Pickleball is a game of strategy. Some have even described the sport as "chess standing up." One part of this pickleball strategy is applying pressure on your opponents. By making your opponents feel uncomfortable, they will be less likely to hit an offensive shot and more likely to hit either a defensive shot or an unforced error (either for an easy put away for you or your partner, or a shot that lands out of bounds or in the net). It is incredibly important to apply pressure on your opponents—not just once, but continuously. But, how do you do that? How do you continually apply pressure?
To apply pressure, you need to play aggressive. This does not mean that you need to drive, speed up, and bang every single shot. You may drive and add speed to shots, but that is not the sole measure for aggressiveness. To play more aggressive on the pickleball court, and apply more pressure on your opponents, try the following:
- Take Balls Early – First, take balls early. This means that you should take balls out of the air when possible. By taking shots out of the air, you will take time away from your opponents in between their shots, so they will have less time to react to your shot. Taking time away from your opponents is critical to applying pressure and playing aggressive.
- Hit the Pickleball on the Rise – Along the same lines as taking balls early, also try hitting the pickleball on the rise. This also will help take time away from your opponents, as you will hit the pickleball quite early. By hitting the pickleball on the rise (rather than allowing the pickleball to reach its apex or let the pickleball start the descend), you will also be able to hold your ground on the pickleball court, rather than retreating back into the pickleball court. Holding your ground (particularly, holding the Kitchen Line) is important, as most points are won at the Kitchen Line. So, take balls early, but, if you cannot take the ball out of the air, hit the pickleball on the rise. However, if you hit the pickleball on the rise, be sure to get low and stay low through your shot. Since you are hitting from a relatively low position (e.g. below the pickleball net), it can be easy to accidentally hit up or pop up the pickleball. To help prevent this, get low and stay low through your shot when taking the pickleball on the rise.
- Use Spin Smartly – Whether its topspin, backspin, or sidespin, spin can be dangerous on the pickleball court and spin certainly adds pressure to your opponents. Where possible, add spin to your shots (whether dinks, drives, drops, serves, returns of serve, etc.). However, be cautious of which shots you add spin to. It is difficult to attack spin with more spin. In other words, if your opponents hit spin to you, be careful hitting your opponent’s shot with more spin. Hitting spin with spin is difficult to execute and can result in unforced errors.
- Use Speed Smartly – Like spin, speed or power can put pressure on your opponents. Speed can be tough to handle (just ask any banger v. dinker match-up). However, like spin, speed should be used smartly. Every shot is not necessarily a great shot to speed up. For instance, if you speed up a pickleball that sits below the net, you risk hitting the pickleball into the net or out of bounds (as you will need to hit up on the pickleball to get the pickleball up and over the pickleball net). So, if you decide to speed up the pickleball, consider hitting down at your opponents’ feet or targeting your opponents’ hips or paddle-side shoulder, which can make for awkward spots to hit the pickleball.
- Compress and Lean In – As stated above, most points are won at the Non-Volley Zone Line. So, to win points, it is important to get to the Non-Volley Zone Line and hold the line. Be aggressive with your feet to get you to the Non-Volley Zone Line (while remembering to split step every time just before your opponents strike the pickleball). Once you’re there, it is important to compress, stay low in an athletic stance, and be ready to react. Be ready to lean in to take balls out of the air, but be balanced at the same time, so that you can react to a lob over your head.
- Take More Steps – Move your feet! The more steps you take, the better you will be able to react to the pickleball and the better court coverage you will likely have. With better reaction and better court coverage, you will certainly put pressure on your opponents by always getting the pickleball back over the net. The best players take lots of small steps (and split step before every shot by their opponents) for this reason. So, keep your feet moving and take more steps. The better you move your feet, the more pressure you will be able to put on your opponents.
- Use Your Body Weight – Oftentimes, pickleball players only hit with their arms. However, to hit stronger, more powerful, and more intentional shots, you should try to hit with your entire body, which includes your legs and core (your strongest body parts). To do this, use your body weight and try transferring your weight on your shots. By just transferring your weight, you may be surprised at the power and intention you will have in your shots, which will translate into aggressiveness and pressure on the pickleball court.
Remember, aggressiveness is not all about big drives every time. Aggressiveness can come in the form of taking time away from your opponents, holding your court position and getting to the Kitchen Line, spin on your shots, shot placement, better reaction time, court coverage, and, of course, speed or power.
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