One thing that all pickleball players can agree on is how much we dislike wind on outdoor pickleball courts (pro pickleball player, Andrea Koop, even described playing pickleball in the wind every day as her “idea of H-E-double hockey sticks"). A pickleball is essentially a whiffle ball that weighs less than one ounce. So, wind—especially strong winds (anything about 15-20 miles per hour)—can cause the pickleball to move in crazy and unexpected ways, which makes hitting a pickleball pretty difficult at times.
There have been a few pro pickleball tournaments in the State of Florida over the past few weeks and, during these tournaments, wind has played a huge factor. For instance, many dinks and returns have moved so much that the “over-and-back pickleball” was not a rare shot, but rather a common occurrence.
After watching these events, it was obvious that some pickleball players have responded and adapted to the wind better than others. So, we thought it would be helpful to address the wind head-on and dive into some tips to play better pickleball in the wind and avoid letting the wind beat you on the pickleball court.
Anticipate What the Wind Will Do
As soon as you step onto the pickleball court, assess your surroundings and conditions on the day, which includes the wind. Although sometimes the wind may swirl, generally speaking, the wind will blow in a certain direction on any given day. So, assess which way the wind is blowing. Then, remind yourself how that directional wind will affect the trajectory of the pickleball. For instance:
- Most pickleball courts sit north/south. So, if there is a wind blowing from the north or south, then the wind will be moving through the pickleball court. This means that when you are one side of the pickleball court, the wind will be blowing in your face, and when you are on the other side of the pickleball court, the wind will be blowing at your back. When the wind is blowing in your face, the wind will push the pickleball back toward you. So, you will need to hit the pickleball with a little extra “umph.” When the pickleball is blowing at your back, the wind will push the pickleball away from you and toward your opponents. So, you will need to be conscious of hitting the pickleball too hard, high, and/or long out of bounds.
- If the wind is blowing from the east or west (still assuming that the pickleball court sits north/south), then the wind will cause the pickleball to move side to side. As a result, you will need to be conscious of how much the wind may push your shot to the sidelines or out of bounds and adjust accordingly.
The first step to combating the wind on the pickleball court is understanding how the wind will affect the pickleball and anticipating those effects on every shot.
Practice Both Sides and Both Ends on the Pickleball Court
Once you assess the wind, take a few shots on each side and each end of the pickleball court. Having a few practice shots before the game will confirm your assessment and give you a sense of how strong the winds really are.
Also, if you are in a competitive play situation, the end of the pickleball court that you start on and end on will be important. You will have an easier time picking the end of the pickleball court that you’d like to start on if you practice on both ends before the game. To note, there are generally two schools of thought when it comes to picking ends: (1) pick the end that you think is “better” to start on, so you can get off to a “hot start” on the pickleball court; or (2) pick the end that you think is “worse” to start on, so that you end on the “better” end and have time to win the match on the “better” end. Your decision may just depend on the day, how bad the wind is, and if you win the “toss” to pick serve/receive or ends. However, if you have a few practice shots in the wind, then your decision will be a little easier.
Exaggerate Your Mechanics
The wind will cause the pickleball to move and dance. So, it is important to be very deliberate in your shots when the wind is blowing in order to cut through the wind. Oftentimes, pickleball players will have a tendency to try to aim the pickleball because they are worried that the wind will blow it in the wrong direction. However, when you aim the pickleball, you tighten up and have a tendency to float the pickleball, which allows the wind to have even more of an effect on the trajectory of the pickleball. In other words, the pickleball will go even more wild, which is the opposite of the intended result. So, rather than aim the pickleball, it is important to be more deliberate in your shot execution.
To do this, try doing three things:
- Be More Precise in Your Footwork – Footwork is so important on the pickleball court, and even more important on the pickleball court on a windy day. Take more little steps and stay on the balls of your feet in the wind. This will help you react to any last-minute changes of direction due to the wind.
- Watch the Pickleball All the Way to the Point of Contact – If the wind moves the pickleball even an inch, you may not hit the pickleball as well as you want and you may even have a mishit (for instance, a shank of a hit off of the edge of your paddle). To help minimize these mishits, watch the pickleball all the way to the point of contact, so that you can adjust to any last-minute changes of direction due to the wind.
- Overemphasize Hitting Through the Pickleball – Do not stop at contact. Do not be gentle or cautious at contact and with your follow through. Rather, make contact with the pickleball and then hit through several imaginary pickleballs in the direction that you want the pickleball to travel. Overemphasize your follow through in the wind to be more forceful in sending the pickleball on your intended trajectory.
Practice Good Shot Selection
Shots and strategies that work on a calm day may not work in the wind. You may need to adapt your style of play to counter the effects of the wind. Some examples of common shots and strategies in the wind include:
- When the wind is at your back, beware of shot serves and returns of serve from your opponents. Consider taking a step into the court before the serve or return of serve (as applicable) if you are struggling to reach short serves or returns.
- When the wind is at your face, beware of out balls from your opponents. Your opponents drives and speed ups will have a tendency to blow out of bounds.
- If you like to lob, be wary of lobbing when the wind is at your back. Lob more into the wind, rather than with the wind. Lobs with the wind have a tendency to sail long out of bounds.
- If you are struggling to finesse your third shot drop into your opponents’ side of the Kitchen, consider driving the third shot. A third shot drive will hopefully bring you and your partner in a step and make for an easier fifth shot drop (and since you will be a little closer to the Kitchen, the wind may have less effect on your drop shot).
- Determine if there is a trend of winning or losing a rally if a team speeds up the pickleball first. Sometimes, the wind may favor (or oppose) the team that strikes first and speeds up the pickleball—which may depend on which end of the pickleball court you are on.
- Play with spin. The wind will exaggerate and accelerate the spin that you put on your shots. So, consider using spin to your advantage.
Stay Mentally Tough on the Pickleball Court
This last point may be the most important. Wind can break you down mentally on the pickleball court, as it is frustrating to play pickleball when the wind moves the pickleball in crazy ways. As a result, it is important to remain mentally tough and not let the wind get to you.
In the wind, you will certainly make errors because of the wind, or even completely swing and miss the pickleball. When this happens, shake it off. Move on to the next rally. Everyone on the pickleball court is dealing with the same conditions. You just have to handle the wind over the course of the match better than your opponents. Push the frustration aside, stay focused and mentally tough, and use the tips discussed above to your advantage.
The wind can be the great equalizer on the pickleball courts. Pickleball players that “should win” will sometimes have more difficulty, as wind is an additional element that can equalize opponents. However, with these pickleball tips, hopefully you will be able to turn the great equalizer into an advantage for you on the pickleball court. And, if all else fails, and you are still struggling with the wind, you could always play indoor pickleball…
WANT MORE PICKLEBALL TIPS AND STRATEGIES?
Plus, if you want more pickleball tips and strategies on every aspect of your pickleball game, check out Pickler’s online video lesson collection called My Pro Pickleball Coach. My Pro Pickleball Coach is a fraction of the price of one clinic or even one lesson, and 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 pickleball drills, strategy, and advanced concepts, so you will play your best pickleball.