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By Sara McInnes on November 19, 2023

Slowing Down the Game

Why do we see players rushing in pickleball?

For one, it’s very fun to hit the ball hard and get into that back-and-forth, fast-paced rally (and easy to get caught up in), but unless you’ve got the combination of good angle and correct pace, the other team has a pretty decent chance of returning the ball and usually, the ball will come back twice as fast as you’ve hit it.

Actually, there are likely a few reasons as to why players rush through a point (or game) and there’s a high chance they don’t even realize they’re doing so.

For the record, rushing a point is not the same as crashing the non-volley line - which is an offensive and aggressive move within a rally - rather, rushing is not living the moment, but rather, focusing on the end.

Slowing down the game in pickleball can be a strategic approach to gain control, reduce errors, and outmaneuver your opponents. So, where’s the fire? Below, I break down where I see the players rush through the game...

Rushing to Win the Point

One of my pickleball friends has a slogan for their brand “patience till you pounce”, I’m sure many of you know who I’m referring to after reading the slogan.

This person is very accurate in my opinion. So often, players will rush or force a point to finish and it doesn’t always work out in their favour.

They will speed up a ball that’s not as attackable as they believe; meaning it’s easy to read what their move is going to be, the ball is too low and that player is forced to upwards on it to clear the net or the player is off balance while attempting to attack the ball and the opponents - in a more stable position - are ready to counter.

Rushing to the NVL

Similar to the point above, within a rally players will run up to the non-volley line. As beginner-intermediate players this is probably something that someone has advised you to do.

The information isn’t fully incorrect, but what the advice should be is: always take your opportunity to advance to the non-volley line - understanding when and what those opportunities are though, is an entirely other layer to the strategy.

Good Times to Advance Confidently:

- On a good third shot drop, the trick is to identify those drops and then make your way up to the NVL with deftness and efficiency

- On a low, hard third shot drive, start to advance and keep your eyes open for the pop-up by the opponent

- Anytime the ball is moving in the trajectory towards your opponent's feet or their non-volley line and their head is down as they prepare to receive the ball

Anything opposite to the scenarios above, it’s better to stay back rather than advancing.

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Rushing Between Rallies

Players will immediately set up to receive the ball and/or immediately set up to serve the ball. In rec play, servers will often still be saying the score as they motion to serve.

In competition, (newer tournament) players often forget that the referee calls the score and will serve before the score has been said (I’m guilty of doing this in my first tournament).

Technically, once the score is said the server has 10 seconds to hit the serve. Try it, I challenge you to take the full 10 seconds after the score has been called. Just feel out how much time you have to hit a good, intentional serve.

On the flip side, I know players who intentionally drag out the seconds between points, talking to one another behind their paddle, or bouncing the ball with their head down, focused, taking their time to serve.

I believe this tactic is meant to aggravate the receiver and draw them into hitting a more aggressive return - if you’re ever playing against people who do this, do your best to not fall into the trap!

Return calmly as you normally would, because you're not in a rush, right?

Rushing to Win the Game

Eyes are on the prize, I get it. We’re all guilty of it. Most of the time, that just means glory.

Whether it’s a game for fun or within a competition, players just want to win. This isn’t not the worst mindset to have, unless, of course, it overtakes everything else. The desire to win can overtake 

How to slow down the game:

Play a Soft Game:

Use soft shots such as dinks and drops to keep the ball close to the net. These shots are difficult for opponents to attack aggressively, and it forces them to play a slower, controlled game.

Reduce Power:

Dial back the power in your shots, especially on your serves and volleys. Instead of hitting hard smashes, opt for controlled shots that require your opponent to react and make precise shots.

Mix Up the Pace:

Vary the speed and pace of your shots. Alternating between slower and faster shots can keep your opponents off balance and make it harder for them to anticipate your moves.

Target the Kitchen (Non-Volley Zone):

Focus on placing shots in the kitchen (the non-volley zone) to limit your opponent's ability to attack. Shots in this area often result in slower exchanges at the net.

Patient Play:

Be patient and wait for opportunities. Avoid taking unnecessary risks, and only go for aggressive shots when you have a clear advantage. Consistent and patient play can wear down your opponents over time.

Control the Net:

Gain control of the net whenever possible. When you and your partner control the net, you can dictate the pace of the game by forcing your opponents to hit higher, slower shots.

Focus on Placement:

Aim for specific areas of the court to make it harder for your opponents to generate pace. For example, hit shots to their weaker side or exploit gaps in their court coverage.

Stay Calm Under Pressure:

In high-pressure situations, remain calm and composed. Avoid rushing your shots or making hasty decisions, as this can lead to errors and a faster-paced game.

Remember that slowing down the game doesn't necessarily mean playing defensively all the time.

It's about playing smart, controlled pickleball that forces your opponents to play at your pace and on your terms.

Adjust your strategy based on your opponents' skills and tendencies to effectively slow down the game and increase your chances of success.

This article was taken from our 'Control the Kitchen' Newsletter, if you're interested in receiving more content like this, please feel free to sign up using the subscribe section located at the bottom left of this page (or underneath the article if you're on mobile), thanks!

Published by Sara McInnes November 19, 2023