Advanced pickleball players say that “slammers,” or those who always return the ball hard and fast, are demonstrating poor technique, lose steam quickly and reduce their precision. “Just learn to defend and force them to dink,” they might suggest.
This is solid advice, but hearing it summarized in a sentence or two doesn’t really illuminate all the skills needed to achieve this. Slammers are a real threat to many picklers who are still working on their own positioning and placement, and having to deal with supersonic speeds on top of everything else makes it harder to keep these things in mind.
Here are a few methods for dealing with bangers that go into more depth so your defensive abilities will be a sight to behold:
It’s only natural to feel flustered when you see a slam heading your way, so players have a tendency to seize up and squeeze their paddle in anticipation of impact. However, this is the exact opposite of what you want to do! By tightening your grip you’re creating a stronger connection between your paddle and your arm.
This not only causes the vibration from impact to uncomfortably travel up your arm, but it redirects the power in the shot back toward your opponent, causing the ball to pop up so they can return yet another slam.
If you instead loosen your grip while holding the paddle steady, the power from the slam will be diffused exactly where you want it—through your paddle—before returning to the other side of the court with much less steam. This prevents your opponent from attacking again, changing the game into a more finesse-based affair.
If you really want to annoy a dedicated banger, return their shot with a leisurely lob that travels all the way to the base line. “But this will make it easy for them to slam again!” This is true, but craning your neck upwards and banging over and over is tiring work and will cause your opponent to become drained faster.
Not only that, but being stuck at the base line is such a huge disadvantage that you may find one of their slams comes in at a less severe angle as they tire. At that point you can direct it right behind the kitchen line so they either desperately fling themselves upcourt to try and make the return or lose the point altogether.
Note that this strategy can be frustrating for those on the receiving end… but if someone is incessantly banging, then sometimes turnabout is fair play!
Keep It in the Kitchen
The most obvious advice is to keep the ball in the kitchen because players aren’t allowed to volley in this area, but how do you achieve this when a slam is coming directly toward you? While using the “soft grip” technique described above, try placing your paddle close to your chest and using your backhand to return the shot, with your paddle facing slightly upwards. No need to swing as you do this; simply hold your paddle in place.
The purpose of keeping the paddle close to your chest is because slams often come directly toward your body. Using your backhand is less awkward than trying to strain your wrist to reach the same position with a forehand. And the angle gives the ball a bit more time to lose momentum before dropping into the kitchen.
It takes some time to work against the instinct of tightening up during the approach of a slam, but keep practicing these techniques and you can be sure that bangers will be surprised as the wind is taken from their sails!