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A Complete Guide on Aggressive Pickleball (How to Attack)

Table of Contents:

-Thin vs. Thick Paddles

-Round vs. Long Paddles

-Heavy vs. Light Paddles

-Use of Wrist

-Proper Footwork

-Swing Follow-Through

-Obvious and immediate outcomes

-Subtle and long-term byproducts

What does it mean to "attack" in pickleball?

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Trying to ramp up the aggression in your pickleball game? You've come to the right place. We will discuss all elements of offense, so you can attack better and smarter.

An attack in pickleball is a shot that puts pressure on your opponent to defend it. The purpose is to gain an advantage in the rally.

An attack is not simply to "get the ball in." It's meant to be difficult to return.

Attacking is crucial in modern pickleball. It's not good enough to just keep the ball in play against better players. Today's game calls for more pace and initiative.

Attacks can take various forms: Full swings, punching a ball mid-air, misdirected shots, overheads, they can be off the bounce or in the air, and at an opponent or away from them.

A good attack will end the point in your favor, or help gain an advantage.

pickleball rally attack at net

Why attack in pickleball at all?

Attacking in pickleball can affect opponents in several good ways (for you).

First, attacking puts pressure on the opponent and puts them on the defensive, giving you as the attacker more control of the rally. You can dictate the nature of the point.

Second, returning an attack involves more skill and accuracy from the defender, increasing the chances they make an error. It's just hard to play defense!

Third, attacking can cause the opponent to move out of position or make unorthodox shot selections of their own, opening up space for you to hit more winners later.

Fourth, attacking can demoralize the opponent and shift the momentum of the game in favor of the attacker. It can throw opponents off a normal rhythm and mess up their normal style.

Good attacking in pickleball wins more points than it loses. More on this next...

Understanding the math and risk

While attacking in pickleball can lead to a higher chance of winning points and games, it is not always successful. But that's ok! Do not fear losing on some attacks.

Returning an attack requires a ton of skill and accuracy. Defense comes with a huge risk of errors. Almost any player will be weaker defending than they are at neutral or offensive play. Therefore, it's important we try to make ourselves attack more!

Just know that you are bound to lose some of your attacks. Do not make the mistake of trying to "never miss," and therefore just not attacking very often or ever.

The best players, like Ben Johns and Riley Newman, win about 60% of their attacks against each other.

So they fail at almost half of their attacks. And yet, they still attack a ton.

Why? Because it's an informed decision to accept a slight edge. If a player wins more than half of the points they attack, then attacking is a winning strategy.

Even a mere 60% success rate, expanded over the course of an entire game or match, works out to be many points in your favor. If you can capture and solidify a 60% edge, you win.

girl serving pickleball

When to attack in a pickleball point?

By now we can agree that we must attack more. But when in a point do you do so?

You can't attack every ball. You shouldn't attack every ball. Even the top pros will grind out dozens of patient shots in a rally just to finally find an attack ball.

Don't attack all the time. But always be prepared to attack.

Small difference. You will always want to attack, you will always consider it and will always try to do it. But you won't always actually do it.

You will refrain from attacking if some of the conditions are off. And you will attack when it feels right.

Knowing when to attack in a pickleball point is as crucial as the attacking skills itself.

Ok, so when?

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There are two great ways to decide when to attack. One is how high the ball is when you hit it.

If it's above waist and net height, you should be more apt to speed it up. If it's below the net, you should exercise more caution and patience.

You still can attack a ball under net height, but you should balance it out so you aren't attacking all the time. Do it once in a while when you feel they might be caught off-guard.

You will attack most balls within reach that above the net height!

The second way to decide when to attack is court position.

If the opponent is dragged out wide for a sharp cross-court dink, then consider attacking.

If an opponent got stuck back in the court, off the kitchen, consider attacking.

The lesser prepared they are, the better! It's more likely they'll be unprepared if they are in a bad court position: Back deep, out wide, or otherwise off-balance.

Factors for deciding to attack: Opponent's position, the ball's trajectory, and even the opponent's blocking capabilities. You can attack a weaker player more often.

You can also set up attacks yourself, but more on that later. Overall, attacking in pickleball requires skill, strategic understanding of your opponents, and ironically, patience.

Are there paddles that improve attacks?

Excellent question! The answer is quite simply, yes.

It's subtle. But yes. Absolutely, 100% yes.

Paddles come in different shapes, sizes, and materials, each with unique qualities that affect a player's game. Some paddles are better suited for attacking than others.

The type of paddle that works best for an individual player is still subjective and depends on personal preference and playing style. But some qualities behoove attacks. Some paddles are heavier, longer, or their core is built for more trampoline effect and less cushion.

Below are some characteristics of paddles and how they relate to offensive play:

pickleball paddles on ground

Thin vs. Thick Paddles

Thin paddles tend to be more dense, maneuverable, and easier to wield than their thicker paddle counterparts. Many attackers love love love a thin paddle.

They tend to provide more power for attacking shots, more whip, more pop, making them a popular choice for attacking players.

However, thin paddles may not provide as much cushioning as thicker paddles, making them less forgiving for off-center hits.

Thicker paddles, on the other hand, provide more cushioning. They are known to offer better stability and control for defensive shots, ideal for players who prefer a more patient style.

thin pickleball paddle

Round vs. Long Paddles

Round paddles are typically more suited for control shots, while longer paddles offer more power and reach for attacking shots.

Aggressive pickleball pros are moving to long paddles in droves in 2023.

Longer paddles have a longer sweet spot and can generate more force when whipping around to hit the ball. They also have more torque and reach.

However, they may be less maneuverable and harder to control than round paddles.

Round paddles are more suitable for players who prefer a more defensive style of play or those who want better control and precision.

Long paddles are growingly popular in 2023, as the game becomes more offensive-oriented.

long pickleball paddle

Heavy vs. Light Paddles

The weight of a paddle can affect a player's ability to generate power and control.

Lighter paddles are more maneuverable due to limited forearm strength, and enable quicker hands at the kitchen for defensive block type shots. They are also easier on the arm and shoulder, reducing the risk of injury and fatigue.

However, lighter paddles may not generate as much power for attacking shots.

Heavy paddles, on the other hand, can provide more power and momentum for attacking shots, making them a popular choice for attacking players. More mass. More momentum. Just sheer, pure physics at play.

However, they may be less maneuverable and harder to control than lighter paddles.

But as pickleball continues evolving, players are taking that gambit. Give up some control and in return gain more pop.

Some paddle features can make them more suitable for attacking, such as length, weight, and core. But the best paddle for you and for attacking ultimately depends on your personal preference and somewhat your playing style.

people playing pickleball tournament

Breaking Down Attack Technique

Attacking in pickleball involves using a combination of technique and timing to hit the ball hard and in a tough place to defend. Here are key concepts for attack technique:

Use of Wrist

The use of the wrist is critical in generating power and spin for attacking shots. Old-school pickleball used to say to try not to use your wrist too much.

Those days are gone. Use of wrist will unlock a lot of aggressive opportunities.

The wrist should be relaxed and flexible to allow for maximum movement and control.

When attacking, players should snap their wrist forward and often upward to generate speed and spin on the ball. This helps to create topspin in most instances.

Topspin is a valuable currency. It lets you hit the ball harder without it going too far.

A wrist flick allows you to disguise your shot and not telegraph its direction. Try it out on shots both off the bounce and in the air, from the kitchen line or the baseline.

Proper Footwork

Proper footwork is essential for setting up and executing attacking shots.

Players should position themselves in the right spot to receive the ball, and then quickly move their feet to get into the right position for the attack.

Get to the spot first as early as you can!

Take long steps to make up distance, and then short and quick steps when close to the ball.

Then make your legs and body as still as possible when you go to swing. You will even do some semblance of a full pause when you hit, as much as possible at least.

The footwork for attacking shots is typically more aggressive than for defensive shots, shifting weight more quickly to generate power and momentum.

In advanced concepts, you can even use your footwork to mislead opponents. The orientation of your feet will always give off some information. You can use it to mislead.

Swing Follow-Through

The swing follow-through is a crucial element of attacking technique in pickleball.

It refers to the continuation of the racket's motion after hitting the ball. The follow-through helps to generate more power and spin on the ball, and it also helps players to maintain balance and control.

Players should aim to follow through in the direction they want the ball to go, with their racket finishing above their opposite shoulder for maximum power.

By focusing on the use of the wrist, proper footwork, and swing follow-through, players can improve their ability to attack and win points.

Benefits of Playing Aggressive Pickleball

Ok, so you're sold on attacking. You know what it is and why we generally do it.

But did you know that offensive pickleball has both short and long term benefits?

That's right, playing aggressively will pay dividends more than in just the current point!

Playing aggressive pickleball can have several upsides for you, both immediately and for the rest of the game. Here are some of the benefits to offense:

Immediate Outcomes

The most significant benefits of playing aggressive pickleball is that it can lead to immediate points and wins.

It can get you out of a tough rally. It can put pressure on an opponent who can't block well.

It can capitalize on small advantages mid-point.

Aggression will put pressure on opponents, forcing them into mistakes and tough defensive. Aggressive play leads to more opportunities, for winners and easier put-away shots.

Long-Term Byproducts

In addition to the immediate benefits of winning points and games, playing aggressive pickleball can have long-term benefits as well.

You will be more well-rounded and unpredictable. Opponents will have to guess more often.

You can make an opponent nervous or wary of attacks on all future rallies. They will be "seeing monsters" every time you backswing, and every time they pop a ball up.

They may be too preoccupied defending themselves, at which point you can attack openings easier, AKA down the line or middle.

They may also be tentative on their soft shots, trying to not pop the ball up as much. Ironically, this may lead to them missing even more shots, whether into net or a pop-up.

An opponent will always have to worry about your attacks once you make it known that those options are available to you. All your other shots will become better, because the opponent cannot prepare for any specific one.

They will always be on the defensive. Always guessing. Always reacting. Good for you!

And not an enviable spot for them to be in. All because you attacked successfully just once.

woman hitting pickleball

Downsides of Attacking

While there are many benefits to playing aggressive pickleball, there are also some downsides to consider.

One of the biggest risks of attacking is that it carries is hitting unforced errors when you could've grinded a long point successfully instead. Attacking shots require power and skill, which can lead to mistakes if not executed properly.

You need to gauge whether you can win risk-free by just playing solid pickleball. That could easily be the case. And you don't want to "give" away too many freebies per game.

The point of attacking is to press small edges. To create hundreds of 60/40 situations, and profiting off of this minor edge. But this only works if you're going for shots you can make. If you are attempting desperation shots with low percentage, you will drag yourself down.

You can't secure a 60/40 edge if you can only make the attack 10% of the time.

Maybe the opponent is way worse than you at long rallies. In that case, you may consider attacking less because you know you have a bigger edge in the dink game.

It's hard to make attacks repeatedly. Some opponents block well and dink poorly. There are certain downsides to attacking. You have to make a judgement on if the risk is worth it.

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How Much Is Too Much Attacking?

How much attacking is too much? This is a tricky question in pickleball, and depends on your skills and style. Some folks should attack more because they're good at it. Some folks should attack more because they don't do it often enough.

Some folks already attack too much, and are becoming too predictable.

You'll generally know and feel it when you're attacking too much. The opponent will be defending it too well! You may be telegraphing it.

Attacking too much can lead to errors and lost points of your own, while not attacking enough lets opponents dictate the game and force you to always react to them.

Ideally, players should find a balance between aggressive and patient play, mixing up their shots so the opponent never quite knows what to expect.

Bottom line: You won't attack every shot, not even every point. Identify and pull the trigger in all the proper moments, such as an up-ball or an opponent who is out of position.

By doing this, they'll add up on their own. You won't have to force it.

It's about balance. Not all offense, not all patience.

You don't need your attacks to all come at a surprise, but it would be nice if some of them caught opponents slightly off-guard. You don't want them "camped out" on your shots! If they are, you might be attacking too much.

But if you're reading this, chances are you are too defensive.

So try to willfully add offense to your game when it makes sense. You must be dangerous and unpredictable. If you are never failing at attacks, then you aren't attacking often enough.

You cannot just rely on defense and patience in 2023.

pickleball block player at net

Where to Aim When Attacking?

Excellent question. And one that comes with a not fully intuitive answer.

When attacking in pickleball, players have several options for where to aim their shots. The best choice depends on the opponent's positioning, weaknesses, and playing style.

Here are some common targets for attacking shots in pickleball:

  1. The Opponent's Feet: Hitting the ball at the opponent's feet is probably the most effective strategy, as it makes it difficult for them to return the ball with power or accuracy. And they have to hit upwards by nature. This is especially effective if the opponent is playing deep in the court. But it's not always a possibility.

  2. The Opponent's Backhand: If the opponent has a weaker backhand, attacking shots aimed at their backhand side can be effective. This can force them to hit weaker shots or make errors. Most folks cannot hit as hard with their backhand, too.

  3. The Opponent's Body: Hitting the ball at the opponent's body can be an effective strategy, as it can make it difficult for them to get out of the way and return the ball with power or accuracy. You can "chicken-wing" their dominant shoulder, too.

Advanced Attacking Tactics

In addition to the basic attacking techniques discussed earlier, there are several advanced attacking tactics that skilled players can use to gain an advantage on the court.

Here are a few examples:

  1. Erne: The Erne is an advanced attacking tactic where the player runs to the non-volley zone on the same side as their opponent's shot, and jumps and meets and hits the ball before it bounces. This can catch opponents off-guard and renders an easy smash. Check out this FREE guide on Erne shot timing and technique.

  2. Poach: The Poach is an advanced attacking tactic where a player moves laterally to intercept a shot intended for their partner. This can be effective if the opponent is expecting the ball to go to the other player and is not prepared to be ambushed.

  3. Misdirection: Misdirection is an advanced attacking tactic where the player appears to aim in one direction, but hits the ball a different way at the last moment. This can be effective in catching opponents off-guard and creating openings for winning shots.

Best Attacking Drills (How to Practice)

To improve their attacking skills in pickleball, players can use a variety of drills and exercises. Here are some of the best attacking drills to practice:

  1. Attacking the Serve: This drill involves practicing attacking shots against a serve. Players can start by practicing returning serves with power and accuracy, and then move on to attacking shots aimed at specific targets on the court.

  2. Attacking from the Baseline: This drill involves practicing attacking shots from the baseline, using both topspin and flat, hard shots. Players can practice hitting shots to specific targets on the court, such as the middle or at an opponent.

  3. Punch and roll-volley: This drill involves having one person hit dinks into the kitchen, and the other person (you) trying to intercept balls in the air by reaching forward with chest and paddle. Contact ball in the air, trying to brush up and forward on the ball. This gives it topspin. Aim to punch this volley right back to the opponent.

Final Thoughts on Attacking in Pickleball

Attacking in pickleball is necessary as ever in 2023.

It requires skill, strategy, and practice to execute effectively. But we must do it.

We cannot just sit back and win long dink rallies and never have to take risk. It's not viable as the game becomes more fast and offensive. Paddles are improving. Players along with it.

When attacking, players must choose the right targets and use proper technique, including the use of wrist, proper footwork, and swing follow-through. Advanced tactics such as the Erne, Poach, and Misdirection can also be used to gain an advantage over opponents.

There are many benefits to playing aggressive pickleball, including immediate outcomes such as winning more points and games, as well as long-term byproducts such as improved confidence and mental toughness.

Just know you won't win all attacks. But a 60/40 edge over an entire match can win you 5-10 or 20 additional points. That's a lot of added upside in a game to 11.

There are downsides to attacking. You can and will lose points. Don't worry. Let it happen.

Successful attackers must strike a balance between aggression and caution. Too much attacking can lead to errors and prepared opponents, while too little attacking will enable opponents to dictate action and feel more comfortable and less at risk at all times.

Now go out there and attack!

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