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Sun, Nov. 17

Column: Spinning ball doesn’t help a lot in Pickleball

Have you ever hit a wiffle ball with a bat? It does not go very far, even with a soft ball. That is because the ball has holes in it and the air catches the holes and slows it down dramatically. In addition, the ball has a tendency to float.

When the game was invented in 1965, the ball was specifically designed with holes in it in order to slow the ball, and thereby, the game down. Along with the use of a badminton size court and the non-volley zone, plus the rule that the ball must bounce on each side of the net prior to its return (otherwise incurring a fault) has created a distinct and separate sport in America.

It has helped to make Pickleball an intergenerational game that younger and older folks can play together in family events. It is also an easy game to learn to play in less than an hour without a lot of intense instruction and expense.

Even without a lot of sports background in, say, tennis, many new players can see success almost immediately. You do not even to have to be in great physical shape to have fun at the recreational level, but it can help you get in shape, lose weight and develop better hand-eye coordination. What a way to start a new year.

For those of you who play the game already, here are some ideas on what is called “spinning the ball.”

Spinning the ball is either a topspin, getting the ball to roll over clockwise, or backspin, causing the ball to rotate counter-clockwise.

It makes the ball bounce in different directions depending on the type of spin. Personally I do not teach the spin at the recreational level.

But if someone has already developed this technique naturally, or from tennis for example, I say good for you, and keep it in your arsenal of shots.

So why not teach it in Pickleball? Recall the ball has holes in it. When hit with a spin it does two things: It slows the ball down because those holes are catching more air as it flies through the air. Second, the ball has a tendency to float.

That is not an advantage in the modern faster-moving game on a small court.

With a back spin in particular it usually lands nearer the net than deep in the court, which only brings your opponent and their partner up to the non-volley line quicker.

That is one of the last things you really want to happen in the game because those who are up front near the net first win almost 80 percent of the points.

Here is another point. Unlike tennis for example, where the ball is a hard, almost smooth, surface that is hit with a racquet with string, you hit it with a paddle which has a smooth surface. What happens in this case is you must be extremely accurate with your spin or the ball will either fly out of the court or hit the net. In addition, the time spent perfecting the shot is wasted on more advanced players because your opponent will be watching the angle of your paddle and can be more easily returned to you.

My advice is if you want to learn spin, learn topspin and forget backhand spin altogether.

Joe Dinoffer, a master tennis professional in the USPTA and PTR and a Pickleball player, writing in a recent article featured in The Pickleball Magazine, put all this in way. “Ball sports have many things in common.

One of them is the effect of ball rotation on the sport.

Baseball has curve balls and football has spirals. In bowling, basketball, soccer and even golf, the effective use of spin has its connection to successful performance. And, in table tennis and tennis, although multiple ball spins are possible, topspin has the most impact.”

What about Pickleball? Compared to tennis, pickleballs do not spin very much. 

Why? Because the balls are much harder than tennis balls and there are no strings in Pickleball paddles to grip, grab and create spin.

In tennis, topspin allows the tennis player to hit harder and still keep balls landing in the court. In Pickleball, we rely mainly on gravity to bring the ball back down into the court.

What does that mean to Pickleballers? It means that the lack of topspin limits the amount of power you can hit on all shots (with the exception of high volleys and overheads). 

This lack of topspin alongside the kitchen rule makes control more important than power. This results in two things. First, it is a “gender equalizer” and second a “power neutralizer.”

So that is why I say those holes in Pickleball make a big difference, and if you have a natural talent for spin, you keep it, but if not, forget it especially if you want to advance to the highest levels of the sport. Spend your time learning control, meaning speed, angle, and pace of this fascinating game.

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