If you’ve played pickleball for any length of time at all then you know that there are many different types and styles of pickleball players out there.
One of the most challenging to deal with is the aggressive player that is also consistent in their aggressive play. Meaning, they make their plays, they make their shots.
We’re going to dive into five effective strategies that you can use to defuse and defend against the aggressive player. Specifically when they’re being really aggressive from the net and clogging up the middle of the court.
The scenario we’re going to be breaking down today can happen at any time during the point but it most often happens when you are the returning team and they are the serving team.
Let’s say you’re the receiver on your team and you’re being served to from the server, cross court, and you’re returning from the even side. They serve the ball, you return it, you’re coming in. You should want to return and advance to the net to meet your partner.
The server then drops the shot cross court to you and, as you may have been taught, you send that ball back cross court aiming for their feet because that’s a really good idea. They’re slightly back, they’re not up at the non-volley zone line.
Next thing you know, their partner comes crossing over and they take a big forehand poach through the middle. Just like that, the point’s over.
Before we dive any deeper, we want to quickly explain why you haven’t done anything wrong yet, the first time or two that this happens. You are playing the smart shot. You’re not expecting the server’s partner to come across and be aggressive, poaching on a regular basis.
Typically, when your opponents are in a staggered formation, meaning one’s a bit back and they’re not side by side, you do want to play that shot to the deeper player and put it at their feet.
There’s lots of benefits to that. They’re further back and they can be less aggressive.
If they’re taking it off their shoelaces, they must hit up, and there’s a greater risk of a popped up ball that you can then do damage with. It’s really tough to actually dig balls out of your shoelaces when you’re further back in the court. It’s doable but it’s not the easiest thing.
So, you want to put your opponents in not the best situation because that’s good for you.
However, the challenge arises when the other team, specifically that player’s partner, flips the script on you. All of a sudden the shot that in general is smart becomes not smart.
You can’t keep hitting that shot.
You’re gonna have to do something else or you’re gonna go down quickly and lose the game in no time at all if that player continues to clog up the middle and poach like crazy.
The good news is there’s lots of other options for things you can do.
Let’s dive into the options when you’re dealing with an aggressive net player that’s poaching all the time.
Option #1 – Return To The Aggressive Player
Option number one is to hit the return to them.
If they have to hit the third shot then they can’t be sneaking in while their partner is hitting that third shot looking to do damage on the next ball that comes over.
There’s a lot that that aggressive player has to do in preparation to be able to come across and poach and be aggressive on that next shot. They can’t do it from way back.
So, as their partner is hitting the third shot, they’re busy sneaking in getting set to go. But, if they’re the ones that have to hit the third shot then all of a sudden they’re not a problem anymore.
If they’re partner’s being an aggressive poacher to then there’s other things you might have to consider. But typically, it’s one player that is super aggressive with the poaches.
So, if you neutralize them by hitting the return to them there’s a really good chance that’ll defuse the situation.
Option #2 – Hit Short, Low & Away
Option number two is to still keep that ball cross-court but instead of aiming for the feet of the cross-court player that’s further back, keep it short, low and away.
So, a bit shorter in the court, low crossing the net, and a little more angle on it so you’re sending it more wide rather than towards the player.
This will keep the ball out of reach for any potential poach therefore diffusing that aggressive poaching situation.
Option #3 – Hit Behind The Aggressive Player
Option number three is to take the shot behind the poacher.
Instead of going cross court you’re going to go down the line and more towards the sideline because they’re squeezing the middle.
It doesn’t have to be an attack, it can just be a dink over that way, deeper in the kitchen or slightly past the kitchen.
Because they’re going to be leaning pretty hard wanting to squeeze that middle and take anything that floats through the middle, you’re going to send it the other way behind them.
They’ll probably have to change directions to go out to get that ball and they’ll be able to get it but they’re not really going to be able to be aggressive with it and therefore you’re out of the situation.
Option #4 – Attack Body/Non-Dominant Shoulder
Option four is to attack them at their body and more towards their offside.
We typically recommend attacking at a player’s body towards their dominant side to jam them up in the shoulder.
However, usually players are going to be poaching from the odd side over to the even side because they’re more comfortable poaching with their forehand.
They’ll set it up in such a way where that’s how they’re going to be poaching.
So, you’ll want to attack them at their body, a little bit more towards their left shoulder, because they’re moving right and they’re looking for their forehand.
It’ll take them a split second longer to take the paddle to their backhand over to their left shoulder and they often get jammed up.
It takes some skill to attack them in that way but it’s definitely doable and it’s a good option because they’re not expecting it and they’ll probably be surprised and get jammed up.
Attacking their body when they’re leaning quite heavily to poach is a really viable option to defuse the situation.
Option #5 – Use Combinations
Option number five is to use any one of the previous four options in combination of two or more.
As I mentioned earlier in the video, very often the poacher is going to be executing that aggressive poach on the fifth shot of the point.
But, not always.
It may not have worked out at that time but they are still looking to clog up the middle so they might do it on the 7th or at another time.
You may have to hit a few shots before that happens and hopefully you can diffuse it so that it doesn’t happen.
Several things you could do are return to them and try to keep them back or if they are able to come in you can then dink behind them or dink low and away cross court.
You will have to do a few of these things together.
The main thing you want to do is keep it from floating in the middle where they have an attackable ball because that is what they’re looking for.
None of these things are going to necessarily win you the point outright with the exception of the attack to the body, that one may, but the rest probably won’t.
What they will serve to do is to neutralize this particular offensive scenario that you probably will be facing at some point if you haven’t already. A really aggressive net player that is poaching frequently.
Basically the whole goal is to live to fight to the next scenario which will be within the same point.
If you come up against this scenario, and you will, these are the things you can do.