A common strategy on the pickleball court is to find your opponents’ weakness and target that weakness. This possibly includes targeting one of your opponents over the other—in other words, targeting the weaker of your two opponents. However, this strategy can also be used against you and your partner.
When this happens, what do you do? What do you do if you are the player that is targeted? On the other hand, what do you do if you are not the player that is targeted, but rather your partner is? Is it better to be the targeted player versus the non-targeted player? Both situations—whether you are being targeted or your partner is the one being targeted—are difficult and bring their own unique challenges. This pickleball blog will answer these questions, so the next time this strategy of targeting the “weaker” player is used against you, you know how to overcome and persevere.
What to Do If You Are Being Targeted on the Pickleball Court
When you are being targeted on the pickleball court, your opponents generally believe that they have a better chance of success (i.e., winning the game) by hitting the pickleball in your direction. Your opponents will try to isolate you, as your opponents see you as the “weaker” player or a better match up for their respective style of play. When this happens, you will certainly see more of the pickleball and hit more shots than your partner. You may also feel more pressure and have to work a little harder on the pickleball court.
If your opponents decide to target and isolate you, try the following strategies:
- Engage your partner in more shots. For instance, consider having your partner cover 60% or more of the court or encourage your partner to poach more shots. This will help alleviate the pressure that is on you, as the player that is being targeted - especially as you are the player that will be hitting more shots, so your partner can help out by covering more of the court space.
Consider using poaching, stacking, and switching strategies to:
- Make play a little more confusing for your opponents. By poaching, stacking, and switching, your opponents will have more trouble determining where you will be in order to target you.
- Give your opponents a different look on the pickleball court. For instance, try engaging each of your opponents straight-on, rather than crosscourt, to determine what the best head-to-head matchup will be for you and your partner. In other words, determine which opponent should be in front of you to give you the best chance of success.
- Help your partner get more engaged in the points. Typically, it is easier for your partner to be engaged in points if your partner’s forehand is toward the middle of the pickleball court. This is because most players have stronger forehand shots and more reach to insert themselves into a point.
- Put you on the side of the pickleball court that you feel most comfortable being on. If you are being targeted, as mentioned above, it is important for your partner to be able to get engaged in the point. However, it is also important for you to feel the most comfortable and give you the best chance for success, as you will be on the receiving end of most of the shots.
For a brief example of stacking by a serving team, see the pictures below. The goal of the stacking strategy is to keep Stacie on the right-hand/even side of the pickleball court (which is on the left side when looking at the pictures below) and to keep Coach Steve on the left-hand/odd side of the pickleball court (which is on the right side when looking at the pictures below).
For more on poaching, stacking, and switching, check out Pickler’s online pickleball video lesson collection called My Pro Pickleball Coach. My Pro Pickleball Coach features over 140 video lessons (over 7 hours of instruction!), as well as a corresponding e-book. These online video lessons are available on demand 24/7 and breakdown every aspect of the sport of pickleball, including advanced shots, strategies, and other concepts like poaching, stacking, and switching. Unlike other videos on the web, My Pro Pickleball Coach’s video and e-book collection is organized for you in one place, has one consistent message from start to finish, touches on every aspect of the game, and is taught by the best coach in the pickleball coaching business!
- Change your strategy. Find your opponents’ weaknesses and change the pattern of play to target your opponents’ weaknesses before your opponents can target you. Or, find a pattern that emphasizes your strengths and neutralizes your weaknesses. For instance, if your opponents are repeatedly speeding the pickleball up at you when you are at the Non-Volley Zone line, then try to keep your opponents back near the baseline as much as possible, keep the ball “low and slow” and unattackable, and consider speeding the pickleball up first before your opponents can speed the pickleball up at you. Pickleball is a game of strategy and, oftentimes, the team that can out-strategize the other will win. Find the winning strategy as quickly as possible on the pickleball court.
- Stay positive. Don’t get discouraged if your opponents are targeting you. Stay cool, calm, and collected, so that you can manage every shot, pull together the correct strategy, and carry you and your partner to victory!
- Taking a long-term look, if you are the player being targeted or isolated, continue to improve your pickleball game by drilling and working on both your strengths and weaknesses. This will help you take advantage of your opponents on the pickleball court the next time they target you!
What to Do If Your Partner Is Being Targeted on the Pickleball Court
What if you are not being targeted, but rather your partner is being targeted, on the pickleball court? In this case, you will likely rarely see the pickleball, and have little to no shots, as your opponents generally believe that they have a better chance of success (i.e., winning the game) by hitting the pickleball to your partner. However, when you do hit the pickleball, you will have the opportunity to insert your presence and add a lot of impact to the rally. If you are being “iced out” of a pickleball point, you may feel frustrated, as you struggle to determine how best you can help your partner that is being isolated.
If your opponents decide to target and isolate your partner, try the following strategies:
- Insert yourself into the point. Creep into your partner’s side of the pickleball court, if necessary. You may even need to cover 60% or more of the court. As you creep into your partner’s side of the court, you will leave part of your court open, which is okay because you need to help your partner and force yourself into the game. However, be aware of your opponents “keeping you honest” and hitting the pickleball behind you.
- As noted above, consider poaching more shots, as well as stacking or switching with your partner. Stacking and switching so that your forehand is toward the middle will make it easier for you to insert yourself into the point. However, as noted above, it is also important to have your partner on the side of the pickleball court where he or she feels the most comfortable, since he or she is taking more of the shots. As a result, it is a bit of balance between you being able to insert yourself into the point, while having your partner feel comfortable.
- Also, as noted above, find the right strategy, so that you and your partner are in a position to be as successful as possible. This may include finding the right pattern of shots, so that your opponents are forced to hit the pickleball in your direction and get you involved in the pickleball rally.
Make your shots! Since you are only hitting a few shots, it is incredibly important to maximize the effect each time you touch the pickleball. This is both physically and mentally difficult. So, stay mentally tough and in the point, and when you hit the pickleball—especially when you insert yourself into the point and take a shot from your partner—you need to make your shot. Put the pickleball away with a single winner as soon as the opportunity presents itself
- Be a cheerleader for your partner, as he or she is carrying the team. Be patient and, most importantly, be positive. Most players (including your partner) respond better to positivity, rather than criticism.