You are going to have to stay with me for a moment on this topic, but I assure you, once you reach the end of this article, you will have a much clearer understanding about dinking in pickleball.
One of my least favorite classes in high school was English Literature. From, “Sir Gawain and the Green Knight” to, “Wuthering Heights.” I found the language clunky, the topics disinteresting, and the teacher rigid.
In the coming years, I fell in love with books, and reading became a staple of my free time.
I learned one key lesson in that otherwise awful-at-the-time class: literary devices are a reflection of our stories. The main two plot devices in literature are character vs. nature and character vs. character.
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Pickleball Dinking Strategies
In pickleball, there are two similar approaches to the game. We are either playing against our opponents, or we are playing against ourselves.
We will soon address some of the mental aspects of the game. In the meantime, we will focus on your dinking game
Perhaps the most misunderstood and misused shot in the sport is the dink in pickleball. Dinking can be used in two different ways:
Types Of Dinking in Pickleball
- Defensive Dinking: This is used as a non-attackable soft shot to reset and stay out of trouble
- Offensive Dinking: This shot is used to create opportunities for the offense
The strategy by which you choose to use the dink in pickleball—either defensively or offensively—depends on several factors. Most importantly your positioning and the ball you are receiving.
An offensive dinking game is the best when you are balanced, can contact the ball in front of you, and get a ball without much spin from your opponents.
In these circumstances, you have much more opportunity to put pressure on the opposing players with your offensive dink, potentially creating an error.
On the other hand, if you are out of position or playing an aggressive dink from your opponent, a defensive dink may be best to avoid errors and get your team back in a neutral position.
Defensive dinking in pickleball can be used to slow down the game. If your opponents hit a ball hard and low at your feet, you have to be able to slow it down without causing an unforced error.
Cross-court dinks are ideal for a defensive dinking game. They provide a larger margin of error since you have a longer shot. The image below explains it better.
Before I hit my first dink of the day, I stand at the non-volley zone line opposite my partner and begin with a game of catch.
We simply toss the ball back and forth to one another to get in the habit of getting our hands up and out.
Resist the urge to catch the ball with your “glove” (non-dominant) hand.
Use both hands to catch the ball, as this practice will keep both hands up and out.
The moment one hand begins to slide down, whether to my side or in front of my knees, the other hand naturally follows the same motion.
Play catch for one minute before you play pickleball every time, and you will be surprised at the improvement in your dinking.
Dinking in pickleball is a relatively easy skill to learn but can be quite challenging to master.
Dink Shot Fundamentals
Dink Ready Position
Bend your knees slightly. You also should have a very sturdy base with your feet slightly wider than shoulder length. This helps you get down easier for low shots.
For a soft game, you want to keep about a 3 out of 10 grip pressure (about one-third as tightly as you can squeeze your handle) and keep your wrist firm.
It’s All In The Shoulders
All the movement should come from your shoulder. Avoid flicking your wrist (a difficult task for any former racquetball players) or movements from the elbow.
With only one joint moving (the shoulder), your dinks will go to your intended target much more consistently.
Keep It In Front Of You
Always try to make contact in front of you. The closer you allow the ball to get to your body, the greater the likelihood you will pop it up.
And I don’t know about you, but I hate it when I hit basic dinks and someone rips it back at me.
Keep your dinks soft, low, and at your opponent’s feet – this will reduce the number of attackable balls.
Control Your Footwork
Try not to cross over when moving side to side, and try not to have “happy feet.”
I am on the balls of my feet when I strike my dinks, but my feet are set at the point of contact.
This is critical – I am not moving when I contact the pickleball.
As you focus on striking the dink, pause the paddle briefly at the moment of contact. At first, this might seem awkward, but after a few hundred dinks, you won’t even notice.
Put It All Together Now
Then to finish, follow through gently raising your paddle just above the height of the net.
Feet set, movement only from the shoulder, limited movement through the ball. The consistent theme here is that the fewer moving parts in the system, the less chance for error.
Some tips for dinking in Pickleball:
- Put a rolled-up sock or pickleball in the armpit of your paddle hand when drilling. If it falls out while you are doing your dinking drill, you are using too much motion.
- On the forehand dink, show your opponent the veins on your wrist. This focus will help you keep contact in the middle of your pickleball paddle.
- On the backhand side, I like to pretend I am wearing a watch and showing the time to my opponent. Again, this helps with consistent contact on the sweet spot.
- Keep your body level – don’t overextend and don’t collapse your chest.
- As a general rule, return the ball where it came from. For the beginner and intermediate players, this is remarkably important. Changing the plane of the ball is more difficult than sending it back on the same plane it came to you–whether it’s a cross-court dink or directly in front.
- Finally, when in doubt, dink over the lowest part of the net – right in the middle of the pickleball court.
Advanced Pickleball Dinking Strategies
So now you have mastered the lift dink, you will want to work on more advanced, or offensive dinks.
I recommend beginning these once you are at the 4.0 level, or maybe sooner if you are a confident and competent dinker.
These are dinks with purpose. Ones designed to move your opponent and put pressure on them so that they can’t just relax and dink it back over. To implement offensive dinks, you will want to keep four key practices in mind.
3 D’s Of Dinking
Don’t Force It
First and foremost, do not go digging for garbage. If you play pickleball enough, you will note you will have plenty of trash to sift through. There is no need to go looking for it.
If the offensive dink isn’t there, don’t force it. Simply hit your basic lift straightaway dink and wait for your next opportunity to be a bit more aggressive.
Do not go to the same place on the pickleball court repeatedly with your straightaway dink. Moving your opponent allows you to control the point.
Follow a wide dink to the backhand with one to the inside foot; mix in a shallow dink and a cross-court dink after a few deep dinks.
If you can get your opponents to move around the pickleball court, they are far more likely to make errors.
Deep And Low
Finally, dink deep and low.
Many times the lift dink will require you to aim a little higher, shorter, and softer, especially playing from a disadvantage.
These lift dinks may be unattackable, but they don’t give you an advantage.
When looking to press my dinks and make my opponents uncomfortable. I work hard to keep the ball low and deep in the non-volley zone, sometimes even trying to skid the ball off the painted non-volley zone line.
More Pickleball Dinking Strategies
Backhand Slice Push Dink Shot
I use this regularly, both to push my opponent out wide in an attempt to open the middle, or to move them and keep them off balance.
When hitting the slice push dink, your paddle should come through the ball, in a 9 o’clock to 3 o’clock motion.
The shoulder is still doing the work, coming across the plane of the ball, and not with up or down motion.
If you contact the ball inside your hips, you will reduce the likelihood of trying to create an unnatural spin.
When done properly, the slice push should stay low across the net and skid when it bounces, making it a more aggressive shot.
Forehand Top Spin Push Dinking
This shot can be a game-changer if mastered.
Due to the topspin, this is a ball that can go over with more pace and still stay in-bounds, which can again put pressure on your opponent.
To do this, drop your wrist a bit more than usual and drag both up and across the outside of the ball.
When your opponent hits a dead dink, this is a great opportunity to put him off-balance and move him back.
It is an advanced pickleball dink technique but well worth adding to your arsenal.
Additionally, I will mix in the occasional quick flick shot after I have hit a few forehand topspin push dinks to keep my opponent off balance.
Talk about a way to get an advantage in the character vs. character narrative…
The volley cross-court dink (both forehand and backhand) is incredibly important for a few reasons.
First, it allows you to stay balanced with your feet set at the non-volley line, as opposed to getting pushed back to take the dink off the bounce.
Second, it decreases the time your opponent has to respond. The less time your opponent has before the ball comes back to them, the more pressure.
Third, it gives you another opportunity for attacking. This can either be a flick attack down the middle of a roll volley down the line. Both of these are best achieved off of a cross-court volley dink set-up.
This shot is usually farther out in front of your body, bending at the knees, and more of a flat push dink, with little lift on the ball and a bit more pace.
The higher you can take the ball out of the air, the more pace you can put on it and the more aggressive your volley dink will be.
Big Swing Offensive Dinking
The final advanced offensive technique I endorse is the big swing offensive dink. If you have watched pro pickleball players, odds are you have seen Ben Johns use this skill to great effect.
Once you are in position, transfer your weight to the front of your feet.
Draw your paddle back in a big show, as though you are going to attack the ball. Then come through fast to slow with your paddle.
The objective is to show drive and execute a push dink.
I love to raise my lead arm (non-paddle hand) to disguise the oncoming dink.
Why dink this you ask? For one simple reason – to throw my opponent off. Your opponent is likely to flinch the first time or two you show the big swing offensive dink.
After you have him flinching, you can then mix in an actual attack with a fairly high likelihood of success. And if they don’t flinch – even better.
Again, you guessed it, next time zip it right at her.
Defensive Dinking In Pickleball
On the defensive side, there are two strategies for neutralizing a good offensive dink.
The recovery dink can be effective if you have been pushed out uncomfortably wide, either on the backhand or forehand, and you need to get back to neutral.
If you attempt to take a wide dink-back cross-court when you are off-balance, you are very likely to put this ball too high, making the ball easily attackable.
Instead, use a soft, easy swing under the ball and dink directly across from you, down the line.
Against advanced players, you will want to put the ball onto the inside foot of the player across from you to avoid the Erne.
Do not use your wrist – you will pop the ball up and eat the next shot. Focus on your shoulder with minimal movement, stay calm, and hit a simple lift dink over the net down the line.
This one takes work but is incredibly important for defusing an aggressive wide dink from your opponent.
Half Volley Dink
A second important defensive dinking strategy is the half-volley dink.
When your opponent puts a lot of spin on the ball—top, back, or side—taking this ball off the short-hop is one of the best ways to neutralize this spin.
This is most effective when you are in a well-balanced position with your feet set.
If you are especially good with dropping your wrist and dragging up on the ball, you can also use a topspin half-volley and be more aggressive with the return of a dink with spin.
I love seeing my opponent get frustrated when I mix in a forehand topspin half-volley dink to offset her aggressive dink.