As a former high school and collegiate tennis player, the term “dink” has always had a negative connotation with those with whom I competed. It was a term predominantly used to describe a player who wasn’t really too good, didn’t “hit out” with their ground strokes and simply “pushed” the ball back to their opponent with little to no aggressiveness in the hopes of forcing an unforced error by his/her opponent. It was a strategy that would work well against “less seasoned” players, but would be ineffective when playing those of higher caliber.
Dinking in Pickleball – An Underutilized Strategy
Dinking in pickleball, however, is a very effective and necessary doubles strategy employed by the very best players. Unfortunately, it’s also a strategy that is grossly underutilized by the beginning player.
After entering my first pickleball tournament I learned the hard way the importance of adding the dink shot to one’s repertoire of shots. It’s a strategy that will likely foil any tennis player’s hard-blasting strategy.
What is a Dink?
The dink in pickleball is simply a shot executed from around your own kitchen line that lands in your opponent’s non-volley zone (kitchen).
Because the pickleball rules clearly state that you cannot hit the ball out of the air from inside this non-volley zone, a well executed dink will force your opponent to let the ball bounce. Because the ball will bounce – and a pickleball doesn’t bounce very high – your opponent will be forced to hit their next shot “up” to clear the net, making it very challenging for them to hit the ball hard and still keep it in the court.
Your opponent’s likely next shot is simply to dink it back to you. The dinking typically continues until one player hits the ball a little too far and high resulting in a shot that can then be struck in a downward motion, generally for a winner..
Dink Technique – How to Dink
To hit an effective dink, proper court positioning is crucial. Make sure you are positioned just 1-2 inches behind the kitchen line. If you stand further back than 1-2 inches, it will be easier for your opponents to hit the ball at your feet (a very vulnerable position) and they will also have better angles when attempting to hit between you and your partner.
As you execute the dink shot you will want to make sure you first have soft, relaxed hands with a relatively light grip pressure when holding the paddle. Use a very minimal backswing. The paddle should never go behind your body.
Bend your knees (stay low) and make contact comfortably in front of your body. Make sure your “swing” isn’t really a swing at all. Rather, when dinking, it’s more of a lifting motion with your shoulder. The wrist and elbow should stay firm in a relatively locked position.
Finally, your follow thru should be quite short – perhaps just a foot or two after contact. And, of course, give yourself plenty of margin for error over the net. As long as you hit a dink in which you force your opponent to hit up on their next shot – even if they take the ball out of the air by extending their reach into the non-volley zone – your execution of the shot is just fine.
When to Dink
The time to hit a dink shot is when you and your opponents are all at the Non-Volley Line.
A Dink for a Dink
If your opponent dinks, the highest percentage response is – you guessed it – a dink. Responding with a hard-driving volley or groundstroke is a very low percentage shot. Chances are that, because you have to hit “up” to clear the net, such a hard-driving shot will be difficult to keep in the court. The dink, while not necessarily the sexy option, is the best shot selection.
When Not to Dink
The dink is typically a smart and effective shot when all players are at the net. However, it is not the most effective strategy when you and your partner are at the net and you have pinned your opponent to the baseline. You have a distinct advantage at this point. Don’t negate this advantage for you and your partner by bring your opponents up to the net. Instead, keep your opponent pinned to the baseline – and don’t let them get to the net – you’ll increase your chances of winning the point.
Practice, Practice, Practice
To be good at the dink shot requires practice and repetition. With that in mind, see you on the courts! For additional doubles and singles strategies, click here.