Imagine you are deep in the transition area of the pickleball court. Your opponents hit what appears to be a drive deep in the court, but the pickleball clips the net and dribbles over. You start to race toward the pickleball. What do you do next with a let cord pickleball?
There are a few “musts” if you are reaching for a short ball on the pickleball court:
1. Proper Footwork
Footwork is key on the pickleball court, as footwork can make or break your shot execution. Footwork can also help you reach shots that may appear out of reach, like a let cord pickleball. If you encounter a let cord pickleball, move your feet and use a lunge step— which is a large step that almost looks like the exercise, lunges—as you prepare to make contact with the pickleball.
To execute a lunge step, take a large step directly toward the pickleball with your paddle-side leg. By taking a step with your paddle-side leg, you will have the most reach toward the pickleball (like a first baseman on the baseball or softball field stretching with his or her glove and glove-side foot). You will also be able to more quickly revert back to your ready position, as your paddle-side leg is usually your more dominant, stronger leg (so you will be able to push back to your ready position more easily).
2. Shot Selection
With a let cord pickleball, you will likely be racing to the ball, off-balance, and out of position. As a result, your shot selection will be limited. However, you do have a few options:
A. Soft Dink into the Kitchen – This option is the highest percentage shot. After your lunge step, reach under the pickleball with your paddle and softly tap the pickleball over the net with a soft dink. This will give you enough time to revert back to your ready position and regain balance before your opponents next shot.
This shot is also a good option regardless of how deep or shallow the let cord pickleball is in the court. However, the closer the let cord pickleball is to the net, the more angle you should hit on the dink going crosscourt. Stated another way, if you have room between the pickleball and the net, you can hit your dink straight on, down the middle, or crosscourt. However, as this room to the net decreases, the more you need to hit the dink crosscourt and with a sharper angle.
B. Lob Above Your Opponents – A lower percentage option is to try to lob your opponents, but only if your opponents are at the Non-Volley-Zone line. If your opponents are deeper in the court, a lob will likely not be effective.
Also, to note, a lob will be easier to execute if the pickleball is further away from the pickleball net. In other words, sometimes, the pickleball will fall too close to the pickleball net, so that you will not have the proper angle to effectively hit a lob. However, if you have enough room and your opponents are at the Kitchen line, try throwing a lob above your opponents, which may catch your opponents off guard, push your opponents back into the court, and give you time to recover your balance and get to your ready position.
C. Speed Up – Another lower percentage option on the let cord pickleball is to speed up the pickleball into your opponents’ bodies (especially their paddle-side hip or shoulder). However, like the lob, this option is less effective the closer the let cord pickleball falls to the net (as you will not have the angle to hit the speed up over the net) or the farther your opponents are back in the court (as they have more time to react to the speed up, and this shot is all about the element of surprise). This shot also has a danger of hitting the pickleball out of bounds, as you will likely need to speed up a pickleball that sits below the net, which will put your shot on a trajectory that could sail long out of bounds. As a result, this shot can be a “go-for-broke” kind of shot, where you can either surprise your opponents or risk sailing the pickleball out of bounds or into the net.
So, the next time you encounter a let cord pickleball from your opponents, use a lunge step and, more than likely, softly dink the pickleball crosscourt. Consider using a surprising lower percentage shot only when you can manage the risks with (i) additional space between the pickleball and the net, (ii) more time to react to the pickleball, and (iii) a lead or non-pressure situation (where you can take additional risk).