In pickleball, the team that makes the fewest errors will win the majority of the time. However there are a few common errors that hold players back and one in particular is attacking at the wrong time. When you attack at the wrong time, you hit the ball into the net, you hit it out, and you run the risk of forming bad habits.
Today I’m going to share a very effective framework and pickleball strategy that will help you know when to attack and when to just keep it in play. We’ll also walk through some practical tips to help you play with more consistency and win more points.
Watch the official video on this pickleball strategy here
What Is The Traffic Light Framework Pickleball Strategy?
This is simply a visual guide that divides your body into three zones in relation to the ball when you’re at the non-volley zone.
The red zone is below your knees, the yellow zone is from your knees to your navel, and the green zone is from your navel and up.
Why is this important?
This visual can help you make decisions quickly and play with more consistency at the non-volley zone. When you’re at the kitchen, every second counts and every inch matters. Therefore, it’s important to have a guide to help you stay smart and consistent. And that’s ultimately the goal here – to play with consistency and to make smart decisions quickly.
The Red Zone
To kick things off, we’re talking through the red zone.
When you’re at the kitchen, it can be tempting to hit shots that are low, especially if you want to play aggressively and create offensive opportunities. But if the ball is in your red zone, you should respect the net and not attack. Treat it the same way you would treat a red traffic light. If you proceed, you’re moving into dangerous territory.
Here’s why: With such a low contact point and with you being so close to the net, there’s a high probability of the ball hitting the net or going out. If you want to successfully attack at the red zone, you have to have a ton of top spin or you need to give it more loft, which can be attacked.
If the ball lands in the kitchen, it has to bounce very high, you must hit it at its peak and even then, there’s a chance that it will hit the net.
What do you do with a ball in the red zone?
- When a shot lands in your red zone, respect the net, and return the shot to your opponent’s red zone. This is smart pickleball strategy.
- You can even take it out of the air if possible to take away reaction time from your opponent.
Next up is the Yellow Zone. You’ll want to approach shots in this zone the same way you approach a yellow traffic light. Be cautious.
This can be a challenging zone because you must consider multiple factors in real time and make a decision quickly. In my opinion, this is what makes pickleball so fun. It can become more about decision making and strategy in this zone. It’s impossible to list every factor, but here are 7 important ones to consider for shots in the yellow zone:
The Yellow Zone
Here are a few factors to consider:
- Your sight: can you see the ball clearly? if you’re in a setting where you can’t see the ball as well, it’s better to play more conservatively and not attack the ball.
- Your energy level: what is your energy level? Some of these shots may be less about muscle memory and more about your decision making and reaction time. Because shots are more nuanced your brain literally burns more calories to read those shots compared to shots in the red or green zones. If you’re low on energy or if you’re tired, it means your brain will be affected too and you will have a tougher time reading the ball, making a decision, and making clean contact. If you’re low on energy, play it safe.
- Your confidence level: can you be at least 80% confident that your shot will go over the net and stay in? Or will 8 shots out of 10 stay in? If not, play it safe.
- Your position: What is your position relative to the ball? If you’re two steps away or more, it’s likely better to reset the ball.
- Your opponent: Can your opponent counter attack shots that are sped up? Does your opponent want you to speed up the ball?
- Your partner & the current strategy: Does your partner want to play conservatively or aggressively? Did you develop a strategy before the game? If so, stick to the plan.
- The stakes: Is this a rec play or a tournament game? What are the stakes? If you make an error here do you lose the game?
What do you do with a ball in the yellow zone?
If you choose to attack, there are 3 things to know:
1. The nature of this attack will likely have an upward trajectory, so be ready for a counter from your opponent.
2. You have two more inches in the middle of the net compared to the sides. This margin of error can be helpful
3. It’s always in your favor to catch your opponent off guard. So consider aiming for their dominant hip or shoulder where they are jammed
If you decide to wait, return an unattackable shot, and wait for a better time to attack.
The Green Zone
Lastly, there’s the green zone and green means go.
When a ball enters your green zone, you should attack downward at your opponent’s RED ZONE.
When you’re placing an attack, it’s best to aim for your opponent’s red zone, but if you are placing somewhere else, avoid the sidelines and the baseline. These are low percentage shots and bad pickleball strategy.
Consistency > Intensity
So that’s it, that’s a pickleball strategy you can use to play with more consistency and make smarter decisions at the non-volley zone. I hope that it’s helpful, and as you implement it, I want you to consider the differences between consistency and intensity.
When you’re under pressure or down in a game, do you ever feel the need to play with more intensity and make big changes? I’ve been there, everyone has been there, but the reality is consistency wins games. Don’t lose the game internally before the game on the court ever finishes. If you can choose consistency over intensity, you’ll be better off.
Conclusion: Does this pickleball strategy help you?
What do you think? Is this helpful? Let me know in the comments!
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In this video we’ll break down one of these shots (the drop volley) so that you know when to do it and how to use it to win rallies the next time you get on the court.
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Today we’re going to cover 5 pickleball tips that help you immediately master the transition zone.
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