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The Pickleball Ten Commandments: Part One

The sport where the unspoken rule is: HAVE FUN!

TUNDRA NEWS COLLEGIATE Contributor: Elliot Rothstein
March 28 2024

As a soon-to-be-mainstream competitive sport, pickleball is still in its infancy. Even so, the sport has already seen plenty of innovation; the standard of play has consistently been rising, and as players continue adapting to the higher and higher standards, they begin tinkering with different strategies, hoping to get ahead of the pack by discovering new angles to approach certain game-type scenarios. However, parts of the game are so clearly fundamental that they might as well be unwritten rules, or better yet, directives, and with that I present:  The Pickleball Ten Commandments.

1. Thou Shalt Not Spam Drive Shots

Man attempting a very tennis-looking drive – bet his opponents have little issue defending. SOURCE: PICKLEBALL UNIVERSITY

Sorry, tennis players – pickleball works very differently. As a tennis-player-to-pickleball convert, I can certainly empathize plenty with transgressors of this first commandment. And to new players, I can understand why the first instinct is to drive; if you can hit a hard line drive, why hit a soft floater instead? That is, until someone thrice your age repeatedly and effortlessly dismantles you and your tennis buddy’s tennis-inspired, drive-centric game by merely holding their paddle out in front of them. Alas, the drive is meant to be a change-of-pace shot to be mixed in with drops, and it should be duly noted that the more pace on the shot, the more vicious the return.

2. Thou Shalt Not Miss Two Straight Serves (Doubles)

This commandment may seem a bit specific, but there’s sound rationale here if you’ll allow me (Moses for this exercise) to explain. To start, it’s doubles. There’s no need to be whacking cracks into the ball on your serve. In singles, the serve has such an implication on the point that some turn big, risky serves into powerful weapons for getting ahead in the point. In doubles, court coverage is much easier, pressure on the returner is much lower, and the serve plays less of a role in determining the server’s chances of winning the point. But a hard serve can still help, right? Well, that’s why you get two misses–if you’ve got a solid big serve, go for it 100%. But if you miss it and cost you and your partner an opportunity to score, be courteous and play it safe the next time it comes around to you. If you miss over and over in singles, at least then you’re only screwing yourself over.

3. Thou Shall Attempt An ATP Whenever The Opportunity Arises

Dirk Nowitski using his long arms to hit an ATP–notice where he’s going to make contact with the ball SOURCE: USA PICKLEBALL

This may not necessarily help you win, but it will pay dividends in the pickleball-satisfaction department in the long run. The sport can get boring if you don’t allow yourself the chance to have some fun with it, and, c’mon, what better to further motivate you to play and improve than the gratification induced from pulling off an around-the-post highlight? Now, it can be tough to determine when a ball is in understandable “go for it” ATP range, so I (Moses) will give a tentative definition here: “A ball’s ATP “go for it” range is anywhere in which the paddle point of contact with the ball is outside the post.” In other words, if there’s a ball that takes you off the court to the point where it's already outside the post when you’re contacting it, go for that flashy angle and make a play.

4. Thou May Attempt A Lob, But Thou Mustn’t Miss The Lob

A man puts away a failed lob with a smash SOURCE: GAMMA SPORTS

In pickleball, the lob stands as a relatively polarizing shot. If you can pull one off, either bouncing it behind the swing-radiuses of your opponents or putting it deep enough to make their returning overhead uncomfortable, you might have gained yourself an easy opportunity to push your opponents deep off the net and claim it for yourselves. Landing a lob may shift the dynamic of a point (in the successful lobber’s favor) more than any single other shot in pickleball. It is more significant than when a third-shot drop is made, as while a third-shot drop does indeed get your team up on the offensive, it merely equals your positioning out with your opponent’s. The lob not only brings your side up, but it puts the opponent back on their heels on defense, now forced to attempt to regain the net. In 70% of point scenarios, if you have landed a successful lob, you have won the point.

Why don’t people lob all the time, then?

Well, lobbying may be the most inconsistent shot in pickleball, making it impractical and risky for most to employ. The pickleball court is short, so there isn’t much margin for error. Some players are so tall, so quick, or have such practiced overheads that the lob “target area” is only two or three feet inside of the baseline. Additionally, the lob is the pickleball shot that leaves the ball itself hanging in the air the longest, and the ball’s hollow, light, holey structure allows any air movement to affect its trajectory. In outdoor conditions (or, because the ball is so light, in some indoor conditions) one’s lob is sure to be tough to tune up. This also makes the lob a difficult, and certainly inefficient, shot to spend time practicing. 

For the fact that lobbing can have immense potential to save you in a point, I say “thou may attempt.” For the fact that the lob is untrustworthy and half the time directly sets your opponent up for a smash, I say “thou mustn’t miss.” And if thou isn’t confident they won’t miss, then perhaps thou should refrain from the lob altogether (especially when playing with a partner who could get annoyed or pegged by the opponent’s smash-you-set-them-up-for).

5. Thou Mustn’t Count A Point ’Over’ Until It Is Clearly So

Lukas Crippen making a diving save SOURCE: PRO PICKLEBALL/FACEBOOK

This commandment is admittedly unoriginal — the sentiment’s been shared by coaches in all sports. In pickleball, this lesson remains, and thanks to the sport’s reflex-reliance and a ball that seems to always hover an extra second above the ground, remains important.



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