During our recent pickleball league finals, my partner and I faced a couple of pickleball bullies. It’s a common strategy: the two men we were up against decided to target my partner, an excellent female player, often leaving me watching from the sidelines. Their strategy was effective, leveraging power to overwhelm her with consecutive shots. She held her own, but they won the match, leaving me putting together plans to counteract such tactics in the future.
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Let me know if there’s anything you would add to shut down pickleball bullies:
Dink Down the Line: If our opponents consistently direct the pickleball at a weaker player, I will work with them to dink the pickleball straight to the opponent in front of me, increasing the odds that I can get into the action–even if it means an aggressive poach.
The Erne Feint: After a few dinks down the line, I’ll incorporate a bit of deception. By making a quick or feigned move towards the sideline by the net, as if I’m preparing for an Erne shot, I aim to throw off my opponents. They’ll either send the pickleball right back to me, thinking I’m out of position, or they’ll adjust their shot to avoid giving me an opportunity, directing the ball elsewhere.
Positioning My Partner for Success: Understanding that the opponents will be adjusting their shots to pick on a weaker partner, I will anticipate and position myself to cover more of the court, especially around the middle. This spot will allow me to deal with most of the shots coming our way, while being prepared for any sudden cross-court strikes.
Lobbing: Occasionally sending a high, deep shot (or lob) can throw off your opponents. This can force them to move back, giving you and your partner who is being picked on, a brief respite and a chance to reset your positioning. I often find that the antidote for pickleball bullies is a steady diet of well-placed lobs.
Communicate and Encourage: Boosting your partner’s morale can be a game-changer; encourage them to stay engaged and active. During our match, I saw my partner getting worn down, both physically and mentally. While I continued to cheer her on, if I was more vocal during points, she might have been in a better position to make stronger returns.
Mix Up the Pace: Throwing in some soft shots amidst hard drives can disrupt your opponent’s rhythm. I will focus on changing speed and spin to keep our opponents off balance after targeting my partner. The more we can mix things up, the harder it will be to sustain attacking one player.
Attack the Cross-Court Angle: Hitting sharp cross-court angle shots can spread out your opponents and make it tougher to sustain pressure on one player. I’ll look to hit low and hard cross-court shots, forcing my opponents to cover more ground.
Call Out the Strategy: If subtly doesn’t work, directly calling out our opponent’s tactics may influence them to change their approach. A simple “you guys keep picking on her, let’s have a fair match here” may get them to mix up their shots.
Take a Break: Calling a time-out or asking for a short break can provide a chance for me to develop a plan with my partner and reset our mindset. I could have used this time to encourage my partner and coordinate a strategy to counteract their approach.
The goal of these tactics is to break the targeted rhythm the opponents set and actively bring myself into the game, countering their strategy. The next time we face pickleball bullies, we’ll be ready with countermeasures to turn the tide!