The Future of Power Pickleball: Will the Bangers Win?

We veterans love the soft game with its long rallies. The USAPA does its part by making rule changes to preserve the soft game and protect the nature of pickleball to keep us happy. Instructors remind frustrated students who want to wail on wiffle balls that consistency and patience are rewarded.

Many young people along with tennis and racquetball players put down their paddles because they find the soft game so dreadful. So far, no player has been able to achieve a 5.0 rating without some level of mastery of the soft game.

Dinking

Dinking slow and steady (Credit: Michael D. Martin)

And all the while, uninformed spectators find the 50-stroke rallies confusing and boring…

Why don’t they just hit a winner and finish the point? 

But perhaps the spectators are not so wrong.

Last night I played with a 25-year-old college tennis stud that got me rethinking where pickleball might go. He hit the ball so hard and low that put away volleys were unthinkable.

Just try to block the ball back,” I told myself. These young tennis players love Morgan Evans’ longer Signature Paddle by Selkirk. And like Morgan, they’re hitting with amazing speed and topspin.

A ball hit very hard within an inch or two of the net with topspin might land near the kitchen line.

Makes it tough to volley, even with my larger Omni 31P Paddle! With a bit of practice and focus, it’s not so hard to hit a ball within a few inches of the net. Hey, the net is only about 22 feet away and waist height!

Slamming

Can you defend against slams? (Credit: Chad Ryan)

So I predict that, at the highest level of play, doubles rallies will get shorter rather than longer in the coming years.

Much shorter. More like singles.

Serves and returns will not simply be preliminaries but will become more aggressive shots that are vital to the outcome of the point. Just as there is one setter in volleyball, expect that one partner will hit every third shot while the other partner (who happens to be of basketball proportions) performs the spiking role to pounce on a popped up volley.

Tactics may involve the forward player acting as a decoy or even blocking the opponents’ visibility to the ball until the last moment. Volleyers on both sides will frequently leap or straddle the kitchen corner to put away shots near the sidelines. Most points will involve the ball hitting the floor only twice—the service and return.

Then, watch out!

Pickleball and basketball

Will pickleball requirements become more similar to basketball’s? (Credit: Baliboa Racquet)

I’m not saying there will be no place for soft shots, but I can imagine the soft shots punctuating aggressive play. Even now, a barely perceptible trend is emerging where attackers, not the defenders, are more likely to win the point.

A lot of this might depend on whether the injection-molded ball (Onix Pure 2) or a rotationally-molded ball (DuraFast 40) prevails in top play. But my theories on which ball encourages the power game are still in process.

Okay, I’m probably wrong about all this. I hope I’m wrong and rallies get even longer. But the sport is going somewhere, and younger athletes than me will define that path.

Then again, perhaps the USAPA will dictate a nerf ball!

These blogs make wild speculations so easy and forgivable. What matters much more than my opinion?  Your opinion. Please blast away!

 

42 thoughts on “The Future of Power Pickleball: Will the Bangers Win?

  1. Like any other sport, Pickleball will evolve. I predict that some changes might be:
    1. Elimination of the serve rule. People will Serve any way they want to, underhand, overhang, sideways. Just like the evolutionary serve changes in volleyball, this will make the serve a more exciting factor.
    2.Paddles and balls will be technically more advanced. For example, if the game becomes more of a banging game, then a paddle surface will be developed that will have more cushioning qualities to counteract this challenging strategy.
    3. The elimination of the two server sequence rule will eliminate confusion with the ever present problems of wether you are in the right service position for the second server, and it will eliminate the three number scoring system, thus causing less errors. Don’t tell me this is not a problem because I saw refereers and players making scoring errors and losing points.

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  2. The future of pickleball will be from the young and tennis players. Tennis players are tought to hit almost every ball hard. Look at all the top pickleball players now. Ex tennis players. Like it or not power game is the future.

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  3. Thank you for finding and posting this. While no one knows for sure what will happen, esp since the sport is still so young, this is what my personally philosophy and belief has been since day one. However,…this quickly developing trend will be less prominent in the tournament brackets determined by age groups. But for open play, yes, dinking and the holy grail 3rd shot will always be an integral part of any professionals Arsenal of shot selections, but without a doubt the sport will continue progressing by becoming faster, harder, and utilizing more ‘plays’ to force a pop-up ready to be pounced on. I believe this will be the standard for both pro men and women picklers. If you watch this year’s US OPEN matches, you can see the change already.

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  4. I want to also add, since I can’t edit my comment.after a few minutes of posting. sere this game has it challenges I just like to have more touch and freedom at the net like the game of paddle-tennis. I love the fact that you can play it indoors. Maybe I need to play a few more times and somehow get over the fact I cannot cross the front line unless the ball bounces first.
    All I found were intermediate doubles players so that should not be a true complete assessment

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    • Frank, I have never played pop tennis, but having met Roberto Donati and Mike Stahl on a pickleball court, it sounds like a lot of fun. It also appears to me that pop tennis is well-suited for serious athletes. While pickleball is also suited for serious athletes, it can be played easily by all. The barrier to entry with the plastic ball is very low.

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  5. I just played this game recently in Florida, and having grown up in L.A. and playing paddle tennis at Venice beach and some local parks I found pickleball a lot less challenging at the net than paddle tennis (which they now call pop-tennis) with better volleys and quickness.
    I really despise the plastic ball. This feels like badminton and ping pong. Don’t get me started on the rules to cross the front line being too restrictive. Paddle-tennis uses a flat or punctured tennis ball and a heavier paddle and the same scoring system as tennis.
    I guess you have to be a true all paddle sport lover. To each his own. I am strictly tennis 4.5 -5.0 level and pop-tennis (formerly paddle tennis) which had its first world championship in Vegas Gael Monfis won it.

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  6. I started playing pickleball with no reference to the game at all. I’m a tennis player and fast sliced deep serves, ball placement and pace just over the net are most of my game. We then had two high ranked USA players visit our shores who played two of us from the club.

    In short, we spanked them. The short game has place but from my short playing experience, (18 months) not very often. Members in our club don;t know too much about dinking and if you try it with them, they will smack it back at you with monotonous regularity and win the point.

    Like some of the comments above, watching 5.0’s who serve for percentage (middle court centre) and dink forever drives me nuts. Why do they do this? I wonder sometimes that I may be missing something? Apart from the little bit of association with our USA experienced visitors – I have not have too much play against such players but would love to test myself to see just how our different games styles compare.

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    • Tom, thanks for your comments. I love your perspective. The game is evolving in the direction you have found successful. I was fascinated that, at the US Open this past weekend in Naples, Florida, the pair who prevailed for the 2nd year in a row are renown for extraordinary defense and patience. Nearly every point becomes a short game at the kitchen. Drop shots are perfect. My partner and I lost in the Senior Pro Open championships to a similar pair. When we provoked, they defended flawelessly. Still, I think the game will become more aggressive. Do you play in Australia?

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      • No i play in chiang Mai Thailand along with a few other nomads. Facebook search Chiang Mai pickleball and u will find us.

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  7. Me and 3 of my work buddies play 3x to 4x a week. We stumbled on the game as it was in our gym for a P.E. class. We read the rule book and only saw seniors play before. We’ve played for almost 2 years and our game is kind of like what you described. We hit the ball hard and fairly accurate. We found a championship game on YouTube and was shocked! We couldn’t believe the style of the dink game. We talk all the time how we’d love to play someone at the higher level. I’d love to see contrasting styles. We may get crushed, but still… I love our style, but it’s all we know.

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  8. I think you need both the soft and power games in your bag. I use slams, strong forehands, and low, spinning serves to get the opponent wary and moving out of position, then bring in the dink when they’re expecting a power shot. When they think we’re playing a dink game, I slam one, drive a quick shot into center-mass, or lob it to the baseline. The key, from my perspective, is to keep your opponent off-balance by doing the unexpected. Take what the defense offers, not what they expect.

    I see a lot of good players relying on dinks when a put-away opportunity presents itself; the ball floats high and deep over the net, but instead of killing it, they step back, let it bounce, and dink it back. On the other hand, I also see far too many younger players slamming it deep over and over again when both opponents have already been driven to the baseline. For slammers (and I put myself in this category,) it’s a case of letting the adrenaline rush of hammering one home override court awareness and the realization that a soft, sharp angle is a better kill shot in that situation. For the committed soft game players, there seems to be some sort of moral superiority (“that’s the way the game is supposed to be played”) associated with dragging out a rally long past its natural life that I just don’t understand.

    It wasn’t long ago that an opponent threw out some trash talk with a smug, “Third shot always lands in the kitchen.” A couple rallies later, I returned the favor with, “Fourth shot bounces off your foot” when he left his (predictable) third shot too high and I was able to anticipate it. My philosophy is there is never an “always” shot in pickleball.

    But what do I know? I’m just an amateur.

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  9. Thanks Glen! I received an introduction watching two people volley over a tennis net recovered with their idle time. Paddles and the ball they were complimentary. That first hour or so of spectating occurred on the outskirts of Tucson, Arizona midwinter 2013. Indeed, it was a dry heat.

    I started playing at the local YMCA a year later. Among players I’ve met are a growing number having tennis and racquetball skill as well as near novices. In my opinion each is tending towards skill building for a soft-game, longer rallies, and whatever else can be gained through recreational play. The adage “if you don’t like the weather, wait fifteen minutes…it’ll change” applies here too.

    Hard-hitting can compensate for blustery days and high humidity, I guess. To be sure though, it was an outdoor venue and calm day when another player’s jovial comment; “sorry, not sorry” was heard given after their partner returned a shot with a remarkable one their own to win a rally.

    That particular shot caused the ball to land flat after it struck the net-tape and climbed precariously over. I can’t recall if the return were a dink, smash, or lob, but “sorry, not sorry” soon became a welcome rally again cry for rally ending shots that causes the ball to land flat a meter or so from the top of the net.

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  10. I have been playing pickleball for about 2 years now, and the first thing I noticed were the overhead slams. The very first game I played I got owned by an 85 year old. Subsequently I came to learn about the soft game. I also decided that if I could really learn how to dink I could take away the slammers kill shot. I have since been disavowed of this thought. One of the things I noticed is the only way to play a dinking game is if all 4 players agreed on it. I have yet to see a sinker defeat a slammer. I think the defining moment for me is when I hit a nice dink about a foot from the net with a bounce about 10 inches off the floor. No way to slam that dink right? WRONG! That son of s gun stepped into the no-volley zone, got his paddle underneath the ball and came up with a twist of the wrist and the next thing I know the ball goes by me 100 mph or so about waist height. I asked him how he did that and all he would say is “you have bend your knees. I have since really given up on the soft game. If someone can turn a ink that good into a rocket ball what’s the point?

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    • Bill, I can so relate to your experience. Time and time again, I have asked myself whether I can prevail with the soft game in different situations. Until now, I have largely been able to use the soft game to diffuse a banger. But I have to move quickly and a lot! And I have to focus like crazy.

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      • Glen, you are an advanced player…I know you can slow them down. What happens to me is I get sucked into banging after slowing it down a couple times. Then, bang! right back into to fast volley’s.

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      • Ted, I am afraid this is the path the sport is taking at many levels, including the highest. When I watch bangers from the side of the court, I normally observe that over half their hard hit balls are out balls but are hit anyway. Our instincts dictate that we hit balls rather than step aside. I think this is particularly true among younger players…they hate the idea of letting a ball pass and having it drop in. Makes them look stupid and is equivalent to losing 3 points! My friends tell me there is none better than me at letting balls sail past. I call it the senior discount. I tell me partners that, letting a ball sail out is also worth 3 points because my opponents immediately slow down. Any player who commits to hit every ball hit hard them is finished.

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  11. I’m almost 60 and that how i play.
    The third shot is low up the middle-or that someone’s foot. The old players want to dink into kitchen. .They say you never be rated above a 4.0. Oh well I’m holding my own against 4.5 and 5.0. They hate (bangers)

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  12. I am originally a Tennis player a took up Pickleball a few years ago. I am a better PB player than tennis player and my favourite one goes back and forth. My opinion on your observations are the same. I have already seen these things done like leaping accross the kitchen to the side of the court for put a ways. I consider myself a power hitter but know that the soft game is necessary to mix it up. And I agree that players are now able to power hit at the kitchen line at tape level or below and still get it in. So yes. I agree with your observations. I still love the game no matter how it evolves!

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  13. At my gym everyone plays a fast game. Fast serves, fast returns. We cant wait to finish off with a slam. We all comment on why the so called experts on the you tube videos are so reluctant to hit winners. And why cant they serve aces?

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    • Ray, I love your perspective. Where do you play? When I started five years ago, I watched the best players on YouTube playing the soft game and thought it looked way too easy. Now I get it and love playing against hard hitters. At present, I can still win more games using a defensive approach and forcing my opponents into a soft game. I just fear this is going to change.

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      • We play in a gym in Ardrossan near Edmonton Alberta Canada. Low ceilings so lobs are tricky. Velocity is king and when we can, a well located shot down the line or a drop shot for the point. We play for four hours at a session and range in age from mid thirties to early seventies. We have only 3 courts and rotate partners constantly. Our game is fast and hard so try to keep up is our motto!

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    • Thanks Ray. If one of your best players chooses to stay with the soft game, can he or she win consistently? I can normally handle bangers pretty easily by forcing them into a soft game.

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      • It has been our experience that the consistent winners play a hard and fast game. We cant seem to maintain the level of skill required to keep the ball low over the net for more than 3 or 4 hits before someone gets it high enough to rip a return or force an error. Its as if we all know that the dinking game is the aim but cant wait to hit winners. It is our consensus that the people shown on google seem to be holding back and willing to win by finesse rather than speed. It is not our intention to change the game, its just the way it evolved here. Hope this is OK. We’ed love for someone to come and show us a good “soft” game.

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    • Ray, serve aces? Are we still talking about pickleball?
      I would love to see a youtube video of your group playing, I would definitely follow it since I’m a beginner. I especially would like to see the ace servings.

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      • In regards to serving aces let me clarify. Rather than serving to simply get the game started we like to make it hard for our opponents to control the game with a well placed return. We take our cue from tennis which is to say “why waste an opportunity…use the serve to win a point if you can” … hard, fast, spinning and to the back of the court into the corner. Make them fight to stay in the game. Don’t simply give the serve away. This is the way we play and we have a great time.

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      • Okay, got it. Yes, as a tennis player myself, I see that in pickleball the server does not have the advantage as it is in tennis. I do recognize that it has an advantage against the returner if the server varied the spin/depth/trajectory. However, because the returner has the whole court to return the serve, that advantage is bigger on the lower level and diminish above 3.5-4.0 level, wouldn’t you say?

        With that said, I would still be interested to watch your pickleball group on youtube. It’s always nice to watch high level play.

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  14. A lot of what is said here may already be happening in a very subtle way. Pickleball at its highest level in competition eludes a lot of conventional approaches as we know them. That’s because in its very varied forms of offense and defense you can say it’s still evolving. What that primarily hinges on is what the equipment dictates. Essentially Tennis, Badminton and Table Tennis for example are defined by and differ from each other by the nature of the equipment being used.
    Try playing any of these with the projectile from any of the other two and my point becomes pretty lucid. If I lost you there somewhere then it’s because it’s virtually impossible to do so in a concerted way and with any sort of continuity that one could term a rally.
    When PB evolves to its acceptable form with no more changes in equipment, rules and court dimensions/nature it may very well not resemble the game played today. I think there may very well be a clearly defined indoor and outdoor sport as well as a well defined recreational and competitive sport. They will be much further apart than they are today creating the need to use two different variances in nomenclature. Needless to say numerous names will begin popping up that could prove very challenging as well. My point is it is still evolving in all these aspects.
    Left to itself, at the very least you’ll see a proliferation of an assortment of players with different approaches, styles, skills and nuances. It’s just fascinating to consider the possibilities in its future. Until then the chances of it being an Olympic sport may languish indefinitely.
    Regardless, I say ‘Go Pickleball’ or whatever it may end up being named.

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    • Arun, I love your perspective. Isn’t it fun participating in an emerging sport? I get to compete at the highest senior levels now, but ten years from now the top 55 year olds will be way beyond my current level! I do hope the sport retains both the offensive and defensive tacticts currently required.

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  15. That will drive me away from playing tournaments and cause me to stick to local club play where I can avoid that style of player. More power to them, but they will change the kind of game that so many of us love.

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      • After reading article again and all the comments my response is this. All games played professionally rely on taking advantage of your opponents errors. The general public emulate the professionals to some degree, at least those that want to play competitively. Pickleball is no different. Those that bang will win over those less quick. Soft players with quick reflexes will win over bangers who stay back in the court with well placed deflections and drop shots. There is no doubt in my mind that this game will endure and become recognized to the point of real professional status ie. National televized events, Olympics, worldwide popularity. The resulting game will not tolerate endless boring dinking….which requires tolerance on both defense and offense. Everyone loves to see a game played at its best and that means serving aces, hard to reach lobs, overhead slams, impossible spinners and yes, controlled drops. At our little club we strive to improve in all these areas.

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  16. We have been struggling with this issue here at the Y in Dallas. Just got handed our head on a platter at local tourney because of a slammer serve. Returning that hard serve up and fat is a prescription for a return down the kazoo! Catching that hard serve and dropping it just over the net into the kitchen with lots of back-spin is a counter, HOWEVER, that is a shot with a LONG, LONG learning curve, but, combined with a right-to-left slice and at the corner so that the ball takes a hop out of bounds is a “humblizer”….but again a shot with a long learning curve attached….but worth it unless we go to a cloth ball stuffed with peat moss! 🙂 FYI We are still playing a game with strong ping pong rather than tennis aspects so we are slicing and dicing, chopping and spinning, on the theory that a ball which cannot be reached is a ball which cannot be returned, either at the serve OR when the return dropping into the NVZ like a dead duck. This is only the start of our fourth year of play so, what do we know. 🙂 We just love the game and they love to catch up to one of my slice shots and put it back where I ain’t. 🙂

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  17. I play with a friend a former 4.5 tennis player and he can rip topspin from the baseline or up close. It is a handful to handle. Recently played a young ex football player with tree trunks for arms. Once he gets the small game down it won’t matter. If you leave the ball up it will be put away. The only chance is to keep it low and hopefully out dink them.

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    • Roger, one thing is certainly true; the youngers will accelerate and provoke in pickleball first. The rest of us can enjoy the softer tactical game for years I hope.

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      • Btw, the pickleball cruise hosted by Rich & Karen Skaare was a great success. Your name came up a couple of times. Understand that you/Jimmy/PickleballCentral donated a few items as prizes. Much thanks. Jimmy & I are have lunch soon & I’ll introduce myself in person.

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