As I introduce players to understanding and comprehending the purpose and strategical utilization of the no volley zone, aka “the kitchen”, I encourage them to immediately begin to play balls in the air, whenever they feel they can comfortably, confidently, and effectively do so.
Unfortunately, many enthusiastic players who are new to the game and are following my encouraging advise end up playing balls in the air that they probably, (actually), should have played off the bounce. The result of attempting to do this is that many times they too often pop the ball up, which then allows their opponents the opportunity to spike the ball away.
So how do we decide which balls we can, (and should) play in the air and which balls we should decide to play off the bounce?
A simple way to accomplish this is to think it like a traffic light at an intersection; green means go, yellow means proceed with caution and red means stop.
Like deciding whether or not to proceed through an intersection, in pickleball this theory translates to deciding whether or not to take a ball in the air or let it bounce when dinking.
We first want to be aware of the location of our point of contact with the ball and break it down into three zones.
My green zone is any ball which I can make contact within a space that is at a level located above the level of my waist.
My yellow zone is any ball which I can make contact within a space that is located at a level below the level of my waist down to my knees.
My red zone is any ball which I can make contact within a space that is located at a level below my knees to my feet.
So, let’s discuss the choices and applications of our shot opportunities in each of these zones.
Green provides a contact point in a zone which is above the level of the net. This allows me to take the ball early and be offensive and aggressive with the placement of my shot into my opponent’s court.
Yellow provides a contact point in a zone.
which will be at or below the level of the net. This creates a situation where if I feel that I can comfortably, confidently, and effectively take the ball in the air, I should do so. However, if I feel challenged by playing this ball in the air, then I will decide to back away from the flight path of the ball, let it bounce and play the ball (off the bounce) in my yellow zone. The reason I have chosen to back off and let it bounce is to provide me with more time and space to be able to confidently, comfortably, and effectively play this ball. Letting the ball bounce also allows me to play a slower moving ball, which has a trajectory that is now rising (from the bounce) into my yellow zone.
Either way, whether I play it in the air or off the bounce, I may need to be a bit more cautious in my shot selection as I might not have the opportunity to be as offensive and aggressive with the placement of my shot into my opponent’s court as I would with a ball in my green zone.
Red provides a very low contact point in a zone which even for advanced level players can be a challenging shot. If I am forced to have to play this ball in the air, I most likely will be hitting a defensive shot. However, once again, (if possible), I will back away from the flight path of the ball in the red zone, let it bounce and then play the ball (off the bounce) in my yellow zone. I will most likely still be hitting a defensive shot, but as stated before, I have now provided myself with more time and space to be able to confidently, comfortably, and effectively play this ball.
Just like driving through an intersection, paying attention to these three zones provides me with a priority of choices on how to proceed with my next shot. Green zone means pedal to the metal and keep on going, yellow zone means proceed with caution and red zone means yield to my opponents.
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 Naples Pickleball Center and Training Academy at East Naples Community Park. Contact Coach Wayne by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone or text at 239-450-6161.