One of the conundrums many pickleball players experience is how to develop an effective strategy when they are staring at a banger on the other side of the net.
Pickleball bangers have been a part of pickleball since at least when I started playing in 2015. I am not sure whether banging has increased as a percentage of play, but recently I have been asked and have seen posts asking whether the sport is becoming a banger game.
A recent post in the Pickleball Forum on Facebook from an instructor asked whether he should change his teaching style from teaching the soft game to teaching a hard game because of what he perceived as a change of game strategy and an influx of bangers in pickleball.
In this post, we want to address whether it makes more sense for you, as a player, to adopt a soft game vs. a hard game. And perhaps we can look at it from a different perspective: one that will help many of you understand the reasons why our ultimate recommendation in this article is right for you.
If you have read anything we do, you know that we first want to frame things out a bit. We teach based on the Three Pillars of Pickleball and while learning the soft shot is part of the Mechanical Pillar (how to) this article is focusing on the Strategic Pillar.
Does this sound like a typical experience with a Pickleball Banger?
You show up at your local courts ready to play. There is a new player there who you do not recognize. The new player “banger is in your first rotation. As soon as “0-0-2” has been called out, the new player banger, who also happens to be physically larger than you – significantly, starts banging balls. Every single ball is a power shot. No soft shots, nary a drop shot, just hard hit shots, over and over.
What can you do here? How can you play this banger who just wants to hit everything hard?
Let’s explore the options, starting with what we think is the initial reaction of many pickleball players: you can just out-bang the banger. You can work on your powerful shots: groundstroke drives and slam volleys. Next time you play the banger, you will slug it out with them.
Wait a minute. Does this make sense? Is that playing smart pickleball?
First, this banger is physically larger than you. That is one obstacle. Even if you could match the banger shot for shot, would their shots not ultimately be harder than yours in any event?
Second, it sounds like this banger already came to the game with the skills to bang effectively. Not saying you cannot learn them as well, but players from other racquet sports, especially tennis players, bring the skills to hit aggressive shots. Is the best strategy to enter into this sort of arms race?
Third, tying these two together, even if you become as competent as the banger in how you hit the ball, will you be able to match the banger in the pace of shot? If the strategy is to fight fire with fire, you may want to make sure that, in the end, your fire will be the bigger one. Otherwise, you will be fighting unwinnable battles.
At Better Pickleball, we seek to provide players with a sound game framework based on an in-depth understanding of the rules of pickleball, from which we derive effective game strategies.
Many of our strategies, including the one we recommend here, originate from the most crucial rule in pickleball – the Non-Volley Zone rule.
Were it not for the NVZ rule; we would just be playing mini-tennis (or maxi-ping pong). The soft game would not be available as your opponents could just run up to the net and slam any soft hit shot.
But … because of the NVZ rule, we can concoct a pickleball strategy that allows us to defuse the bangers, regardless of how much bigger or stronger they may be. The strategy is to draw the banger into our world: a world of touch and grace. What is often referred to as the “soft game.”
By using blocks and resets (together with the all-important outside of the court, discussed below), we can effectively defuse the bangers we face regardless of their ferocity.
The beauty of this effective strategy is that it works no matter what is thrown at us. The Non- Volley Zone is always the NVZ no matter who we are playing against or the types of shots they are hitting. If you can get your shot into the NVZ, then the banger has to play your game.
The defusing the banger strategy only works if you lean on your best ally: the out of bounds on the court.
If you choose to hit every single ball the banger hits at you, then there is no strategy that will work for you as they will just keep hammering away.
Next time you are playing against pickleball bangers, let some of their shots go and see what happens. Fret not – we have your back. Here are a couple of guides you can use to know when to let the balls go:
- If the banger is hitting the ball from inside the court – say halfway between the baseline and the NVZ line- it will probably go out. Let that ball go.
- If the ball is coming around your shoulder (definitely if it is coming towards your head), that ball will probably land out of bounds. Let that ball go.
As you let a few balls go, you will gain confidence with the let-the-balls-go strategy to defuse the banger. You will also learn better which balls are going out and which are staying in. If you hit them all, you will never know. You will never be able to grow in your game and develop the skills you need to defuse the banger.
One last note on letting balls go.
Sometimes those shots will land in. It happens to all of us, even the pros. No second-guessing yourself. You made a decision, and that is that. It’s a decision you can learn from it (if ball after ball is landing in, then perhaps you need to reconsider your framework for letting them go), but there is no “I should’ve hit that ball” at the moment. You are playing the long game with the out balls – let the percentages work in your favor.
When you defuse the banger by bringing them into the soft game, you give the banger a choice: play a soft game with me or continue your banging. If the banger accepts your invitation into the soft game, then you are playing in your world. If the banger elects not to play a soft game with you and continues to bang, then you must let the hard shot go. That is the only way it works.
Next time you are tempted to out-bang pickleball bangers, ask yourself is it an effective pickleball strategy that will work for you specifically – are you really going to out-hit that player even under the best of circumstances? If the answer is “probably not,” then move on to Plan B (or what we would call Plan A) and continue to work on your soft game so that you can defuse that banger and bring them into your world. If you are unsure about how to implement a soft game strategy, including dealing with those out balls, join us at Better Pickleball and learn how.
Hola. Hello. Konichiwa. After 40 years playing tennis, I am now a full-time pickleball player and professional. As a 5.0 rated Senior Pro Pickleball Player and an IPTPA-certified Master Teaching Professional, my focus is on helping players like you learn to play their best pickleball. In 2016, shortly after starting to play pickleball, my friend Tom and I jumped into the highest division at the first US Open in Naples, Florida. That morning it became clear just how much there is to learn in this seemingly simple sport – a lifetime of learning if you so choose. Since 2018, I have been on a mission to share my knowledge of pickleball so other players can enjoy the game at a higher level and attain their pickleball objectives. When not studying or playing pickleball, I like to travel with my other half, Jill.