I received an email from a shorter player commenting on the challenges she faced on the pickleball court. Everyone has a different body type, and those differences require us to think about both court positioning and reach. Today I offer some pickleball tips for the vertically challenged.
Your Neutral Zone
I’ve written before about your neutral zone…i.e. the area in front of your body where you can comfortably make contact with the ball. This area is determined by your height. Taller people have a bigger zone. I see some long reaching guys expecting their shorter partners to take the same kind of balls in the air they do. However, that may be impossible for them. Recognizing what your neutral zone is, i.e. how far you can comfortably retrieve a ball, must be considered when you are at the non-volley zone. I feel pretty lucky when I play mixed and my partner is over 6 ft tall. It is amazing the reach he has compared to me at 5′ 5″. If you are playing with a new partner that is considerably taller than you, you might want to discuss this before you get on the court.
Pickleball Tip #1: Act Taller
I tell students to pretend you are taller than you are. We have a tendency to hunch over and make ourselves smaller than we are when we are at the non-volley-zone line. We tuck our elbows in close and shrink. When we do this we are limiting our range of motion even further. I have seen a 6′ 5″ man look like he’s 5′ 5″ because he’s crawling up to the line and hunkering down.
Keep you head up and concentrate on keeping your shoulders down. Maintain good posture. Focus on keeping a long neck and you will feel taller. Even walking around the court I will focus on filling as much space as I can. I want my opponents to have trouble seeing past me. Also, remember that remaining in balance and using your center of gravity properly will improve movement and maximize your potential.
Pickleball Tip #2: Toe the Line
Perhaps the biggest mistake I see among beginner and intermediate players is not standing at the non-volley zone. They think they are, but in fact, they are 6-12″ behind the line. One student commented that at 5’2″ she couldn’t aim at her opponents feet because she couldn’t see them. Well, Linh is only 4’11” so I asked her to assist me in an experiment. I had her stand in her neutral position within 1″ of the non-volley zone line. I asked her if she could see my feet on the other side of the court. She reported that the tape across the top of the net, obscured the non-volley zone line…but she could see the middle of my feet and heels. So if you aren’t seeing your opponents feet, the first thing to check is your court position.
Pickleball Tip #3: Recognize the Short Advantage
I find being short can also be an advantage at times. First, when dinking. A taller person must really get much lower to retrieve a dink. While for a shorter player getting under the ball is easier and may even be able to attack a ball a taller player would only be able to dink.
Certainly, taller players have an advantage in reach and it may be difficult to get a ball over them, but I have found many have more difficulty when the ball is hit right at their body. They just have too much body and arms to move to get out of the way or properly in position. By trying to keep them off balance, you may gain the advantage.
I think it is important for everyone to recognize the advantages their size offers and to develop strategies that can help them maximize those strengths. I hope these few pickleball tips will help you on your journey to mastery.