A lob in pickleball is a shot that sends the ball high overhead and deep into the opponent’s court. It is a powerful strategic shot that can be used both offensively and defensively depending on the circumstances. When executed properly, the lob is one of the most effective shots in pickleball.
The Basics of the Lob Shot
The lob shot involves hitting the pickleball with a lot of height and arch so that it lands deep in the opponent’s court. Here are some of the key characteristics of a lob:
It Sends the Ball High and Deep
- The objective is to send the ball high over the net and have it land deep in the opponent’s court, ideally near the baseline.
- This forces the opponent to move back and makes it harder for them to attack.
- The higher the lob goes, the more time it allows you to recover or get into position.
It Can Be Hit From Anywhere
- Lobs can be hit from the baseline, mid-court, or even up at the non-volley zone line (NVZ).
- The execution will vary depending on where you are positioned on the court.
- Baseline lobs involve a higher contact point and more power. NVZ lobs require touch and finesse.
Requires Loft and Topspin
- To get height and depth, the lob shot relies heavily on lofting the ball with an open paddle face.
- Applying topspin helps it dip down into the court rather than sailing long.
- Too much power will make the lob go too low or out, so touch is important.
Lands Near the Baseline
- A well-hit lob will ideally land inside the baseline, between the service line and baseline.
- If it falls too short, it sits up for the opponent to smash. Too long and it goes out.
- Aim crosscourt to increase the distance the ball must travel.
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Using the Lob as an Offensive Weapon
One of the main ways the lob is utilized in pickleball is as an offensive weapon. Here are some of the key offensive applications for the lob shot:
Pushing Opponents Back from the NVZ
- Hitting a lob against opponents who charge the net lets you regain control of the point.
- It forces them to retreat from the net, allowing you to reset.
- Even if they return it, you have more time to react and get back into position.
Creating Space for a Third Shot Drop
- After your serve, hitting a lob as your second shot can create more space for an offensive third shot drop.
- The lob draws the receiver deep into their court, opening up the kitchen for your drop shot.
- This offensive combination sets you up to take control of the point.
Keeping Opponents Behind the Baseline
- Consistently hitting lobs deep in the court keeps opponents far behind the baseline.
- This allows you to dictate play more easily and reduces their ability to attack.
- It also enables you to finish points with well-placed dinks.
Surprise Factor from Any Position
- Hitting a surprise lob when the opponent expects a groundstroke or a dink can catch them off guard.
- This is especially effective when hit from closer to the net like the NVZ line.
- The unexpected change of pace and height can win the point outright.
Moving Opponents Side to Side
- Hitting lobs diagonally or crosscourt forces opponents to cover more lateral ground.
- This exposes their movement and tired them out more quickly.
- It also opens up more court for you to hit to.
Using the Lob as a Defensive Weapon
In addition to being an offensive weapon, the lob can also be used effectively as a defensive shot in pickleball:
Retrieving Difficult Shots
- When pulled out of position by a good shot, the lob can help you scramble and retrieve balls that would otherwise be winners.
- Simply focusing on getting height and depth can get the ball back in play.
- This allows you time to reset and recover.
Responding to Hard Drives
- When facing hard, deep drives like backhand punches, the lob is often an ideal reply.
- Lifting the ball high over the net diffuses your opponent’s power and prevents them from smashing.
- Floating a lob back gives you a chance to get back into the point.
Handling Fast Volleys
- Against hard volleys hammered at your feet, the lob is again a solid choice.
- It takes time away from your opponent and gives you room to react.
- Executing it well requires quick reflexes and keeping your paddle face open.
Counteracting Offensive Lobs
- When facing an opponent who is lobbing well, you can fight fire with fire.
- Match their height and depth to stay in the point and neutralize their strategy.
- This turns the point into a lobbing duel.
Resetting the Point
- If overpowered in a point, simply floating up a defensive lob can essentially reset the play.
- It allows both you and your opponent to retreat and start the rally over.
- Done right, a neutralizing lob can be an invaluable defensive tool.
How to Hit an Effective Lob
Executing a quality lob shot relies on several technique factors:
Keep the Ball High Over the Net
- Focus on keeping the ball at the peak of its arc above net level as long as possible.
- Contact lower on the ball to generate lift rather than driving through it.
- Imagine tossing the ball high over a building.
Open the Paddle Face
- An open paddle face is key for launching the ball upward.
- Visualize pushing up on the bottom of the ball to lift it rather than hitting flat through it.
- Keep the head level and resist flipping your wrist early.
Move Underneath the Ball
- Shift your body position so you make contact with the ball when it is directly above your paddle shoulder.
- Being too far forward or backward will lower the lob’s trajectory.
- Line up the timing by moving your feet.
Apply Controlled Topspin
- Adding some topspin makes the ball dip inside the court rather than sail long.
- Lead slightly with the top edge of the paddle to impart forward spin.
- Too much topspin will flatten out the lob’s height.
Aim Crosscourt for Depth
- Hitting lobs diagonally makes the lob travel farther through the air.
- This increases the chance it will land deep in the court.
- But beware of going too crosscourt and hitting wide.
Common Mistakes to Avoid
There are also some important mistakes that can diminish the effectiveness of the lob:
Telegraphing the Shot Early
- Announcing the lob by backing up or opening the paddle face too soon betrays your intentions.
- Strive to hide the lob by using similar footwork and paddle preparation as other shots.
- Disguise the lob as long as possible before making contact.
Hitting the Lob Too Low
- A lob without sufficient height will sit up and get smashed.
- Make sure you are moving under the ball and contacting it at its peak.
- Err on the side of too high rather than too low.
Smacking Up at the Ball
- Muscling up at the ball only results in low trajectories that get pounded.
- Think lift rather than smack. Keep the stroke smooth and sweeping.
- Let the loft do the work rather than sheer strength.
Making Contact Too Late
- Catching the ball on the way down diminishes height.
- Work on the timing of your footwork to meet the ball at the optimal contact point.
- If late, open the face more to compensate.
Hitting Too Much Crosscourt
- Excessive crosscourt lobs will sail wide and long.
- Unless you are very advanced, error closer to the middle of the court.
- Use crosscourt lobs strategically rather than as your stock shot.
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Advanced Lob Strategies and Tactics
With practice, there are more advanced tactics you can employ using the lob:
Combining Lobs with Smashes
- Catch opponents cheating forward after a lob by surprising them with a smash the next shot.
- Vary lob and smash patterns to keep opponents off balance.
- Mixing speeds and trajectories can yield winners.
Using Sidespin and Drops
- Deceive opponents by hitting topspin lobs that dive sideways with sidespin.
- You can also disguise a drop shot or floater to look like a lob initially.
- This adds variation to keep opponents guessing.
Hitting Lob Serves
- A lob serve sends the ball high and deep into the service court.
- This can be used to pull opponents back or keep them from charging.
- Lob serves require good balance and racquet head speed generation.
Developing a Disguised Poke Lob
- A deceptive shot is the poke lob, which barely lifts the ball over the net.
- Used properly, it can yield weak returns and caught-off-guard opponents.
- Master subtle racquet work and wrist action to disguise the short lift.
Maximizing Your Use of the Lob
While the lob is powerful, you must use it strategically for maximum effectiveness:
- Don’t overuse it and become predictable. Mix in other shots.
- Be cautious about lobs on third shots. Opponents are often ready at the kitchen.
- Hit lobs when opponents are out of position or not expecting it.
- Practice disguise, placement, and alternating trajectories.
- Let it complement other shots rather than as your go-to reply.
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The lob is an indispensable shot in pickleball that can be used offensively or defensively based on the situation. Executed properly, it can push opponents back, open up the court, buy you time, and keep opponents off balance. However, the lob must be used strategically and with control. Work on technique, placement, and disguise to master this essential pickleball skill. With an advanced understanding of when and how to use it, the lob can elevate your game and make you a much tougher opponent.