Poaching is often considered a negative part of doubles pickleball because it seems like you are limiting your partner’s game by taking shots away from them. But, when done well, poaching isn’t about taking away or limiting: it’s about support.
Look, we’ve all been the worst player on the court at some point in our pickleball lives.
We’ve all also had games where we were just off. So, it makes sense to think that everyone can use more support on the pickleball court, especially when they aren’t playing their best.
Let’s review a few scenarios where we ask ourselves whether we should or shouldn’t poach.
Scenario #1 - Happy Trails
You're both trying to move towards the kitchen, and you're a step ahead. The next ball is headed directly for your inside foot, but angling toward your partner.
Question: Should you poach or not?
Answer: Don’t Poach!
Instead of trying to hit a drop from your shoetop, let this ball go. If you don’t, then you’re likely going to either pop it up or hit it into the net.
Your trailing partner is in a perfect position and will have a better look at the ball after it bounces. By letting this ball go, you put your team in a better position for the next shot and show that you trust your partner.
Maybe when the roles are reversed, they’ll do the same for you.
Scenario #2 - Survive the Drive
You’re at the kitchen line, and your partner returns the serve. Your opponent drives the ball toward the middle line, angled toward your partner, who is making their way through the transition zone.
You could step in and poach the ball, or let it pass to your partner.
Question: Poach it or leave it?
Answer: Poach it!
When your partner is running to get into position, they’re vulnerable. This is why it’s always sound advice to go after the player closer to the baseline. Hitting a ball while on the move takes
a lot of skill, and if your partner doesn’t have enough time to set their feet (or at least be balanced as they hit the ball), then this could be an easy point for the other team. On the other hand, you are stationary.
Taking a step or two over when you see the drive coming allows you to counter it much more easily.
This seems like the same scenario as the previous one, but the difference is the placement of the ball. On a higher drive, you can slide over and take it out of the air. If it’s at your feet, then you’re beat.
Scenario #3 - Don’t Mind Me
Let’s say your opponents have decided to pick on your partner throughout the match. Seemingly, every ball is going their way, and for most points, you’re left feeling like you aren’t even getting a chance to play.
This can be frustrating and often causes players to over play, making the game even more lopsided.
Suddenly, you find yourself in a dinking battle, and one of those dinks wanders just outside the middle line. You could reach in and play it. But should you?
Question: Poach or don’t poach?
This is an excellent opportunity for you to take control of the point and reroute the rally away from your partner. Stepping in, as long as your partner is ready for you to do it, can help you move the ball to a new location and remind your opponents that you’re there to play, too.
If they want to keep going after your partner, they’re going to have to be more precise. This can cause extra pressure and, as we all know, pressure bursts pipes.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
What’s the ultimate key to proper poaching? Communication. Talk to your partner while you’re out there.
Let them know you plan on playing more aggressively, or point out specific spots where it makes more sense for you (or them) to take the shot.
No one in a relationship ever got angry because their partner communicated too well. And remember, it’s always better to say, “I got it” than “I had it.”
To answer your question, “To poach or not to poach?” Our answer is: “Yes.”