In doubles pickleball, sometimes team chemistry can be more important than talent. Partners that know each other well will make less communication errors in a game to 11. It's no coincidence that the top men's team in the game is the Johns brothers.
The 2vs2 aspect of doubles pickleball makes it unique in sports. Rarely outside of tennis do we see a game where teams are so reliant on their partnership.
While basketball usually played 5vs5, there are tons of duos that have changed the game and set plays that only involve two players. The pick and roll, the give and go, and the alley-oop.
Pickleball has its own set of basics, that if run correctly, can dominate the game.
1. Shake and Bake
The first is a play made famous by Morgan Evans and Marcin Rozpedski, the 'Shake and Bake.' This play is executed by the serving team.
Instead of dropping their third shot, the player drives the third hard and fast to their opponent. This shot is intended to force a pop up and is the shake part of the formula.
As the drive is hit, their partner crashes toward the kitchen line, to smash the pop up that was just created. And that of course is the bake. It's been done millions of times on the court and still works in every game, just like the pick and roll.
2. Snake in the Grass
The snake in the grass is also known as the 'intentional hang back' which is a little more self-explanatory. In this play, one player stays in the backcourt instead of progressing to the kitchen line.
The basic rules of pickleball dictate that hitting the ball to a player that has stayed back is always the right move.
But if you know what your opponent is going to do next then you have the advantage.
Knowing that the ball will be forced to the player in back, the player at the kitchen line has absolute freedom to poach the ball hit to their partner. Check out the Waters execute it to perfection here.
You can see Leigh Waters on the left, hang back after hitting a successful drop. Irina Tereschenko instinctually chooses to hit a high deep forehand to keep Leigh back.
Knowing this is coming, Anna Leigh Water steps in with the poach and finishes the point.
3. Play Action
A ball hit down the middle can end a partnership. It is known as a 'divorce ball' because it forces partners to communicate or suffer the consequences.
With a long-term partner, divorce balls become less of a threat. Knowing who is taking what shot is a benefit of time spent on the court together. It also opens the door for a little play action.
To execute the play action, one partner will fake like they are hitting the ball but leave it for their partner to hit. They can fake with a whole swing or just a wind up but the idea is throw off the opponent.
If partner 1 prepares for a third shot drop then player two suddenly hits a third shot drive, it can catch the other team off guard and force a mistake. It's all about reaction time and the less time they have to react, the better off you will be.
You can draw up the play action before the point or have a call to use during the point to let your partner know it is coming. 'Omaha' in tribute to the Peyton Manning play action pass or even just 'one' or 'two' would do the trick.
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4. Erne Bait
A good partner sets up their partner for success. They hit the setup shot so their partner can finish the point with a highlight slam.
One way you can set your partner up is by giving them some 'Erne Bait.' When all 4 players are at the kitchen line, you can use your cross court dinks to make your opponent uncomfortable.
Push the ball towards their outside foot so they are forced to step off the line to retrieve the ball.
If you do this effectively they will be forced to return the ball down the line, giving your partner the perfect erne opportunity. The timing can be difficult to master, but knowing that is goal, encourages your partner to make the move to erne.
Be sure to cover the middle of the court after they go for the erne. It is a crucial step to prevent leaving your court exposed.
The Future of Pickleball
The game of pickleball is evolving every year. As partner relationships develop, set plays and combos will become the norm.
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