No, one of them is not the tweener
“Push” Shots and “Hit” Shots
There are two types of shots in pickleball, and they require different body mechanics and paddle angles. A “push” shot is a dink, third shot drop, reset, or any ball you contact that is intended to bounce low in the kitchen. It requires touch and accuracy. A “hit” shot is any other shot that seeks to drive the ball with some degree of power. Let’s examine the “push” shots first.
Most people who take up pickleball are more comfortable with hitting at the ball—“See ball. Hit ball” is a natural reaction. “Push” shots require overcoming this instinct in favor of placing the ball low and softly at your opponents’ feet. As you make this shot, visualize the “big muscles” doing all the work. In other words, you are pushing with your legs and core to some degree, and to a greater degree, you are pushing from the shoulder. This makes for a more consistent, repeatable stroke. Do not use the little muscles in the hands, wrists, and forearm to try to manipulate the ball to your target. This
will cause tension and inconsistent results. (If this seems confusing, watch the linked videos from my book, The Joy of Pickleball, to clarify this technique.)
When executing these shots, the paddle face must be open or facing upward to some degree to create loft. The feeling is one of smoothly pushing the ball up with almost no backswing and dropping it over the net. When you are deep in the court, these drop shots enable you to move forward and play from the kitchen line. Pushing the ball is common sense from a physics perspective—if you hit a low ball hard near the kitchen area, it is usually destined for the net or out of play. Learning these shots and implementing them at the proper time will make your game the best it can be. Otherwise, you will be reduced to hitting and hoping, making low percentage shots without any kind of a game plan.
Dinking is a concept that is unique to pickleball among racquet/paddle sports. It can be the great equalizer when playing with bangers, limiting their ability to hit aggressively at your team. If they try to hit the ball hard from the kitchen area, they will usually hit it into the net or long. It requires patience to dink well. Often, the first person to flinch and try to win the point with an ill- advised hard shot will lose.
When you watch the pros, it seems like they never miss, sometimes hitting 50 or more dinks in a row before someone attacks. What is the secret to their skill? Well, first of all, they’re pros. They’ve hit hundreds of thousands of dinks. But if you watch them carefully, you’ll see that they do three common things that you can emulate.
First, they get low. They bend at the knees, not at the waist, so they are balanced over their feet with a low center of gravity. To hit up on the ball, you must get your paddle below the ball.
Second, they set the paddle face early to an open, lofted position that dictates the arc of the ball. And they keep that paddle face at the same angle and square to their target through impact and on the follow-through.
Third, they push from their core and shoulder with a relaxed arm as they contact the ball. Pushing with a tight grip or using the little muscles in the hand, wrist, and forearm to manipulate the paddle creates tension and inconsistency.
As I teach my beginner students to dink, I say, “Low. Set. Push.” “Low” encourages the bending of the knees and positioning the paddle low to the ground, while “Set” is the prompt to place the paddle in the optimal position/ angle as soon as possible. I say the word “Push” softly
to encourage a smooth, flowing stroke from the shoulder. Even if you’re a more advanced player, try experimenting with this technique and see if you notice an improvement in your consistency. Another must for dinking and the other “push” shots is to use little or no backswing. Meet the ball out in front of you and extend your paddle squarely toward your target to maximize consistency.
As you dink, you don’t want to feed the ball directly to your opponent on a nice high hop where they can easily handle it (especially not to their forehand). Move them around with angled shots to get them out of position or go down the middle to create confusion. Even though this is a soft shot, it can still be an aggressive one. I often target the left foot of my right-handed opponent at the net, causing them to back up or be indecisive about taking the ball out of the air on their backhand. Aiming at the feet is usually a great idea.
Finally, as you compete against better players, the crosscourt dink is usually the smart play. It gives you more room for error and is not as easy to attack as the ball hit straight across to them. There is much more to say about dinking, but if you follow these basic strategies and techniques, you will find that your dink game can level the playing field against more powerful or younger players.
Next, in Part Three, we will get into the “push” shot that tends to mystify the beginning player and can stop you from playing a smart, strategic game. Yes, only once you learn the “third shot drop” can your game really begin to blossom.