Can We Please Talk About Dinking?
By DJ Howard
Most people who have played pickleball for more than about 30 seconds know what a dink is. After all, it's one of the most commonly used terms on the court -- not to mention the off-the-court references seen in apparel, equipment and jewelry brands. A large majority of players have a pretty good idea of how to dink and many times when to dink. But I wonder about how many players thoroughly understand why you want to dink the ball in the first place. After all, it is a slow moving ball that the opposition will almost certainly get back in play.
When I teach lessons or conduct clinics I will often ask participants what the purpose of a dink is. Invariably, I get a broad spectrum of responses -- as well as a handful of blank stares! It is clear that many players, even some very good ones, don't know the reasons for dinking. But they have been told it's a good idea, so they do it. Let’s try to shed some light on this topic.
As with other competitive athletic endeavors, each skill your perform should be done with intention. Soccer players don’t kick the ball “just because” and football quarterbacks don’t throw because “they feel like it”. Each of these actions is done in a particular way and for a particular reason. Dinking should be no exception.
While there may be many variables involved with dinking, if we boil it down to its essential elements we are left with two primary purposes of a dink. What are they?
First, you should want to try to keep the ball out of your opponent's strike zone. Sending the ball low over the net means that it will bounce low. A low bounce forces an upward swing from your opponent and that means that they cannot attack the ball without considerable risk of their shot flying long. If you fail to keep the ball low and instead put the ball in your opponent's strike zone (read, "power zone") you allow them an opportunity to attack the ball with speed and with a strong probability of it staying in play. Keeping the ball lower and closer to the net denies them this opportunity. And that is great news for you!
Second, you should want to dink in a way that makes your opponent uncomfortable. Don't be content simply to bump the ball back right to the middle of your opponent's stance where it will be easy for them to retrieve it. You should intentionally change the pace, spin, depth, or direction of the ball in order to cause your opponent to hit more challenging shots. The variability in your dinks increases the likelihood that they will make an error. That said, while it is a nice bonus when your opponents miss outright, this is not necessarily the goal. The goal is to pressure them to the point where they hit a ball up into your strike zone. You then gain an advantage and have an opportunity to attack the ball yourself. In effect, you have created an offensive opportunity by pressuring your opponents with effective dinking.
If you want to advance as a player you should not be satisfied merely to get the ball in play - you can aspire to more! But please do not confuse this with trying to hit winning shots. When playing dinks, your two primary goals should be to keep the ball out of your opponents strike zone and to pressure them with movement and variety. Doing so means they will lack an opportunity to hurt you and you will increase the chances that you get something in your strike zone that you can jump on.
The bottom line is you should be intentional about what you are doing with your dinks -- hit them with purpose! Deny your opponent opportunities to attack and create those same opportunities for yourself.