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Poaching in pickleball is done during a doubles match. It means to move to the front of the area of play and cross the line in front of your doubles partner to hit the ball back.
As a strategy, it works well if it catches your opponents off guard, and if your partner knows to step back and cross behind you to cover your area of play.
How to poach in Pickleball
Communication is key
When working out how to poach in pickleball, your partner needs to be in the loop of what you’re going to do.
For example, if you’re short and fast and your partner is tall and a bit slower, let them know that you’re headed to the front line against a particular opponent.
The line between poaching as an effective means of competition and being a ball hog is actually pretty slim.
One of the hassles of poaching is that it’s often done by better players to protect players of less experience, so the less-experienced player stays that way, learns little and gains no confidence.
If you’re prone to poaching because of your competitive spirit, do your best to break away from competition for run of the mill games and let the other player get in some hits.
Remember, it’s a game. It’s supposed to be fun.
Losing the bounce
Volleying in pickleball has a pretty standard pattern.
Hit, bounce, return.
Poaching players often get in the way of the bounce and hit the ball back more quickly than the opponents may expect.
While shuffling from side to side to manage the bounce and hanging back a little bit slows down play, the practice of volleying does make sure that everyone on the court gets in a few hits on each volley.
Targeting the weaker player
If you’re poaching because you’re known as a strong competitor and it’s the only way you get the ball, split the court from end to end instead of from side to side and do some coaching.
Let your weaker partner hang back and get in some volley practice while you offer direction and guidance.
Part of working out how to poach in pickleball without playing a game of singles against two opponents is to focus on how everyone on the court is here to:
- have fun
- get some exercise
- improve their game
If you’re a strong enough player that people avoid hitting the ball to you, you may have to poach to participate.
Just let your partner know that they’re going to get to volley from the back.
Using back to front energy wisely
Part of splitting the court from back to front gives the back, less experienced player more time to adjust their body so their volley uses good arm strength and a steady wrist position.
Try to encourage the back player to step back immediately after one of you makes the hit, especially if the hit has some lift to it, as it’s going to come back fast and hard.
An important factor when determining how to best cover the court when two players are of greatly different abilities is reviewing the ability of the weaker player to move effectively.
Doubles pickleball is based on a side to side shuffle, which is easier on weak and older knees.
Back and forth movement increases the risk of a trip or a tumble.
If you’re a stronger player inclined to poach with the expectation that your partner will be able to easily move back and forth instead of side to side, be ready to play 2/3 of the volleys until you know they’re comfortable getting up and down the court.
Watch volley height
The ease of movement from side to side and back to front decided, the player inclined to poach will need to watch volley height.
It’s easy to pop up when playing close to the net, especially if your opponent is tempted to hit close to the body or target your feet.
At the top of the kitchen, you have little time to react and may wind up using the paddle defensively, leaving yourself wide open for a spiked shot.
If your net play is making you a target and forcing you to hit quickly instead of accuracy, stop poaching.
Step back and give yourself the room to allow both you and your partner to return volleys.
Another option is to rotate the poach.
If you and your partner are of similar skills, rotate sides in a circular pattern so there’s always a fresh person at the net.
If you have to stop the rotation for any reason, call it to avoid side-stepping into your partner, and return to the pattern as soon as you can.
No matter where you’re playing, keep an eye on your stance.
You want your feet apart and your knees flexed so you can quickly shuffle from side to side to make the best hit.
Even the back player needs to stay limber and loose, with knees open and slightly bent.
Side to side motion takes quick footwork but doesn’t put a lot of stress on knees, hips or ankles.
Players who move back and forth from top to bottom are at greater risk of knee stress; when the feet top, the weight of the body puts pressure on the balls of the feet and the knees.
If you’re playing doubles with a beginner and your opponent takes the game to them, poach at least enough to keep your partner protected from body hits.
Work to allow them space to move behind you to successfully hit on long volleys.
No matter your hand position, as a poacher you’re at risk of pop-ups in the event of a hit right to the core.
If you’re facing off against a hard hitter, do your best to keep your wrists loose so you can improve your dink game.
Hard hitters will want to play back a bit so they can size up the height across the net.
You can make them work their back to front game a bit with a few good dinks.
If you’re trying to build better playing skills close to the net, ask your partner to let you do a bit of poaching.
Start with both of you at mid-court, then you move forward as they move back.
Keep your stance low so you can move quickly to use good paddle position and put your arm into the stroke, and let the long ones go so your partner can get in some hitting and volley practice as well.
There’s no reason you both can’t work on your goals and skill sets.
Protecting your inexperienced partner is a good practice, but being a ball hog is poor sportsmanship.
Competitive play is good practice, but clobbering an inexperienced player over and over again because you can is really poor sportsmanship.
If you’ve got a new partner who needs to gain paddle control and confidence in their hits, and if they’re still learning to volley, avoid the folks who view everything as a death match.
Keep it fun, and don’t take things too seriously.