Dinking is a foundational skill for effective doubles play in pickleball. Perfecting your dink can frustrate opponents and pave the way to victory. So what exactly are the rules and strategies for executing a proper dink shot?
What is a Dink Shot in Pickleball?
A dink in pickleball is a soft shot hit from the non-volley zone (NVZ) that arcs just over the net and lands inside the opposing NVZ. The objective is to manipulate your opponent’s position to disrupt their ability to drive the ball back forcefully.
Dinking well involves finesse, control, and strategy.
Unlike hard-hit drives or slam shots, the dink is not meant to be a put-away shot. It’s designed to prolong the rally and move your opponents out of position until an opening for a winning strike appears. Master dinkers play cat-and-mouse with their opponents, baiting them into weak return shots.
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Why Use the Dink Shot?
Dinking is a high percentage play when executed correctly. The physics of the dink make it difficult for opponents to generate power on their returns. By keeping the ball low over the net, you force your opponents to swing upward. This robs them of the ability to take a full swing at the ball. It also reduces their options for placement since popping the ball up invites a smash shot from you or your partner.
In addition, the dink allows you time to recover to the NVZ if you’re drawn out of position. With the right finesse and placement, the dink will frustrate opponents, consuming their patience and energy. Even the best drives and slams can be neutralized by an expert dinker keeping the ball low and changing direction.
The dink is also an excellent defensive play when struggling to return a hard shot. By softly absorbing the pace of the ball, you can continue the rally rather than hitting it into the net or out of bounds.
Dink Shot Rules & Regulations
It’s important to understand the rules and boundaries for legal dinks under official pickleball regulations. Here are the key guidelines:
The Dink Must be Hit From Inside the NVZ
You can only execute a dink shot while your feet are inside the non-volley zone. The NVZ spans 7-feet from the net on both sides. If you step outside the NVZ boundary and hit the ball without it bouncing, it’s considered a fault.
The Dink Has to Go Over the Net
Your dink shot must clear the net and land inside the opponent’s NVZ. Hitting the ball into the net or under the net is a fault. The aim is to get just enough loft to clear the 3-foot-high pickleball net.
The Paddle Contact Must be Below Your Waist
When hitting a dink shot, the point of paddle contact with the ball must be at or below waist level to be a legal shot. Any higher, and it would be deemed a volley shot, requiring the ball to bounce before striking.
The Ball Must Bounce Once on the Opponent’s Side
For a dink to be valid, it has to bounce one time inside the opponent’s NVZ after crossing the net. If you hit a dink but it fails to bounce before the opponent reaches it, the shot is a fault.
No Volleying is Permitted on a Returned Dink
Players cannot legally volley a dink shot on the return. Meaning, your opponent must let your dink bounce once before returning the ball back to your side. Volleying or blocking a dink shot directly back without a bounce is prohibited.
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How to Execute the Ideal Dink Shot
Now that you understand the rules, let’s get into the proper technique and form for hitting quality dink shots:
Use a Light Gripping Touch
The first key is keeping a light, gentle grip on the paddle handle when dinking. You don’t want to squeeze tightly or use muscular force. This will lead to over-hitting the shot. Think of the paddle as an extension of your hand, holding it with just enough pressure to avoid dropping it!
Contact the Ball Out Front
Make contact with the ball out in front of your body rather than beside your hip or directly underhand. Reach slightly forward to catch the ballon the face of your paddle around waist level. This allows better control and finesse.
Keep Your Wrist Firm
Avoid breaking or ‘flicking’ your wrist during the dink motion. Keep the wrist locked to prevent popping the ball up too high. Let the motion come from pivoting your shoulder instead.
Use a Small Paddle Face Angle
Keep the paddle face open only slightly, around 45 degrees rather than fully perpendicular at 90 degrees. Too much loft will give too much height over the net. The dink needs to just barely clear the net by a few inches.
Make Controlled, Compact Strokes
Focus on short, compact strokes rather than big backswings or follow-throughs. Picture dabbing a paint brush against canvas. Let the ball softly come off the face with minimal energy input.
Maintain Good Balance
Stay balanced on the balls of your feet and resist overextending on your shots. You don’t want to be caught leaning or lunging. Maintain readiness to move in any direction the return shot dictates.
Dink Strategies & Placement
The keys to dinking success involve strategy and placement as much proper form. Implementing these tactics will help keep opponents off balance:
Vary Speed & Spin
Mix up the speed and spin on your dinks to keep opponents guessing. Change from faster topspin dinks to slower slice dinks. You can even throw in some no-spin dinks. This unpredictability induces opponents’ mistakes.
Hit Crosscourt Angles
Aim dinks crosscourt to pull opponents wide and make them cover extra ground. Hitting angles further from their center makes it harder to reach. Especially effective is dinking crosscourt when your partner is poaching or faking poach at the middle of the net.
Go Behind the Opponent
If opponents cheat forward, dink behind them into the open court space they vacated. This often results in weak returns as they whip their bodies around or are forced to sprint back into position.
Keep it Low!
The lower you keep your dinks over the net, the tougher it is for opponents drive the ball downwards. A dink bouncing below the knee is optimal. Dinking higher than waist level defeats the purpose and allows forceful returns.
Hit Where Partner Isn’t
Dink toward the opponent that your partner is not positioned to cover. Avoid hitting it directly to the player up at the non-volley line ready to pounce. This ties in with crosscourt dinking to pull opponents away from each other.
Change Location Relative to Partner
Shift your location side to side so you’re not both clustered near the middle. Disguise who will take the next shot. Being unpredictable keeps opponents unsure whether to drive the ball down the middle when you drift wide.
Avoid hitting dinks into the net or out of bounds, which gives away easy points. Keeping dinks in play applies constant pressure. Even lobs are better than errors when trying dinks.
Don’t Abandon Too Early
Stick with the dinking strategy long enough for it to work. Be patient waiting for the right put-away opportunity instead of getting bored or impatient and making errors trying to force the action with lower percentage shots.
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Common Dinking Mistakes To Avoid
While mastering the dink takes practice, being aware of these common mistakes will help expedite your learning:
- Hitting the ball too high – Remember to keep dinks low to limit opponents’ return options. Lofting the ball too high allows forceful downward smashes.
- Overpowering dinks – Refrain from swinging hard or ‘punching’ your dinks. Control comes from finesse not force when aiming to merely clear the net.
- Netting the dink – Dinking into the net results from improper technique, often overswinging or contacting the ball too low on the paddle face. Focus on compact strokes hitting out front.
- Popping up the return – Keep wrists firm and use more shoulder to prevent short-hopping dinks opponents can attack. Follow through paddle higher without breaking the wrist.
- Hitting out of bounds – Maintain balance and control to keep dinks in play. Rushing leads to over-extending and directing shots long or wide.
- Not varying placement – If opponents know your dink patterns, they can more easily move into position. Mix up location and strategy to keep them off balance.
Partner Communication On Dink Returns
Since dinking often involves extended rallies, communication with your partner is critical to avoid confusion. Here are some tips:
- Establish zones – Agree on who will cover shots at the middle, left or right zones of the court so you don’t both run the same ball down.
- Call for help on poaches – If your partner poaches, call “Help!” if unable to cover the open court space in time.
- Confirm choices – Say “Yours!” if wanting partner to take the shot and “I Got It!” if you’re taking it.
- Acknowledge suggestions – If your partner makes an observational call like “High!” or “Hard!” acknowledge you heard with “Okay!” or “Got it!”
- Keep it simple – Only use short essential phrases to avoid long disruptive conversations. Too much chatter can break concentration.
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Integrating Dinks With Overall Strategy
Dinking is one weapon in the pickleball arsenal. To maximize success:
- Use dinks when struggling with aggressive drivers – Dinking can neutralize opponents overpowering you with hard shots.
- Pair dinking with poaching – Poach when your dinking partner has pulled opponents wide. Look to punch volleys down the open middle.
- Dink then lob – Use dinks to draw opponents forward then lob over them to the backcourt.
- Dink to buy time – When wrong-footed, dink shots give time to scramble back into position.
- Don’t dink jammed shots – Look to drive lower percentage dink returns that opponents hit close to the net.
- Transition to offense – After a series of effective dinks, speed up your shots or look to slam when presented with high pop-ups.
Mastering the art of dinking requires patience, control, finesse and strategy. By dinking low shots with varied placement, speed and spin, you can frustrate opponents, move them out of position and set up winning shots for you or your teammate. Integrate dinking wisely within the flow of play and communicate effectively with your partner. With practice, your dinking skills will rise and you’ll secure more pickleball wins!