To defend the Middle, (1) position yourself/(ves) (2) synchronize your movements, (3) constantly communicate (4) play smart, not hard (5) maintain control of the court, and (6) read/watch and learn from the pros.
Interestingly enough, while I now know what the Middle in pickleball is and how to defend it, that wasn’t always the case. I still remember how, when I first heard this pickleball term mentioned by my very beautiful, buxom blonde pickleball trainer and doubles partner, Shee, I thought she was trying to hit on me-hard….
“As we all know, the middle is vital, it’s the sweetest spot,” Shee said in her sultry, soothing, succulent voice. I swallowed. “It’s my splendid Middle, it’s your sweet Middle, it’s our sensual Middle to enjoy and defend,” she continued, staring straight at me with those hazel eyes.
Gulp! “The question is, though: What are you and I going to do about this, our Middle?….
Are you ready, man enough to defend THE Middle, or should I look for another to do it?” Double, triple gulp!! Shee left me sweating from every pore, I almost fainted……
Just what is the Middle, anyway?
On a pickleball court, there are different lines: baseline, centerline, and kitchen line. The baseline outlines the court boundary while the centerline indicates the Middle of the court and marks the position of the center net. The Middle is a rectangular area located in the middle of a pickleball court.
It is a common strategy to use the middle of the court to play defense. The other team must try to score on the other side of the court while the defense works to stop them. Below are some techniques and strategies from advanced pickleball players on how best to defend the Middle.
How to defend the Middle: Techniques and Strategies
Pickleball is, by its very nature, a popular and growing sport that requires both physical and mental skills. However, having a strong mind and sheer willpower is never enough for winning a pickleball competition. You always need some pro pickleball strategies and tips-a single pickleball doubles strategy can’t guarantee you a win.
Positioning as Serving Team
While pickleball is a lot of fun to play, it can also be technically and strategically demanding, you especially need to have a strategy for defending the middle. As a member of the serving team, you can stand anywhere on your side of the court area. However, to be able to do so, and effectively defend the Middle, then it is important how and where you position yourself.
- Stand in the middle of the serving court area-but without standing too close to the kitchen zone. Standing this way assists you “as the defender of the middle”, to
- Deal with soft-serve returns played by your opponent or the opposing side.
Synchronize your movements with your partner
In the doubles format of pickleball, your position in relation to your partner’s play is really important. If you don’t synchronize your movements with your partner and move accordingly, then you’re sure to end up either too close or too far. This creates a chance for the opponent team and they can aim at the open gap in the Middle and elsewhere quite easily.
As such, it’s a great strategy to synchronize your movements with your teammate if you are to play effectively and, above all, defend the middle. While this is seemingly complex sounding, it’s actually very easy. All you need to remember is the hitting partner determines the movement of the whole striking team.
Ideally, as a partner, you should
- Move forward after your partner has started the movement towards the non-volley zone after hitting the ball.
- Move around on the court in such a way that you’re neither too close nor too far from your partner. This saves you from creating a weak spot for your opponent.
- The Middle area of the court is an ideal position for hitting winning shots. So, you can’t allow it to be wide open for too long. In case your hitting partner has moved near the sideline while returning a shot then you as the partner should forward towards the Middle area to cover and so defend it.
Effectively and consistently communicate with your partner
As in any good relationship, effective and consistent communication with your partner is key. This is by far the most effective but also one of the most difficult pickleball doubles strategies ever-for some. However, this is not to say that you should be constantly communicating with your partner as you play your game.
Doing this can reduce concentration levels. Rather, such communication must be effective, consistent, and constructive. Unless you are playing with your friend as a partner, then this might be easier said than done.
Effective communication on the field of play is not easy for most, and adopting it requires deliberate effort and practice until it becomes a habit. Once achieved, however, this is super helpful if you’re playing with some person with whom you haven’t played before. So, to effectively defend the Middle, make it your habit to talk to your partner after playing every single shot.
With communication, you can easily:
- Decide with your partner who will be taking lobs, shots, and smashes into the Middle. Shots that come down in the middle of the court are difficult to handle especially when both partners are either left-handers or right-handers.
- Plan and decide about this before the start of the match and give a quick call like ‘on me’ to your partner if you feel that you can handle a shot to the middle during the match.
- Notify your partner by saying ‘dead’ or ‘out’ if you’ve judged a dead ball.
- If you can play the shot with a backhand while your partner is in a position to play the shot with a forehand, then never hesitate in letting your partner play it. Call ‘yours to ask your partner to play the shot to the Middle.
- Boost your partner’s confidence with regards to defending the Middle.
- Discuss your game plan and negatives about positively defending the Middle.
Play smart and not hard -Predict placement and shot selection
“Play smart, not hard” should be your mantra in every pickleball match. Sports researchers say that 75 percent of pickleball matches are lost because of errors. An effective pickleball doubles strategy suggests that you can take advantage of your opponent players’ positions to predict where they are likely to place a shot and what kind of shot, especially if you are wide apart in the Middle.
In such circumstances, your opponent(s) are always most likely to go for a deep power smash to utilize the gap between you and your partner.
Maintain ball control and opponents’ maneuvers
To defend the middle, it is important to maintain control of the ball and be able to maneuver around the court. In pickleball doubles, most opponents aim to take advantage of the middle court area by directing their shots towards this area and creating confusion for your team. Make sure they can’t or are unable to do so by:
- Staying in control of the ball and keeping your opponents on the move is one of the advanced pickleball strategies.
- Keeping the ball in play, reducing the number of errors you make, and forcing your opponents to make errors paves your way to winning the war in the Middle-where games are either won or lost.
- Tempting your opponents to play backhand shots is one of the best pickleball doubles strategies. Analyze your opponents and you’ll soon get to know their backhand or weaker hand. Once you know it, all you now need to do is just direct your shots at the proper speed and angles towards the opponent’s backhand, such that their returns to the Middle are ineffectual.
However, beware, experienced players are good at playing with both forehand and backhand, so in such a case, try to mix up your shots.
Last but not least, learn from the pros
To continue improving in your defense of the Middle, it is also advisable that you learn from some of the best. Books and most importantly, YouTube videos on how to improve your pickleball game generally and defend the Middle, specifically, are available for you to read or watch and learn. Therefore, I advise that you practice the different singles and doubles strategies for pickleball that you would have learned.