Pickleball Blocking-How to Beat the Banger
You can’t stop a banger from hitting the pickleball hard. So, the best way to beat them is with a good block!
Just because someone hits the ball hard doesn’t mean they’re a banger. To play good pickleball, you need to learn when to hit the ball hard and when to hit it softly. Regardless, if you’re playing with bangers or with people who have a multidimensional game, effective pickleball blocking is required to defend the hard shot.
Beating the Banger with a Good Block
In this shot, all you’re trying to do is absorb the energy coming toward you. You’re not hitting this back to your opponents. There is so much energy on the ball if you try to hit the ball, it will most likely go out. You need to learn to use the pace already on the ball by absorbing and softening the shot.
Ideally, you’d like to drop the ball back over the net, relatively low in the kitchen. The mistake you don’t want to make is to hit the ball out or into the net. An effective pickleball strategy is always to make your opponents hit one more shot.
Five Pickleball Blocking Basics
1. Ready Position
Position your feet wider than shoulder-width with the weight on the balls of the feet. Flexing the knees lowers your body to the net height. SIDE NOTE: No matter how much spin a player uses, when you’re in this ready position, hard balls higher than your shoulders are usually out.
Think of a clock with 12 directly in front of you. Then tilt the paddle slightly towards 11 o’clock (Lefties toward 1 o’clock). That position allows you the ability to move from side to side quickly. Some players angle the paddle face toward 9 o’clock (lefties 3 o’clock). Unless your reactions are lightning-fast, you may have a difficult time defending a shot hit to the forehand.
Next, hold the paddle in front of you and away from your body. Ideally, your arm is about a foot in front of your chest. The closer you get to the body, the more difficult it is to absorb the energy of the shot that’s coming toward you.
2. Grip Pressure
I know it sounds counter-intuitive to have a light grip pressure. However, since the goal of a block is to absorb the energy of the shot, a light grip pressure is required. Tight grips add more power to the block.
Ever since my days in golf, I’ve taught students to use a grip pressure scale to gauge how hard to hold the club. It translates nicely to a pickleball paddle. If you’re unsure how to use the grip scale, click this link.
Grip pressure for the block should be around four or five on the grip pressure scale.
3. Stable Wrist
If your grip pressure is too light, your wrist may move. If your wrist moves, it changes the paddle angle and alters the trajectory of the ball. Keep the grip pressure light but the wrist firm.
4. Watch the Ball to the Paddle
It’s easy to focus on your opponents and not watch the ball. To make contact at the center of the paddle, your eyes need to follow the ball.
If you’re like me, your vision isn’t what it used to be. Before playing, try these drills to get focused on watching the ball.
Speaking of eyes. No Bare Eyeballs! Whenever you’re playing pickleball, you should wear eye protection. You never know when that ball could hit the net or bounce off the side of the paddle.
5. Absorb the pace
Now you’re in a position to absorb the speed of the shot. It feels like the ball hits the paddle, and the paddle moves slightly back toward your body. Resist the temptation to hit. A hit will add pace to the ball, and most likely, the ball flies out.
Once you’re consistently blocking the ball back into play, try to add a little backspin to the ball. If you slightly move the paddle from high too low, just about an inch, you’ll create backspin. When that ball hits the ground on the other side, it’s going to stay low, and it’s more difficult for your opponents to return. Keep in mind, this is a small movement, not a big chop.
Pickleball Blocking Drill
Take your position at the non-volley zone. Have your practice partner at the baseline or in the transition area. Ask them to hit the ball hard and just above the net. Focus on one fundamental at a time. Use the trajectory of the blocked shot and the feel of the paddle for feedback.
Whenever you’re doing this drill, I see a lot of people, myself included, chase out balls. This is practice, so if you think a ball is out, let it go. Don’t get in the habit of hitting it.
It doesn’t matter if you are playing against a new player who always hits it hard or players who have both a soft and hard game. If you want to win more points, you need to learn effective pickleball blocking. Positioning yourself at the non-volley zone in an athletic stance with a light grip and stable wrist puts you in a position to watch the ball to the paddle and to absorb the pace on the ball.
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