A How-To Guide on Predicting Pickleball Spin
by laurapbc on May 9, 2019
One of the most difficult aspects of pickleball for beginners and even intermediate players is learning how to handle spin. At higher levels players are usually familiar with different strokes and can easily predict where the ball is going to move if they're unable to catch it in the air. However, when you're still learning how to place your own shots, much less keep an eye on your opponent's, this can be a tricky skill to master.
This helpful table from Pickleball Ontario provides a reference on the different types of spin and what reactions they cause against a paddle or the court. You'll also see how to best respond to each type of spin.
Spin is not as prominent in pickleball as other racquet sports, but it's important to note that it will change the arc of pickleballs in the air in addition to their trajectory after hitting the ground. As shown in the table, topspin and sidespin will eventually drop downward which means they tend to be more difficult to return. Harder shots fall more quickly and necessitate a faster reaction. With extremely precise placement, topspin can even allow a pickleball to jump over the top of a net cord and drop mere inches into the kitchen.
Backspin might seem less advantageous since it rises in motion and then bounces high, but another factor to note is that its forward motion is less intense. If the opposing player is waiting for the ball to 'spin out' and fly towards the baseline like a more powerful hit, then they may need to rush and fix their miscalculation, returning an unbalanced shot.
Here's a great video of Sarah Ansboury demonstrating the 'slice' which adds backspin to a ball:
Note her positioning and the high to low stroke which create this motion. When you first try adding spin to your shots you may be less precise since you're not only attempting to hit in the sweet spot of your paddle, but changing the path of your swing as well.
An example of topspin can be found in this video from Third Shot Sports, showing how to use topspin during a serve:
When practicing spin, don't overthink it too much! Like any other skill it takes practices to learn, but once it feels natural you'll be able to keep your opponents guessing. Not only that, but it will help you in understanding the types of spin headed toward your side of the court so you can properly counter them.
Do you have a good idea of how to use and handle spin? What techniques have improved your game the most?