Pickleball Essential: Covering the Middle
Posted on July 24, 2017 by Sarah Ansboury
I believe that one of best ways to evaluate how well a team plays together is to return the ball down the middle. Covering the middle is one of the most important aspects of pickleball doubles play, and is the focus of today’s post. Covering the middle.
Service Return to the Middle
When I return the serve to the middle of the court I am looking for two things. First, I want to assess how well the team communicates with one another. A good team will call the ball early, without hesitation. Secondly, I am trying to determine if their team has established one player to cover the middle. Typically, the player with the forehand will take the middle.
You have likely heard the saying, “Forehand has the middle.” This is why you see many teams place the stronger player, or the person with the best forehand, in the odd court. This is the reason many higher level teams stack, even though both players are right or left-handed. By doing this, we take the guesswork out of the shot. The player can have more room and move aggressively to the ball. Their partner knows their role is to move forward towards the non-volley zone line.
Of One Mind
pickleball mindsetEliminating guesswork is so important when we play pickleball. Think of the number of times you may have mishit a fairly easy ball because you changed your mind in mid-swing. When you aren’t sure who is going to cover the middle, you may hesitate for a split second and then rush…or crowd your partner that is trying to return the ball.
By assigning roles, we take the guesswork out of the shot. When we know our role well in advance and have a firm plan in mind we are more likely to allow our body to move in a way that will promote the shot we envision.
Forehand Covers the Middle
Assuming both players are right-handed, we typically recommend that the forehand player take the ball up to about one foot to the right of the center line. This is not to suggest that the other player does not have a strong backhand. They very well may. However, our goal is to put the team in the best position. Having that forehand in the middle keeps more of the court in front of both players.
In addition, often the person who tries to take a backhand tends to make contact a bit further behind them. This, along with the fact that their paddle is required to cross their body leaves them vulnerable down the line.
When I go on the court with new people I usually start with, “If you have the forehand in the middle they are all yours.” I want what is best for setting us up for the rest of the point. The forehand usually has more ability to maneuver the ball and move more easily forward.covering the middle
Of course, every rule will have exceptions. There are times when the backhand will take it…and may even have a better angle than the player on the forehand side…so don’t stew about it. The most important thing is to talk to your partner prior to playing and then reinforce it by calling the ball so there is no confusion. Of course, in those cases when both forehands are in the middle, you need to have a plan worked out prior to playing. When covering the middle, your goal must be to create a plan that works best for the team. Perhaps one player has a better third shot drop that day…or perhaps that day I am struggling with my third shot. I have no problem telling my partner to take more of those shots.
The best players and teams are flexible with how they do things and open to options when they are covering the middle or playing.