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Deciding when to attack in pickleball is crucial to leveling up your game. Determining when to attack a ball will depend on your position on the court, the location of the ball and the net, and your approach to hitting the ball. Patience is vital in this game and you hitting the ball into the net is like a gift to your opponents.
The same is true for defending, knowing when to counter and attack or when to reset can turn a point and even an entire match around.
This article will give you the tools to decide when is the right time to attack and when is the right time to defend/reset and wait for your next opportunity. Please note, my dear reader, this is a highly contested topic on some pickleball courts.
I have been told on a couple of occasions that “We don’t smack the ball here.” or “Nice dink game!” when I hit an overhead or drive a pop-up for a winner. I personally abhor the dink to someone dumps it into the net game, but respect it if you are mobility challenged or prefer the patty cake game. I have nothing against those folks, but it’s not my bag baby!
What is an Attack in Pickleball?
An attack in pickleball is when a player increases the pace of the ball (speed up), hitting it at their opponent’s feet and driving them back in the court. An attack can occur at any time if the ball is popped up or someone executes a weak shot. Now an attack can start with a dink that is hit to a player’s weak side or that stretches a play out forcing a soft return.
A successful attack is a shot that forces your opponent to hit defensive shots and try to reset a point to bring the point back to a dink battle.
Remember that attacking is not just one shot and you should be prepared for what happens next, after the first attack shot. As play speeds up, the pace from both sides will increase.
So, on the attack, if a ball is hit hard and the point speeds up, it is very likely to be hit back just as hard, as your opponent tries to counter or block it back.
So, as you attack, remember to keep your paddle up and try to anticipate how and where the ball will be for your next shot. Many attacks require more than one shot to close out the point.
So, as you approach your attacking game, this article will help you determine when to attack, what the contact point should be and where to drive the ball.
How do you Attack In pickleball?
An attackable ball is one that you can drive down at your opponent’s feet. Being able to hit the ball down and over the net is what defines what is attackable. Based on your skill level, you will need to determine what ball you can attack, based on the pace of the ball (dink, popup, or speed up) and height or contact point (above the net or below the net).
The easiest ball to attack is one that is above the net that you can drive down into your opponent’s court. These are typically popups, bad resets, or dinks that set you up, but remember they are only attackable if you can get to them before the ball drops below the net.
The key to attacking is to understand when to attack. The dink battle is a battle of patience and consistency, so deciding when to attack is critical to winning the point. The best time to attack is when the apex of the ball is 2-3 inches above the net or higher. This location gives you the highest probability of hitting it down into the court and attacking your opponent. If the ball falls below that point, trying an attack will typically result in a ball dumped into the or flying out.
Lastly, as you attack, make sure you are not swinging wildly at the ball. The most successful attack is one that is hit hard (but not at 100 mph), placed so that it makes it hard for your opponent to return, and forces them back in the court away from the kitchen. A 100 mph out ball does not a successful attack make.
When to dink vs. When to Attack
Dinking is like the opening act for your attacking game. It is meant to slow the point down and allows players to target their opponent’s weak sides and create openings on the court.
Dinking is the “chess-like” part of pickleball strategy, where you do your best to move your opponent and work to set up a popup or attackable ball.
Dinking takes patience, but your goal should be to force an error from your opponent and either set up an attackable ball or key moments where your opponent hits it into the net.
Dinking takes patience and as a player, you must look for an opportunity to attack the high balls. As stated earlier, any ball lower that is 2 – 3 inches above the net is not an attackable ball. So, use your dinks to set you up and then pounce on your opportunities to attack. And don’t worry about the pickleball player who wants to dink all day. More power to them!
5 Tips to Improve your Attack in Pickleball
Here are some tips to help greatly improve your dinks:
Always be moving to the kitchen line. Attackable balls are usually the softer hit balls that float just above the net and need to be caught before they drop down below the net. If you are not at the kitchen line, you will miss your attack opportunities.
Always have your paddle up in front of you and have your body in the ready position. It takes patience to wait through your dink battle and if your opportunity arises, you need to be ready to take it
Predict Your Opponent’s Movement
Watch your opponent’s feet and paddle. During the dink battle, you are waiting for them to make a weak shot or pop up as they stretch or punch at a ball, so those will be the clues that an attackable ball is coming. Your pickleball attack game should be triggered by your opponent’s movements and weak returns.
How to Defend an Attack In Pickleball
A balanced player must be able to attack AND defend against an attack. We learned a bit about attacking today, but here are some tips for defending against an attack. Suppose you are at the net and your opponent suddenly has a popup, in from of you. What do you do? Well, the first thought should be: “I have to defend myself!”.
And the second thought should be: “And keep the point going!”. At this point a reset is your best friend, so let’s talk a little about defense and the reset.
Defense Step 1
To successfully defend you have to be ready. This means paddle up, body in the ready position, with your center of gravity low to the ground. Also, watch the person attacking, specifically their paddle and the ball. As they swing, try to anticipate where the ball is going. This is VERY important because you are on the defensive and there is a high likelihood that the ball is coming at you. As you anticipate the ball, your paddle should move to defend/block the ball. This is for protection and to attempt a successful defensive reset shot.
Defense Step 2
Next, in that split second, you have to prepare to defend, so you have to loosen your grip. By loosening your grip, when you strike the ball you are taking pace off of it and dropping it just over the net. Typically a smart attacker will attack and wait to pounce on a hard, uncontrolled return. Smart defenders absorb the pace with a loosely gripped paddle and reset an attacked ball, taking away the attackers’ advantage.
How loose should your grip be you ask? On a scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the grip you use to serve, when on the defensive loosen your grip to a 2 or 3 at the most. Again, this softens your return and drops the ball back into the non-volley zone, resetting the point.
Defense Step 3
When you are in the ready position, watch the height of the ball when it is hit back at you. If it is hit hard and is shoulder height or higher, there is a very good chance it will fly out. Sometimes a great defense just needs to let it go, out.
Your pickleball attack game needs to start with you being ready, at the kitchen line, and waiting for a ball above the net. To win more points, your attacking shot should be hit hard at your opponent’s feet or with the intent to drive them back into the pickleball court. For these successful aggressive plays to work, you need to hit the ball hard, but with control over the net, putting your opponents on the defensive. At the same time, you must be ready for a return with just as much pace as you attacked with, so paddle up and in the ready position.
As mentioned earlier, countering a good attack takes quick preparation – get in the ready position, loosen your grip and think reset! Watch for out balls and try to get back into the point by slowing things down and dropping the ball back into the non-volley zone.
To become a great pickleball player, your shot selection and patience at the kitchen line will set up your attack game, prepare to counter attacks, and ultimately help significantly improve your game.