Stop Popping Up Your Dinks (and hitting them into the net).
In this blog post I will use some photos of my friends from the Blairsville, Georgia Pickleball Club. I “cartoonized” the images so they won’t necessarily be recognized.
There are several reasons people pop up there dinks. Let’s start with the most basic reason – your grip is too tight.
Why is a tight grip bad? Well, you have to understand that your arm, wrist and paddle are components of a lever. If you have ever used a lever to lift an object, such as a big rock that you want to dislodge from the ground, you know that the longer the lever, the easier it is to lift that object. To give you an idea of powerful a lever can be, Archimedes once said, “Give me a lever and a place to stand and I will move the earth.”
So, think of you arm and paddle as a lever. If your arm and paddle measure two feet, for example, the amount of pressure you are going to need to lift a ball is next to nothing. In fact, if you use your arm and paddle as a lever, you will almost certainly pop the ball up. You are employing too much force. Players with a tight grip can lose sensitivity and control, both of which can lead to inconsistent shot-making and can cause the ball to fly off the face of racquet erratically when dinking.
Now think about a lever that has a spring near the end of it. How much weight are you going to be able to lift with that lever? Very little. The lever will bend, right? Just by loosening your grip a bit, you may find you have more sensitivity and that the ball remains on the paddle for just a fraction longer for better feel and consistency, and you are less likely to pop it up.
Remember, a pickleball ball averages between 0.78 and 0.935 ounces, and a tight grip will turn your arm/paddle into a lever, and you don’t want that.
Another reason people pop the ball up is that they “flick” their wrists. This is particularly true of people getting into the game who played a lot of racquetball. There are times when you want to flick you wrist in pickleball, like when you are trying to hit topspin, but dinking is not one of those times. You are, once again, applying too much force to the ball.
What about posture. I teach my students to have two hands on the paddle, either on the grip (like I do) or with one hand on the back of the paddle. I use two hands for a number of reasons. One is that with my left hand on the paddle, I really cannot get the paddle behind my back (more on the later). A second reason is that I can use my left hand to help turn the paddle to my forehand side. The third reason is that two hands come in handy in firefights (when I do want more power on the paddle from my grip).
Here are two people from Blairsville with perfect setup positions – paddles up, knees bent. The person on the right has just hit a nice dink that is on its way down over the net, and the other two players are ready to take it in front of their bodies.
What if your posture is not quite correct? You might wind up taking the ball behind your back, and you will almost certainly pop the ball up or hit it into the net.
If your opponent hits the ball so well that it puts you on the defensive, it is better to take a step back and keep the paddle in front of you.
Another problem some people have is weight transfer. On all your shots, you want to transfer your weight from your back foot to your front foot. What you don’t want to do is hit a ball leaning backwards. That is almost a guarantee that the ball will be popped up.
Another common problem is that players reach too far into the NVZ to take a ball out of the air. Yes, you want to dink the ball before it bounces if you can, but a very simple solution to the problem of reaching too far into the NVZ is to step back about a foot from the NVZ. You are much better able to determine if you can take the ball out of the air, or if you should take a step back and let the ball bounce.
Finally, there is this: in whitewater kayaking we have a saying – “don’t look where you don’t want to go, because you will wind up going there.”
In pickleball, the saying can be – “don’t look where you want your shot to go WHILE YOU ARE HITTING IT.
Look at the picture below. The player (it seems) is looking at her opponent rather than at the ball.
This ball went into the net.
Keeping your head down is harder than it seems. I am guilty of “peeking” a lot on my forehand because I am judging where and how hard I want to hit it. It is a habit that I cannot shake if I don’t concentrate. Practice visualizing your shot, then keep your head down and hit it. Visualization is a concept that has worked very well for me in golf.
So, those are my suggestions. Comments are welcome.