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Be a back-third player

by andrew gilman on

Let's just make your pickleball life easier, shall we?

No reason not to. After all, you're here on this site because you love the game - probably can't get enough of it, either. And what do we all love even more than just reading about pickleball? Well, winning at pickleball, of course.

And we all know the best way to win is to move up and keep the other team back. And the best way to achieve that is to become a back-third player.

So, what's that all mean? Well, simple. Serve the ball to the back-third, return the ball to the back-third and volley the ball to the back-third. Obviously, you can't do it every time during every rally, but it can certainly be an achievable goal.


But why back-third?

When you serve the ball deep, it generally backs up the returner. When the returner is pushed back, it generally leads to a shorter shot which means you can get to the non-volley zone line quicker than if the return of serve comes back deep.

A deep serve is a great weapon. It immediately puts the receiving team in a tougher spot. Now remember, don't aim for the back line. While a serve that catches the line is great, it can also be risky. It's not worth serving a ball that goes out. So give yourself a bit of wiggle room and really try to hit that back-third of the court instead of the back line.

Now you're on the receiving end. A back-third return of serve needs to be something you master. Most players 3.5 and below don't have aggressive serves, so making sure you have a good, deep return is doable. Make it a priority. As much as dinking needs to be something you regularly drill at, returning the serve is also quite valuable to work on, too.

A back-third of the court return means you have more time to get to the NVZ. It also means the serving team has to wait longer to start moving through the transition zone toward their NVZ. It also increases the likelihood you'll be able to play your next shot (the fourth of the rally) out of the air. A short return of serve, one that doesn't reach the back-third of the court, reduces the chance of you getting to the net before the serving team and thus really reduces the chances of you being able to hit an effective fourth shot.


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What's Next?

So, let's say you've hit that back-third of the court, making sure, just like when you serve, to not try and be a hero and hit that back line. Leave room for error. If you try desperately to knock the ball off the back line, you're gonna miss and that's a free point for the serving team.

You've now hit that good, deep return and made your way to the NVZ line. Be a back-third player again.

If you're at the line, try making it a priority to hit the ball out of the air. Obviously, it can't be done all the time and it can't or shouldn't be done if you have to reach for an excellent third-shot from the serving team, but when you can hit the ball out of the air, continue to try and keep the serving team in the back-third of the court. If you can do that and keep the serving team from gaining ground and getting to the NVZ, you'll be in great shape.

And if you can do all three of those things, you'll really start finding yourself and your partner winning more games.

Andrew Gilman is the teaching pro at Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club

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