Remember playing “Tag, You’re It” during recess when you were in elementary school – you know, the childhood game in which one person is “it” and is tasked with chasing and tagging (with their hand) the other players until all players have been tagged and marked out of play?
A subtle, yet strategic element of the game, if you recall, was a place called “Gool.” Gool – also known as “Base” in some parts of the country – was a place where those being chased could go and, according to the official bylaws of the game, could not be tagged and made “it.” It was a “safe” zone for those being chased.
So what does Gool have to do with Pickleball?
Imagine for a moment that the person who is currently “it” – the person chasing you down and getting ready to tag you is your opponent, who, at the moment, is in total control of the pickleball rally.
With each shot it feels like they are on your heels and “breathing down your neck” as they get ready to tag you and mark you out of the game. They are pelting ball-after-ball at you – with each ball seemingly hit harder and faster than the last. They are in total command of the rally – moving you side-to-side, out-of-position and at their mercy with each subsequent shot.
Luckily, there is such a concept in pickleball. Specifically, your opponent’s non-volley zone – the two-dimensional area that is twenty feet wide and extends seven feet from the net – is Gool. If leveraged strategically, this 140 square foot area is a “safe zone” from incoming fire. If you can successfully land the ball in this area you are likely safe from being attacked with the next shot.
When Should I Hit the Ball into Gool?
If you watch high-level pickleball, hitting the ball into Gool is an often-used strategy. Here are a few scenarios that warrant this strategy:
With all four players positioned at their own non-volley lines, dinking the ball into Gool forces your opponent to “hit up” on their next shot. Keep in mind, a well struck dink will mean that the pickleball will not bounce higher than the height of the net. If your opponent is hitting “up” on their shot to clear the net, it simply means they are not smashing the ball down at you. Therefore, they are forced to hit a ball that they cannot attack. You will likely not be pelted with incoming fire if you learn to dink effectively and consistently.
If you are pulled wide with a dink and you’re out of position – and there is no opportunity to go around-the-post – a dink to the middle of Gool is a great option. It will give you time to recover and it will prevent your opponent from attacking the next shot.
During a Volley Fire-Fight
If you are in a volley fire-fight with your opponent and you want to “reset” the rally (get out of the volley firefight and “start over”), you can do this by loosening your grip, absorbing the pace of the ball and blocking the ball softly into your opponent’s Non-Volley Zone or Gool.
When Your Opponents are at the Non-Volley Line, But You’re Not
If your opponent is attacking you and you are stuck in no-man’s land (the transition area), do whatever you can to land the ball into Gool. It’s a safe area that will force your opponent to hit “up” on their next shot and it will give you and your partner time to make your way to the non-volley line.
Because your opponents who are at the kitchen line have the upper-hand, you and your partner will want to neutralize their advantage by hitting a drop shot and landing the ball harmlessly into Gool. This again, will force your opponent to hit up on their next shot and it will give you time to make your way to the non-volley line.
When Retrieving a Lob
If your opponent hits a lob over you or your partner’s head, you will want to go back to retrieve the lob and, if at all possible, land your shot into Gool.
These are just some of the scenarios where it makes sense to hit the ball into Gool. Gool is not just a safe area when playing “Tag, You’re It.” It’s also a safe area when playing pickleball. Use Gool to your advantage – and if you do, I promise your game will improve!
See you on the courts!