Body shots and how to deal with them. Should you slam?

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With its small pitch, pickleball is a game that lends itself to slamming a ball at your opponent(s). Many players have hit an opposing player, intentionally or not. When you hit a ball directly at someone on the other side of the net, it can be a winning strategy. But is it fair?

Many gamers say “tagging someone” is part of the game. I disagree. I try to hit their feet, or their backhand, or into a space on the court. If I hit someone, I apologize immediately. I know others have a different view on this.

If you have a reputation for kicking another player on purpose, consider this: other players may start to avoid you. Even if you intentionally land a body shot, I think it’s common to ask, “Are you okay?”

If you find yourself playing against someone who has no qualms about trying to punch you between the eyes, what can you do to defend yourself? Some ideas:

  • If you see that you or your partner have put a ball in the air to be attacked, set up with your paddle in the air and ready to “reset” any ball hit in your area – this means picking up the pace of the ball, keep it low and try to place it in your opponent’s kitchen so they can’t attack. Soften your grip and just think about “catching” the ball. Your enemies provide the power…you must meet the ball in front to reset or block.
  • To prevent this from happening in the first place, make sure to work on your third shot and intentional dinking which is unassailable.
  • To guess! A lot of times I just put my paddle in the middle and my opponent hits me straight. I can defend when I know where they are going to slam.

You can take other steps to protect yourself:

  • Buy and wear glasses! Slams are part of the game, so protect your eyes.
  • Keep your returns deep and your third shots unassailable.
  • Be a consistent dinker and don’t pop it.
  • Keep your paddle to defend!

If you come across a slammer who is intentionally targeting you, you might want to choose not to play with that person. If someone asks you why, be honest. You don’t want to hurt yourself playing with this person. Maybe they will change their ways.

There’s quite a bit of discussion about this topic on YouTube, blogs, and posts from Pickleball Ambassadors. You don’t know what you think? Here are some great links that ask players for feedback – click on the links to see reviews and opinions.

Sarasota Pickleball: Sorry, Not Sorry: sarasotapickleball.com/sorry-not-sorry-in-pickleball/

All Pickleball Blog: Hitting an Opponent: allpickleball.com/1300-2/

Sarah Ansboury returns a hit in the pro mixed doubles final during the USA Pickleball Championships held at Naples East Community Park on Saturday April 30, 2016 in Naples, Florida.  Ansboury and partner Daniel Moore would win the gold medal.  (Luke Franke/staff)

Coach Mary’s Tip of the Week: How do you protect yourself?

Imagine you have a target on your chest. How to protect it from slammers?

  • You can hide your target by turning your heart and keeping your non-hitting arm/hand in front of you.
  • When facing the terrain straight on, keep your paddle up – your paddle and other hand will be in front of you, which hides your target.
  • Footwork! Be sure to move to a balanced spot with both hands in front, moving your feet sideways. Since you can’t enter the kitchen, this is a protect and attack strategy with your paddle in front of your striking shoulder.

Be sure to watch Sarah Ansboury’s YouTube on this topic: youtu.be/0PX7riF8EC4

We want to hear your thoughts on body shots! Email us at [email protected]

Pickleball columnist Mary Barsaleau in Palm Springs, Calif., on Sept. 29, 2021.
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