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Pickleball Strategy

What 'Stagger' Means in Pickleball and Why You Should Incorporate It In Your Game

by Jason Flamm on

Typically, when players stagger in sports, it's a bad thing.

In doubles pickleball, it's something you should consider doing more often in your games.

Of course, by stagger, we're not talking about falling over.

Staggering is when one teammate advances to the NVZ line while their partner stays back toward the baseline. Typically, the best time to do this is when one player hits a strong or aggressive third-shot drop. The other player then "releases" to the kitchen line.

In the image below, we can pretend Player B hits the drop shot, allowing Player A to advance to the NVZ line.

This may look like poor positioning, because many players are taught to stay even with their partner as they advance.

However, there are several reasons why staggering can help you and your partner.

Staggering applies pressure

Having Player A advance to the kitchen puts more pressure on Player C – who is about to hit the ball. It forces them to hit a more accurate shot no matter where they choose to send it.

Staggering removes an optimal play

Players are taught to aim for their opponent's feet when hitting the ball. Player C here is limited because Player A decreased the distance between them and it's much harder for C to place a ball at A's feet.

If C wants to hit the ball straight ahead, they either have to speed it up or hit more of a finesse shot, which would likely concede the kitchen.

The better option (forced by the stagger) is for C to hit crosscourt toward Player B. However, because B has chosen to stay back, B has more time to react and hit a good reset or drop.

When not to stagger

You only want stagger when the ball is directly in front of one player and that player should be the one that moves up while the other stays back.

If the crosscourt player decides to move up, it creates too large of a gap, giving your opponent plenty of room to hit a ball into.

Also, if one player hits a terrible third shot, don't try to stagger either.

Understanding this concept of when to be even and when to be staggered will help you win more pickleball matches.

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Jason Flamm

Jason Flamm

Jason is a writer from St. Louis. He’s been a coach in several sports and is currently working on his pickleball coaching certification. He loves to teach and share his passions.

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