The cross-court dink is a critical shot in pickleball that can help you win long points and keep you in control of the rally. Read on to learn how to improve your pickleball soft game.
[Bonus Read: 47 Signs You're Obsessed With Pickleball]
A well-executed dink across the court will keep your opponents constantly on the move and never quite in the right position. And who doesn't want that?
What is a dink shot in pickleball?
The dink involves tapping, pushing, or chopping a ball softly over the net, into the opponent's court, often landing into the kitchen.
A great dink uses the angles of the court and makes it difficult for opponents to hit the ball in the air. It can be very annoying to face!
Opponents will have to let the ball bounce, and are forced to react to the ball rather than dictating action. At the pro level, you will see rallies go dozens of shots, with players hitting cross-court dinks repeatedly.
This is because it is simply the best shot in many situations. It's not an easy shot by any means, but one that any avid player should focus on and utilize as much as they can.
How do you hit a cross-court dink?
Hold your paddle with a medium firm grip, predominantly in the continental "handshake" grip, versatile enough to hit both forehand and backhand dinks.
When making the cross-court dink, think about pushing or guiding the ball, rather than swinging big. Most great dinks are compact, with a follow-through out towards the target.
You will typically want to have your paddle a bit up and ready to block beforehand, rather than down and ready to dink, so you don't get caught unprepared for an attack. Dropping your paddle down for a soft shot is much easier than bringing it up to block a speed-up.
Stand with your knees slightly bent and your feet shoulder-width apart. Move your feet to get into position, and take a small step towards the ball as you make contact.
You can side-shuffle or "crab walk" if the ball is off to the side, but not too far.
Or you can cross-step and bring the opposite foot over and face sideways off the court to better reach a ball that is far to the side.
This is often more efficient. Also note that since the dink is a touch shot by nature, you can stand still if the ball comes right to you, as there is added benefit to keeping your body stationary while you hit.
Your arm should be relaxed and loose, and your wrist should be firm.
Your wrist and arm will make an L-shape of sorts, or at least your wrist will not be extended or fully unflexed, because it's too weak on your grip.
Start the shot by bringing your arm back, which can be uptempo, then bring it forward with a gentle, smooth rocking motion to make contact. You should not jerk the paddle forward, or accelerate too hard. It's more like a pendulum.
Trajectory and target:
Aim to hit the ball a foot above the net, a bit under shoulder height.
This will make it difficult for your opponent to return the ball.
You don't want to hit razor sharp dinks that are flat, because you will miss into the net sometimes, giving away free points. At the same time, you don't want to float it so high and soft that the bounce is no problem for them or they can reach the ball in the air.
Dinking cross-court puts you about 20 feet away from the opponent, with quite a bit of room in both sideways directions. Give the ball a bit of a buffer, and try to land it either near their toes or a bit to the side of their shoes.
Timing is key on a touch shot of this nature. You can and should prepare your backswing and footwork as early as possible.
But the swing itself should not be rushed or forced, and should be a calm tempo like a golf putt, uniform in swing pace.
Bonus: You will often swing a bit down to up to give the ball a little bit of lift. When needing to move to the ball, prepare your paddle back while you are on the move. Try to make contact while stationary, if at all possible.
You can also hit a dink out of the air, out in front of your body.
Place the ball in the opponent's weaker side, often the backhand, by default.
Or if they are camped out wide, you can go cross-court but to the middle alley.
Generally, the idea behind the cross-court dink is to go across and soft so you don't pop the ball up in front of you, while also using the angles and court space to move them around.
If you are on the move, consider placing the ball to their middle, buying time to get back.
Apply spin to the ball to make it more difficult for your opponent to return.
Consider spin to be an added bonus. Don't worry about spin more than consistency.
Practice the cross-court dink until you can do a dozen or two in a row in a real rally, which is what it takes sometimes.
Then you can try to add backspin, topspin, or side-spin to the ball to give it different looks. You will do this by brushing against the bottom, top, or sides of the ball, respectively.
But again, most important is to not miss. Even at the pros, a majority of dinks are simply pushed or tapped towards a target, with only a small percent of them being sliced.
The key is the landing spot, not pace nor spin. Those are just icing on the cake!
Deception is key in pickleball, and the cross-court dink can be manipulated.
Try to disguise the shot by varying your arm motion or the way you bring back the paddle, while still able to put the ball soft and across even with a variety of looks and setups.
You can work with it to appear like you are hitting the ball to other parts of the court.
In practice, try out going through a dink approach, setup, and backswing, but then punching or flicking a ball at the last second. In a game, maybe one out of ten times you will try this!
Dinking rewards patience and placement.
Not only should you practice this shot a lot, as even the top pros miss dinks.
But you should visualize yourself making the perfect cross-court dink shot, and make this be the default outlook in a match.
You will still attack and play with pace, but tell yourself you are perfectly fine and comfortable hunkering down to a long dink rally if that's what it takes.
Practice dinking to improve at pickleball.
Drill the shot regularly, and try to simplify and improve your technique and consistency.
Even with drills and prep, make sure to also commit to implementing in real games and having the discipline to stick to it even as rallies go wild.
The cross-court dink is a critical shot in pickleball that requires good technique, focus, and footwork. By incorporating the cross-court dink, you'll be well on your way to playing long rallies like a pro.
It will be fun to see opponents chasing down soft shots, frustrated, and having trouble!