Good pickleball volley technique is vitally important to winning points consistently. Most points, if kept alive, are won or lost at the net. That means good pickleball form and technique at the net is arguably the most important aspect of the game. It's certainly our favorite. So, in today's post, we’re going to give you strategies and tips to improve your volley game. This is the 4th and final post in our strategy series around the four fundamental parts of pickleball. Part one was around improving your serve. Part two was around the return of serve. Part three focused on third shot drop strategies.
Video Source: The Pickleball Channel
To start let's define a volley because the phrase “pickleball volley” often gets confused with the phrase “dink shot” or “dink game”. They actually mean different things but both are fundamental to pickleball.
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Volley play is defined as action at the net when the ball does NOT bounce. These are multiple back and forth shots hit hard enough that they do not bounce in the kitchen. It's your prototypical “bang bang” play where shots are rifled back and forth with little time to react.
The dink shot is when the ball is hit softly and DOES bounce in the kitchen. The dink game is still played at the net like volley play but it's a slower, controlled tempo where finesse and touch play the starring role versus the volley play where power and accuracy run the show.
For this post, we’ll focus on both aspects of net play because when action at the net reaches a frantic pace - 4.0 and 5.0 players use a combination of fast volleys and soft dinks play to win the point. Improving you game at the net can take from a beginner to a 4.0 and even a 5.0 player.
Video Source: Pickleball Channel
THE REACTIVE HIT
This is a defensive volley shot which typically has little to no follow through. This is more of a reaction driven shot, protecting yourself and keeping the point alive. The paddle face is neither open or closed, it’s right in between, acting like a flat shield to extend the point.
This is the most common type of shot at the net and can be either a volley or a dink shot. The Push shot is an offensive volley or dink because you have time to react and drive the ball back to your opponent with follow through and power behind it. Your paddle face is typically slightly open or closed depending on the situation. If you’re pushing down on the ball, keep your face slightly closed. If you’re pushing up, keep it slightly open.
This is an offensive volley or dink shot where you have an open paddle face ready to lift or roll the ball with topspin. The topspin allows this shot to hit the court and run away from your opponent. This shot will have a low to high paddle swing with a slight flick of the wrist upward.
The Catch is a shot used to counter a hard, fastball hit right at you. This is a defensive shot intended to take some pace off of your opponent's shot. A lot of times the catch volley can have a cutting action with the blade of your paddle open. Cutting down on the ball, creates backspin and allows your paddle to catch the ball, effectively taking away your opponent's power. This is also called a drop volley and or drop dink.
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Video Source: The Pickleball Channel
The correct stance and being in the “ready position” while at the kitchen line is an important basic skill. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and your paddle squarely between your chest using a continental grip. Like a tennis player getting ready to receive the serve - this is the proper position to be in - ready to receive anything that comes your way. Having the paddle in the center of your chest allows you to be in position to quickly react and be ready for a forehand or backhand volley/dink shot. Some players will stand with the paddle in the forehand or backhand position. This is not smart because your opponent will hit the ball to whatever side is open. Keeping the paddle in the center of your body keeps your options open, and your opponent’s options limited. The harder you make it for them, the more points you’ll win.
Start from the ready position, legs bent, paddle up, head up, connect in front of you.
A good pickleball volley strategy is to maintain the point until you can win the point. Play defensively and cautiously until you can get back into the point. Cover, defend, until you can reset the point. Hit to the weaker player. Keep it in play, until you can put it away. Let your opponent make the mistake. Consistency is the key for most shots, especially the serve and return of serve. Deep is better than fast. Arc is often better than flat, and usually with low to medium power.
Keep it in play, until you can put it away.
Some good drills to help you improve your dink and volley skills include:
These drills will help you improve your reaction time. The more you learn and practice, the more you will improve, and become familiar with the various shots.
Keep track of your mistakes. Which shots are you hitting into the net? Which shots go out? How are you losing points. What are your unforced errors? Focus on improving these mistakes and you’ll be dominating at the net in no time!
Please leave a comment in the comments section below if you are having issues with your volley game, we'd love to help!
For more simple strategies tailored to newer players click our 25 Pickleball Tips and Strategies for Beginners article.