How to Hit a Dink in Pickleball: The Ultimate Guide

Third Shot Blog

By Third Shot Blog

Pickleball, a rapidly growing sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong, has captivated players of all ages and skill levels with its unique blend of strategy and physicality. Among the various techniques essential to mastering the game, the dink shot stands out as a critical skill for controlling the pace of play and outmaneuvering opponents.

A well-executed dink is a soft, precise shot hit from near the net that arcs gently into the opponent’s non-volley zone, making it difficult for them to return with power. This post will demystify the dink shot, offering step-by-step guidance on how to execute this crucial move effectively. Whether you’re a beginner looking to improve your game or an experienced player aiming to refine your skills, mastering the dink could be your key to dominating the court.

What is a dink in pickleball?

In pickleball, the dink shot is all about gently hitting the ball into the opponent’s non-volley zone (NVZ), or “kitchen,” aiming to make it land softly and stay low after the bounce. This strategy not only makes it tough for your rivals to hit a powerful shot but can also mess with their balance, making them stretch or get jammed up, leading to mistakes. Essentially, mastering the dink is key to keeping opponents on their toes and scoring points by playing it smart and subtle. It’s a foundational shot that, when done right, can give your team a huge advantage.

A woman wearing a maroon long-sleeve shirt hits a soft backhand dink in pickleball while her doubles partner watches.

What is the purpose of a dink shot?

The dink shot in pickleball isn’t just a way to play it safe or bide your time. Far from being merely defensive, a well-placed dink can actually be a sneaky offensive move that sets you up for a killer attack. By skillfully dinking, you pressure your opponents into making a mistake, like popping the ball up and giving you the perfect setup to slam it home. On the flip side, if you’re on defense and the heat is on, a strategic dink can help you cool down the game and take back control. So, if you’re keen on stepping up your pickleball game, getting savvy with your dink shots is a smart strategy. They’re not just about playing it safe; they’re about setting the stage for your next big play.

What is the main strategy when dinking in pickleball?

In pickleball, the strategic use of dink shots plays a pivotal role in maneuvering opponents into difficult positions by forcing them to reach for low shots, thereby applying pressure and creating opportunities for attack. The approach varies from defensive to aggressive based on the situation; when pressed, the aim is to prevent opponents from launching a counterattack, whereas in more relaxed scenarios, a more aggressive dinking strategy can be employed. The effectiveness of a dink shot also depends on its placement in the opponent’s non-volley zone (NVZ) and the intended net clearance, which adjusts according to the aggressiveness of the play and the specific target within the NVZ. Striking a balance between forcing opponents into uncomfortable returns and setting oneself up for offensive shots is key, with the depth and height of dinks adjusted to maintain control over the game’s pace and dynamics.

What is the difference between a dink shot and a drop shot in pickleball?

In pickleball, it’s easy to get tangled up in the lingo, especially when it comes to “drop” versus “drop shot” – they’re similar but play very different roles on the court. A drop is your strategic move from the backcourt, helping you glide up to the non-volley zone (NVZ) line without inviting trouble, perfect when both teams are jockeying for position. On the flip side, a drop shot is a crafty play from one team at the NVZ to drop the ball into the kitchen, challenging the baseline team to dash forward, hopefully scoring a point or at least shaking up the game. Then there’s the dink, another gentle shot but this time it’s all about finesse when you’re both at the NVZ, keeping the ball in play while looking for that golden chance to strike. Understanding these nuances isn’t just pickleball trivia; it’s about adding layers to your game strategy, knowing when to advance, defend, or go for the win with each soft shot you play.

When should you hit a dink in pickleball?

In pickleball, you should hit a dink primarily when you and your opponent are both positioned near the non-volley zone (NVZ) line, creating a scenario where a soft, strategic play can keep the ball in play while minimizing the risk of a forceful counterattack. Dinking is ideal for when you’re looking to outmaneuver your opponent by forcing them into a difficult shot, thereby increasing the chance of an error on their part or setting yourself up for a more aggressive play. It’s also a smart choice when aiming to control the pace of the game, making it a tactical move during tight, high-stakes moments of the match. Essentially, dinking becomes a crucial strategy when precision and control are favored over power, helping to maintain the rally and seek openings for offensive opportunities.

Where should you hit a dink in pickleball?

Dinking in pickleball often falls into a pattern where players mindlessly hit the ball back and forth without a clear strategy, turning potentially strategic shots into purposeless “dead balls.” To elevate your game, it’s crucial to mix things up and use dinking as a tactical tool. By intentionally moving your opponents around the court and varying your shots with different spins like topspin or a slice, you can keep them off-balance and guessing. Moreover, maintaining agile footwork and incorporating a split step when possible adds to your advantage, ensuring you’re always ready for the next move.

When engaging in a dink battle, especially when all four players converge at the NVZ line, the game truly heats up. Targeting your dinks laterally across the court—whether cross-court, down the middle, or down the line—and varying the depth of your shots can create opportunities to catch your opponents off guard. By strategically aiming your dinks to either jam your opponents or force them to stretch, you may provoke a higher return, setting the stage for you to launch an aggressive attack. This approach underscores the importance of purposeful dinking as part of a broader strategy to dominate the NVZ line and ultimately, the game.

A female pickleball player returns a volley at the net as her partner watches the ball.

How to hit a dink: the fundamentals

Pickleball players use slightly different techniques when dinking, depending on the situation and their preferences. However, a basic pickleball dink can be broken down into these steps:

  1. Use a continental grip
  2. Bend your knees
  3. Move your feet
  4. Hit from your shoulder
  5. Little to no backswing
  6. Think of it as a push, not a swing
  7. Contact the ball in front
  8. Volley the dink if you can

Use a continental grip

The continental grip really shines when it comes to dinking in pickleball, standing out as the go-to choice because it lets you nail those dinks using both your forehand and backhand without needing to switch grips. What makes it even cooler is its unmatched versatility; no other grip gives you quite the same flexibility. Plus, slipping in a bit of slice on your dinks is a breeze with the continental grip, helping to keep the ball low once it lands on the other side, making life a bit harder for your opponents. It’s a straightforward yet effective way to up your dinking game.

Bend your knees

Remember to really engage your legs when dinking in pickleball. A common mistake is leaning over with your back and waist while keeping your legs as stiff as boards. This not only puts a strain on your back, potentially leading to injuries, but it also hampers your ability to quickly move to where the dink lands. Instead, aim for a stance with your knees bent and your back straight, using your legs to drive the action. This way, it’s your leg power that’s sending the ball over the net, not just your arms. Plus, by using your legs more, you’ll need to swing your paddle less, giving you better control of the shot. Letting your legs do the heavy lifting can make a huge difference in both preventing injury and improving your dink game.

Move your feet

Many pickleball players make the mistake of nailing their feet in place once they get to the kitchen, essentially standing in place. In reality, dink rallies can move you in all directions, depending on your opponent’s shot. Be ready to move your feet to receive the ball in the best location for shot technique. Essentially, you don’t want to be overly bending or stretching for the ball, as those are recipes for errors and lost points.

Hit from your shoulder

When you’re executing a dink shot, it’s crucial to engage your entire arm, not just snap your wrist. Think of it as a team effort from your shoulder down to your fingertips, ensuring a gentle yet precise shot. Getting too wrist-happy can lead to less control, increasing the chances of the ball either dropping into the net or flying out of bounds. Also, don’t forget the power of a good leg stance; it’s key for a solid foundation. Keep the upper body movement to a minimum, allowing your shoulder to lead the motion. This approach helps in maintaining both control and accuracy with your dinks.

Little to no backswing

In the art of dinking, adopting a low-to-high trajectory for your swing is key. A common pitfall for many players is letting their paddle swing too far back, which injects excessive power into the shot—counterproductive when finesse is the goal. Overdoing the backswing not only adds too much juice to what should be a soft shot but can also mess with your timing, leading to late contact with the ball.

To master the dink, keep your backswing minimal and aim for a concise follow-through, treating the motion more like a gentle nudge than a full swing. Exaggerated backswings and lengthy follow-throughs are all too common and can send your dink flying further than intended, leaving you unprepared for the next shot. Keeping your follow-through short ensures you remain poised and ready for whatever comes next, with your paddle primed for action rather than caught mid-swing.

Think of it as a push, not a swing

When dinking, it’s important to think of it as “pushing” the ball over the net, rather than swinging at it. It’s a common mistake to put too much swing into your dinks, which can cause the ball to either fly out of bounds or pop up too high, setting the stage for the other team to come in with a strong attack. Keeping your dinks controlled and measured by pushing the ball gently ensures you keep the play in your favor without giving your opponents an easy opportunity to score.

Contact the ball in front

For optimal impact, hitting the ball shouldn’t involve reaching too far ahead of yourself or letting it get too close, cramping your style. The sweet spot for making contact is ideally a foot or two directly in front of you, ensuring you can deliver the shot with the right balance of power and control.

Volley the dink if you can

Opting for a dink volley over a bounce-dink can be a smart move in your pickleball strategy. By volleying, you typically catch the ball at a higher point, which naturally leads to a straighter path over the net, allowing for a flatter shot towards your target. This technique not only enhances your shot precision but also puts the pressure on your opponents by cutting down their reaction time.

The beauty of dink volleys lies in their ability to steal precious moments from your opponents, limiting their recovery time and forcing them into quicker decision-making and faster movements. This strategic advantage can disrupt their rhythm and increase your chances of dominating the play.

Woman wearing a dark, long-sleeve top hitting a backhand volley in a game of pickleball

Common mistakes with dinks in pickleball

  • Over-reliance on wrist action: Using too much wrist flick instead of a full arm motion, leading to less control.
  • Incorrect footwork: Staying flat-footed or not using a split step for better balance and reach.
  • Too deep backswings: Taking the paddle too far back, which can cause overhits and timing issues.
  • Poor contact point: Hitting the ball too close to the body or reaching too far out, resulting in less effective shots.
  • Inconsistent paddle face control: Not maintaining a consistent paddle angle, affecting shot direction and height.
  • Lack of variation: Failing to mix up shot placement, depth, and spin, making play predictable.
  • Ignoring opponent positioning: Not adjusting dinks based on the opponents’ court position, missing opportunities to exploit weaknesses.
  • Resetting position: Not returning behind the NVZ line after a successful dink, losing the advantage of position.
  • Excessive force: Applying too much power, causing the ball to sail out or rise too high for easy opponent attacks.
  • Neglecting defense: Focusing too much on offense without considering defensive positioning and readiness for the return shot.

How do you get better at dinking?

Improving your dinking in pickleball involves a combination of practice, strategy, and finesse. Start by focusing on your form, ensuring you’re using your entire arm for the stroke and maintaining proper footwork to stay balanced and ready. Practice hitting with a variety of spins and placements to keep your opponents guessing and off-balance. Work on your shot selection, aiming for a low to high swing path to keep the ball low over the net and difficult to attack. Incorporate drills that emphasize control and precision, like targeting specific areas of the kitchen or practicing with a partner to simulate game situations. Additionally, watch and learn from more experienced players to understand different dinking strategies and how to respond to them effectively. Consistent practice, coupled with a mindful approach to learning and adapting your technique, will significantly enhance your dinking skills over time.

Frequently asked questions

How do you keep dinks low in pickleball?

To keep dinks low in pickleball, focus on a smooth, controlled swing with a slight upward trajectory from a low to high path, ensuring the paddle face is slightly open upon contact. Minimize your backswing and emphasize soft, precise touches, allowing for less power and more control, which helps maintain the ball’s low trajectory over the net.

What’s a dead dink in pickleball?

A dead dink in pickleball refers to a shot that lacks strategic placement or variation, essentially just landing in the opponent’s court without challenging them or setting up an advantageous position. It’s a missed opportunity to apply pressure, often resulting in a predictable, easily returnable ball that doesn’t shift the game in the hitter’s favor.

Where do you aim dinks in pickleball?

In pickleball, aim your dinks towards the opponent’s non-volley zone (NVZ), specifically targeting areas that force your opponents to move laterally or stretch, such as close to the sidelines, deep in the kitchen, or right at their feet. This strategic placement challenges their ability to return a controlled shot and creates opportunities for you to gain the upper hand in the rally.

How do you practice pickleball dinking?

To practice pickleball dinking, engage in drills that focus on precision and control, such as aiming for specific targets within the opponent’s kitchen area or practicing with a partner to exchange a series of dinks, varying the speed and placement. Incorporate exercises that improve your footwork, paddle control, and the ability to read your opponent’s movements, ensuring you can consistently execute low, controlled dinks under various game conditions.