The pickleball dink is one of the most common and useful shots in the game. But, it’s one of those techniques that’s just hard to master.
I see a lot of recreational players or those without formal training swing big from the baseline, run up to the kitchen, and take another big swing—regardless of where the ball lands. This not only causes a ton of unforced errors, but there’s often no rhyme or reason for hitting the shot.
You should always be thinking about how your dink affects the next shot coming back.
What is a Pickleball Dink?
The dink is an abbreviated swing that is hit from the kitchen line and meant to land in the opposing team’s kitchen or at their feet.
If you carefully watch the high-level players, hit different types of pickleball dink shots. Some have topspin or underspin, some are hit harder (known as a push dink), and others are hit out of the air (known as a dink volley).
These different strokes are used as strategies played at the kitchen line to force a high, attackable ball.
Why is Dinking Important?
One of the fundamental pickleball rules is that you can only win points when you or your partner is serving. The returners goal is to get the ball back so they can score. And, the biggest opportunity to score points is at the kitchen line.
The Johns brothers (number one men’s doubles team in the world) are notorious for this strategy. They either hit a third shot drop or third shot drive to get to the kitchen line so they can work the point with their pickleball dink. We’ve seen it time and time again with high-level players, and it’s become a tried-and-true strategy for many competitors. Plus it just makes the game more fun.
Why is The Pickleball Dink Hard to Master?
One of the main strategies in pickleball is to keep the ball low over the net so your opponent can’t hit down and attack. This is why the pickleball dink is so tough. The margin for error is slim because even hitting the ball an inch too high above the net will put you on the defensive.
It’s vital that you anticipate your opponent’s shot, determine what spin to use, where you’re going to hit it, and how that will impact the next shot coming back. Needless to say, there are a lot of factors when hitting a dink at the kitchen line.
How to Hit a Pickleball Dink
The hardest transition I made from tennis was mastering the pickleball dink technique. But once I learned the proper pickleball dink technique, I was able to create more opportunities to win points. Here are the basic steps on how to hit an unattackable dink.
Step 1: Start in Ready Position
What’s “ready position”? It’s where the paddle is out in front of your body at chest level. Slightly cock the wrist back so the paddle face is up. This gives you the best chance to react to an attacking shot. And since your paddle is already out in front, it prepares you to hit the dink out in front, which is the prime contact point.
Step 2: Set Up for Your Pickleball Dink
Dinks are hit out of the air or off the bounce. It takes a lot of practice to determine whether or not you should hit a dink volley or push dink, but essentially you assess the speed of the ball and how high it’s hit over the net. These two factors are telling that the ball will travel to you, giving you a greater chance to hit a dink volley.
If the ball is hit softer and is lower over the net, the chances are you should let the ball bounce to hit an aggressive push dink or a neutral dink.
Make sure your body is in front up to the ball, keeping the paddle out in front, and dropping the wrist below the ball.
Step 3: Move to the Ball with Your Paddle Face Low
After you’re in “ready position” and the ball has made its way over the net, move laterally to the ball so your body is in front of it, and drop your paddle face below the ball. Be sure that the paddle is out in front (elbows should also be in front of your body). Dropping the paddle face and making contact in front of your body helps keep the ball low and unattackable.
Step 4: Hit a Dink Volley or Push Volley
Now that your body and paddle are in position to hit the ball, either hit it out of the air, or let it bounce and hit a push volley.
Keep your weight planted on the outside foot when you make contact with the ball. This is called open stance. For example, if the ball is hit on the right side of your body, you should step and plant with the right foot, and vice versa.
So when do you hit in a closed stance? Typically when there is a ball that pulls you out wide and you can’t balance on your outside foot, you should cross over to give yourself a chance to control the ball back in the kitchen.
Step 5: Always Follow Through Back to Ready Position
Although pickleball dinks are soft shots hit at the kitchen line, you should always follow through after contact. During tense points, I see a lot of players stop the paddle right after contact, resulting in lack of control and pop-ups. Following through on your pickleball dink gives you more control and allows you to get back into ready position faster for the next shot.
Tips for Mastering the Pickleball Dink
Now that you’ve learned how to hit a pickleball dink, utilize these tips to take your game to the next level.
1. Choose a Grip and Practice it
Because the game is changing by the day, there isn’t a “one size fits all” when it comes to what grip to use when dinking. What I tell my students is to choose a grip that feels most comfortable and drill. Most players use an eastern grip (place your hand on the paddle fac and slide it down to the grip, almost like you’re shaking its hand) to hit neutral balls, but I’ve seen a few professionals hit with a semi-western grip for spin and control or continental grip.
Eastern grip is best to start off for beginners or those who don’t have racquet sport experience.
Once you’ve found the grip that feels right, get in as many pickleball dink reps as possible. Don’t have a hitting partner to do that with? Drill using a pickleball machine.
Pro Tip: A side effect of intense play is sweaty hands. Use an overgrip to help keep your hands from slipping.
2. Remember Soft Grip Down at the Hip.
I see many players grip the paddle hard and tense up when they’re hitting their dinks. This not only creates pop-up balls for the opponent to attack, but it also creates forearm and elbow injuries. When you’re hitting a pickleball dink, soften your grip and contact at waist level. This should keep you relaxed and give you more control to dink the ball back in the kitchen.
3. Hit with Purpose.
When you’re hitting a pickleball dink shot at the kitchen line, it’s important to know where you’re aiming. This way, you can anticipate the next shot. For example, if your opponent’s backhand dink is weaker than their forehand, you should funnel your dinks to their backhand side. Having a gameplan before you play the point helps you stay focused and confident on court.
Two Pickleball Dink Drills to Improve Your Game
Now that you know how to hit a pickleball dink effectively, it’s time to put those tips into action. Try these pickleball dink drills that you can use in your next game.
Crosscourt-to-Crosscourt Game to 11
The main focus of this pickleball dink drill is to work on placing the ball in the kitchen. Remember to have a soft grip but hit with intent.
Both players start on the right side of the court. The “server” drops the balls and dinks it in front of the opponent in the kitchen. From there, the point is live. You and your hitting partner can only hit crosscourt and land the dink in the kitchen. If the ball is out if it’s hit in the net or outside of the kitchen (crosscourt). Use rally scoring. The game ends until someone gets to 11. Then switch to the right side.
During rally scoring, you win points regardless of which team served the ball. It’s a fast-paced and exciting way to play the game, since either team can score points. When you score 11 points (win by two), the game is over.
I personally love this simple drill because it helps me hone in on my pickleball dinking technique and keeps me focused on hitting a specific target while trying to win points. This drill is especially great if you get targeted a lot in doubles and are trying to improve your doubles game.
Side-to-Side Pickleball Dink Drill
Grab a hitting partner and start across from each other at the kitchen line. Feed the ball in front of your partner to begin play. You and your partner should work together to keep the ball moving. Here’s the catch: each of you should aim about two feet from their outside foot, so you and your partner are moving across the court to hit the ball.
Once you and your partner make it to the outside line, keep the ball going and move the opposite direction. Count how many times you and your partner move from line to line.
This pickleball dink drill helps you to move, plant, and hit a controlled dink that is similar to what you’ll have to do in actual doubles. It also helps you burn calories playing pickleball.