In pickleball, the team who can control the net, can control the game. The majority of games are won at the non-volley zone or the kitchen. But, there are a few common mistakes that players make in the kitchen that keep them from controlling the net.
Today I’m going to unpack 4 of those. I’ll share how you can avoid those mistakes, hit better shots in the kitchen, but even better, how to control the net and win more rallies.
What does it mean to control the net? For the sake of this post and video, it means that you know how to outlast your opponent in the kitchen. Practically, it means you know how to defend, create, and take offensive opportunities. You’re not just reacting, countering, and hitting defensive shots in the kitchen but you’re proactive, strategic, and taking any opportunities that arise in a rally.
Watch the full video on pickleball mistakes here.
Mistake #1: Stepping Back and Staying Back
The first common mistake players make at the kitchen line is stepping back and staying back.
Even if it’s 6 inches or a foot, when you step back and stay back, it creates 2 potential hazards:
- A better angle and more space for your opponent to hit the ball down at your feet. Returning a ball at your feet is difficult and could lead to you popping up the ball.
- At least one extra step between you and a dink. More steps means more work for you and the potential of an error.
Just like everything there are a few occasions where stepping back is a good thing:
- When your opponent drops a high third shot drop, you may want to take a step back so you can let the ball bounce and hit it back at your opponent’s feet.
- Another example is when you’re at the kitchen and you anticipate a fast ball coming your way. Sometimes you may want to step back to give yourself time to react to the ball. This is OK. But make sure to get back to the line.
Mistake #2: Not Using a Volley Dink
The volley dink is a defensive shot where you take the ball out of the air instead of letting it bounce in the kitchen.
The benefit to this shot is that it takes away time from your opponent.
Just by taking away a few milliseconds from your opponent’s reaction time it forces him or her to think faster and ultimately it could lead to indecision or an error. All of this is good for you.
To hit a volley dink, first imagine a semi-circle or bubble about 1-2 feet in front of you in the kitchen. If a ball is going to land in the bubble, take it out of the air.
Focus on soft hands and hitting it in the sweet spot of your paddle.
You’ll also want to make sure your feet are planted first. Don’t move your feet while hitting this shot.
Do not overextend. If you need to buy yourself time, use your dominant foot as an anchor, and take a step back.
Mistake #3: Dinking without a Purpose
Have you ever hit a shot directly to your opponent during a game? This type of strategy does not lead to controlling the net and it sets you up into a defensive position.
We’ve all done this, but the reality is when you dink, you want to make them think. You want to force your opponent to think about how they will return your shots.
There are a few tools you can use to do this. To help remember it, I use the acronym ADW:
- A stands for Angles – Use dinks with angles to move your opponents from side to side – keep them moving – this will keep them thinking.
- D stands for Depth – You can use depth or deep dinks to move your opponent back from the kitchen line. Hit the ball at their feet, this will force them to decide whether to take it out of the air or not.
- W stands for Weakness – If you know your opponent and you know their weaknesses, don’t be afraid to use that against them. For example, do they have a weaker backhand? Or maybe they tend to stand back from the kitchen line? Aim for the backhand.
Mistake #4: Inconsistent Dinks
When we hit inconsistent dinks, the outcome is almost always bad.
- The ball is popped up and your opponent smashes it back down at you
- The ball is hit wide and it goes out
- The ball is hit low and into the net
Now you may just categorize these as errors, but I think it’s important to look at the underlying reasons for why these things happen and how to fix them.
With that, there are 3 easy ways to fix inconsistent dinks:
1. Dink with soft hands.
On a scale of 0-10 with 0 being very soft and 10 being the tightest you can squeeze, your grip strength on your handle should be 3-4 when you’re dinking. This means you have soft hands.
2.Respect the net.
When you’re dinking, you should give plenty of space between the ball and the net. It’s risky to attack any ball from below the net because you have to get a ton of top spin for it to be in. Many times, if you attack a ball below the net it’s either going into the net or it’s going out. Respect the net.
3. Practice smart swing mechanics.
- If you have too much wrist action to your swing,
- If your legs are straight,
- Too much back swing
- If your paddle is facing up
- Jerky motion and not smooth
- If you over-reach or over-extend yourself
- When you’re dinking, you want to make sure that you’re knees are bent, you’re hitting the ball from low to high, you’re hitting the ball out front, and you’re
No Kitchen Strategy Is Still a Strategy…a Bad One
No strategy in the kitchen is still a strategy and it is a bad one. How can you use your strengths in the kitchen to control the net? Or how can you develop a strategy around your opponent’s weakness to win more rallies? All of these things help you dink with a purpose.
Conclusion – Critical Pickleball Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
So that’s it, the 4 important pickleball mechanics that every player should know. What did you think? Are there any tips or strategies I should add to the list? Let me know in the comments.
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