Pickleball Channel – Successfully Hitting the “Third Shot”

Here’s another great video from the folks at the Pickleball Channel.  If after reading the title of this post you are asking yourself, “What is the third shot?”, you are going to learn a lot from this video. If you are already familiar with what the third shot is, I believe this video will offer a helpful drill for you to move toward perfecting your third shot.

Imagine how it could improve your game if you played the first three shots of all your points better than what you do now. Remember, when you have the opportunity to hit a “third shot”, that means your team is serving which is the time your team can score.  That is what this video is all about, setting your team up for success to score.  Enjoy the video!

Thanks again Pickleball Channel! Great Job Brian and Matt Staub!

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Pickleball Channel: 3 Tips to a better Doubles Team

Here’s another great video from the Pickleball Channel discussing three tips to becoming a better doubles team.  The tips seem simple but when you put them into practice you will become a better partner even with people you don’t play with on a regular basis.

Thanks to the Pickleball Channel, Jennifer Lucore & Alex Hamner for taking the time to produce these helpful tips to make us better partners and players!

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Pickleball Channel 411: Three Serves and Why You Need Them

Everyone needs to check this video out!  The Pickleball Channel has outdone themselves again by getting together Jennifer Lucore, Alex Hamner and Bob Youngren to demonstrate/explain the different serves they use as well as when and why they use them.  Not only do you get to see these serves demonstrated by these top players, you get the detailed strategy of why you need to know different serves.  I learned some great tips from this video and hope you will as well!

 

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Rules/Strategy Review – Becoming a Better Doubles Partner

As I’m sure you’re aware, Pickleball is most often played as a doubles game.  Like any other team, each team member must work with his/her partner to be effective.  There are simple issues you should consider, such as which hand your partner and your opponents play with and how you’re going to cover the middle of the court.  Specifically, are you going to use the center line to determine who takes a middle shot or should the person with his/her forehand down the middle take shots a foot or two past the center line?  These questions can be addressed quickly at the beginning of a game.

A little more complex is the idea that from the serve to the completion of a point, you need to (1) be aware of where your partner is on the court, and (2) have an idea of what he/she will likely do with the ball when it is hit to him/her.  Obviously, number two is a trickier proposition considering we’re not mind-readers, and we play with a wide variety of people who have different styles.  Following are two strategies you can use to increase your compatibility with any player you find yourself teamed with.

Let’s Stay Together

Al Hager & Martha Wasserman Royal Oak Tournament.

Al Hager & Martha Wasserman Royal Oak Tournament.

Whether times are good or bad, you’re happy or sad, you and your partner should play like you are “joined at the hip.”  This doesn’t mean that you play close to one another, rather that you move in tandem.  For example, when you are on the baseline as the serving team and you hit your third shot, you and your partner should then move toward the net in step with one another.  Check out this photo of Al and his partner Martha demonstrating this principle perfectly.  This is important because if one person rushes the net and one remains at the baseline, a huge gap is created that allows the opposing team to hit an easy winner down the middle.  If you stay parallel to one another, you become more of an impenetrable “wall.”

When a team is at the kitchen line, this same idea of moving together to close up holes should be employed.  Say the opposing team hits a dink to the sideline forcing your partner to move to that line.  You should step with your partner to close the hole that is being created in the middle of the court.  When your partner returns the dink and moves back into his/her  optimal position on the court, you do the same.   Think of it as a dance–you take a step and your partner mirrors it.  Your purpose is to cover the court and close up the holes your opponents are constantly seeking.

Is Your Team in an Offensive, Neutral, or Defensive Position?

Recognizing when your team is in an offensive, neutral, or defensive position is an important mental skill to develop in doubles play.  If you and your partner identify which of these positions you’re in every time you hit the ball, you will be able to not only select the “highest-percentage” shot, but also accurately predict the shot your partner will attempt.

You are in a defensive position when your team is not at the net, or has been moved at the net to the point that you are no longer “in sync.”  An offensive position is when your team is in sync and moving together at the net and your opponents are not in their optimal position.  A neutral position is when both teams are at the net, but neither has a clear advantage over the other.

For example, say as the serving team you or your partner hit a stellar soft third shot that allows you to get to the net and a neutral position.  [Remember, when your team achieves the neutral position, the opposing team is automatically reduced from the offensive to neutral.]  The opposing team returns your third shot safely, then you hit a well-placed dink that pulls the opposing team hard to the receiver’s backhand sideline.  Now you taken an offensive position and they are on defense because you forced them out of their optimal position at the net.  The opposing team pops the ball up and it’s an easy put away.  But let’s say the opposing team hits a low, soft shot to the center of the court.  They move back into their optimal position and both teams are “back in neutral.”

This is the fun part of the “dink” game–working together with your partner to gain an offensive position as a team.  Most players are most excited about the game when long points occur.  Long points are the result of both teams moving successfully among/through offensive, defensive, and neutral positions.

The key points to remember are (1) recognizing which position your team is in and then making a high-percentage shot, and (2) understanding that when your team is in a defensive position, hitting a softer shot will help get your team back to neutral.  If you blast the ball when you’re in the defensive position, the ball will come back even faster at you or to the holes on the court while you’re scrambling for the neutral position.

Below are a few examples of shots that fall into the individual categories.

Offensive:  (1) a hard, angled shot to either sideline, (2) a soft shot that lands at the feet of your opponent or that lands right between your opponents, (3) a body shot aimed at your opponent’s forehand hip or a middle drive shot between your opponents, (4) a short lob over your opponents’ backhand side–very difficult to achieve successfully.

Neutral: (1) a soft shot fairly low over the net that lands in the kitchen and doesn’t bounce up too high.

Defensive:  (1) soft shot hit a little higher over the net for safety and preferably cross-court to give you time to return to neutral, (2) high, defensive lob to cross-court corner–once again, a low-percentage shot and you should consider your opponents’ skills.

Be Nice to Your Partner

Let’s remember that we are all out to get some exercise and have some fun. Of course the most fun you will have is when you play against players of equal skill level.  My next post will address skill levels and help you identify your current level of play.

I hope you find these strategies helpful as you work towards becoming a great doubles partner.

See you on the court!

Marsha

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Rules/Strategy and Review – Hitting the “Third Shot”

Wow, here we are already in the month of April. I am smiling as I type this because to me this means we will soon be able to play the great game of Pickleball outside!  I don’t know about you, but to me, there is no comparison between the indoor game and the outdoor game.  I personally enjoy the outdoor game much more with all of its different challenges: wind, sun, less forgiving outdoor ball, court surface, etc.  I am also looking forward to outside play this year because of our awesome six-court facility!

This month’s rules and strategy review was requested by Charlie McKnight. Charlie sent me the request to discuss the all important “Third Shot”.

Concentration

Charlie McKnight

Many of you might be asking: “What in the world is the third shot?”  Here is the scenario: The serving team is at a disadvantage because the returning team will be at the net before the return of serve is touched by the receiving team.  The serving team serves the ball with both players on the baseline (this would be the first shot), the receiving team already has half of their team at the net. Ideally the receiver hits a deep return of serve (the second shot) and moves quickly to the kitchen line–thus the receivers have “taken over the net.”  The serving team is pinned on the baseline because they have to wait for the ball to bounce (double bounce rule).  Once the ball bounces, this is the “third shot” and at this point the serving team has several options.  Do they lob it, bang it hard and low, or hit a soft dink shot low over the net that drops in the kitchen?  Let’s break down the three options and I will make my suggestion on what I believe the highest percentage shot is.  Remember the goal of the “third shot” is to safely get your team up to the net and in an offensive position to win the point.

Hitting the Ball Hard

In my opinion this is the new player’s default shot.  Intuitively players think they will just blast the ball so hard that the other team will not be able to handle it and that is how they will win the point.  Remember, most points are won at the net, not on the baseline. In fact, when your team is on the baseline you are in a “defensive” position, not an “offensive” position.  Hitting the ball  hard from the baseline will work sometimes if you are playing against a fairly new or lower level player. If you hit a hard shot from the baseline against a higher level opponent you will give them all kinds of angles to hit a winning shot right back at you.  In fact it will require very little effort on their part to just put their paddle up and block the ball at an angle or at your feet, which will be difficult for you and your partner to handle while you are trying to work your way to the net.  Banging the ball from the baseline is the lowest percentage shot selection to get you and your partner to the net.

I will add one other statement here regarding the hard hit shot from the baseline: At the 5.0 level you will see a very hard hit shot with a load of topspin being hit. This is much different than just smacking the ball.  The topspin keeps the ball low to the net and makes it a very effective shot for the higher level play, especially when it is hit in combination with the slower shot. This keeps the opposing team on their toes and will mix it up a bit. The key here is that it is a low shot and is dropping towards the floor, making it very difficult to return.

Hitting a Lob

The lob shot is a difficult shot to master and becomes even more difficult in outdoor play because you have to judge the wind. A lob hit from the baseline has to be hit so precisely for it to be effective that it is almost not worth trying.  If your opponent has hit you a very difficult, deep return, you might throw up a lob as a sort of “hail Mary” play, but it’s rarely effective against good, physically quick players.  If the lob is perfect–meaning it forces your opponents back to the baseline–you and your partner should race to the kitchen line and thus claim the offensive position on the court.  If it is not a “well-hit” lob, you must ready yourself to play defense.

Obviously, different teams handle lobs more or less effectively depending on their physicality.  Your opponents’ physical strength is a factor as the pace of their overheads will vary accordingly. If you do lob, you should be aiming for one of your opponents’ backhands–ensuring a weaker overhead return if you fall short.

The lob can be highly effective if executed correctly and especially successful if the opposing team doesn’t communicate and move well.  Throwing up lobs can change the momentum of a game and can be used to tire out opponents.  But the likelihood of executing the shot as accurately as it needs to be is low.  Therefore, in my opinion, it is not the best choice for the third shot.

Soft Dink Shot

I believe that the soft dink shot is the best choice for your third shot. What exactly is the soft dink shot from the baseline?  It is a looping, softly hit ball that just makes it over the net and lands midway in the kitchen (non-volley zone).  This is one of the most difficult shots to master in the game and will take some practice to execute.  One of the mistakes that people make when they are first trying to learn this shot is they hit a soft shot and then race to the kitchen.  This is a mistake because when you are just learning to hit this shot, you most often will hit it too high and it will be a kill shot for the other team. Or, you will hit the soft shot into the net.  This is a “good miss” because you are trying to hit the right shot.  I would rather have a partner trying to hit a soft third shot into the net than blasting the third shot and we just eat it.  So what to do when you hit it too high? If you watch some of the higher level players, you will notice that this third shot has very little back swing. It almost looks as if they push the ball over the net.

If it is too high the other team will put it away, however many times when players go to put the ball away they hit directly at you, so in this case get ready to block it back over.  If you hit the soft shot and you can get a couple of steps closer to the net, take those steps and then split step [both feet parallel to each other in your volley ready position]  and get ready to hit another soft approach shot over the net. It is better to stop in no man’s land balanced and ready to move in any direction than a little closer to the net and not balanced or ready.  You will know that your third shot is successful when the only thing the other team can do is hit a soft dink back at you.  This will allow you and your partner to get to the net and then get in a good dink game until a mistake is made. One other way you will know that you hit a great third shot is if the other team pops it up and it becomes a kill for your team.  It is so much fun to set up your partner for the kill!

Practicing and mastering this third shot strategy will also improve your overall game because you will gain control in taking pace off the ball–successful Pickleball players need to reliably execute both soft and hard shots.  At a higher level, pickleball becomes a game of placement to create opportunities to employ power  (put away) shots.

So, when warming up, find a partner to feed you balls and you try to hit the ball into the kitchen at different distances from the net and then you feed your partner.  The person on the baseline is practicing hitting a soft third shot, the person who remains at the kitchen line is working on hitting a low, deep, controlled shot to different spots on the baseline as accurately as possible.

See you on the court!

Marsha

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Rules/Strategy Review – Return of Serve in Doubles

Last month my post covered the basics and strategy involved with serving.  Thanks to everyone who commented to let me know the information George Daleywas helpful. This month I would like to give you some things to think about regarding return of serve.

Strategy – Return of Serve in Doubles

The number one goal on return of serve is to put the ball in play.  I hear it said many times  “the worst thing you can do in pickleball is to miss your serve”.  Missing your serve is not a good practice, however, I would ask you to consider this question. Which is worse, missing your serve or missing your return of serve? I make the case that missing a return of serve is worse than missing your serve. When you miss your serve you only miss the “opportunity” to score. Every time you hit the return of serve out-of-bounds or in the net, your opponents get a point! Position to receive serve is also something to think about.  In my opinion you should stand behind the baseline.  A smart serving team is trying to hit their serves deep, not short.  A short serve automatically brings the serving team to the net in a strong offensive position.

The number two goal on return of serve is to get to the net.  It is easier to win points from the net than it is from anywhere else. The return of serve is the one time that you can usually beat the other team to the net because they have to let the ball bounce before hitting it.  One mistake to try to avoid is walking through your shot;  players are anxious to get to the net after returning the serve and they quite often start moving their feet before they hit the ball.  When you walk through a shot, you have a higher chance of  hitting the ball either in the net or out-of-bounds.

The third goal on return of serve is to avoid hitting a short return. A short return allows the serving team a better chance of getting to the net easily with a dink or to hit a power shot at you which will be increasingly difficult to return the closer they are to you. Remember goal two;  the team that gets to the net first usually wins so try not to bring your opponent to the net by returning short.  Most often a hard serve is the one you will return short because you didn’t have time to react. Short returns generally happen when we get “handcuffed” by being in the incorrect position to receive. If a player serves hard, position yourself  a step or two behind the baseline so you have time to set up to hit a good deep return.  Just be on your toes in case they do try to hit a short serve.

Soft Return vs. Hard Return

If you hit the ball hard and low on your return, you will probably get more errors or weak returns from the serving team, but you will usually make more errors yourself. You also have less time to get to net before the ball is returned at you.

If you hit the ball higher and slower, you will probably make fewer errors yourself, but will usually get fewer errors from the opponents. Keep in mind that a high deep return gives you a lot more time to run into the net before the server gets to hit the ball. If you’re tired, have bad knees or just have trouble moving into the net for any reason, you might want to try to use a higher deep return when possible.

Remember the number one goal mentioned above, if you’re having trouble doing what you would like with that tough serve and you’re trying to win, just put the ball in play no matter what!  Pickleball is a sport where shot placement, steadiness, patience, and tactics have a far greater importance than brute power and strength.

See you on the court!

Marsha

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