How to Stop Popping the Ball Up in Pickleball

Pickleball is a dynamic and fast-paced game where players often seek to capitalize on high, attackable balls. These are balls that bounce high off the ground or come off the opponent’s paddle with a trajectory that places them at a height and position that is optimal for an aggressive return, usually a smash. This aggressive play can be a game-changer, putting the player on the receiving end under pressure and often leading to lost points. 

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Consequently, one of the key tactics to develop in pickleball is the ability to consistently hit low, unattackable shots. Keeping the ball low reduces your opponent’s opportunities to execute high-powered, attacking shots, thus maintaining a defensive edge in the game. Mastering this skill requires a deep understanding of various techniques and strategies that can prevent the ball from popping up, turning your game from reactive to proactive. In the following, we will delve into the specifics of these tactics to help you keep the ball low and out of your opponent’s attack zone.

Pickleball Tips to Stop Popping the Ball Up

1. Soft Hands and Grip Pressure

One of the most common causes for popping up balls in pickleball is the grip pressure. It’s important to have a soft grip on your paddle, often referred to as “soft hands”. If you hold your paddle too tightly, the tension in your muscles will follow through to your paddle, causing balls to ricochet off the surface and pop up into the air. Try to focus on holding the paddle only between your index finger and thumb, while the remaining three fingers on the grip should only loosely be touching it. The grip pressure should be around 3 or 4 out of 10, which can be tested by tapping the sides of your paddle; it should move if your grip is soft enough​.

2. Maintain Pace

When a pickleball is coming towards you at a high speed, it may be instinctual to return it with equal force. However, this could cause the paddle to jostle upwards, resulting in a pop-up. Instead, maintain a neutral ‘blocking’ position with the paddle face aiming towards your opponent. Remember to use a soft grip while blocking. The ball will lose speed, and play can return to a more controlled pace​.

3. Be Mindful of Spin

Topspin can be especially tricky, as its motion naturally causes pickleballs to fly upwards when you return them. To counteract this, try angling your paddle slightly towards the ground and aim lower than you usually would. This strategy will reduce the spin’s effectiveness and keep the ball closer to the net​.

4. Stabilize Your Wrist

Another common cause of pop-ups is due to wrist action during your swing. Ideally, your shots should be a smooth pendulum swing motion from your shoulder, with your arm and wrist stable. Engaging your wrist can break the connection to your shoulder, leading to more inconsistent shots and potentially causing pop-ups​.

5. Avoid Overreaching with Volleys

Overreaching when volleying the ball can lead to pop-ups. When volleying, try to keep the ball in your optimal contact zone, which is the place just before reaching becomes uncomfortable. If you overreach, your balance may shift, and your lower body could be in the air, both of which can lead to pop-ups​. Or worse yet, pickleball injuries.

6. Keep the Ball Out Front

Your opponent may sometimes push you deep or wide, forcing you to move. If you’re tempted to hit the ball from behind your body or outside of your optimal contact zone, you might end up causing a pop-up. Instead, try to take a step back, keep the ball out front, and return an unattackable shot. This also applies to shots that stretch you to the side; instead of overreaching, establish your feet before you swing.

Popping up the ball in pickleball can provide your opponent with opportunities to take an aggressive stance, disrupting your gameplay and costing you valuable points. However, with a focus on maintaining soft hands, controlling pace, managing spin, stabilizing your wrist, avoiding overreaching, and keeping the ball out front, you can effectively reduce these pop-ups. As you incorporate these strategies into your game, remember that consistency and practice are key. So, keep playing, keep refining your technique, and remember, every low shot you make in pickleball is a small victory towards improving your overall game performance. Keep your shots low, keep your spirits high, and enjoy the journey towards becoming a more skillful and strategic pickleball player.​

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