Modern Pickleball

Pickleball is Evolving

Opinion by Wayne Kerr

As stronger, faster athletes enter the sport of pickleball the game is evolving. Great footwork is becoming more and more important. The ‘old school’ idea of planting yourself at the Non-Volley-Zone (NVZ) line has all but disappeared at the upper levels of the game. In fact, many of today’s top players have backed a few feet off the line much of the time. Don’t get me wrong, when their opponent is back or has popped up a ball, they are up at the NVZ line eager to hit a put-away shot. However, when all four are at the net many modern players take a step back giving themselves extra time to defend or counter an attacked ball. They use quick feet to get to every softly hit ball (drop shot or dink) that bounce in front of them.

A good example of this type of play can be seen in the Pro Women’s Doubles Gold Medal final at the 2019 National Championships at Indian Wells featuring: Leigh Waters/Anna Leigh Waters vs. Jessie Irvine/Catherine Parenteau.

2019, Margaritaville / National Championships USA Pickleball

All four of these women use this style of play and it would be hard to argue with their results and success.

If you watch the video (avail of YouTube), you may notice that their feet are constantly moving as they adjust up and back, side to side in response to every ball whether they or their partner are hitting it.

Too often at the amateur level we get planted, especially if our partner is hitting the ball, and then end up reaching for a ball that comes toward us rather than taking one or two quick steps which will allow better technique. When settled on our heals we are in a heavy or slower position verses on our toes which keeps us light on our feet making it much easier to move quickly into position.

This modern movement strategy is as follows: the receiving team returns the serve and gets right up to the NVZ line, where they await either a drive or drop shot from the serving team. In either case they will try to keep their opponents back in their court with a deeply hit ball, thus keeping control of the net. The serving team will attempt while hitting the third, fifth or seventh, etc., ball to get a ball at the feet of the receivers so that they can move forward toward the net. Once both teams are forward, the players will position themselves 2-4 feet behind the NVZ, where they will dink with the purpose of forcing their opponent to hit a ball high enough to attack or to get the opposition to attack a questionable ball, ready to counter-attack. Both teams are ready to pounce forward and put-away any ball that floats too high. Both teams are always ready to move up to the line whenever their opponents are pushed back.

Because all these players are ready to move, being back a few feet is not a detriment while dinking. In fact, it often makes it easier to handle a deep dink and gives more time to get to a well-placed cross-court dink. It is also much easier control the ball while stepping forward than while you are being forced backward

I hope this article gives you some ideas to help improve your game. Keep playing my friends.

Wayne Kerr