Column: Mastering the lob in Pickleball
The lob is a shot in Pickleball where the ball is lifted over the heads of the opponents in order to drive them away from the front of the court to the back of the court. At the same time it allows your team to come up to the front of the court. So when to hit this shot and when not to is a story we shall explore.
But first a little review. The ball by rule has to be served and bounced before it can be returned by the opponents. When returned to the serving side, the ball has to bounce before they can hit it. You may recall there is a line seven feet back on each side called the kitchen line. This is what both sides try to get to right away in the game after they hit the bounced ball. Problem, opponents run right up to that line after they hit the bounced ball and create a wall of hurt and pain for the serving team. The serving team is still at the back of the court waiting for the ball to bounce before they can hit it. So how do they get past that wall in front of them?
One way to handle it is to hit a drop shot as we explained in a previous article. But the other way is to throw or scoop a shot over the opponent’s heads and make them run back while the offense runs up to the seven-foot line and gains what the opponent had just a few seconds ago.
Simple so far. Now the difficulty. When you lob a ball you have about a 25 percent chance of the ball landing in on the opposite side. In a high wind, the percentage is even lower. Why? Because one-half of the court is 22 feet deep from the net. When either side sees a lob coming they can take one-step back and cover all but 25 percent of the court.
So what? If the opponent can reach a lob and hit it, it will be a powerful overhead or wheelhouse slam which can be a really hard shot to return if at all. That is why it is the third hardest shot in the game to get good at right behind the drop and restart shots.
Here is a tip for those of you who already play the game: High winds produce some problems and advantages for the lob. The reason is the ball is like a waffle ball and catches air and especially so as it descends. In high winds it can blow the ball right out of the court. So hitting the ball in a cross court wind or when the wind is in back of you is not such a great idea.
But according to Pastor JT Schulze of Starting Point church who is a 5.0 top player in the game, if the wind is right into your face the ball has a good chance of drifting back onto the court. That can produce some interesting moments in the game as well as laughter.
Here is another tip: No matter where you’re at on the court, if one or both of the opponents are hanging around in the back of the court. In that case it is never a good idea to hit a lob.
It is always better to hit the drop or a hard blocking or put away shot in the opposite side where the person standing back is located.
Then there is what I like to call the “stinky” dink. All parties are near the net dinking away.
One thing you can do is throw a lob over the opponents head from the dink. Surprise!
It works I have done it and for recreational players it is a hard recovery for opponents.
Pickleball, an easy game to learn, hard to get really good at but a game everyone can play from ages 9 to 90 and up. It is really not a game of power so much as strategy, finesse and control. It was developed as a family game and at the recreational level remains the same today.
Bob Atherton is a Tier 2 pickleball coach and the Northern Arizona District Ambassador for the United States Pickleball Association. He can be reached at email@example.com or 928-499-2498.