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6 Practical Tips for Detecting Out Balls and Winning Free Points in Pickleball

Written by Adam (HV)

January 20, 2022

There are skills that anyone can master in pickleball regardless of your ranking, age, or athleticism. One of those skills is letting out-balls fly. 

Today I’m going to share 6 strategies for detecting and avoiding out-balls, and an exercise that can help you simulate out-balls. After watching this, it’s my hope that you will improve your pickleball IQ and you’ll win more points. 

Watch the official video on avoiding out balls here.

What is an out ball in pickleball? 

When balls are hit hard, they have a trajectory and depending on where they are hit on the court, there’s a chance they will go out. If you play smart, these can be free points for you and these free points can make the difference between a win or a loss. 

out balls in pickleball

1. Pay Attention

You may think that calling an out ball is a fast reflex, but it is actually a conscious decision. When you see it, your brain and body work together, and this is the difference between a reflex and a reaction. The goal is to be actively engaged in the game physically and mentally. This means you’re paying attention, watching the ball, and anticipating shots. By paying attention, you can improve your reaction time. 

 Also, take notice of your surroundings and the external elements that affect the ball. For example, is the wind blowing? Is there a flag or a visual aid you can use to judge the wind? Gathering this type of information will make you a smarter player and set you up for success.

2. If It’s Shoulder High, Let It Fly 

This rule of thumb is helpful because if the ball is hit hard enough at your shoulder level, there’s a chance it will go out. Your side of the court is 15 feet excluding the kitchen. A ball hit with pace at your shoulder will likely go out.

3. Play Net Positive 

In order for you to let balls go and to win free points, you must be ok with being wrong sometimes. You may think it’s better to be safer than sorry and to keep every ball in play, but if you do the math, you leave free points on the table with that strategy. As long as you’re net positive at the end of the game, it’s smarter to let them go. For example, if you let 3 balls go out and 1 stays in. You’re still net positive 2. Those two points could make the difference in the outcome of the game. Not only will you be glad but your partner will thank you for it.

4. Watch Your Opponent  

When you’re at the kitchen, pay attention to your opponent’s paddle angle, backswing and contact point. To remember this, just think ABC. If you’re at the kitchen and your opponent has an upward angle, a big backswing, and a contact point below the net, the ball will likely go out.

5. Know Your Court Position 

Be aware of your court position in relation to the ball at all times. For example, are you standing on the baseline? Don’t hit a ball that is at your shins.

6. Communicate 

The ball’s trajectory is better judged from the side. Tell your partner if you see a ball going out. Yell “No” or “Bounce.” Your partner will thank you for this. 

Pickleball Drill Idea for Detecting Out Balls

If you’d like to improve your reaction time and judgment of out balls, you can simulate different shots with an easy drill. To do this, have one person stand at the baseline and you stand at the kitchen. Have your partner drive balls at you from the baseline with various speeds. Some will be in and some will be out. If it’s in, hit it back at their feet. If it’s out, let it go.

How to Improve Your Reaction Time in Pickleball

There are also a few other things you can do to improve your reaction time to give yourself an edge on the pickleball court. 

  • Stay calm – remember to breathe – when your brain is calm and focused, you can react quicker
  • Stay hydrated – your brain shrinks when you’re dehydrated and this can have an effect on your reaction time – many studies have established a link between poor cognitive performance and dehydration
  • Stay rested – many studies have linked rest with reaction. If you know you’ll need your reaction time, be sure to get plenty of rest the night before.

Conclusion: Detecting Out Balls in Pickleball

So that’s it, those are 6 strategies for calling out balls and winning free points. What strategy works best for you? Let me know in the comments.

path to better pickleball

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