Here are 8 steps you can take to beat a banger in pickleball!
Your doubles partner may have whispered to you right before a game, “Psst, look out…the one on the left is a banger.”
Or you might have started what you thought was a nice, casual game until your opponent began launching a relentless barrage of powerful shots during every rally.
If you play pickleball, you’ve run into a banger at least once.
Going up against a banger can be frustrating, exhausting, and even dangerous if they lack control over their power.
But fear not! By understanding a bit of banger psychology and keeping a few tips in mind you can develop the skills and strategy to neutralize a banger and defeat even the most aggressive power player without trying to “out-bang” them.
First Things First: What Is A Pickleball Banger?
Also known by the equally uncharitable term “slammer,” a banger is someone who hits the ball hard using fast-paced shots to control the tempo of the game and overwhelm their opponent with power.
Simply hitting the ball hard isn’t enough to make someone a banger, though.
The term refers more to someone whose game is one-dimensional and who uses power shots almost exclusively without any sense of strategy beyond ripping the ball at their opponents whenever they get the chance.
There’s No One Right Way To Play
Let’s get one thing straight: there is no one “right way” to play pickleball, especially when it comes to rec play.
Some bangers may play the way they do because they are just learning to play pickleball and have not developed the other aspects of their game.
Others may just be taking out their off-court frustrations and stress on the ball, and by extension on their opponents.
There are also those who just can’t handle losing and will do anything they can to win the game, including being unnecessarily aggressive with every shot.
So it’s easy to see why bangers don’t enjoy a particularly good reputation and why calling someone a banger is far from a compliment.
However, we must remember that everyone has a right to their own style of play, and when going up against a banger it’s important to play your game.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that you must hit the ball hard like they do; unless you happen to be a banger yourself, you will fall into the trap of trying to play their game, when you should be focusing on improving your own skills and strategies to beat them instead.
The following information and tips will help you do just that. But first, let’s talk a little bit about pickleball psychology.
The Banger Mentality
Bangers are not inherently bad people, but they can be bad players because they often think they can win only by overpowering their opponents. They therefore tend to limit themselves to one aspect of the game: the power drive.
A banger’s objective is simply to overwhelm you with their power. After all, there’s not much you can do when receiving a hard, fast shot except to try to defend against it.
And that’s exactly what they want, to keep you so busy reacting to their powerful attacks that you will have no time to think or strategize.
Confidence Is Key
You need to do two things when you’re facing a banger: first, you must maintain your own confidence in your game, win or lose. Second, you must chip away at their confidence in their ability to dominate you with their power.
Have you ever been in a game situation where the score is close early on, but then you start repeatedly hitting balls out of bounds or into the net?
It negatively affects your confidence as you prepare for your next shot, and you may start second guessing your decisions on the court. This often leads to bad shots and missed opportunities.
By neutralizing a banger’s primary weapon – their power – even just a few times, you can work on getting them to lose confidence in their game, which can make them tentative and lead to scoring opportunities for your side.
8 Tips To Help You Beat A Banger
Now that you know something about bangers and their approach to the game, it’s time to start working on an effective strategy to win against them!
Tip 1: Observe and Prepare
It may sound obvious, but watching your opponent and their movements is where your anti-banger strategy begins.
Like tennis players, pickleball bangers often use certain mechanics that can give away the type of shot they are about to hit. Watch their paddle movement for clues as to what´s coming,
For example, if you see them take a big backswing, it’s likely a powerful shot is about to come your way.
If you are playing outdoors, you should learn to read the wind and use it to your advantage. It’s much easier to hit with power into the wind, so if the wind is behind them their shots are more likely to be carried out of bounds.
Having some foreknowledge of your opponent’s habits can also help you anticipate the type of shots they like to hit.
Once you’ve identified someone as a banger, you should be ready for a drive every time they get near the ball.
Tip 2: Let It Go!
Sometimes the simplest and best strategy to counter a banger’s drive shot is to do nothing and just let the ball go out of bounds, which will happen more times than you might expect.
Unless they hit the ball with a lot of topspin, most shots that come directly at you at shoulder height will likely land out of bounds. Remember the pickleball adage, “shoulder high, let it fly!”
That said, letting balls go out requires judgment and discipline, both of which will improve with each game you play.
Many of us tend to act like a dog chasing a squirrel whenever we are presented with the opportunity to hit a ball – we just can’t lay off it! Restraining yourself from taking a whack at a shot that is well on its way out of bounds can often be difficult.
Sometimes your judgment will be off and the ball that you chose not to hit will land in bounds, but that’s just part of the game and happens to everyone. As you get better at quickly identifying balls that are going out you will learn to lay off them.
But getting good at letting shots sail out of bounds has the added benefit of affecting the banger’s confidence, as discussed above. A player who sees their power shots repeatedly going out will think twice before trying to slam it at you again.
Tip 3: Reset, Rinse, Repeat
A reset is a soft hit that lands in or near the non volley zone (NVZ) which is intended to deny an opponent an attackable shot.
In order to hit an effective reset, you need to be able to hit a drop shot over the net from just about anywhere on your side of the court.
A ball that so close to the net on your opponent’s side will likely not be high enough for a banger to attack it, forcing them into playing a soft return.
TRY this Reset Drill
You can drill with a partner to practice and develop this skill.
Start at the NVZ line and focus on hitting the ball just hard enough to barely clear the net and land in the NVZ. When you’ve hit a few good drop shots from that position, move a few steps back and repeat the drill.
Keep moving back until you can consistently get the ball into the NVZ from the baseline.
Tip 4: Angle Your Block Shot
Another common strategy to defend against a hard drive is to block the shot with your paddle rather than trying to hit it back.
The problem here is that a banger’s drive can have so much power behind it that the ball will ricochet of your paddle with considerable speed, giving you minimal control over where it lands.
To increase your chances of a successful block, try to angle your paddle so that ball will rebound away from your opponent rather than right back at them.
Grip pressure also plays a big role in a successful block. A loose grip will help absorb some of the momentum of the drive, so make sure to loosen your grip. You want the paddle handle to just rest in your hands.
Tip 5: Hit It Deep
In a situation where a player hits a hard drive from their baseline, hit a deep return to keep them back.
The banger wants to move up to the NVZ line and hopefully rip a drive at you on the way, so whatever you do avoid hitting the ball into their mid-court.
By hitting it deep and keeping the ball low you take away their opportunity to control the tempo of the game.
If you can consistently hit balls deep to keep them in their own backcourt you can open up opportunities to develop your own strategy to win the rally.
Tip 6: Play The Soft Game
The soft game is like kryptonite to bangers – it just ties them up in knots!
Bangers want to launch the ball at you and overpower you quickly. They do NOT want to engage in a dink exchange where they must exercise patience and discipline.
In other words, bangers just want to BANG!
Many players who rely on their power game have not developed their soft game to the same extent, so make them deal with your drop shots,dinks, and block volleys.
Not only will it make them uncomfortable and give you greater control over the game’s tempo, it reinforces the point that you should play your game and not get roped into playing on their terms.
Tip 7: Exploit Their Weak Side
Bangers will almost exclusively hit their drives from their forehand. It’s the most natural type of swing and the easiest from which to generate power.
Like most pickleball players, their backhand is likely to be weaker than their forehand, so consistently hitting the ball to their weaker side will prevent them from ripping hard shots.
Tip 8: Hit It To The Non-Banger
If one of your opponents is banger but their partner is not, you can simply avoid the banger by hitting your return shots to their partner.
When the banger is serving the ball, they will be looking to drive it hard on the third shot after you return the serve. They may also be eyeing a drive on the fifth shot as they are trying to make their way up to the NVZ.
By hitting the ball to their partner instead of to the banger, you take away their opportunity to drive it right back at you.
As you continue your pickleball journey you will most certainly encounter bangers along the way. Just remember that pickleball players come in all shapes and sizes, and we are all entitled to our preferred styles of play.
If you’re not a banger yourself, you may find playing against one a challenging and frustrating endeavor.
However, understanding their mentality and utilizing the tips above can help you walk off the court feeling less annoyed and hopefully victorious over an opponent who insists on trying to overpower you!
Win or lose, the important thing is to always keep playing and improving your game!