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Pickleball: A Contact Sport?

Knocked down pickler

You’re not likely to get knocked down by a pickleball, but it doesn’t feel good to get hit! (Image credit: Chad Ryan)

Pickleball: A Contact Sport?

By: Glen Peterson

David McCallum from Pickleball Inc. and I were having lunch at Ray’s Boathouse in Seattle the other day when he mentioned that, shortly after Pickleball was invented, the kitchen line was moved back six inches to prevent Dick Brown, an outstanding football player who was 6′ 4″ tall, from being able to volley nearly every ball from the kitchen line. With his long arms, Dick could nearly touch the net with his paddle!

That seemingly arbitrary decision to depart from badminton court lines and move opposing players another foot apart (from 13 to 14 feet) implies to me that the early framers of this sport understood the subtleties of how pickleball play would evolve.

Some of us prefer sports that don’t favor taller athletes. I am convinced this is one reason baseball has remained so popular. Smaller hitters have smaller strike zones.

My friend Scott Lennan once commented that very tall players who can volley every ball from the kitchen line will someday dominate pickleball. Unfortunately, I agree. But with one caveat: because they are also larger targets, they had better be cat-like quick!

More and more, pickleball is becoming a contact sport. Hitting an opponent is a winning shot … and often brings a psychological advantage. Taller, larger opponents make bigger targets. In 5.0 tournament play, the notion that hitting an opponent with a ball is unprofessional is gone.

While most of us still apologize for hitting an opponent with a hard shot toward at the body, this happens often. I would never aim for a person’s head, but I confess that in highly competitive tournament play I would place a shot directly at a the body. Are you offended or angry? Please understand that I am referring to 5.0 tournament play. Tim Nelson popped me with a hard shot in the neck a few days ago; it stung a bit; it was a great shot.

Ken Crocker and I experimented by playing a half court game one-on-one at the kitchen line and rewarding two points every time one of us hit the other player. We discovered it was too easy to hit the opponent. Of course I don’t dodge so well now as when I was in my teens!

Pickleball may become more and more like fencing or dodge ball where hitting opponents with the ball is far more common and a vital tactic in high level play. In many high level games today, several points are won or lost either because a person was hit or because they had to hit an otherwise out ball that would have hit them. Personally I love it. It favors smaller players. And it adds an element of fun just like hitting around the post.

How to avoid being hit? First, at most levels of play, you can simply ask aggressive players not to target your body. Second, bend your knees at the kitchen line to become a smaller target and be prepared to duck. And third, when you see your opponent wind up, play dodge ball!

Don’t be afraid of getting hit. It may sting for a moment. Congratulate your opponent on a well placed shot. And then get them back!  Incidentally, this is an example of where the softer Onix Pure I Outdoor ball will be preferred because it hurts less.

This is a sensitive topic for some who feel hitting an opponent is unsportsmanlike. If you strongly disagree – or agree – please comment!

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