In Defense of the Lob
I’ll just come out and say it – I’m not a big fan of the lob. Especially the defensive lob!
What do I mean by that? If you’re going to lob, I recommend an offensive lob – you’re already at the Kitchen dinking, and you surprise your opponents by looping the ball over their heads.
It’s not a high percentage shot, but it’s a higher percentage shot than the…
…defensive lob, which I don’t recommend.
When you attempt the lob from the baseline to mid-court, it’s a really low percentage shot, and it gives your opponents more options (and time!) on how to handle it, especially if it’s not a really good lob!
Imagine tossing up an easy overhead smash!
But just because I don’t lob often, and just because you don’t lob often, doesn’t mean that other players aren’t going to lob you!
Here’s what (and who!) I recommend on how to defend that pesky lob!
Who Takes the Lob?
If you know that you’re facing an opponent that likes to lob, before you start play, you may want to have a quick discussion with your partner about who is going to take the lob.
If you are much more mobile and agile than your partner, graciously make an offer to take ALL the lobs!
This has two advantages. First, there’s no confusion about who is going to take it – this will prevent both of you running back to the same spot on the court (and maybe even colliding!).
It will also prevent the ball bouncing near the baseline while you and your partner look at each other at the Kitchen while shrugging your shoulders!
The second advantage is the obvious one – the more mobile player has a better chance of running the lob down!
How to Get in Position for the Lob
For this, we’ll assume that it’s a GOOD LOB, meaning it’s going over your head (you’re not going to have the opportunity to take it in the air and smash it!).
In the first example, let’s assume that you and your partner are both mobile on the court. If it goes over you, your partner should run at an angle crosscourt to take the ball. Over your partner’s head? Yes, YOU should run crosscourt for the lob.
Notice that I didn’t mention who has the forehand or backhand? That’s because running crosscourt behind your partner gives you more time and gets you in a better position to return the ball.
You’re better able to get set with the ball in front of you to make a better return. (But yes, if the lob is in the middle, the forehand should go for it!)
For the second example, YOU are the more mobile player, you graciously offered to take ALL the lobs, and your partner (also graciously!) accepted your proposal! You already know what to do when the lob goes over your partner’s head.
What do you do when it goes over your head?
Here’s what I don't want you to do – I Don't want you to back up!
Bad things generally happen when you back up, more so with lobs!
When you back up, you’re focusing on the ball in the air, you’re getting your paddle in position, your feet are moving back to get your body in the right position…
…and that’s where you get into trouble! Often when backing up like this, your legs have a better chance of crossing and getting tangled. Your balance is already off, so you may trip yourself and fall backwards.
I don’t want you lying down on the court and then lying down in bed recovering from a lob-related injury! I want you on the courts playing pickleball!
Instead, turn around (180 degrees, or ABOUT FACE!)! Run back to about a foot or two behind where you think the ball will land, and turn around again so you are in position with the ball in front of you.
Did you notice the recurring theme? You are working to get the ball in front of you so you have the best opportunity to return the shot.
I’m in Position, Prem – Now What?
You successfully got in position. If you went crosscourt, you may have even remembered to yell SWITCH! to let your partner know to shift to the other side of the court!
So what shot should you take?
Well, it depends! It depends on what your opponents did!
If your opponents are in position at the net, I recommend trying to drop the ball into the Kitchen, just like a third shot drop.
But what if your opponent lobbed from the baseline and he’s still standing there admiring his work (in other words, he forgot to get up to the Kitchen!)? Go ahead and drive the ball to all that open space that he’s giving you and work your way back up to the net!
Now you could lob the ball – you would be lobbing the lobber!
But remember, this would be a defensive lob – a very low percentage shot, and because you’re not in a good position to lob, this gives your opponents more time to figure out how to combat it!
A low percentage shot plus giving your opponents more time equals BAD NEWS!
Remember – you want to give YOU AND YOUR PARTNER MORE TIME! Not your opponents!
Happy Lobbing! (Or Happy NOT Lobbing!)