Pickleball Dink Consistency-Start at the Bottom
What’s your longest dink rally? In professional pickleball matches, it’s common to see dink rallies lasting 20 or more shots. What makes those players so consistent?
The goal of a pickleball dink rally is to hit non-attackable dinks until you can force your opponent to make an error. A non-attackable dink is when the apex of the bounce is below the net. That makes it more likely that your opponent has to hit up to return the ball.
Is it possible that your rallies are shorter because you lack the confidence that comes from consistency? Perhaps you feel like you have to attack before you make a mistake and get attacked?
One of the reasons the pros are such consistent dinkers is their footwork. If your footwork is sloppy, it’s easier to lose control of the paddle, and if you lose control of the paddle, you might change the trajectory of that shot and make it attackable.
Consistency in any sport is created from the bottom up, and the pickleball dink is no exception.
Think of a cannon. A cannon sits on a stationary base, and the top moves to fire. It only has one moving part.
What if you had a second cannon? This one has a moving base and a moving top. Which one would be more accurate? Of course, the first one, the one with only one moving piece.
In sports, our lower body is like the base of a cannon. Unfortunately, it can’t remain stationary. We have to move to get to the pickleball. What we need to do with our lower body is move efficiently and create support for the upper body (arm swing). If you want consistency and the confidence that accompanies it, start at the bottom, your footwork.
Here are three drills to create better pickleball dink footwork.
No Paddle Dinking Drill
The easiest way to learn footwork is without a paddle.
Whenever I teach or practice dinking, I place a small piece of tape 12-16 inches inside the NVZ on each side of the net. The tape helps players visualize the trajectory of a non-attackable dink. Try to land the ball between the net and the piece of tape.
Start by tossing the ball to your partner with your paddle hand. They should move into the non-volley zone like they are hitting a dink, catching the ball in their paddle hand. Players need to bend from the hips and knees to get into position to catch the ball.
As they return the ball, the hips and knees should extend to accompany the arm toss. It’s a feeling like you are pushing the ball over the net with your arm and legs. This isn’t a hitting sensation. Hitting adds speed, which in turn adds height.
Make sure to watch the ball all the way to your hand.
My partner Jeanie and I regularly use this as a warm-up. Both of us are positioned at the non-volley zone, and we’re going to make a small bowtie with our dink shots.
Start on the even side of the court and hit a dink straight over the net to your partner who is standing on the odd side of the court. They return the dink cross-court toward the odd side. The next shot does straight back over the net to the even side. The shape of the shots creates a bowtie.
If you’re learning this drill, make a relatively small square by hitting the cross-court no further than the mid-point of the non-volley zone.
As your body starts to warm up and you get the hang of the drill hit the cross-court shot further toward the sideline.
Use your lateral shuffle to position your body for each shot. Make sure you stop moving before you hit the dink shot.
Up and Back
This drill is the most challenging of the three exercises.
When we run forward from the baseline to the NVZ, we need to control the softness and speed of the shot. When we don’t stop our forward momentum, we get into trouble and usually hit a high ball. This drill teaches us to control our feet and stop our momentum to hit the shot
One partner stays at the non-volley zone and hits all returns as dinks back into the kitchen.
The other partner starts at the non-volley zone, but after hitting the dink, they run back to midcourt, stop, touch the court and then run back to the NVZ to return the next dink shot.
If going to midcourt is too easy, then run further back to the baseline. Another way to make this drill more difficult is to have your partner hit shorter softer dinks.
In addition to dinking, this drill improves your ability to watch the ball. You need to quickly anticipate where that next shot is going and adjust your focus.
The pickleball dink reminds me of putting in golf. Anyone can do it and all it takes to be consistent is mastering a few basics. To control the height of the ball, you must control the paddle angle and the speed of the shot. It all begins at the bottom with good footwork.
CJ Johnson Better Pickleball Age Well with CJ Train Smart · Live Bold · Age Well
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