Pickleball is a sport that has grown in popularity over the years, but with its growing popularity comes an issue that has been around as long as the game itself: poaching. In this piece below we look at the concept of poaching in pickleball and the various aspects associated with it, including the legality, ethics, pros & cons and tips on how to poach.
What is Poaching in Pickleball?
Poaching in doubles pickleball occurs when one player crosses over to the partner’s side of the court to hit a stroke that might have been hit by the partner in normal circumstances.
A poach is when a player strategically crosses over the centerline to play a shot because it could result in an advantage to his team in the ensuing rally. It’s an aggressive move that could lead to the team which has had a player poach the ball, win the point or take better control of the rally.
When executed well, poaching goes a long way in proving to be a surprise element for the opponent.
Poaching has been around in doubles tennis for a while now and those who are familiar with playing tennis would obviously know it forms a big part of strategy, especially at the professional level.
Not surprising then, a sport which is said to incorporate elements of tennis (among other sports), would also imbibe a strategy like poaching from it.
The Ethical Issue Around Poaching
There have often been question-marks about the ethics surrounding pickleball poaching and in this section we attempt to answer whether it’s ethical and what are the etiquettes surrounding this tactic.
But first, we must talk about the legality of poaching.
Is Poaching in Pickleball Legal?
Unlike something like volleying in the pickleball kitchen, there is nothing illegal about poaching in pickleball. For those who have been playing and following tennis, this is a regular tactic in that sport and has continued to be used in pickleball without any concern.
The question of legality of poaching in a sport only arises when it’s not allowed by the rules. For instance, in doubles matches in table tennis, you cannot ‘poach’ because each of the players has to attempt to return the ball in a particular order.
There’s no such rule in pickleball and what that means is one player can attempt all the shots in a doubles match.
Which brings us to the next question and that’s about the ethics around pickleball poaching.
Is Poaching in Pickleball Ethical?
While there is no formal rule against poaching in pickleball, it is considered unsportsmanlike conduct by many players. Especially at the lower levels of pickleball.
Poaching can cause issues because in its basic nature it interferes with another player’s shot, potentially leading to collisions on the court.
While playing pickleball at a recreational or amateurish level, if you do not have some level of understanding with your partner it might not make sense to poach.
At those lower levels, pickleball players usually want to have fun playing the sport and not worry too much about the result of the rally. Poaching effectively means one player is taking over the shot-making from his or her partner and in an recreational game it could lead to unnecessary friction.
Also, if you are playing with someone who likes to poach, it is important to be aware of their movements and try to stay out of their way. It might also make sense to discuss this with your partner before the game so that both of you are on the same page about it.
Advantages of Poaching in Pickleball
Now that we have discussed what’s pickleball poaching and the legality and ethical issues associated with poaching in detail, let’s move to talking about the advantages of doing so in pickleball.
If you and your pickleball partner have discussed poaching in advance and both agree it’s the right way to go about it or if you are playing the sport at a competitive level where winning matters a lot more than it did at the beginner or amateur level, then here’s a list of reasons why poaching could prove to be beneficial to your team.
Allows Better Player to Take Shot
By ‘better player’ we do not necessarily imply the better of the two players in general, but the player who, at that moment in the rally, is a better player to make that shot.
For instance, in a mixed doubles match, if the male player might have a better chance to hit a volley off his forehand while being close to the net despite the ball travelling to his female partner who would have to twist around to convert it into a forehand stroke.
Disrupt Opponent Tactics
It can disrupt your opponents’ game plan.
Very often an opponent team might try to target whom they perceive is a weaker of the two players and with the stronger player often poaching the shot that is reserved for his or her opponent it could force your opponents to feel frustrated.
Change the Opposition Rhythm
It forces your opponents to adjust; your opponents will have to adjust their shots and angles if you are standing in their way. This can throw off their rhythm and give you an advantage.
Keeps the Opponents on Their Toes
Now that a team knows there is a poacher in the opposition camp, they would have to be aware of that possibility on a regular basis. One might not try to poach every rally but it could create enough doubts in the minds of the opponent.
To give an analogy, in tennis if a player has the ability to pull out the drop shot regularly, the opponent would know better than to play from too far back from the baseline thereby keeping him or her on toes.
Creates Point-Scoring Opportunities
It makes it difficult for your opponents to return your shots. If you are standing close to the net and putting their volleys away, your opponents will have a hard time returning your shots. They may also be more likely to hit the ball into the net.
As a result of that, it could create opportunities for a team to score, especially if the opponents are struggling to return the poacher’s shots.
How many poaching attempts can you pick up in this game of pickleball?
When Should I Poach in Pickleball?
Poaching is a common strategy in pickleball, and can be used to great effect. However, there are some key times when poaching can give you an added edge over your opponents.
- It’s a competitive game in which winning means a lot more than it would at the recreational level.
- Your opponent has mis-hit an attempted lob into the air with your partner at the baseline.
- You have a chance to unleash your forehand as opposed to the other option where your partner will be hitting the un-poached shot off his or her backhand (which is traditionally considered to be the weaker of the two hands in pickleball)
- If the opponent is serving and not being imaginative about where they are hitting the ball, you could intercept a volley and surprise them.
- If you realize your opponents are consistently targeting your partner because he or she is perceived to be the weaker player.
- Not a lot of other strategies are working for your team and you need to try something different to get back into the match.
- You are in front of your partner, who hasn’t been able to come in quickly close to the net. It’s never easy to win a point from the baseline.
- You want to deliver a one-two punch by using the ‘Shake and Bake’ strategy.
In general, poaching can be a very effective strategy in pickleball. However, it is important to use it judiciously and not overdo it. Excessive poaching could allow your opponents to figure out what you’re doing and adjust their own game accordingly.
In short, use poaching as one tool in your arsenal, but don’t rely on it too heavily.
When Should I Not Poach in Pickleball?
While poaching is an excellent tactic in pickleball if used judiciously and executed well, players need to understand there are times one shouldn’t poach. Here’s a brief on when not to poach while playing pickleball.
- It’s not a competitive match but a fun, recreational encounter at an amateur level. Pickleball players at this level typically want to play the sport as a hobby and winning or losing isn’t much of a criteria for them. What is more important is to have fun hitting the ball back and even having a solid rally on a regular basis.
- You don’t have very quick hands. Poaching necessitates you to read your opponent’s game and time your poach to the tee.
- You are bound to get into a bad position as a result of the attempted poach and yet, if you do not put the ball away it could hurt your team’s chances. A poach, in its very nature, forces the poacher to make a shot that’s not on his or her side of the court, and that could get the poacher in a poor position. If that’s a possibility, it’s best not to poach.
- If you are not a good poacher. Poaching is not everybody’s cup of tea and if by adopting this tactic you are making your play more difficult for your team it’s best to avoid it and allow your partner to pull off the returns instead.
- Your partner doesn’t appreciate poaching. This could stem from some of the previous points we made – it could be a recreational setting or your partner is out there to just have some fun by getting some of the balls on his or her paddle.
- You don’t know your partner too well and are yet to understand what your partner’s views on poaching are, especially for those balls right in the middle.
Tips to Poach Well in Pickleball?
By now we have read all about the pros and cons of poaching, ethical issues around it and equally importantly when not to poach in pickleball.
In this section we look at a few pointers to help poach well in a game of pickleball.
After all, poaching could be an effective strategy if executed well, but it can also be frustrating for opponents who feel like they are being constantly flanked.
Here are some tips on how to poach well in pickleball:
- Communicate with your partner before the game. Get a sense of what he or she feels about poaching and opt for this strategy only if your partner is fully on board with it.
- Constantly talk to your partner during the game. Let them know when you are going to poach so they can adjust their game accordingly.
- Tennis players are consistently communicating with their partners with hidden signs and you could do the same too to ensure your opponents don’t know what’s coming at them. This will also allow your partner to switch sides of the court when he or she knows you might want to poach a shot.
- Be patient and wait for your opportunity. Poaching is all about timing and anticipation. If you rush in too early, you will likely miss the ball or end up hitting it out of bounds or get out of place for your team’s next shot.
- Opt to poach if the ball is on your forehand and your partner is behind you.
- Ensure you time your movement before going for the poach shot to perfection. Start to move into position just before your opponent has hit the shot to ensure you have the best angle to play the poach shot.
- Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Pay attention to where your partner is, as well as your opponents’ movement on the court who could potentially make poaching a less effective strategy.
- Have a backup plan. If poaching doesn’t seem to be working, don’t be afraid to try something else. There are many different ways to play pickleball, so experiment until you find what works best for you and your team.
Final Words on Poaching in Pickleball
So while poaching in racket sports has been around for a while, it is something that needs to be carefully analyzed by pickleball players irrespective of the level at which they are playing.
For professional pickleball players, if executed correctly, poaching could prove to be an extremely effective strategy.
At the same time, at a recreational level you might want to discuss poaching with your partner as it might otherwise take the fun element away from playing pickleball.