By Lucy Kitcher, Team GAMMA 5.0 Pro
Do you ever find the ball passing through openings between you and your partner? You’re not alone. This is a common problem in pickleball—especially at intermediate levels.
Keep these tips in mind to improve your court position—you’ll cover more ground and close those gaps.
Don’t be reactive
In a basic sense, everyone moves to the ball. When the ball comes toward us, we quickly move toward it. Then, one of three things happen—we hit a good shot, we hit a bad shot, or we might not be able to get to the ball at all. This is called being “reactive.”
When you or your partner hit the ball, you should move to a more desired court position. After you move, you might still have to react to hit the ball, but it will be much closer to you than if you hadn’t made a proactive move. By being in the correct position, you may even force your opponents to try to make a more difficult shot. Being proactive and moving toward the ball as it approaches should be your goal on nearly every shot.
Leave some of the court open
To recap, if the ball is on the left side of the court, one player covers the line and the other partner covers the middle. But who is covering the right side of the court? We’re able to leave the right side (about a third of the court) open. If our opponents hit the ball to that side of the court, they can either hit it hard or soft. If they hit the ball hard, it will go out. If your opponents hit a good cross-court dink to the right side of the court, my partner will be able to take one or two steps over and easily get to the ball—as it will be traveling slowly.
When the backhand is the better shot
Assuming you’re both right-handed players, when you and your partner hit the ball to the left side of the court, the person on the left will cover the line and the person on the right will cover the middle. This means that the person on the right will be covering the middle with his/her backhand. The person on the left will need to be focused on the line and stand quite close to it, as that will be his/her backhand.
More reach with forehand vs. backhand
Stand facing the net and put your paddle in your right hand. Move the paddle to the left side of your body like you’re hitting a backhand. Think about how far you can reach. Now move your paddle into your left hand and see how much farther your paddle will reach. You have much more reach with a forehand than you do with the backhand. Keep this in mind when you’re deciding where to stand on the court. If you’re covering the line on the left side, hold your paddle out like you were going to hit a backhand. If you can reach the balls that are coming down the line, you’re standing in the right place. If you’re on the right side of the court and covering the line, reach out with your forehand. On this side you’ll be able to stand a little farther away from the sideline and still reach the balls that come down the line.
Keep this in mind when the balls are coming between you and your partner as well. The person who is on the right side of the court has less reach (backhand), so the person on the left will be able to reach more than halfway to his/her partner (see diagram 1). If you both put your paddles in your playing hand and reach out toward each other like you’re going to hit a ball, you’ll be able to check that you’re standing a good distance apart. The tips of your paddles should reach but not cross.
Taking your partner’s shot
It’s extremely common for the wrong player to hit the ball. One frequent error is when a ball comes above the net halfway between you and your partner, and the player on the right hits the ball with his/her backhand. The player on the left would have had a much better shot with a forehand. Taking your partner’s shot can also leave you and/or your partner out of position.
When your partner gets moved off the court
It’s important to pay attention to where your partner is on the court. If your opponents hit a great shot and your partner ends up off the side of the court, you’ll have to keep following the ball over toward your partner and cover more of the center of the court.
Playing with a lefty
If you’re playing with a lefty, the only thing that changes is the distance between you and your partner. You have a lot more reach on your forehand side than you do with your backhand. When you’re playing with a lefty, you’ll either have both of your forehands in the middle or both of your backhands. When you both have your forehands in the middle, you’ll probably find it quite easy to get the balls in the middle as you have a lot more reach. You may be able to stand a little farther apart. When both of your backhands are in the middle, you have a lot less reach so you’ll want to pinch in closer together to avoid balls passing you down the middle.
When your partner doesn’t move
After you learn how to move correctly on the court, it can become frustrating if your partner does not understand this strategy. There are a few things you can do—explain the moving philosophy and give him/her this article, deal with it, or find a new partner!
Finally, communication is key. It’s important to talk to your partner, especially when the balls are hit down the middle of your team. This starts with the third shot and continues until the point ends. Be sure to say “me” or “you” as soon as you see the ball heading down the middle so that you and your partner can remain on the same page when executing all shots.