We see you, bangers. I was just like you out on the pickleball court. I, too, thought I was ushering in a new era of pickleball with this totally unexplored concept of hard hitting. But now, I want to do for you what nobody did for me, which is stop you now even before your inevitable “a ha” moment.
By now, most of us should be familiar with the term “banger.” For review, this is the term somewhat affectionately used to describe a player who plays the game of pickleball like it’s tennis. Bangers are prone to swinging away at third balls and find it unnecessary–or actually impossible–to move forward to the Kitchen Line during a point. To many of them, the thrill of hitting a pickleball hard from the backcourt is ecstasy and even more satisfying than playing baseliner tennis because of the exactness that comes with a solid, stringless paddle.
Photo Cred: Dallin Wightman
It’s important to note that banging isn’t a unique phase. Just about everybody that picks up a paddle recognizes pretty quickly how cool it is to hit hard. But, it is equally important to note that in the progression of the pickleball player, banging should be considered a phase; meaning something that one should grow out of.
However, this growth takes some time for a few reasons. It takes many matches for players to get their feet wet and really understand the game. During this period of open play, bangers are squaring off against players of all ages and skill levels as they make their way through the occasionally chaotic pickleball environments.
Bangers will likely receive compliments during this stage about their power and notice that they are in fact overpowering much of the competition and winning a lot. This can set a dangerous precedent.
Photo Cred: Dallin Wightman
If “future them” could tell “current them” what’s happening at this stage, they’d probably say something like “you’re learning bad habits and not unlearning them fast enough.” But, the fact that bangers win early and often against–let’s face it… oftentimes, older recreational players–likely blinds them to the fact that they aren’t progressing as fast as they should be.
Eventually, bangers will come up against stiffer competition. You would think that matching up against traditional third-shot-drop types would give them the “a ha” moment they need, but usually it doesn’t. One reason bangers are slow to realize that change is necessary is that for them pickleball success is not always based on results. They chase the thrills, not the statistics. They can much more easily recall the blitzing forehand winner at 5-5 than the six drives they netted en route to their team’s loss.
For me, the realization that change was needed came in two parts:
- First, I was never playing at the same times and places as the best local players, and I knew they were out there. I came to realize the uncomfortable truth that these players actually just preferred not to share the court with me. And not because they were afraid to lose to me–lots of bangers use this rationalization. No, it’s because they want to play pickleball, and what I was playing wasn’t really pickleball.
- Second, a random game of “Trash” changed my outlook. The premise of “Trash” is simple: Serve, return, third shot drop into the Kitchen, and then dink into the Kitchen every shot after that. The first person to fail to have any shot (other than serve and return) land inside of the Kitchen rotated out, and the next person came in. No points scored.
I’m not going to claim that “Trash” is a game that anyone would choose to play over actual pickleball, but for me it was therapeutic. I found that I could hit very effective third shot drops and dinks. The drops were the same shots that I would occasionally use in tennis. But, I still had no intention of regularly incorporating these shots into pickleball.
Then, the following morning, I showed up for rec play and just found myself getting bored continually driving my third shot. So, I called on my Trash shots from the night before and started dropping and dinking everything. And wouldn’t you know it… the game slowed down for me. I was in the right court position way more often, and I found that I had more time to read my opponents’ shots. I was continually able to stay ahead of the point. This style of play became an addiction.
My eyes were opened. And it didn’t mean that I couldn’t swing away at the ball. I definitely could and did. I just did it situationally, and I especially did it whenever I could from the Kitchen Line.
The results came virtually overnight. Suddenly, the really good local pickleball players weren’t ghosts or merely rumors. I found myself on the same text chains as many of them and started playing with them in small private groups. The pickleball tournament and league results came for me, too. In just a few months, I wound up with five gold medals, one silver medal, and two first-place drinking glasses to show for it. (Not to mention the countless free tee-shirts!)
So, I hope my testimony saves you bangers time and inspires you to change today–not next month or the month after that, when you will have naturally learned these truths for yourself. Leave some of those tennis shots on the tennis court, and grow your game beyond drives. Bang away only when the situation presents itself, and not on every… single… shot. You may just find yourself elevating your game and maybe even playing with better players, which will only improve your game even faster. You’ll be happier. Trust me.
Tim Wightman, 42, is a lifelong tennis player-turned-pickleball player. He started playing pickleball in January 2020, is currently a 4.5-level player, and hopes to play even more pickleball once retiring from active duty military service in 2023. Tim joined the U.S. Navy in 2003 and is nearing the end of his active duty service. During his service, Tim has written for the Navy Compass and the Pacific Stars and Stripes newspapers, and he has spent the last 10 years of his Navy service working in the Intelligence Community.