The concept of the slow game in pickleball is only understood by players after they gain experience in the sport. At first, players are trying to bang every ball and most don't even realize the need to spend the majority of their time at the kitchen line. It is only after losing over and again that a light bulb suddenly flips on and they see the need for a dink or drop. But is there truly a need for the slow game or is the future of the game in the hands of the bangers? And more importantly, how should you learn to play?
Let's take the methodical approach and first understand why driving or banging can be a successful tactic. When your return is short and you make your way to the kitchen line, the distance between you and your opponent is shorter than it normally would be with a deep return. If your opponent has a great 3rd shot drive, you are now left reacting to a ball flying at your chest (or maybe even your face haha). Is it going out? Should I reflex it back with pace? Should I try to just block it into the kitchen? Or is it so fast that I am just trying to react and protect myself? All of these questions are valid and can cause confusion in a 10th of a second. Take that feeling of complete chaos and add the pressure of their partner crossing and you could be at a major disadvantage.
So when does the 3rd shot drive work?
- When your opponent doesn't have quick hands or proper volley technique.
- When a return is short and you rush your opponents.
- When you have been hitting 3rd shot drops and a drive is a surprise tactic.
So what happens if your opponents skill level is high enough to combat a good drive or they are prepared before you make contact? You guessed it, you will need to slow the game down and work on your DROP! The 3rd shot drop acts just as it sounds - it drops below the level of the net and makes your opponents hit up. This allows you time to get up to the kitchen line so the real party can begin. And as I said earlier, drives work best when the returner hits a short return. If the returner is hitting deep in the court, the drop will be your best option to strategically make your way to the kitchen line.
So we now know why both shots work - but should we start our development as pickleball players learning how to drive or drop? Should we try to bully our way to wins with power or learn how to slow it down and win the methodical way?
As far as I know, the kitchen will be an everlasting part of pickleball. As long as these 7-feet exists between your opponent and the net, hitting into that space will always allow you to work the point and hopefully force your opponent into hitting up into an area where you can attack.
My advice would be to start slow. As far as I know, the kitchen will be an everlasting part of pickleball. As long as these 7-feet exists between your opponent and the net, hitting into that space will always allow you to work the point and hopefully force your opponent into hitting up into an area where you can attack. Resets, drops, and dinks will always be the foundation a great pickleball player must have in order to achieve the highest levels of success. The saying goes in golf, "you drive for show and putt for dough". I believe it applies to pickleball as well. Crazy power on amazing drives certainly look and sound cool but they aren't what will get you to the medal stand.
So when you hit the courts this week, try slowing it down - the future of the game depends on it!