On a sunny day in the desert of Las Vegas, Nevada, an interesting pickleball scenario played out during a women’s doubles pickleball match at the PPA Championships. With Team Waters (mother-daughter duo, Leigh and Anna Leigh Waters) facing the sun, their opponents Yana Grechkina and Regina Franco-Goldberg decided to implement the “high lob strategy,” meaning they hit the pickleball high into the air, shot after shot. These high lobs challenged Leigh Waters’ visibility, as she was looking directly into the sun when trying to track the pickleball to hit an overhead. After a few missed overheads, and frustration and tensions rising, this strategy lobbed Grechkina—Franco-Goldberg to a game victory (although they ultimately lost the match).
If you have played pickleball long enough, then you have certainly played against players that love the lob. They may even love it so much that they employ the “high lob strategy” and hit the pickleball high into the air, shot after shot. These high lobs are unlike a defensive lob (which is used when a player is under pressure and/or out of position) and are unlike a traditional offensive lob (which is a lob just over the outstretched pickleball paddle of a player). Rather, they are more like “moon shots” high into the air and landing in the space from the middle of the pickleball court to the baseline.
Setting aside the recent debate over this strategy (i.e., whether this strategy constitutes good sportsmanship and is a valid pickleball strategy or not), why do pickleball players use this high lob strategy and how do you combat it?
Why Do Pickleball Players Use the High Lob Strategy
The high lob strategy can be used for a number of reasons, including:
- The high lob strategy is generally uncommon and untraditional. As a result, it can throw off pickleball players because they are not used to seeing it.
- High lobs can be disorientating, as players are required to look high into the air (almost straight up and for a longer period of time) and track the pickleball. (Be conscientious—particularly, in recreational or open play—when using the lob against players where the lob could be dangerous (for instance, against less mobile players that backpedal (as opposed to drop stepping) to retrieve the lob).
- High lobs will give the players that hit the lob extra time to get in position, as the pickleball will take more time to travel into the air and back toward the court.
- The high lob strategy challenges players that may have weak overhead shots.
- High lobs can force the elements to play a part in the game. In other words, lobs can be especially effective if you use, if outdoors, the wind and sun, and, if indoors, the lighting and rafters, to your advantage. For instance, lobbing the pickleball may make your opponents have to look into the sun, lights, or rafters to find the pickleball.
- High lobs will push opponents back into the pickleball court, near the baseline. This is particularly valuable to players if these opponents are very aggressive and like to play fast-paced, as these opponents will have a further distance to hit the pickleball (so the other team will have more time to react to the fast-flying pickleball).
How to Beat the “High Lobbers” in Pickleball
Beating the “high lobbers” takes a similar strategy as beating a traditional lobber. Generally speaking, there are three main strategies in beating a lobber or otherwise defending against the lob: (1) anticipating and avoiding the lob from your opponents; (2) hitting a strong overhead; and (3) effectively chasing down the lob to get back into the point. To learn more about these pickleball strategies, see the article titled, “How to Beat the Lobber on the Pickleball Court.”
However, in addition to these traditional pickleball strategies, there are a few extra strategies to combat those high lobbers on the pickleball court, which include:
- Stay patient. The high lobbers are generally trying to keep the pickleball high and in the middle of the court. In other words, they will likely get the ball back with another high lob. So, be patient and commit to hitting as many overheads as it takes to win the point. Avoid getting frustrated. Keep your overheads in play and down in the court until you have a lob that you can be more aggressive on (whether with power or with a strong angle) or until the lob sails out of bounds.
- When the pickleball is sailed high into the air, the wind is more likely to have an effect on the trajectory of the ball. So, be sure to track the pickleball and take small steps with your feet to constantly adjust. Further, avoid hitting any out balls and keeping your opponents in the point. Be sure to communicate loudly with your partner to help determine when the pickleball is sailing out of bounds.
- If the sun is out, think like an outfielder in baseball or softball that has to track those high fly balls, and be sure to wear a hat and/or sunglasses to help stop the glare of the sun from interfering with your shot. Further, use your non-paddle hand to block out the sun, so you can more easily track the pickleball.
- If you are still struggling with the high lob with the traditional strategies, plus these strategies above, then consider letting it bounce and hitting the pickleball off of the bounce. This may give you a different “look” at the pickleball, which may result in a better shot at the time. For instance, maybe you can hit a drive, drop, short dink, or some other shot to take your opponents out of the rhythm of the high lobs.
- And, lastly, make sure you and your partner are on the same page with respect to strategy, as overcoming these high lobs will require communication and staying in tandem (i.e., staying linked together to cover the pickleball court) with your partner.
Now, get out on the pickleball court and be sure that these high lobs are only used in your favor.