The Pickleball Lob Shot: A Winning or Losing Strategy?

This may be the first time I’ve dedicated an entire article to a single shot, and it’s not even about the dink or the drop shot. This month, we’re talking about The Sometimes-Boring-and-Annoying-But-Sometimes-OH-SO!-Gratifying Pickleball Lob Shot.
Of course, whether it’s boring or whether it’s gratifying usually depends on whether you’re the one DOING the lobbing or the one BEING lobbed. I often get asked whether lobbing is an effective strategy, and my somewhat-helpful answer is: It is unless it isn’t.

It’s Only a Lob Shot if It Lands IN (Otherwise, it’s an unforced error)

First of all, a lob is obviously NOT an effective strategy if it lands OUTSIDE of the court, causing you to lose the point. So don’t lob unless it’s a shot in your repertoire that you can count on. If it’s not, then drill and practice until it is before you use it.

And If They Can’t Smack it Back at You

Second, the effectiveness of your lob depends VERY MUCH on the height and mobility of your opponents. A “lob” that lands in your opponent’s wheel house is obviously not an effective lob. (I’d call it something between a “high dink” and a “bad lob.”)
Even some higher-ranked players like to hang out at the baseline and hit lob after lob, thinking that they’ll eventually tire their opponents out. But if your opponents can hit an overhead off your lob, it probably wasn’t very effective. A good player, once they are in the position to hit an overhead, can place the ball nearly anywhere they want: they can drop it short, hit a sharp angle, or run you & your partner off the court.
Here are the 2 situations where I DO recommend using the lob:

Scenario 1: Hit the Stealthy, Dink-in-Disguise Lob Shot

This is when you & your opponents have gotten into a dinking match and they are getting predictable. Wait ’til the moment when they are leaning a little too far forward, or getting a little slow moving back to the ready position. Then, using the exact same motion you would have used to hit a dink, give the ball some extra loft, and have it go well over their heads into a beautiful lob, which they can’t get back for because they were too far committed to a dink.

Scenario 2: Hit a Defensive Lob Shot at the Net

The right time to go for the defensive lob is when you are rushing to the net to get a short ball going at a sharp angle off the court, and you’re not likely to be able to keep your dink low. A high, deep lob forces your opponent back from the kitchen line, giving you time to get back in position and prepare for the next shot.

Scenario 3: Hit a Defensive Lob Shot to Counter a Lob

Find out more about this one below.

What to Do When Your Opponents Hit a Bad Lob Shot

If the lob is too deep, don’t hit it (I know, a tough one, right?) let it bounce, call it out, and congratulation yourself on being smart enough not to hit an out ball.
If the lob is too low, and your opponents are deep, smack it with an overhead right down the middle of the court. If they are at the net, smack it at their feet or in the middle of the court.

What to Do When Your Opponents Hit Good Lob Shot

First, get clear on your mobility level.
If you don’t feel comfortable turning around and running to the back of the court, don’t bother running for lobs. For most intermediate players who aren’t very mobile, once you know that your opponent is a consistent “lobber,” you can hang farther back on the court, so that it’s harder for them to hit a good lob, forcing them to play in front of you. If your opponents only occasionally hit a lob, and you don’t have the “wheels” to run after them, simply applaud your opponent and say “Good lob.” It’s simply not worth the risk of injury.
If you feel fairly comfortable going back for a lob and your partner is not very mobile, then just decide to do your best and go after all the lobs.
If you’re a more a advanced player and/or playing with a partner where you both have a lot of mobility, the question is, who goes back for the lob?

Who Runs for the Lob?

I recommend that the person who has the clear & constant line-of-sight of the ball is the person who should run for the lob. Therefore, if the lob is going over YOUR head, it’s your partner who should run for the lob, while you call “switch” and slide over to take their place. If the lob goes over your partner’s head, you (still) call “switch” and run back to take the lob. Because you can track the ball better, you have the best chance of being able to get back & in position to hit a decent return.

What Shot Do You Hit to Counter a Pickleball Lob Shot?

So then the question arises: In the situation where you’ve just run back to take a lob, what is the best shot to hit?
If you can, the best shot to go for is a drop shot, to bring you & your partner back up to the net, but it’s a very difficult shot at that point. This is the aforementioned Scenario #3, where the safer shot is to return with another high, deep lob, which will send your opponents scrambling to the back of the court & give you time to get back in position & move up to the net again.

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