Back in the old days, there was a strategy in tennis known as “serve and volley.“ Players who were really good “serve and volleyers” were said to have “soft hands.”
No matter how hard the return of serve or a passing shot was hit at them, they were able to actually overpower their opponents by taking speed off the ball and softly/gently placing it precisely back on the other side of the net, just out of their opponents reach.
Because of the third ball bounce rule in pickleball, while we can’t actually serve and volley like we can in tennis, the “soft hands” theory of play is an absolute necessity when competing against the opponent whose strategy is: “I’m going hit the ball as hard as I can and if it comes back, I’m going to hit it harder the next time.”
While some of us naturally have softer hands than others, there are techniques and practices that can improve your ability to have soft hands.
First and most important, don’t over grip the paddle. Basically speaking, having soft hands requires a soft grip.
The paddle should be almost floating in your hand. You only need to apply firm pressure to the grip just as you make contact with the ball. After contact, the paddle should once again be almost floating in your hand.
Here is a practice you can do which will help you to develop softer hands. I call this drill Stop-Zees. The objective of this drill is to catch or cradle the ball on the face of the paddle.
Start by simply bouncing the ball on your paddle, aka Up-Zees, then see if you can actually catch the ball without it bouncing back up off the face of the paddle.
Once you can effectively do this on the forehand side of the paddle face, start flipping the paddle, alternating from forehand to backhand sides of the aka Flip-Zees.
Finally, let the ball bounce on the ground and gently catch/cradle it on the face of your paddle. This now requires you to be able to have soft hands while moving and using your feet and legs.
So, work on developing “soft hands” as a strategy of how to overpower a power hitter.
Wayne Clark is a professional tennis instructor with over 25 years’ experience coaching players on all levels of the game. Wayne is also qualified in pickleball instruction and is on staff as an instructor with The Pickleball Academy of Southwest Florida at East Naples Community Park. Contact Coach Wayne by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone or text at 239-450-6161.