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Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Options: Step Back or in the Air

You can't judge my choices without knowing my reasoning...

Pickleball is a series of choices. Players have options about how to approach a shot - backhand or forehand. They have a choice of type of shot - drive, drop, or lob. They have a choice of targets - crosscourt or down the line. These are only some examples. Depending on the advice followed by the player, some choices are minimized. Such is the lure of experts whose advice adheres to what worked for them or the most technically correct strategy. This post is the first of a series offering options to traditional thoughts. It can either make your pickleball life either easier or harder. The choice is yours.

One of my earlier posts, Dinking Secrets to Success, discussed 3 techniques to win the dink game. Two elements had similar reasoning - reduce the time for your opponent to react. The first technique discussed in the video is the one for which an alternative will be presented. In the video (shown below), top player and coach Steve Dawson explains that taking the ball in the air when possible is the best choice.

But a recent Facebook discussion spurred by Mark Renneson discussed the alternative of stepping back and taking the ball on the bounce. He used a video from the recent US Nationals to start the discussion.

One instructor stated:
My take on Morgan's dinking style (and i've only seen him on youtube - never in person) is that he emphasizes accuracy and ball control, i.e. arc, landing spot, spin, and thus bounce height. By stepping back, he can control the ball more accurately, and the small advantages to be gained by better being able to move his opponents around a bit, and by better being able to hit to where they're least comfortable, outweigh the advantages that might be gained by taking time away from his opponents that come with taking the ball in the air.
And again, i've never seen him play in person, and maybe i'm over interpreting, but i see his dinking accuracy as a weapon - in some ways a psychological weapon since he's so reliably accurate. All the top players are great at dinking, but Morgan stands out a little to me.
Another instructor commented:
Rolling back like morgan gives you more options (attacking the ball) and a flatter angle as someone already mentioned. You can’t attack when you’re reaching in to hit dinks in the air. Your opponent knows they’re getting a relatively slow dink back. 
Disadvantages are that you give your opponents more time to set up (Steve Dawson’s argument for taking it in the air) after their shot and it’s harder in my opinion to be consistent rolling back like that. Morgan doesn’t seem to struggle with this.
Mark's comments were a good summary:
In the near court we have Morgan Evans and Marcin Rozpedski. Morgan does, indeed, drop back (using what I'll call a 'drop step' to hit a number of dinks (Marci does too on one hit up the middle to his BH). I was wondering how people would interpret this. This technique is used as a response to well hit dink from the opponents. Morgan could easily hit these balls out of the air, as a volley. But what good would that do him? He would be hitting it barely off the ground and would be in no position to even threaten to hit a fast shot. And his opponents are already at the NVZ so it's not like he would be pressuring them with time like he did on his very first touch. But by dropping back, he allows the ball to bounce and rise up (albeit not very high because it was a good dink, but higher than it would be on a volley). This extra height gives at least some possibility to drive the ball if he saw an opening. It gives him more options than volleying would.
As I was writing this post, I finally got around to reviewing the video and added the following comment:
I'm way late to this discussion and don't have a lot to add. But there is one point that has gone unstated on the "dropping back" issue. Morgan's final shot - the one that led to Matt's error - was taken in the air. Matt almost seemed surprised by the ball getting there so quickly after watching Morgan take his sweet time throughout the rally. Using some of the good comments in the thread, Morgan was stepping back not just to improve his shot options but to lull his opponents to sleep. It pays to be well-rounded.
In the final analysis of these 2 videos, it is obvious that there are advantages and disadvantages to each option. Your choice should align with your skills and mindset. For me, I always felt that I had less control when I took the ball in the air. As a result, my default choice was to step back and take it on the bounce. My first thought was to judge the height of the ball on contact. If it was above my knee, I hit a volley. Otherwise, I dropped back.

After I learned better ready position technique, I was able to reach more balls with better control. But it still required a change in my approach. Instead of taking the time to judge the height, I had to get my mind to think "reach in" first. I was able to make that transition. I'm at the point in the process where I use each technique but have mastered neither. After review of these videos and discussions, I am glad to have used both techniques. I see value to each option even if makes my decision-making more complicated.

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