The dreaded pop-up can be tough to control even when you feel like you're doing everything right. A shot flies towards you and you angle your paddle away from your opponent, but it still soars into the air so they can return an easy slam. How do you prevent this? Pickleball Kitchen provides some helpful tips.
In the following video Barrett Kincheloe describes 3 methods you can use to avoid popping pickleballs into the air so you won't have to defend against a smash. For a quick overview, this advice includes:
While everyone loves to have cushy, smooth skin, in this instance having 'soft hands' refers to how you grip your paddle. If you have a tendency to use a death grip, then the tension in your muscles will follow through to your paddle and cause balls to ricochet off the surface.
Instead of grasping the handle so firmly, try to focus on holding the paddle only between your index finger and thumb. The remaining three fingers on the grip (middle, ring and pinkie) should only loosely be touching it. The side of the grip should be between the 'v' of your index finger and thumb's webbing.
This will feel a little odd and loose at first, and you may hit some balls into the net. But this softer grip is ideal for defusing the power coming from a fast shot and will result in it gently returning to your opponent, often in the kitchen.
It's understandable that if you see a pickleball whizzing towards you, you may want to return it with an equal amount of punch. Yet this is a trap!
If you take shots quickly and at speed there's a higher chance your paddle will be jostled upwards in the process, resulting in a pop-up. Even worse, you could return the ball with such power that it goes out of the court boundaries entirely, meaning you won't even get a chance to play out the rest of the point.
Instead of swinging out of control, keep your paddle in a neutral 'blocking' position with the face aiming towards your opponent and maintain the above-mentioned soft grip. The ball will lose speed and play can return to a calmer pace. Remember too that pickleballs will have less speed on them when they've popped up from the ground versus being taken out of the air.
Spin isn't only useful for changing the path of pickleballs as they're traveling through the air or once they've hit the ground; it also affects how they come back off of paddles. Topspin in particular can be dangerous to handle since its motion naturally causes pickleballs to fly upwards when you return them.
To counteract this, Barrett recommends angling your paddle slightly toward the ground and aiming lower than you would normally. This will reduce the spin's effectiveness and keep the ball closer to the net. If you're unsure when balls have spin on them, an easy thing to look for is if they appear solid in the air as opposed to being able to see their holes.
Check out the full video for more information about all of these steps and examples of their effects in motion: