Pickleball players oftentimes want to learn how to hit the pickleball with more power or pace. They want to learn how to be more aggressive, hit more offensive shots, and overpower their opponents on the pickleball court. However, sometimes, a “change-up” can be just as effective as—if not more effective than—a “fastball.”
To analogize to baseball or softball pitchers, if a pitcher only has one speed (e.g., a powerful fastball), a batter may have difficulty catching up to the pitcher’s speed in the first at bat of the game. However, as the game goes on, the batter will inevitably adjust to the speed and have more success at the plate. The batter can catch up to the fastball. But, if the pitcher then works in an off-speed pitch or a change-up, then the batter’s timing can be thrown off again, and the pitcher can continue to win head-to-head match-ups on the baseball or softball field.
This baseball/softball analogy also applies on the pickleball court. You may be able to overpower your opponents initially with pace. But, your opponents may catch up to your rhythm and start to win more of the head-to-head battles. Or, maybe, you were struggling to overpower your opponents with speed from the very start of the game, as your opponents simply have faster hands than you and your partner and, as a result, your opponents thrive off of pace. Whatever the scenario, one tool you have to employ on the pickleball court is varying the speed of your shot.
You can vary speed with different pickleball shots—for instance, a speed-up or drive versus a dink. You can also vary speed within the same shot—for instance, think a fast volley versus a slightly off-speed volley, or maybe a fast, driving server versus a high, lob serve. This change in speeds within the same shot—like a volley—is the focus of this article.
When changing speeds (whether at half speed, three-quarter speed, etc.), there are a few important things to note:
- First, the difference in speed need only be fractional (i.e., the amount of time that the pickleball takes to travel only needs to be different by a few fractions of a second) to throw your opponents’ timing off and get them out of rhythm. Just a small difference will be enough to keep your opponents guessing on the pickleball court.
Be smart with your height and depth of your shot.
- When you change speeds, it is important to also change your placement—notably, the height and depth that you put on the pickleball. The speed of the pickleball will change the trajectory of the ball. So, be conscious of where your speed places your shot.
- Avoid hitting change-ups that will bounce short and with a high bounce. This short, high-bouncing change-up will have the tendency to invite your opponents forward in the pickleball court and hit a fast, driving shot. Rather—and this is especially true when changing speeds at the Kitchen line—try to send your change-up on a trajectory that is down toward your opponents’ feet.
- Try varying speeds with a multitude of different shots. You have more than one opportunity to incorporate varying speeds on the pickleball court. For instance, as noted above, you could hit a fast volley versus a slightly off-speed volley, or a fast, driving server versus a high, lob serve. Incorporate speed (and off-speed) on all of your shots.
Mixing speeds is a way to add more weapons and shots to your game, as well as a way to continue to be unpredictable on the pickleball court. This is crucial to keep your opponents guessing, continuously re-invent yourself and adjust your strategy, and win more pickleball points and games (including against players that you may play against often and know your style of play).
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