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Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Basic Volley

Let’s start with a definition. A volley is a shot where the ball is struck before it bounces. While a volley can be struck anywhere on the court, it becomes an offensive weapon from the kitchen line. That is the shot that will be discussed here.

First, we need to review the preparation for a volley by revisiting the discussion on The Ready Position at the Kitchen Line. When at the kitchen line, you must be prepared for a fast shot and quick movement in any direction. That means having your feet shoulder-width, knees slightly bent and the paddle held up and in front with the face parallel to the net. The following Norm Davis video called Pickleball volleying reviews the positioning for a volley. 

Second, we need to briefly mention rules applying to the kitchen line. The kitchen is more properly called the non-volley zone. The name makes clear the rules for the area – no volleys are allowed when a player or anything associated with a player is touching the zone, including the lines that define it. Furthermore, there is an esoteric rule about momentum carrying a player into the zone even well past contact being a fault. Those rules are further detailed in Faults Explained.

Now we can get to the heart of the matter – volleying technique. The most basic volley is called a punch volley. It is simple to execute as the movement is a quick punch of the paddle using the elbow as a hinge. The wrist should remain locked in place. The paddle should only move about 3”-6”. The following photos illustrate the minimal movement that is required for a forehand and backhand volley above the waist. The left frame of each photo is taken at just about the point of contact and the right frame is the end point before returning to the ready position.

Several other points should be noted from these photos: 
  • The head and eyes should be behind the ball and at ball height when the return is high. 
  • All paddle movement is from the elbow and not from the shoulder nor from the body. 
  • The paddle is up and above the wrist. 
  • The paddle face is perpendicular to the court or slightly open (tilted back) to impart underspin. 
  • Punch straight ahead. Do not swing the paddle downward. Punch is the definitive word for this shot. When punching in boxing, it is done with the fist. The same is true of the punch volley. A picture highlighting this form might be helpful 

Contact the ball in front of your body. Do not let it get parallel to or past your body. 
Keep your eyes on the ball through contact. 

The photos do not illustrate several additional points: 
  • The ready position should be taken with the player facing the direction from which the ball is coming. In other words, the player should be in the ready position angled toward the player in the cross court when the return is hit by that opponent. 
  • The shot is more powerful and accurate if the player can step to the ball and turn his front shoulder toward the target. 
  • Any steps should be parallel to the kitchen line so no kitchen fault occurs. 
  • The target of the punch volley is the feet of your opponents (or an opening away from players if it has been created). A secondary target is the opponent’s paddle-side hip pocket. 
  • Return to the ready position immediately after the volley. 
Not all volleys will be as accommodating as those shown above, where they are nice and high. Low volleys work with the same principles as high volleys but the body must get much lower to get similar results. Again, let’s look at photos of a low forehand and backhand volley. 

The first thing to note about both these photos is that the paddle head never points downward. Instead, the players get really low by bending their knees. The paddle head stays level or above the wrist. The other major difference is that the paddle face is open, meaning it is tilted toward the back. This open position allows the ball to move upward and over the net. The players stay low well past contact so the body momentum doesn’t add anything to the shot. 

The first 2+ minutes of the following video called Pickleball Volley Lesson from Poach PB shows the basics of a punch volley. 

One last point about the punch volley - it is the most basic offensive shot. There are more aggressive volleys that will be discussed separately. But the punch volley technique can also be used defensively when a shot is smashed directly at a player. Execute the shot exactly as a punch volley but don’t punch. Instead, just block the ball and use the power provided by the opponent to rebound the shot directly back. 

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