The Other Side of the Net

The Other Side of the Net

Written by Selkirk Coach and SelkirkPro Morgan Evans

This article is aimed at competitive players that have most, if not all the tools to implement varied game plans. If that is not you, read on anyway but focus on building upon your repertoire of shots until you have all the tools for any job.  

The Two-Pronged Approach 

Sometimes Pickleball strategy can feel like you're a blind man in a dark closet looking for a black cat that doesn’t exist. I like to simplify things as best as possible by implementing a basic two-pronged approach.  

  1. Play to your own strengths 
  2. Play to their weakness

Sounds simple enough right? Unfortunately, at the higher levels, you can’t always do both. You might be able to sway the kind of game you want to play by stacking so that at least you and your partner are on your preferred side, and you might be able to keep the ball going to their weakest player as well. What if it’s not enough? What if you have to choose between A and B...?

If You Have to Choose Between Option A and B

In my opinion, choose B. Be specific as early as possible and give them their most uncomfortable type of game.  

  • If they like it slow, play hard.  
  • If they love to bang, block their 3rd balls and dink softly.
  • If they only want to play to your partner, keep your partner moving; ergo, don’t let your partner be on the same side of the court for long, making them a moving target.  
  • If your opponent/s are short, learn to love the lob ... it’s not criminal.  
  • If they are tall, don’t test their reach by attacking wide of them. What appears to be a gap may indeed be well within their reach. Attack their body where their reach is useless.
  • If you don't like dinking heads up (to the person directly in front of you) but the cross-court opponent is Aspen Kern, heads-up it is!!   
  • If you have the hand speed advantage but not the courage to pull the trigger on balls bouncing in the kitchen, bad luck, just do it. The strategy comes first; your comfort is a distant second.  
  • If they have the hand speed advantage, but all you have ever wanted to do is bang, then today is the day your dink game reaches a new level. Resist the urge, don’t be the stubborn bull that doesn’t know when to stop charging. Look at the person in front of you, are they half your age? If they are, chances are there is no sense instigating a heads-up attack.  

These are just examples of how to play the other side of the court. However, doing so effectively can rely on you relinquishing your own playing strengths.   

Is the Strategy or Execution at Fault?

Playing outside of yourself may not work the first time or the second. Don’t give up, ask yourself the simple question: is the strategy at fault, or the execution of the strategy? If it is just the execution that is costing you, then make the changes to execute the necessary shots and see how the points play out. Do it a number of times, until you have gained the insight as to whether playing to challenge them was worth the sacrifice of playing outside your comfort zone. As they say, “The comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing grows there”  

This general strategy of primarily playing to your opponent's weaknesses, even to the possible detriment of playing to your strengths, may not, however, be the best short-term strategy. When the chips are down and you’re fighting for your life just to try and force game 3, that’s the time to stick to your bread and butter. The muscle memory deeply embedded in your comfort zone will be far more reliable than whatever strategy you chose to use to beat your opponents. This point also applies to situations where your partner is getting picked on dramatically, and dink rallies are inevitable. If that is the case, at the very least, keeping your partner on their preferred side is going to be paramount. After all, if you're not going to receive many balls anyway, it’s best to keep your team's weak link on their strongest side.  

Embrace Adaptation

Your long-term development as a Pickleball player will be improved if you embrace these basic strategies. If you are constantly adapting your play style to suit the situation, then you are inevitably going to be forced into developing a very wide range of shots. If your team is the team that can change tactics when needed, then it will be your versatility that can be the difference between winning and losing. In my opinion, winning a match because of superior strategy is far more rewarding than just scraping by on skill and athleticism alone.  

You must adapt to survive!