Whether you are starting in pickleball or playing on a pro tour, we have all been on the wrong end of having to face wave after wave of power shot from our opponents. A well-hit power shot is really difficult to return and you have very limited options in terms of what you can do to negate it and stay in the point. But there are a few tips that you can follow and improve your blocks against a power shot.
Pickleball is primarily a sport about playing your defensive shots better. The higher you go in the sport, your ability to successfully block the power shots determines your chances of success in the match.
In this article, we shall look at a few tips to successfully block power shots and how we can take this skill to the next level & eventually turn into a very effective point winning weapon.
How can you Block Power Shots Better?
There are multiple tips in blocking a power shot in pickleball. These are:
- Predict & Anticipate the Shot
- Use the Existing Pace to Return and Don’t Try to Smash it
- Be Ready in Correct Position
- Paddle Positioning
- Play the Reset Shot to Gain Back Control
More information around these tips & tricks to improve your block can be found below.
The tips have been divided into five categories where you start with anticipating when the power shot is going to be played, then move to be in the correct position to play the return as well having the paddle in the right angle as well. In the end, we look at how a block can be turned into a winning shot.
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Predict & Anticipate the Shot
The first piece of advice can look like coming from the perennial “easier said than done” category but it is one of the most accurate ones as well.
Blocking power shots can become much easier to deal with if you know when your opponent is going to play it. Players who play power shots often do it in a pattern and do it often, you just need to find out their playing style to understand when are they going to play it.
Now it can be difficult to do that if you have never played against an individual before but players who often play power shots do tend to start playing them as soon as the match starts which will give you a fair indication of when is your opponent likely to use it.
This is a difficult habit to pick up as most players are too engrossed in their own game and routines just before and after the match starts. But it is important to utilize this time correctly. This phase of the match can be a key into noticing little patterns and habits of your opponent.
Because it is difficult to notice and work out your opponent’s pattern in the middle of the match by when you are already under pressure of not losing further points.
It is important to quickly gauge what kind of shots your opponent plays when the game hangs in a balance or at a crucial point. The shot they play during these times are most likely their go-to shots and it will help you anticipate further power shots better.
Use the Existing Pace to Return and Don’t Try to Smash it
When a power shot is played against you, the instinctive and most natural reaction to it is to hit it back as hard as you can.
It takes a lot of time and practice to override this natural reaction and learn to not fall for this trap. There is a very good chance that if you return a hard shot with power and try to smash it, it will go straight into the net or way out of bounds. It is very difficult to accurately place a hard shot with a powerful smash.
Thus the best strategy to deal with a powerfully hit hard shot is to just stick your paddle out in the front and try to make decent contact.
Your opponent’s shot already has enough power and velocity that if you just make the right contact and place your return correctly, it can be a winner for you. Even if that doesn’t happen, you will at least successfully block the hard shot and the point will be alive.
So always remember, that one of the worst shots you can play to a power shot is to smash it back. The chances of you succeeding are purely based on luck. The best strategy would be to just put the paddle in front of you and try to block the shot.
Be Ready in Correct Position
Anticipating a hard shot is one thing but dealing with it is another. No matter how accurately you can predict when a hard drive is going to be played, if you can’t deal with it effectively it is going to be of no use.
So one of the most important things, to successfully block a hard shot, is to be in the correct position to block it. And by the position we mean, you should be what is knows as the “ready position” in pickleball.
A ready position is when the player is in a split step position where both the feet are wider than the distance between the shoulders with bent knees and the weight of your body is leaning forward.
What this position does is allows you to play the stroke more efficiently with most of your power generated going towards the stroke helping it generate the power. It is also an important psychological stance where not only your body but also your mind is mentally switched on for the next shot.
Another important part of correct positioning to block a hard shot is to have your paddle in the correct place. This means when you are in the ready position, the paddle should be in front of you and not on your sides.
This reduces the time you will take to bring the paddle in the correct place when returning the ball and will keep more options open for you in terms of where you want to place your block.
Remember time is the crucial aspect of blocking a hard drive and thus any movement that saves even a tiny mini second is worth it.
In the next stage of learning how to play a block against a power stroke is to learn the correct paddle positioning.
So far we have covered what our body positioning should be and the fact that we must not play a smash in return. A lot of the times even when you are not trying to force the issue and are just trying to simply block the shot, your return will go straight into the net. And the reason for that is your paddle’s position.
When returning a power shot, your paddle should be facing slightly upwards. This will make sure that your return goes over the net but also apply a little bit of backspin on the stroke.
What this does is that it takes the pace of the ball and the opponent will struggle to return it with another smash.
Once you feel comfortable enough in terms of ensuring that your paddle is positioned upwards, you should try to angle it a little bit on the left or the right depending upon where your opponent is in the court.
This is the advanced stage of your paddle positioning where you not only return the power shot with a loopy backspin shot but also place it in a way where it becomes harder for your opponent to return it.
Of course, it takes a lot of practice and patience to develop these angles and implement it successfully. But it will give you rich rewards once you know how to use your paddle’s positioning correctly against a power shot.
Play the Reset Shot to Gain Back Control
The next stage of playing a block to a power shot is to make sure that you also break the chain of the opponent playing consecutive power shots. A hard shot from the opponent limits the shots you can play to win the points.
And that is why it is important to return a power shot in a way where the point is “reset”.
Resetting a point means that as a result of your return the opponent is forced into returning the ball with a non-offensive shot. The ideal way to reset the point is to hit your return in a way that the ball drops right at the feet of your opponent and that allows you to improve your position on the court.
If you observe the game of top players in the sport, they reset a point very effectively and although it takes a lot of practice to learn, ability to reset a power shot can take you to the next level.
At the end of the day, the most important part of blocking power shots is to practice as much as you can and learn the ability to be composed and measured at the moment.
As mentioned earlier in the article, it is easier said than done but learning to block power shots is a really crucial part of your development as a pickle ballplayer.
So keep in mind the tips above, try and customize practice sessions to replicate in match scenarios and you will find dealing with power shots easier very soon!