In one of my previous articles, “Three Strikes and Your In,” I wrote about the importance of the third ball shot scenario and the ability to efficiently and effectively utilize the dink shot in the kitchen to win points.
In tennis, a half volley is a shot that requires me to volley the ball on the bounce (aka a dink in pickleball). The half volley in tennis requires what I refer to as very quick, yet soft hands to execute properly. It is a shot which I must make a last second decision to take, either as a regular volley or as a half volley.
Volleys and half volleys also require good footwork, proper posture and balance.
Many beginner level pickleball players have the misconception that they must let a ball bounce in order to dink it and that all dinks must bounce in the kitchen. This theory is easily misperceived, due to the fact that one of the first things we are told when we are learning to play pickleball is that the kitchen is a NO VOLLEY ZONE! However, the kitchen is actually a no volley zone only if I step within the seven-foot line! Therefore, if I do not step into that zone, there is no reason I cannot and should not volley the ball!
This brings us to a shot called a volley dink.
The purpose of a volley dink is to take time and space away from my opponents. I am not necessarily trying to win the point with this shot, but I am attempting to set up a situation which will put me and my partner in an strategically offensive position, which will allow us the opportunity to win the point with an easy/high percentage shot.
While the volley dink is a shot which all advanced level players need to have in their arsenal, it is not necessarily a shot that I would recommend for beginner level players to attempt to conquer until they feel comfortable with playing and finishing off points in the kitchen.
So what influences my decision to choose to hit a volley dink as opposed to a regular dink?
As I stated earlier, as in tennis, it is a shot which I must make a last second decision to take either as a regular volley or as a half volley, and in pickleball, a ball does not necessarily have to bounce in the kitchen to be a dinked.
An experienced player will quite often place their dink onto my side of the court, utilizing an acute angle to attempt to pull me out of position laterally. They may also try a short dink, which is very close to the net, to pull me out of position into the kitchen. In addition to those two strategies, this player also understands that a good way to pull me out of position and make me pop a ball up is to place their dink at or behind my feet, actually aiming at a spot outside of the kitchen, either on, or just beyond the seven foot, no volley zone line.
This is the shot I would choose to hit as a volley dink.
My reasoning for choosing to hit this as a volley dink is two fold. First and most important, is the fact that I don’t want to give up or compromise my position at the seven-foot line. I also don’t want to pop the ball up (like most recreational level tennis players do when attempting to hit a half volley), which gives my opponent the opportunity for a put away (aka passing shot in tennis).
To properly execute this shot, I want to take the ball in the air. My main goal with the result of my shot is to try to take speed off the ball and place it in an area on my opponent’s side of the court, which will neutralize him from taking an offensive position and hopefully forces him to have to hit a dink on his next shot.
As in tennis, this shot requires quick, yet soft hands, good footwork, proper posture and balance.
In order to become proficient at the volley dink, I recommend you seek out the advice of a qualified instructor, who can first determine if you have the correct required fundamental dink and volley skills to be able to execute this somewhat advanced level shot. Once you have learned how to properly execute the shot, you must do your homework. By that I mean practice and drill!
Here is how to practice your volley dink using one of my favorite drills: With a single partner, you simply start the drill with a dink. As the drill progresses each player tries to force the other player to have to hit a volley dink. Your goal in this drill is to continue to hit nothing but soft shots, whether they be dinks or volleys. You are not allowed to hit a put away shot, even if you have a ball above the net, which in a point play situation you would go for a winner. Remember, the purpose and goal of this drill/practice, is to develop quick/soft hands and take speed off the ball.
At first, do this drill using just a half of the court. As you get better, use the entire kitchen. This will improve your movement, balance and ability to reach into the seven-foot zone.
Once you become proficient at hitting volley dinks, you will be amazed at how confident you feel in being able to hold your position at the seven-foot line!
Wayne Clark is a certified professional tennis instructor with over 25 years experience coaching players on all levels of the game. Wayne is also qualified in pickleball instruction. He has been the head instructor at The Marco Island Racquet Center since 2001. The Racquet Center offers clinics, private and group lessons for both tennis and pickleball. Coach Wayne’s Island Kids Tennis/Sports Juniors programs run year round, and offer classes for players ranging from kindergarten through high school. Contact Coach Wayne by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone or text at 239-450-6161.