CJ Johnson Headshot
CJ Johnson
Tony Roig
Tony Roig

How to out bang pickleball bangers-or should you?

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 WeArePickleball, 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.”

Want four tips on the soft game? Listen to episode 72 of Pickleball Therapy

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:

    1. 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.
    2. 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.

Ready for the FULL In2Pickle YouTube lesson on how 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.

Conclusion

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 WeArePickleball and learn how.

35 Comments

  1. Scott Trevathan on February 5, 2022 at 9:22 pm

    I enjoyed the article. I play soft, and needed to read this.

    • Karen A Barniol on February 5, 2022 at 11:50 pm

      The goal is to be the last one to get the ball over the net while keeping it in. Simple as that. Stop demonizing skillfully hit hard shots by implying that they are not “graceful”.

      • CJ Johnson on February 6, 2022 at 12:39 am

        Hi Karen, our intent is to answer one of the questions we’re asked repeatedly is for solutions to deal with a banger. We are not demonizing anyone who chooses to bang the ball. If a player wants to bang the ball and it works for them, have at it! 😊

        • Karen A Barniol on February 6, 2022 at 12:50 am

          I was reacting to this comment, “The strategy is to draw the banger into our world: a world of touch and grace.”

          • CJ Johnson on February 6, 2022 at 4:10 pm

            Hi Karen, since the soft game requires more touch or softness with the paddle, it which requires more gracefully movement. That doesn’t imply that a powerful or hard hit shot isn’t useful or beautiful but it looks very different.



  2. Linda Wait on February 5, 2022 at 10:12 pm

    Very helpful strategy to use against the bangers. I have always used “shoulder high let it fly,” but also like the considering the spot from which the opponent hits the ball as another way to decide to let the ball go.

    • CJ Johnson on February 5, 2022 at 10:47 pm

      Letting the out ball goal is processing a lot of info at one time. Great observations Linda.

  3. kim on February 5, 2022 at 10:43 pm

    Having arthritis in my shoulder keeps me from engaging any banger battles. Placement over Power.

    • CJ Johnson on February 5, 2022 at 10:47 pm

      Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is playing smart pickleball Kim

  4. John on February 5, 2022 at 10:46 pm

    I like your strategy, personally I am working towards a soft game. Thanks for the reinforcement on my decision.

  5. Steve D Smith on February 6, 2022 at 11:45 am

    Great advice. Thanks for the tips.

    • CJ Johnson on February 6, 2022 at 4:13 pm

      You’re welcome Steve

  6. Daniel Stein on February 6, 2022 at 2:01 pm

    Try playing a Ping Pong Player. Their tops spins are crazy and their balls dip in crazy. Even from the NVZ line. They use paddles with heavy grit. Watch out for them !!

    • CJ Johnson on February 6, 2022 at 4:13 pm

      Hi Daniel, yes ping-pong players have a unique ability to spin the ball. Focusing on the paddle motion of the player or the holes on the ball helps a player position themselves correctly for the next shot.

  7. Tim Dolan on February 6, 2022 at 3:15 pm

    I learned to like playing against bangers. The solutions vary depending on the opposition. But looking forward to the challenge/effort is essential. Remember: expect every shot to be a drive and you won’t be caught off guard.

    • CJ Johnson on February 6, 2022 at 4:11 pm

      Good advice for any situation Tim. Expect the ball to come back and if it’s a banger expect it to come back hard.

      • Deb on February 6, 2022 at 5:14 pm

        Excellent advice, CJ. Let out balls fly, reset pace, and block hard drives when you are at the nvz. Problem I see is many bangers aim right at your body or your face or head. They don’t have the best control so end up whacking people and then apologizing. This makes me tense when I feel I am a target and my grip tightens causing pop ups when I try to block, reset or drop. I guess this is an effective strategy but not one I wish to learn. Their great topspin makes me unsure if the hard drives are really going to go out as many end up staying in.

        Would love to make it to one of your camps if u ever do any in Canada. They look like the best choice out of all the camps I have researched. Thanks for all the advice. 🙏

        • CJ Johnson on February 6, 2022 at 11:59 pm

          Hi Deb, we aren’t planning on a Canada camp in 2022. One of the things we look at when planning a camp is places we want to visit and I love Canada.

  8. Ted on February 6, 2022 at 4:11 pm

    Another great reading. Always informative. Thanks-

  9. Terrie on February 6, 2022 at 4:16 pm

    I am requesting my coach work on this with me and others in Upcoming lessons & Clinics. I enjoy the art of strategic pickleball play, especially at the NVZ, and truthfully get very frustrated at constant banging with no willingness to extend the rally with some soft play. This gives me a great strategy to work on when I am getting beat by opponents who can just hit harder than me. Thank you!

  10. Joanie Kraft on February 6, 2022 at 4:35 pm

    Great advice, as usual. This readjusted my mindset. Now I know how to slow down the game. thank you!

  11. Abel on February 6, 2022 at 4:39 pm

    Being aware of your position on the court also helps a lot. Also, ee have to remember, if the ball hits any part of our body, it’s our fault.

  12. John on February 6, 2022 at 4:41 pm

    Great advice. I am very often a banger but I’m working on the soft game. My initial game plan is to beat you with my serve or make it difficult to return. Because I bang I tend to also hit balls that would land out of bounds. The bang game reduces the time to process the next move. Thanks for the advise . I’m going to make a effort to lay off those high hard balls.

  13. Don wickersham on February 6, 2022 at 5:04 pm

    Cj- over the weekend I found and love your teaching. I am a former pe teacher who now teaches beginners in our club and I love it. I refer to your videos for drills and advise on how to teach. I just learned from you to use my shoulder instead of wrist and elbow. I am a banger because I do not have the patience for a soft game. Please discuss the mental aspects of the sport so I am willing to dink more!

    • CJ Johnson on February 7, 2022 at 12:08 am

      Hi Don, thank you for the nice compliment. Hmmm there’s so much to the mental aspect of this sport but at some point you will come across someone who can out bang you (or who knows how to duck) and you’ll need the soft game. You don’t need to look much further than the best players in pickleball. Without a doubt they can hit it hard but they make choice to use the soft game until they get an attackable shot. One last observation, today I was on the Peloton Bike and the coach was Matt Wilpers who was a D1 runner and competitive cyclist after a running injury. He was talking about patience. We are in a society where we all want it yesterday, myself included. He reminded me of one of my favorite sayings, If it doesn’t challenge you it doesn’t change you.

    • Dale Voigt on March 2, 2022 at 6:39 pm

      Part of the mental game is realizing when you hit a good shot, and what it looks like. The 3-point shot in in basketball does not look as flashy as the slam dunk, but it can be more effective. A dump dink in volleyball can be just as effective as a spike, though it is not as flashy. In pickleball David Weinbach has termed the phrase (unattackable dink). If your opponent has chosen to dink the ball back to you, they did not think they could attack the ball and it was a good shot on your part. Realizing this, dink until they mess up, then attack. The attack is many times not a winner, instead it is a shot to set up a winner. Hope this helps.

  14. Roly Poly on February 6, 2022 at 10:06 pm

    Thank you for your article. It is helpful because it seems that there have been an influx of tennis players into Pickleball that I play with who only want to bang the ball. They do not care to come up to the NVZ but play from the baseline. I don’t think anyone told them that this isn’t mini tennis. Well, I enjoy playing against them since a soft tap in response to a slammed ball will plop it in the NVZ leaving them to haul full bore to get it which usually will go into the net or out of bounds. Lastly, bangers have helped keep me on my toes with my paddle up since I don’t enjoy being hit in the face or other places with the ball. Bully for the bangers, they are fun!

  15. Darlene Gibaut on February 7, 2022 at 1:34 am

    Love your article c.j.! I used the ball machine today to try to get comfortable resisting the ball. I think it might be one of the most important skills to have in pickleball!

    • CJ Johnson on February 7, 2022 at 4:26 am

      Hi Darlene, how are you?

  16. Paul on February 8, 2022 at 1:46 am

    This definitely works, except in two instances. 1. Your partner keeps trying to hit the bangers shots, so s/he aims more towards your partner. 2. You play indoors and the balls seem to bounce slightly higher and it is harder to play the soft game (and a bit of point 1, of your partner doesn’t play the soft game.)

  17. Mark Casebeer on February 8, 2022 at 2:13 pm

    Nice article! I’m one of those tennis implants that bring a aggressive game to Pickleball. I love to hit hard, poach, and put away the volleys. It’s my type of game. That said, the better players are harder to play this type of pickleball. I’m just two years into playing and learning the soft game add another weapon to my game. Also soft angles, and softer strokes that dip at your feet are hard to beat. Adding these to my game has actually made me a better player that my opponents have a harder time figuring how to play against me. Thanks for the input.

  18. Lori on February 8, 2022 at 2:48 pm

    I was playing with a partner who would not go up to the NVL as the nonreturner on receipt of service. I asked him to move up to the line and he took my head off because he said our opponent was banger. I asked him one more time to move up and he got more enraged, saying “until everyone learned to play properly and not bang he wasn’t going up to the line”. If he didn’t feel comfortable at the NVL I suppose I could have suggested he go back to the baseline, but at that point he was beyond having a discussion. I think he was more upset at the banger than me – should I have stayed silent?

    • CJ Johnson on February 8, 2022 at 4:39 pm

      Hi Lori, well…if he knew how to play “proper pickleball” he would have a 3rd shot and soft game that could neutralize the banger and he would be up at the net. LOL! Anytime you have a partner that won’t come to the net it’s highly likely you’re going to lose the game. If it’s a tournament partner, then we’d recommend finding a new partner. If it’s in rec play, we think it’s best to say ok, then I’ll stay back here with you. It’s better to have two players in the same place versus one forward and one back. If you stay back with him you have a chance to work on your soft game and resetting into the kitchen.

  19. Craig on February 8, 2022 at 7:59 pm

    I’m new here from Canada. Love your teaching videos. I’m a 75 year old with 4 months total experience, but extremely quick and agile for my age. Not having a tennis background and being small size means banging is not my forte nor ever will be, so dinking will be my game. I need to develop the skills of slowing the banger down to my level, so appreciate your excellent tips. Just looked at the YouTube one on Blocking: 5 Keys. Great stuff!

    • CJ Johnson on February 8, 2022 at 9:27 pm

      Welcome to pickleball Craig!

Leave a Comment





Like what you see?

Subscribe to the free newsletter today for more exclusive pickleball tips.