Pickleball Points — Bangers versus the third-shot soft game

Date Published: 
Sept. 29, 2017

Special to the Coastal Point • Vaughn Baker: Anti-banger Rick Bell takes position in the No-Volley Zone.Special to the Coastal Point • Vaughn Baker: Anti-banger Rick Bell takes position in the No-Volley Zone.In pickleball lexicon, bangers are players who have learned to hit the ball as hard as they can in hopes of forcing their opponents to make an error. I must admit, it is great fun. But that strategy only takes them so far, until they run into a team who can consistently get into the net and volley, and their banging style then returns fewer wins.

The game that beats the bangers we refer to as “the soft game,” where the ball is returned softly into the “No-Volley Zone.”

While enjoying the new Big Chill Beach Club last week, I overheard two pickleballers discussing the merits of the soft pickleball-style game, versus the slamming game. The bigger fellow went on to say the people where he played didn’t hit the soft drop approach, but just slammed the ball, and as a result, he didn’t get a chance to play the soft game.

It was so difficult for me not to pipe up and say: “Pay attention. The soft game with the third shot isn’t played because it is fashionable or others play it — it is used precisely because their opponents are slamming the ball.”

The soft third-shot drop is used to take the hard-hit ball and softly return it back into the No-Volley Zone, in hopes that the deep team can then work into the net. They are smartly taking advantage of the No-Volley Zone. The pickleball court is fairly small, and there is not much open court available to hit a screamer past your opponents, who should be comfortably stationed at the net just behind their No-Volley Zone.

There are only two reasons you and your opponents are still banging the ball. Either your opponents are doing nothing with their return of serve, so you and your partner are stepping in and banging it away, or you are simply trying to outhit your opponents.

I would like to bring your attention to two of the top local players: Bob O’Malley and Rick Bell. If I took them a scouting report at the nationals that told them they were going to play a team of bangers, what do you think they would say? I know what they would not say: “Oh, gosh, Rick — we are going to play a team of bangers, I guess we won’t be able to play our soft game and hit the third shot drop.”

What they might say is, “Rick, we are playing a team of bangers, but in the following round we are going to play a tough team with a great soft game.”

In pickleball, the serving team — in this case, let’s say Bob and Rick — must allow the return of serve to first land on their side of the court, and they likely will, or at least should, find themselves driven deep behind the baseline by your deeply-hit return of serve.

Their only smart response is to move into position in the backcourt to take the ball, and hit a very soft-lofting ball into your No-Volley Zone or “kitchen.”

Rick and Bob practice this for hours every week. If their ball is properly hit, as it usually is, then it is going to land in your kitchen, and while you are waiting, Bob and Rick will likely advance the 15 feet to their No-Volley Zone line.

If their third shot drop was hit properly, your team can do very little with it. If you slam the ball from the “kitchen” it will likely go into the net, or go screaming out, or pop up to Bob and Rick, who have now taken the net. If your response is weak, Bob and Rick will volley it to your feet or angle it away.

If you played it smartly, a dink to Bob and Rick, then a dinking exchange, will likely ensue while both teams try to outmaneuver the other team and create an out-of-position opportunity. If you manage to get into a dinking exchange with Bob and Rick, you will then realize this is something else they practice for hours every week, and you will immediately regret not practicing it enough yourself.

However, since the bangers never listen, I might hire them when I next add an addition to my house to do carpentry work, because they are so practiced in banging.

A very special congratulations from the pickleball community: Although squash isn’t pickleball, most people normally would find themselves in quite a pickle against a great squash player. One of our local pickleball players is just about to receive such a great honor.

Maurice Heckscher, eight years younger than his brother Ben, also an inductee, will be among only three to be inducted into the 2017 Squash Hall of Fame. Maurice won the National inter-scholastics once and playing No. 1 on the Penn team for two seasons, leading them to their first Ivy League title in 1966. But he made his mark on the doubles court.

One of the great right-wallers of the century, Heckscher took two national doubles titles as an amateur, in 1975 and 1989. In between, he dominated the pro tour, capturing six Johnsons, two Cambridge Clubs and one North American Open, as well as eight William Whites (with five different partners). For 21 years, he directed The Elite — the season-ending pro event in Philadelphia — and for the past 14 seasons has coached the junior varsity team at Agnes Irwins.

The United States Squash Hall of Fame, located at Payne Whitney Gymnasium at Yale, was founded in 2000 and is the only national squash hall of fame in the world.

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.