If you have been playing pickleball for a while, you could often be faced by a scenario where you face up to a pickleball beginner in a friendly or a local tournament. And while you know you have the game to beat your opponent, you want to assemble it together in the right way to ensure the potential is converted into the right result for you. Here are our top tips on how to overcome beginner (and banger!) pickleball players.
We have often mentioned pickleball as one of the fastest-growing sports in the USA and if you are someone who loves playing it, there is a good chance that a lot of the times you will be faced with players who are just starting out in the game.
Your experience should obviously help you get the better of such players but what are the things to keep in mind if you want to get the better of beginner pickleball players? Read on.
Whether you are playing pickleball in a tournament or practising at your club, the chances of you facing an experienced and skilled opponent are lesser than other racket and paddle sports.
Until very recently, the entry barrier for beginners into playing in the professional tournaments was non-existent and anyone willing to pay the fees could get into a tournament. So even in some of the bigger tournaments, there is a good chance that your opponent is still a beginner in the sport.
Today we look at some of the tips that will be useful when you come up against a beginner or someone who is just starting in the sport in terms of the skills and experience.
Before that we would like to explain who a banger player is in pickleball.
Bangers in Pickleball
A beginner player is typically a banger in pickleball because, as the name suggests, those new to the sport of pickleball do not possess the refine touch skills of an experienced player.
Without that in their repertoire, beginners typically end up hitting the ball hard rather than be strategic about it. This hard volleying or banging gives a beginner pickleball player the name banger.
There are some common traits and playing styles that most beginners or bangers have and the tips we are listing out are going to be helpful no matter what your level of expertise is in the sport.
Tips to Beat Beginner Pickleball Players
There are many tips, tricks and strategies that players can use to beat a beginner level opponent. At the very basic level this is a list of tips you can follow to be able to overcome pickleball newbies.
- Use the Soft Game
- Be Consistent & Play Percentage Shots
- Target Opponent’s Positioning
- Hitting to the Opponent’s Backhand
- Add Spin to Your Shots
- Go Close to the Kitchen Kitchen and Play Volleys
- Drain Their Energy
- Offer Them High Lobs
More information around these pickleball strategies that can be used against recreational level players are in detail below:
Use the Soft Game
The first thing most of the beginners learn while starting in the sport is to play long shots to get used to the paddle and build muscle memory of playing the strokes.
Thus most of their strokes are based on staying deep in the court and relying on the power game. Developing soft touches and placing the shots is a skill that takes a very long time to develop and thus beginners are unlikely to be playing anywhere close to the non-volley zone and use dinks and volleys.
Thus one of the most effective ways to get easy points and force a beginner opponent into unforced errors is to use the soft game.
The higher the level of play goes in pickleball, soft touches and placement win overpower and against a beginner it is a great weapon to have.
Even if the opponent has a very powerful game, touch strokes neutralize its impact and allow you to control the game. When you take the pace off the ball or use dink shots, a beginner player is likely to return the ball with power.
This is likely to see the shot go into the net or clear the baseline giving you an easy point.
Be Consistent & Play the Percentage Shots
The biggest weapon one can have against a beginner player is consistency.
Because almost all the players who are starting out in the game are lacking in that department. Some of the opponents may be “bangers” who just want to muscle through every single shot that they play, whereas others may be good at placing the shots but are lacking in terms of fitness and court coverage.
So the most effective weapon that one can have when your opponent is a beginner is to be consistent and force them into a mistake.
Typically players starting in the game cannot build a rally and work their way to winning a point. Neither do they have enough patience to hang in there during a tough phase of play and wait for a higher percentage shot to close out the point.
That is why if you consistently keep the ball in play and not go for extravagant shots, there is a good chance that your opponent will try to force the issue. So at times, you have to accept that the quality of the match is not going to be great and there won’t be long rallies to play.
Most of the points in pickleball are likely to be won by players who don’t make an error rather than the one who hits the winners. Thus it is important to focus on being consistent rather than attractive and it can go a long way in beating your opponent.
Target Opponent’s Positioning
At any given point of time during a point in pickleball, the player should ideally be in one of only two places on the court. Either on the baseline or at the kitchen line. The area between the baseline and the kitchen line is known as the “No Man’s Land” and there is a reason for that.
Any shot in the game can either be considered to be a power shot which is typically played from the baseline or a soft shot which is played from the kitchen line. If the player is not in one of those positions that means they are in trouble and beginners are often guilty of the same.
If you are playing against a beginner, what you must do is keep an eye out on their positioning. There is a good chance that their poor positioning will present you with a chance to score easy winners.
For example, when an opponent is standing at the baseline most of the shots they return are likely be below waist height after having bounced once. Whereas if you are standing at the kitchen line, the return is likely to be a volley.
But when a player is caught in the No Man’s land, it is easier for the opponent to hit the ball closer to his feet which are the hardest strokes to return. Even if one does manage to make a contact to the shots hit at their feet, the return is unlikely to be accurate and mostly be a loopy return.
Another easy winner when the opponent is in the no man’s land is a cross-court dink which creates an almost impossible angle to return. Thus keeping an eye out on the opponent’s positioning is crucial as there is a very strong chance that there are some easy points up for grabs.
Hitting to the Opponent’s Backhand
Unlike tennis and badminton, one of the basic principles of succeeding in pickleball is to let your opponent make a mistake. And for most players at any level of the game, the backhand is the weaker side to return the shot.
But when it comes to beginners, a backhand is not only the weaker side, at times it’s almost a non-existent side of the game. Hitting shots at the opponent’s backhand can be a very profitable strategy if the opponent is a recreational level player.
A lot of players who have a backhand side weakness tries to keep a very big side of their forehand open to avoid having to return via a backhand. So when you target your opponent’s backhand side he will allow a bigger open court on his other side potentially giving you a bigger area to place your shots.
Thus targeting the backhand side of your opponent is a strategy worth pursuing especially if you are playing against a novice in the game.
Add Spin to Your Shots
As covered earlier in the article, returning hard and with power and having a poor positioning awareness are two common traits amongst beginner level players.
And one weapon that can be useful in those circumstances is spin. Be that undercutting the shot or hooking it to get the ball to spin away, it is something that recreational players struggle with.
Taking the pace of the ball and adding spin to the shots can be tricky for such opponents whose ability to predict the spin direction and extent isn’t always great. Even if they know which side it’s going to spin and how much, their ability to deal with it is average at best.
They tend to go harder to any shot which is slow and if it has any amount of spin in it, there is a good chance that you are going to take an easy point. Thus it is a great strategy to add more spin to your shots when you are facing a recreational player.
Go Close to the Kitchen and Play Volleys
Most of the higher level pickleball games sees the majority of the points being won from shots played from the kitchen line. Unlike Tennis, in Pickleball staying at baseline and powering your shots is not a very effective strategy.
And if you want to control the flow of the game, moving to the kitchen line at every possible opportunity is very important. One crucial aspect of playing at the kitchen line is that you should be comfortable in playing volleys.
It is always easier to let the ball bounce but that can negate all the advantage one has of playing from the kitchen line. When you play a shot on the volley (Without letting your opponent’s return hit the ground) you are reducing the reaction time available to your opponent and increase accuracy in your strokes.
Plus if you are standing at the kitchen line and then allow the ball to bounce, it would most likely require you to run backwards and the balance of your shot will be completely wrong.
Another advantage of playing from the kitchen line is that most recreational players do not have the skills and foresight to plan two-three shots ahead in the game. And when they see that their opponent is close to the net, their go-to shot is to hit the ball as hard as possible which either ends up as an unforced error or gives you a good chance to place your return by using the pace generated by your opponent.
Drain Their Energy
Exuberance and energy normally preside over tactics and patience when it comes to beginners’ playing style. They do not have sufficient experience and know-how to plan a whole match before it begins and their default mode for almost all the matches is to play on the adrenaline.
So when you come up against such a player, draining their energy and making them work more can be a very effective strategy. Beginners tend to chase down lost causes as well and their enthusiasm needs to be taken advantage of.
At times there are opportunities to kill off a shot but it is a better bet to place the shot a little more and allowing your opponent to have a slight chance to reach it. This is because they are most likely going to chase a lost cause and attempt to pull off a miracle shot. If you watch any experienced player playing against a younger opponent, you will see that they make their opponents run as much as possible.
Inexperienced beginners tend to oblige by chasing the shadows which coupled with their lack of match fitness can quickly sap them out of energy. This will make it easier for you to easily win the second half of your match.
Offer Them High Lobs
As discussed earlier, patience and playing the percentage shots is a rare quality in beginners and high lobs are normally too tempting for them to deal with. Early on in the game try and give them a couple of high lobs just to see if they attempt a smash and how good they execute it.
If they look comfortable and deal with it easily, fair enough. But there is a very good chance that their execution will not be up to the mark and they may end up hitting one of tit way out of the court or right into the net.
If its the later, give them high lobs to deal with more often. With every badly executed smash, their confidence level will drop further. This is likely to give you some easy points and a mental edge over your opponent.
Beginners tend to focus on power game and rely on their forehands the most. Thus it is a logical thing to stifle their strengths and force them into committing mistakes. Pickleball in itself is a sport that is based around forcing your opponent into making a mistake rather than going for winners.
Thus the tips we have mentioned above are not only going to be effective when you come up against a recreational player but will stand you in good stead against most opponents. Do let us know what you think!