple of points to your score in many games. If you didn’t pick up all of the hints and tips Jeff Shank offered in this segment of his 100 tips, it would be worth it to watch the video again!

    NOTE – To find out about this series of posts, i.e. 100 Pickleball Strategies by Jeff Shank, read the first post HERE

     

    To See additional Pickleball Videos Covering Many Aspects of the Game Click Here (primarily for beginners and less experienced players)

    Check out Additional Pickleball Info and Videos! (for all players including average to more experienced players)

    Pickleball Strategy – Where to Aim the Serve

    Adapted from 100 Pickleball Strategies by Jeff Shank*

    For those of you who may not know Jeff Shank, let me tell you just a bit. Jeff is one of the country’s best pickleball players and he has done very well in national tournaments.

    Jeff has been very generous in sharing his tips and techniques with others in the pickleball community. I first heard Jeff when he was interviewed on the Pickleball Show by Chris Allen. He is a non-assuming, sincere guy.

    Jeff has created a video with 100 Pickleball Strategies. It is an hour long and most players probably do not want to sit and watch an hour of strategy and techniques so what I have done (with permission) is to re-purpose the video by breaking it down into discrete segments.

    (Just as a side note here – strategy is only one part of the game. It is the knowing what to do or at least what you hope to do. The other part of the game, and perhaps a bit more important, is being able to do what the strategy indicates.)

    What I plan for each segment I post based on Jeff’s video, is to include a summary of the key points being highlighted. Naturally, the video speaks for itself, but sometimes an “executive summary” helps.

    For those who are interested, here (first video below) is the introduction to the series from the video:



    So…without further ado, I present the first tip offered by Jeff Shank – Where to Serve the Ball.

    Where to Serve the Ball (Location):

    Aiming for your opponent’s weakest skill shot


    NOTES from Pickleball Strategy – Where to Aim the Serve:

    • Serve Deep and to the Backhand – Generally speaking, serve to your opponent’s weakest return shot. For most average players, this would be their backhand. Remember also to serve the ball deep.
    • If a player tries to protect their backhand, try to serve to the opposite corner of the service area.
    • For left-handed players, reverse the target areas (placement) as Jeff demonstrates.
    • If a player has an aggressive return of serve and hits the ball hard and low, try to serve them short where they need to run up for the ball. This will reduce their chances of hitting a powerful (aggressive) return shot.
    • If a player wants to take the serve with their backhand, serve to their forehand. Watch your opponent to see where they stand. They will probably “protect” their weak spot and help you strategize.

    *This adaptation has been done with permission form Jeff Shank! Many thanks to Jeff and others for allowing this to be presented to the pickleball community via this blog.

    To See Pickleball Videos Covering Many Aspects of the Game Click Here (primarily for beginners and less experienced players)

    Check out Additional Pickleball Info and Videos! (for all players including average to more experienced players)

    Pickleball – Dinking: An Essential Part of the Soft Game

    For those who want to move their game forward, there is probably no better skill set than learning to play the “soft game” and, like it or not, dinking is a key component!

    Joe Baker is back with another excellent video tutorial, Doubles Pickleball Strategy 201 – Dinking Strategy, about this essential skill. You can view it at the bottom of this post.

    Here are some notes and things to watch:

    Advanced Dinking

    • Main Objective – Apply the maximum stress to your opponent’s team by making them “reach, move or scramble.”
    • Shot Placements: Sideline, Middle or Cross Court
    • Three main target areas:
    • Sideline
    • Middle
    • Cross Court (preferred especially if you can get a great, sharp angled shot and force and error)
    • Do NOT hit to the near opponent if you get drawn out of position near your sideline; especially to their forehand!
    • Do NOT hit to the same sideline twice in a row.

    Defending the Dink

    • Link to your partner. i.e. move as a unit – together
    • Getting out of “trouble” involves hitting cross court and into the kitchen<
    • Use a surprise lob when you can catch your opponents off-guard
    • Try to disguise your shots:
    • Look one way and hitting the other
    • Not signaling your intention until the last possible minute
    • Wrong Foot your opponent, i.e. hitting in a direction from which your opponent was just leaving

    Doubles Pickleball Strategy 201 – Dinking Strategy

    This video is worth studying and watching a couple of times. There is no substitute for practice. Playing games, the experts repeatedly say, will not help improve your game as much as targeted practice.

    If you haven’t seen Joe Bakers other pickleball videos, run, do not walk,to your nearest computer and view these:


    Doubles Pickleball Strategy 101-How to Play Smart Pickleball, Ten Tips

    Doubles Pickleball Strategy 102 – Smart Pickleball Vol. 2, Power

    Pickleball Doubles Strategy 101 & 102 from Joe Baker

    In October of last year, I blogged about Joe Baker’s video – Doubles Pickleball Strategy 101-How to Play Smart Pickleball, Ten Tips

    If you haven’t watched it and you are interested in raising the level of your doubles play, I suggest you read the post and review the video. It is an excellent video and Joe Baker teaches the skills in a very understandable and deliberate manner. Diagrams and game footage are interspersed to make the concepts clear.

    You can find this blog post at:

    http://jbrish.com/pickleball-strategy-10-tips-to-help-win-the-point/

    For those who have already watched the 101 series of tips, here is the follow up:

    Joe Baker’s Tips for Doubles Strategy in Pickleball – 102

    Joe starts out by emphasizing that smart play that often leads to winning points and not necessarily strokes or shots.

    As Joe points out, most pickleball points are lost and not won. The improper use of force causes many balls to go errant. That is to say, players often hit the ball hard when they should hit it soft and hit it soft when they should hit it hard and thus lose the point.

    As Joe Baker points out, power and control are opposites:

    • Hitting the ball harder reduces control – increases errors
    • Hitting the ball softer increases control – reduces errors

    Two Rules of Thumb:

    • When you must hit up on the ball, hit softly
    • When you hit down on the ball, hit harder

    Watch the video for complete explanations of the above ideas! I hope you learn some great points as I did!

    Pickleball Strategy – 10 Tips to Help Win the Point

    Every sport has two major components. First there are the physical skills, i.e. how to hit a ball, kick a ball, etc. Players need to master the different strokes, kicks or hits necessary to be successful on this level.

    The second component is strategy. Beginners are often so focused on the physical aspect that they overlook the mental and strategic guidelines. The video below provides a brief outline of the types of shots and player positions necessary under certain conditions to enable a team to have the best opportunity to win a pickleball game..

    I have outlined which skills are presented in which order and what the general time stamps are for each. Move the time-slider to get to any of the skills should you want to skip around or repeat a segment. The last ten minutes or so present a quiz for the viewer to test their understanding of pickleball strategies presented.

    If you have some helpful hints, enter them in the comment section below.

    Doubles Pickleball Strategy 101-How to Play Smart Pickleball, Ten Tips

    00 – 1:10 – Overall Strategy and Goal – Getting your team to the net as quickly as possible.

    Tip #1
    1:11 – 2:26 – Shot #1: The Serve

    Play it safe and do not miss!

    Tip #2
    2:27 – 3:55 – The Return of Serve

    Aim for a specific spot in the left-hand court. The video explains why this is a good strategy!

    Tip #3
    3:56 – 6:02 – Return the Serve and Charge

    The team receiving the serve SHOULD establish control of the net upon hitting the return of serve.

    Tip #4
    6:03- 8:42 – Partner positions

    Play in tandem and not in a “this is my side, that is your side” manner. Another important note is to communicate UNLESS the shot is obvious and even then it may be better to call every shot; “you”, “me”, “no”, etc.

    Tip # 5
    8:43 – 11:26 – Third Shot Drop Shot

    An alternate strategy is also provided for those who cannot make a third shot drop shot.

    Tip # 6
    11:27 – 12:37 – 4th Shot should keep opponents as deep as possible

    Tip # 7
    12:38 – 14:06 – Dinking when everyone is at the net

    REVIEW

    14:07 – 15:47 – Review of the first five shots of a Pickleball game

    Tip # 8
    15:48 – 16:34 – Net play – When to hit softly and when to hit hard

    Tip # 9
    16:35 -18:11 – Keep opponents back in the court if you can

    Tip # 10
    18:12 – 19:34 – Avoid low percentage shots

    Down the alley from the back of the court
    Lobbing from the back of the court

    19:35 – End – PB Quiz with diagrams for viewers to test their knowledge of PB strategy.