The lob shot in pickleball – loved by some and loathed by others – is a shot that is both overused and under-utilized. Whether you’re nicknamed, “Larry the Lobber” or, conversely, whether you rarely attempt this shot, it’s important to understand the when, why and how of executing an effective lob.
What is the Lob Shot?
The lob shot in pickleball is a high lofted shot, typically hit with an open paddle face, intended to either drive your opponents off the non-volley line (offensive) or buy yourself time while the ball is in the air as you prepare for your next shot (defensive).
The Offensive Lob
The offensive lob is a surprise-tactic shot that is hit from your non-volley line when your opponents are positioned at their own non-volley line and are leaning a bit too far forward in anticipation of an incoming dink shot.
It will also create uneasiness and doubt the next time your opponents are positioned at the non-volley line as they will be less likely to excessively lean forward.
How to Hit an Offensive Lob
An offensive lob should be executed from just an inch or two behind the non-volley line. In terms of placement, the lob should generally be hit over the non-paddle shoulder (backhand) of your opponent. The offensive lob should also be executed only in response to a non-purposeful (dead) dink from your opponent.
In terms of technique, the technique to hitting the lob is virtually identical to that of the dink shot:
- Soft, relaxed continental grip (hammer grip)
- Minimize/eliminate your backswing
- Stay low with your knees slightly bent
- Make contact in front of the body
- Lift/push out-and-up (you want the ball to barely go over your opponents outstretched arm and land deep in the court)
Disguise is what will separate a great lob from a good lob. To properly disguise the shot, make the lob look just like a dink. Don’t do anything that will “tell” your opponent what shot you’re hitting. For example, don’t stand tall. Don’t take a step backward. In my experiences with my students, those are some of the more common “tells” that “give-away” your shot.
When is the Offensive Lob a Smart Shot?
An offensive lob can certainly be an effective shot/strategy – particularly in the following situations:
- Your opponents are positioned “on top” of the non-volley line and are foaming at the mouth as they prepare to pounce on the next dink left a little too high/deep.
- One or both of your opponents are not very quick or mobile – Don’t overuse the lob in rec play, however. Not a great way to make friends.
- You are hitting into the wind. It’s much easier to control the lob when hitting into the wind.
- The sun is wreaking visibility-havoc for your opponents.
- Your opponents struggle to put overheads away.
When is the Offensive Lob Not the Correct Shot Selection?
As I teased earlier, the lob can also be over-used. Here are a few situations when you may want to consider avoiding the lob – or at least minimizing the number of times you attempt the shot.
You are hitting with the wind. Limit your lobs when playing with a brisk wind at your back. It will be much more difficult to keep the ball in the 22 feet of opponent court real-estate with the wind behind you.
For you tournament players, if you’re not a great lobber, don’t try your first lob at 10-10 in the third and deciding game of the match. That’s too critical of a juncture to be experimenting with a shot that you haven’t yet attempted in the match.
Limit your offensive lobs to those times when you’re positioned at the non-volley line. Hitting an offensive lob from at or near the baseline should be the very rare exception. It can work, but should be the very rare exception.
Finally, in rec play, some dread (and get visibly annoyed) playing those who lob “all the time.” If you’re one of those who lobs “all the time” (without any real purpose in mind when lobbing), I would suggest learning and incorporating other shots into your repertoire – such as the drop shot. That’ll make you a better player in the long run – and it will make your opponents a bit less disgruntled as they won’t have to chase down constant lobs and risk potential injury. I know. I know. You win points with the lob. Trust me. Your opponents aren’t as impressed.
The Defensive Lob
In contrast to the offensive lob, the defensive lob is a lob hit with the goal of buying yourself time to get back in the rally. Here are a couple of scenarios where you may want to throw up a defensive lob:
- You are scrambling from side-to-side and you’re simply just trying to get a paddle on the ball and give yourself time to hit the next shot.
- Your opponent has hit a short shot (while you’re back in the court) and you’re scrambling forward and likely can’t control the next shot into your opponent’s non-volley zone. In this case a lob may be very effective.
- Your opponents have lobbed you and a drop shot into their non-volley zone isn’t practical. In this case, lobbing a lob may make sense.
The pickleball lob shot, if executed properly, is an extraordinarily effective shot to hit from both an offensive and defensive perspective. Make sure to incorporate it into your game. Don’t overuse the lob, however, particularly if you’re not hitting it with any purpose in mind.
See you on the courts.