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Sunday, January 7, 2018

Recycle Sunday - It Should be Called Dinkball

A blast from the past...

I have been posting Offbeat Sunday content for a long time. While it may continue sporadically as new material becomes available, I am starting a new series called Recycle Sunday in which I will repeat some old articles. This article was originally published November 29, 2015.


Recent posts have been about moving from the baseline to the kitchen line. Prem Carnot’s article in a recent post made clear why you need to get there. If you haven’t read it yet, please do. Prior to my recent tournament, I planned to follow those posts with a series on kitchen line play ultimately leading toward several posts on dinking. However, my experience at the Holiday Smash has caused me to move dinking to the head of the line.

So, what is dinking and just why is it so darn important? A dink is a ball hit low and soft into your opponent’s kitchen. It is important because it is effective either in a defensive or offensive mode. Its importance grows as the skill level of your opponent rises. It provides you a significant competitive advantage against opponents who can’t or don’t prefer to dink. I saw match after match won and lost by the dinking game in Concord.

Dinking is a strategic shot played from the kitchen line. As stated above, the ball is hit slowly and with low arc into your opponent’s kitchen area. The goal is to force your opponent to hit his return upward in order to make your next shot easier. The dink game has several characteristics. 

  • The ball should be tapped softly – just hard enough that it lands in your opponent’s kitchen such that your opponent must let it bounce. If struck too far, your opponent could volley the return, which is a more difficult shot for you to return. 
  • The ball should be tapped softly enough that the arc keeps it low enough to preclude a bounce above the level of the top of the net. A ball hit with too high of an arc will bounce enough to allow your opponent to hit the ball downward to your feet. 
  • A dink that forces your opponent to step into the kitchen is particularly effective. He would be forced add more loft to get the return over the net, providing you with significant advantage. 

The first diagram shows the placement for effective dinks.

The red line shows a dink with a high net clearance but is close to the net.  The yellow line shows a dink with a low net clearance but is closer to the kitchen line. The blue line shows the best of both worlds - a dink with a low net clearance and close to the net. All of these dinks force the guys in blue to hit their return upward.

The second diagram shows poor attempts at dinking.

The red line shows a dink with a high net clearance and near the kitchen line. It will likely bounce high enough to give your opponent a chance for an offensive shot. The yellow line is a dink hit too far, allowing your opponent to volley his return.

The technique of the dink shot is a simple one that can be mastered by anyone with practice. First, directly face the shot coming towards you. Bend at your knees and waist like you are sitting in a chair and open your paddle to the ball. Keep your paddle and arm out in front of you. Then, lift the ball with your entire arm. Do NOT use your wrist to flick the ball. Try to stay low during the dinking sequence. Bouncing up and down will reduce your ability to control your shot. This takes both discipline and fitness as dink sequences can last many shots. But don’t be lulled into a stationary position. Even if your opponent keeps hitting to same spot, move your feet a little on each shot. Below are several videos to help explain the technique. The first is from Norm Davis and is titled Pickleball Dinking. The second was from Deb Harrison and has been removed as she changed her recommended dinking technique. The third is called Pickleball Dink Lesson and is from Barbara Wintroub.

My experience has been that novice and lower intermediate players favor the hard game, i.e. banging the ball and trying to overpower your opponent. There seems to be a change in tactics between the 3.0 and 3.5 levels. Most 3.0 players continue to bang the ball while 3.5 players have added a softer dink game, though with varying degrees of effectiveness and usage. But play above that level has extensive use of dinking on almost every point. If you watch a high-level match, a typical rally is serve, return, third shot, dink, dink, dink, dink, dink, dink, dink, dink, mistake on dink, slam, block, and slam for a winner. The number of dinks increases with the level of play. A top level match may have 50 or more dinks in a single rally. The more effective dinker almost always wins. That alone tells me that dinking should be a point of emphasis for all players to gain a competitive edge. 

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