Pickleball is a fun paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong. As the popularity of pickleball continues to grow rapidly, more and more players are learning the skills and techniques needed to play competitively. One of the most important defensive skills in pickleball is the ability to effectively “block” shots from your opponent. But what exactly are the rules when it comes to blocking in pickleball? Let’s take a comprehensive look at the do’s and don’ts of blocking.
What Is Blocking In Pickleball?
Blocking refers to intercepting a hard-hit ball with your paddle to deflect it back to your opponent before it can bounce. The objective is to simply block the ball back, not try to hit a winning shot. Blocking requires quick reflexes, solid footwork, and proper paddle control. It is an essential skill for counteracting fast volleys and groundstrokes. Mastering the blocking technique gives you a better chance of staying in a point when your opponent is on the attack.
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Why Is Blocking Important In Pickleball?
There are several key reasons why blocking is such an invaluable skill in pickleball:
- It allows you to defend against hard-hit shots: Blocking lets you get your paddle on balls hit with power that would otherwise be unreturnable. Even if you can’t hit an offensive shot, you can block the ball to stay in the point.
- It helps maintain proper court positioning: Effective blocking means you don’t have to scramble as much. You can maintain better positional balance by handling shots with your paddle close to your body.
- It gives you more time to react: Getting your paddle up quickly to block a fast-paced shot allows you those extra split seconds to react and adjust your court position.
- It extends points and wears down opponents: The longer you can keep blocking hard shots back, the more you can disrupt your opponent’s rhythm, create inconsistencies, and force errors.
- It sets up offensive opportunities: Mastering the block creates opportunities to take control of the point. After you block a shot back, you can often follow up with your own attacking shot.
Given the lightning-quick pace of pickleball, learning how to block properly is absolutely essential for players who want to compete at a high level. It’s one of the core defensive techniques every pickleball player should work on. Now let’s go over exactly what the rules say when it comes to blocking.
Official Pickleball Rules On Blocking
Blocking is addressed under Rule 7 in the official USA Pickleball rulebook, which covers “Service and Service Sequence. Here are some key excerpts on the blocking rules:
- The serve must be made without bouncing the ball off the court.” This means you cannot block a serve in pickleball. Serves must be allowed to bounce before returning.
- In doubles, at the start of each new game only one partner on the serving team has the opportunity to serve before faulting, after which the service passes to the receiving team.” So in doubles, only the designated starting server can block a serve. The partner cannot.
- “Service alternates between opponents until a fault is made.” Blocking during a service alternation, before the ball bounces, would be a fault.
So the basic rule is you cannot block volley a serve in pickleball. The ball must bounce before a player can block it back. This is an important distinction from some other paddle sports.
However, once the ball has bounced and the point begins, blocking volleys is very much legal and a smart strategy. Blocking against groundstrokes, volleys, overheads and any other shot once the point has started is perfectly acceptable.
Now let’s break down the proper technique for executing effective blocks in pickleball.
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How To Block A Shot In Pickleball
Blocking might seem like a simple paddle skill, but it actually requires refined technique to master. Follow these key tips for blocking properly:
Assume The Ready Position
- Feet shoulder-width apart
- Knees slightly bent
- Weight balanced on balls of feet
- Low center of gravity
This athletic stance allows quick lateral and forward/backward movement to get to balls. Never be flat-footed when trying to block.
Watch The Ball Onto The Paddle
- Eyes focused on contact point
- Track trajectory of ball
- Paddle up early in hitting zone
- Absorb pace with briefly giving paddle
Blocking requires full concentration and vision on the ball. Never take your eyes off it so you can adjust as needed.
Meet The Ball Out In Front
- Leads with paddle hand
- Extend arm fully
- Make contact in front of body
- Slice or angle paddle to redirect ball
Reaching out to meet the ball allows better control. Just blocking straight back often pops the ball up for put away shots.
Use A Controlled Paddle Face
- Keep paddle open but slightly angled
- Wrist locked but not rigid
- Redirect pace rather than absorb
- Avoid gripping too tight
Maintaining paddle face control is key. You want solid contact but not so much that you stop the ball dead in its tracks.
Stay On Balance
- Low athletic stance
- Weight central not leaning
- Smooth controlled footwork
- Prepared for follow up shot
Proper balance is crucial for moving out of a block smoothly into your next shot. Don’t overextend yourself.
Mastering these techniques takes repetition and practice. But any pickleball player can improve their blocking ability through purposeful training.
Common Blocking Mistakes To Avoid
While blocking can be very effective when done correctly, there are also some important mistakes that players often make. Here are some of the most common errors to avoid:
- Flat-footed stance – Blocking requires quickness and agility, so being flat-footed limits response time.
- Gripping paddle too tightly – This restricts wrist movement and paddle face control. Keep a firm but relaxed grip.
- Swinging at the ball – Blocking is about redirecting pace, not swinging hard. Meeting the ball out front with control is key.
- Closing paddle face – Angling the paddle face slightly gives better blocking results. A closed face can lead to popping the ball up.
- Poor footwork – Don’t overextend yourself. Use smooth steps and keep feet under hips and shoulders.
- Taking eyes off the ball – Loss of visual tracking causes poor contact point accuracy and timing issues.
- Failure to anticipate – Effective blocking involves reading shots early and getting in position. Reacting late leads to weak blocks.
With focused practice, you can recognize these tendencies in your own blocking technique and self-correct. Learning proper form from the start also helps avoid reinforcing bad habits.
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How To Practice Blocking
Looking to improve your blocking skills? Here are some great practice drills to add to your training:
- Partner hits alternating groundstrokes from baselines
- Blocker moves side-to-side blocking volleys
- Focus on footwork, redirecting pace and recovery
- Partner hits overhead smashes from mid-court
- Blocker moves forward and back blocking volleys
- Work on quick reaction time and absorbing pace
- Partner hits angled groundstrokes from sideline
- Blocker moves diagonally to handle shots
- Emphasize lateral mobility and angled blocks
- Partner hits continuous groundstrokes
- Blocker blocks as many as possible
- Builds endurance and tests blocking stamina
- Take turns blocking overhead and groundstrokes
- Mixes up blocking forehand and backhand
- Practices versatility and adaptability
Drilling blocking technique regularly will help make it second nature during actual matches. Always focus on proper ready position, footwork, paddle control, and shot anticipation when training your blocking skills.
Blocking Strategy In Pickleball Matches
Now that you understand the rules and techniques for effective blocking, let’s discuss some strategy tips for using it smartly in pickleball matches:
- Mix up blocking with driving groundstrokes to keep opponents off balance. Don’t be too predictable.
- Against hard hitters, start by mixing in more blocking to disrupt timing. Then attack the next shot.
- When pulled wide, block cross-court angles back deep down the line to move opponent.
- Against dinkers, absorb pace and block soft shots low over the net to force them back.
- If opponents love swinging volleys, use blocking to keep robbing them of offense.
- When your partner is pulled wide, cheat over to block cross-court shots down the middle.
- If struggling with speed on one side, lean that way so you can block shots back in play.
- When leading considerably, block returns back softly to reduce unforced errors.
Remember, blocking is mostly a defensive counterpunching technique. Use it strategically to temper opponent’s attacks. Don’t rely on it exclusively or become too passive. Utilize blocking most against players who like hitting winners. Mix it up to stay adaptable based on matchups.
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In a fast-paced game like pickleball, mastering the art of blocking can be a true difference maker. Understanding the rules allows you to apply it effectively within the bounds of legal play. Learning proper ready position, footwork, paddle control and balance is key for executing proficient blocks. Smart blocking strategy also keeps opponents off guard. While best utilized as a defensive tool initially, blocking can help you turn defense into offense by enabling you to stay in points longer. Don’t underestimate the importance of blocking in your all-around pickleball development. Sharpening this skill can elevate your game and frustrate opponents with how often you get your paddle on their best shots.
So now you know the essential do’s and don’ts for blocking in pickleball. Train the techniques regularly and use blocking strategically in your matches. Effective blocking requires fast reflexes, nimble footwork, paddle control, balance and shot anticipation. Master the skill and you’ll boost both your defensive and offensive abilities on the pickleball court!