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The Secret Pickleball Strategy for Unstoppable Defense (No One Talks About This Shot!)

Written by Adam (HV)

November 29, 2022

pickleball strategy

If you’re going to compete in pickleball, you need defense.

But what does that really mean in terms of a rally or point?

Today we’re going to cover one of the most overlooked shots in pickleball. If used correctly, this shot and pickleball strategy can make you a bigger defensive threat and help you compete at a higher level.

Watch the full video here.

Important Pickleball Strategy for Defense: Use the 4th Shot

The first three shots in pickleball are incredibly important because they set the stage for the rally to unfold. But how you handle the 4th shot is just as important and often overlooked. Because the serve and return both have to bounce means the returning team gets to the net first and gains an advantage. 

As the returning team, your goals with every fourth shot are to: 

  • Keep your opponents back away from the net at all costs. Keeping them back helps you maintain your advantage at the net for as long as possible.
  • Apply constant pressure without making unforced errors. 
  • If you hit an easy, neutral 4th, this invites your opponents to the net and gives them physical and mental momentum into the rally. In other words, if you don’t apply pressure on the 4th, it sends the message that if it was easy to approach the net on the fourth, the rest of the rally should be easy too.
  • Either way, with every 4th, you want to make your opponents earn their way to the net and make it as difficult as possible (we’ll cover exactly how to do this next).

Preparing for the 4th Shot: Your Positioning

For the sake of this video, we’re going to start at the net and look at a few scenarios. If you would like a step-by-step breakdown on the serve return, check this out. Also, we’ll be looking at scenarios where the 3rd shot is attackable or unattackable. With attackable being a ball you can take out of the air and hit down on with pace.

Once you’re at the net, you want to be ready and in an attack position. Your knees are bent, you’re in an athletic stance, and you’re looking to take the ball out of the air. The closer to the nvz line you are, the more dangerous you become. This slight change can make a huge difference in how you approach the fourth shot.

Scenario 1: An Attackable 3rd Shot Drop

If your opponent’s 3rd is attackable, whether it’s a drop or a drive, you want to take it out of the air, hit down on it with pace, and hit it at your opponent’s feet. Your goal with this is to send it back at your opponent’s feet with pace. Ideally, you will hit it to the person who is furthest away from the net to keep them back and to avoid any poachers.

If the ball is high you can also tap the ball over the net to try and end the rally. However, if your opponents have great mobility and can get to this, this is a quick invitation to the net, so just be mindful.

    Scenario 2: An Un-Attackable 3rd Shot Drop

    If your opponent hits a 3rd and you have to let it bounce, there are a few things you can do. 

    Option 1: Let it bounce, take a step back and drive it back at their feet. You’ll want to aim at the person who is furthest away from the net to keep them back.

    Option 2: There will be times when you can’t attack down on the ball, but you can still apply pressure, keep them back, and hit the ball at their backhand.

    Option 3: Lastly, there are third shot drops that go to your backhand that you must let bounce. On these occasions, you may be stretched wide or the shot is just too good to apply pressure. Instead of forcing a shot, it’s best to keep it play and return an unattackable dink.

    With each of these, you will also need to look for and avoid any poachers.

    Scenario 3: An Un-Attackable Drive

    If your opponent’s drive is unattackable, you want to focus on staying calm and returning the shot back at your opponent’s feet. You may be tempted to hit a sharp angle or paint the line, but this opens the door for unforced errors. It’s better to block or punch the shot and return at your opponent’s feet. You will also want to avoid any poacher in this situation as well. Be on the lookout.

    Bonus Pickleball Strategy Tip

    Lastly, one more bonus tip. If you’re the partner to the returner and already at the net during the return, you can step to the middle when your opponent is hitting their 3rd shot. This is an easy way to add extra pressure and to attack high shots. But be mindful if your opponent can hit down the line because this leaves that shot open.

    Were These Pickleball Strategies Helpful? 

    Which pickleball strategy was most useful for you? Let me know in the comments. Your feedback is helpful and can help shape content in the future.

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