CJ Johnson Headshot
CJ Johnson
Tony Roig
Tony Roig

My Pickleball Partner Won’t Come to the Net!

Have you ever played pickleball with a partner who just won’t come to the net?

Pickleball rec play is one of the unique aspects of this sport, which makes it so enjoyable. You don’t have to have a partner to play. You can go to open play, and you get to play with a lot of different people. It’s fun, it’s social, and you’ll probably make some new friends. The downside to pickleball rec play is that not everybody plays within certain accepted pickleball norms. One of the more common complaints is that your partner may choose not to come to the net.

Instead of coming to the kitchen, they stay at the baseline or somewhere in the transition zone. Players often ask me what they should say to a partner who is hanging out in no man’s land.

Before you say anything, you need to understand why they chose not to come to the non-volley zone.

This is not a conversation you want to get into on the court. Between games, you might say something like you’re a good player, but I’ve noticed that you don’t always move from the baseline up to the net, and I’m curious as to why.

Then listen carefully to their explanation as to why they won’t come to the net. I think you’re going to find that it’s one of the following.

1. They Don’t Understand the Strategy

Players often do something because they’re told by somebody either to do it or not to do it. What they need is to understand why it’s essential.

The strategy of getting to the non-volley zone is simple. You’re trying to take the time away from your opponents. When your team is at the non-volley zone, and your opponents are not, you’ve shortened the distance between the two sides, and you have taken away their time to react.

That’s to your team’s advantage. To eliminate that advantage, the other side has to get to the non-volley zone, and that’s not always an easy task.

2. Habit

It’s just a habit. Perhaps, they’ve been standing there since they started playing or they come from another sport where that’s the customary position.

In doubles tennis, typically, one player is at the net, and the other player stays back. When tennis players transition into pickleball, they bring their habits with them.

If that’s the case, you can explain the strategy or share a reminder with them that it’s better if both players at the net versus the resulting gap when one player is forward and the other is back.

3. Too Much Advice

Think back to when you first started playing pickleball. For me, it seemed every time I got on the court someone gave me something new to do. This blog and YouTube Channel started because I was on advice overload! Stand here, go here, do this, don’t do that.

Now, one thing everybody said was, don’t step in the kitchen. Don’t run into the kitchen. If I’m afraid of doing something, I’m not going to run forward toward the non-volley zone. Subconsciously, I’m going to stay away from it.

Another possibility is they may not know what to do because of all the advice they’ve received. Between games, ask them what they’re thinking about and see if you can help by prioritizing and shortening their list of things to do when they’re on the pickleball court.

4. They’re Concerned about the Lob

This one I might be able to understand because you do see some lobs, especially in indoor play. But the lob is not anywhere near as dangerous as most people think it is. The lob is challenging to execute, especially if you’re playing outdoors where you have the weather conditions. I’ll bet you will lose fewer points to a well-hit lob than you will by not having both of your team members at the non-volley zone.

5. Lack of Speed

They can’t get to the non-volley zone in one shot. Let’s face it, most of us are over 50, and it can be challenging to get from the baseline to the non-volley zone quickly. Since they’ve heard this area called no man’s land, they’re probably trying to avoid it, to begin with, and if they can’t get there fast enough, they choose to stay back.

If this is the case, you much suggest one of these two strategies;

a. Hit a higher and softer return to buy themselves a little bit more time to get up to the non-volley zone.

b. Use the split step. The moment they see their opponents getting ready to hit the shot, simply utilize the split step, hit the next ball, and then continue to move to they arrive at the non-volley zone.

6. Fear of the Hard Hit Shot

They’re a poor blocker, and they’re afraid of getting hit by a hard, fast ball. Anyone can improve their blocking with practice.

Conclusion

It’s easy to criticize a player who won’t come to the net or to dole out casual advice on the pickleball court. A quick tip here or a casual suggestion there. Unfortunately, that approach leads to confusion and overload. If you want to help someone get better, you need to be a coach who listens and helps the player understand why or why not they should do something on the court.

If you’re not sure how to coach this or don’t want to, I’ve created a playlist or a printed list just for you. Simply tell them that you saw something on YouTube that you think will help them be a better player.

 

8 Comments

  1. Molly on December 1, 2019 at 1:28 pm

    My reason/excuse is that I do not have a fast enough reaction time and just can not reset myself for the next ball. I feel like the ball is returned before I finish my follow-through!

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on December 2, 2019 at 3:45 pm

      Molly, perhaps it’s not your reaction time, it may be your footwork after the shot or your split step might be happening too late. Have you ever put yourself on video?

  2. Patti Belt on December 2, 2019 at 7:34 am

    very helpful to understand the “whys” and not just the advice.

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on December 2, 2019 at 3:45 pm

      Hi Patti, I’m just like you if I understand WHY I need to do something I’m more apt to execute it properly.

  3. Rudy Klinger on December 14, 2019 at 11:50 am

    Dear Cathy
    I tore both my rotator cuffs 4 years ago,playing paddleball, & I cannot slam down up front.I have ankelosing spondilitus ,my neck is frozen,I can not look up.
    Fortunately,I am very mobile & can play both right & lefthanded. In fact,when I serve form the right,I srve right handed.From the left I seve left handed.
    I have found that I am forcing my opponents to play further away from the net.
    I have a good lob if the come in close & sharp cuts into the kitchen if my oppenent plays back.
    I am 83 yrs old.

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on December 14, 2019 at 8:59 pm

      All I have to say is awesome Rudy. Pickleball is finding creative ways to accomplish the shot despite having a physical challenge. That’s why when someone asks me how to hit a shot, my answer usually starts with it depends.

  4. Steve on January 13, 2022 at 4:25 am

    The game is won at the net! Neef to get to the net!!

    • CJ Johnson on January 13, 2022 at 10:42 am

      Plus that’s where all the fun things happen!

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