Watch and Listen to These Players to Learn How to Dink

Tyson Mcguffin PPA 2024 (Picture Kerry Pittenger)

Many recreational players refuse to believe there is much more to pickleball than smashing.  Hitting hard, they say, regardless of how accurate or clean, is their objective, their style, their main technique, save for a lob here and there and a little spinning. Smashers sometimes have no interest in other skills or strategies. Several players have said to me, No patience for that!  “Too bad” always runs through my mind. Put-away power is helpful and necessary, yes, but points are often accumulated–and matches won–with the down-tempo game.  

All right, smashers, you can spike the ball and, sometimes, crack it.  While in that moment seeing the damaged ball for yourself generates a rush, a feeling of strength and dominance (and some degree of pride, no doubt), there is nothing edifying about the hard swing and the broken ball.  In fact, many hard-hitters lose control and form as they overswing, power over placement manipulating their every shot.  As these recreational players become more serious and compete in professional tournaments their spiked balls will be defended–and countered–by top players and fed to them. Ha! Why? Because only complete players reach the big leagues and stay there. And being a skillful and controlled dinker is part of what “complete” means.  But that’s just what I, a recreational player, think. Let’s hear from the pros. “Some games you hardly see dinking,” says pickleball star Jorja Johnson, sister of James, a 2024 Minto US Open Gold medalist in doubles with both Dylan Frazier and Anna Leigh Waters, “and of course it is a major aspect of the game and it is still very important.”  Also trust the opinion of Collin Johns, Ben’s brother, who has important tips and advice for all players, like this one.

Working at the kitchen line and grinding out points with patience and finesse is a winning strategy, one used by pickleball warrior Tyson McGuffin: “Don’t be afraid of the kitchen,” he says.  “A lot of good things happen at the kitchen. The team that is more successful, that controls the kitchen line better is the team that usually ends up on top. We want to like the kitchen.” Words from a player known for what he calls his “Ferrari” forehand.  McGuffin can rip clean winners past the best players, but also slow the pace, rule the kitchen, and work cat-and-mouse. Whether you are a casual player or moving up fast, watching him in action would be beneficial.

In this championship match at the 2024 Veolia Houston Open, Dekel Bar and Tina Pisnik are up against Etta Wright and Benjamin Johns–four world-class players. Notice how much scoring is being done through dinking.   A number of such rallies, seven in particular at the following time marks, illustrate the purpose and “ballet” of dinking: 2:30, 3:18, 8:15, 13:04, 18:27, 22:18, 40:54. To educate yourself and strengthen your game, pay attention to point construction, paddle grip and position, strategy, pattern recognition, speed-ups, resets, and the sheer brilliance of the four athletes in terms of patience and precision, appreciating, if you can, the beauty, smoothness, and mastery of these rallies–some of the best you could ever observe.  In my time playing recreational ball, never have I seen anyone put on a dink show like this. There should be fireworks accompanying it!  Serious pickleballers, watch, learn, absorb, practice, incorporate, and refine, because this is pickleball at the highest level. And boy, do I mean it! Like the players or not, know of them or not, watch the match–once, twice, thrice if you have to. Remember all you can and put into practice what is most helpful and useful. At the very least, applaud along the way the four performances, because these players demonstrate greatness and consistency worth admiring and emulating. 

You can walk on court with the most expensive paddle, sneakers, clothing, ball and bag and whatever gear. You may look serious—like a professional.  You may even be athletic, have good court coverage, know some shots, play alongside others who challenge you, perhaps take a lesson or two. But in my opinion as someone who has kept a close eye on the MLP-PPA tour and observed and listened to the best players and commentators, without a thorough understanding of the fundamentals and without knowing how to dink with a professional touch your journey on the pro tour, if you should somehow make it that far, may be a maddening pursuit, one of struggles and letdowns. What kind of pickleball journey is yours going to be?

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About David Boyle

A versatile and diversified writer, David Boyle has written three short story collections, published by independent presses. Though he earned his readership by writing reality-based fiction, Boyle has gained a reputation for literary stories, essays, articles, reviews, interviews, analyses, travel writing, reportage, and poems, a good number of which have appeared in both print and online magazines. Inspired by his wife's passion for the sport, David now loves pickleball and aims to illuminate current pickleball events and subjects with a fresh, creative perspective, offering readers something they can't find anywhere else. | My website | | My Pickleball Journal

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