How to Poach on the Pickleball Court!
This may have been directed at you by your opponents, or even your partner, after you made a successful poach!
Poaching is certainly a big part of the game. Your opponents move to get into position and get set from a shot from your partner, but then you reach over quickly and strike the ball before your partner, surprising your opponents (and again, maybe your partner!).
But, especially in rec play, you may be irritating your partner with excessive poaching. I’ll discuss this more in detail, but first, the shot when you should always be looking to poach.
The Fourth Shot
Your partner is receiving the serve and you are already at the line (doesn’t matter if you are backhand or forehand!). Your partner returns the serve rushes to the line. Your opponent sends back the third shot.
This is where you should be actively looking to poach.
Why? Because your partner may not be fully set and ready to take the shot, especially if it’s a hard drive. Or worse, your partner may be short of the Non-Volley Zone line and still in motion (i.e., not set at all!). Plus, since you are already at the line, your opponent may very well be targeting your partner.
Try not to telegraph your poaching. What I mean by this is wait until the last possible moment to move for the poach. For example, you are at the line in the left side of the court (ad court). Your partner is receiving and advancing to the line on the right side of the court (the deuce court).
Your opponents know that your partner is slow to the line, you know that your opponents know that your partner is slow to the line, and your opponents know that you know that you are looking to poach.
If you shift over to make the poach too early, you may be giving your opponents the opportunity to place the ball in a now empty alley to your left, and because you shifted over, not only are you out of position, but your body weight may be tilted to the right, making it even more difficult for you to make a good play on the ball when it comes to your left.
Instead, wait until your opponent is set and almost ready to strike the ball. Once you see where your opponent is going to place the ball (noting his or her leading shoulder) right before the strike, then shift over to make the poach.
Are You the Stronger, More Dominant Player?
In some instances, it is understood that one player will try to poach at every opportunity, particularly when players are partnered together often and they understand each other’s game, where one player acts to set up the ball for the put away for his or her partner.
For example, one player has much less of a power game than his or her partner, so the player works to set up the rally to provide poaching opportunities for his or her partner.
And the best way to do this? Let’s assume that you are the less dominant player (I hate using the term weaker) and you are the one your opponents are targeting. My recommendation to keep your partner involved is to keep your dinks to the middle of court, whether it be a dink towards your partner or a crosscourt dink (which goes over the middle of the net, by the way). This enables your partner to have a greater opportunity for the poach, especially when your opponents are expecting you to take the ball.
Communicate in Advance
Many players have the mistaken notion that the court is divided into two halves, and that “this is my half of the court and that is your half.” If you plan working on your poaching (or just like to poach a lot!), it’s a good idea to communicate this with your partner.
For example, “I want to work on my poaching for this game – is that okay?” This lets your partner know in advance that you’ll be actively looking to poach.
That being said, you certainly don’t want to be known as the local ball hog. In other words, if you are the best player on the court, you don’t have to go out and take over every point and every game with your poaching prowess.
And if you’re not the best player on the court and have a tendency to poach, there’s that unwritten rule that says, “if you’re going to poach, you better make it.”