Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve been focusing on some advanced non-volley zone strategies, punishing your opponents without having to hit it hard and getting out of trouble when you’re at the kitchen. Today, we’re going to take a step backward and focus on the dink shot technique.
When I was editing one of the previous NVZ videos, I noticed backhand dink two technique errors. Both of these errors plague a lot of players and keep them from becoming consistent at the kitchen.
Backhand Dink Mistake #1-Lack of Shoulder and Too Much Wrist
When my drilling partner Jeanie and I were taping one of the videos, I struggled with my backhand dink shots. She mentioned that I wasn’t lifting the ball. Translation; I was hitting at the ball, using my wrist to loft the shot versus lifting with my shoulder and lower body.
The muscles on the backhand side of any shot from dinks to our backhand ground strokes are weaker, making the shot more difficult to hit.
Two common technique errors I see players, including myself, use to compensate is to make a longer stroke or add more wrist. There are issues with either of those “fixes.”
A longer stroke can add more speed to the ball, which is the main culprit behind a pop-up. Additional wrist action changes the face of the paddle. It either closes it, causing a net ball, or opens it, and once again, we have a pop up smashed back at us.
There are a couple of basic techniques for hitting consistent backhand dinks. Keep the paddle out in front of you. Use a short backswing with a longer follow through to lift the ball up and over the net. The wrist is stable. Even if you are hitting spin, such as a slice backhand dink, the spin comes from the paddle path, not the wrist.
What can you do to stabilize the wrist and create a shorter swing for backhand dinks?
The first is to hit a two-handed dink. Place your non-dominant hand to the top portion of the grip with the palm facing toward the net. That adds stability to weak wrist muscles.
If you don’t like the feel of the two-handed dink, another option is to position your non-dominant hand so that it touches the face of the paddle. This serves as a reminder to keep from taking the paddle too far back.
At this point, you might be thinking, how far back should you take the pickleball paddle?
When I’m standing at the kitchen, I imagine that I’m in the center of a circle, and the NVZ line cuts it in half. When I bring my paddle back, I don’t want it to go behind that line. It doesn’t matter if it’s the backhand or a forehand stroke; the same principle applies.
Remember, the further back you swing the paddle, the more speed you can generate, and the greater the risk of a pop-up.
Backhand Dink Stabilization Drill
Have your partner stand in front of you, so you’re both on the same half of the court. Have them hit a straightaway dink to your backhand.
Use the non-dominant hand to keep the paddle in front of you and as you move your arm and paddle on a low to high path, make a special notation of your wrist. Are you maintaining the wrist position through the shot, or are you bending the wrist?
At first, don’t worry about the trajectory of the dink. Make sure that it has enough arc to clear the net. If a paddle were placed on top of the net cord, cut the paddle in half and use that as an imaginary arc.
When you are feeling the correct mechanics then you can work on lowering the trajectory. One of my favorite ways to do this is to think about the apex of the dink shot.
When a pickleball loses speed, it won’t bounce as high. Besides, dinks hit closer to the net are less attachable. All of this means that the apex of a good dink is on your side or directly on top of the net. If the shot’s apex s on your opponent’s side, the shot has too much speed, travels further back into the court, and is more apt to get attacked.
Backhand Dink Mistake #2-Poor Footwork
One of the other things that hurt players, not just at the NVZ but all over the pickleball court, is sloppy footwork.
I’ve been a golf pro since I was in my mid-twenties. I’m a righty and play with a slightly open stance, meaning my left foot is not parallel to my target line. It’s drawn back from the other foot and slightly turned out. That position opens not just my feet but my hips too.
Well, guess what? I bring that same movement pattern to pickleball, and not just at the non-volley zone. When I split step, my natural stance is to have that left foot slightly turned out and further back than the right.
That may not sound like a big deal, but it moves my hips from a parallel position to the net and allows me to take that paddle further behind me. I create a longer swing just by virtue of my footwork.
Is your lower body moving laterally at the non-volley zone? When you chose to take a step back to hit a dink, are you repositioning yourself parallel to the non-volley zone? Set up the camera on your phone and take a little video to see what your footwork looks like.
Consistent backhand dinks are the combination of good technique and solid footwork. Putting a hand on the paddle or using a two-handed dink are great ways to stabilize the wrist. Start with hitting straightaway backhand dinks, then control the trajectory once you’ve got that mastered, hit a few cross-court shots, and see how your footwork is holding up.
Hey there — I’m a professional three-sport athlete and coach who has spent my entire adult life earning a living from playing and coaching sports. Since I started coaching more than three decades ago, one thing has remained the same: My commitment to see students not as they are but as what they can become and to move heaven and earth to help them realize their untapped potential. You should know that when it comes to helping pickleball players over 50 live their best lives on and off the courts, I'm an expert. Good pickleball is not just technique; it's the mind and body working holistically. That's why I'm also a personal trainer and weight management specialist. When I’m chillin', you'll find me watching Star Trek with my husband John and our two fur babies, Shirley and Ralph. (Yes, Happy Days)