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Why Defense Might Be Your Pickleball Downfall

Pickleball, a sport that artfully blends strategy, precision, and balance, often sees players emphasizing defense. But can a robust defensive game alone secure victory? Let’s delve into the limitations of a defensive strategy in pickleball, drawing insights from seasoned players who have navigated this intricate aspect of the game.

The Go-To Defensive Strategy in Pickleball

In pickleball, effective defense revolves around simplicity and error minimization. Think about it—if you can avoid unforced errors, maintain consistent dinks, and execute effective resets, you’re already complicating things for your opponent. These defensive techniques aim to extend rallies, increasing the chances of your opponent making mistakes.

Many players idolize pros like Collin Johns, who excels in this area. They mimic his style, focusing on keeping the ball in play and avoiding risky shots. It’s a smart strategy: let your opponent make the errors while you stay steady and consistent.

This approach might not always dazzle, but it can be incredibly effective, especially against opponents prone to taking big, risky shots that don’t always land.

Can You Score with Defense in Pickleball?

Scoring directly from a defensive stance in pickleball? It’s a rarity. The reality is, you need to actively win points with offensive shots to come out on top. Defense is great for setting up opportunities—by keeping the ball in play and forcing your opponent to make mistakes, you can create openings. But defense alone doesn’t score points.

One player summed it up perfectly: “You can’t win with defense alone. If you’re always on the defensive, it means your opponent is calling the shots.” In other words, while good defense can keep you in the game, you need to seize those moments to switch gears and attack. Otherwise, you’re just waiting for your opponent to hand you the game, and that’s a risky strategy, especially against skilled players who know how to capitalize on every opportunity.

When to Play Defensive?

Going defensive can be effective in certain situations:

  • Against Aggressive Opponents: A solid defense can neutralize an opponent’s aggressive plays, forcing them into errors.
  • During Long Rallies: Consistent dinks and resets can tire out opponents and create openings for offensive shots.
  • To Regain Control: If you’re out of position or under heavy attack, a defensive play can buy you time to recover.

However, relying solely on defense is not a sustainable long-term strategy, especially as you advance to higher levels of play.

How Far Can a Defensive Strategy Take You?

There’s a consensus among seasoned players that while defense is crucial, it must be complemented with offensive skills to win matches. Here are some key insights from experienced players:

  • Transition to Offense: Defensive play should ideally set up offensive opportunities. One player remarked, “If you get really good at countering, your opponents will think twice before trying to speed up the game against you.”
  • Defining Errors and Margins: Understanding and reducing errors involves more than just avoiding mistakes. It includes recognizing opportunities to counter-attack and knowing when to take calculated risks. “If you’re making absolutely no errors, you’re probably playing it too safe and should consider taking more risks.”
  • The Importance of Offense: Players at higher skill levels find that simply playing defensively and hoping for opponent errors isn’t sufficient. “Playing it safe only works if your opponents are making a lot of mistakes.”

Players’ Perspectives on Balancing Defense & Offense

Playing it safe only works if your opponents are making a lot of mistakes. Many players agree that a purely defensive mindset can only take you so far. Here are some of their thoughts:

  • Countering Effectively: “Colin Johns turns his opponents’ speedups into offensive opportunities with his counter shots, and he’s quick to capitalize on any dinking mistakes.”
  • Pressuring Opponents: “If you don’t have a shot you can finish, try to set up a ball that you or your partner can put away.”
  • Learning from Pros: “Ben Johns says that if he can comfortably volley a ball at the kitchen line, he’ll turn it into a speed-up. If you have good hands, you’ll win more points by being the first to make a move.”

In other words, mixing in some offense and taking calculated risks is key to success. Keep your opponents on their toes and don’t be afraid to make the first move!

Turning Defense into Offense

So, here’s the deal—having a solid defense in pickleball is like having a safety net. It’s super important, but you can’t rely on it alone to win matches. To really dominate on the court, you’ve got to mix in some offensive strategies.

Think of it this way: mastering the balance between defense and offense is key. You need to know when to switch gears from keeping the ball in play to making that winning shot.

Here are a few strategic tips to keep in mind:

  • Counterattack Smartly: Use your opponent’s speedups to your advantage, just like Colin Johns does. Turn their aggressive shots into your opportunities.
  • Set Up Winning Shots: If you can’t put the ball away immediately, try to create a situation where you or your partner can.
  • Initiate Offensively: Don’t wait for the perfect moment—sometimes, you need to make the first move. As Ben Johns suggests, initiating can give you the upper hand.
  • Mix Up Your Shots: Keep your opponents guessing by varying your shot selection. This can prevent them from getting too comfortable and making easy returns.
  • Stay Patient but Ready: Patience is crucial, but so is readiness. Be prepared to switch from defense to offense as soon as you see an opening.


Q. What is the primary goal of a defensive strategy in pickleball?

The primary goal of a defensive strategy in pickleball is to minimize errors, maintain consistent play, and extend rallies to force opponents into making mistakes.

Q. Can you win matches with defense alone in pickleball?

No, winning matches with defense alone is rare. While defense is crucial for setting up opportunities, you need offensive shots to actively win points.

Q. When should you switch from defense to offense in pickleball?

You should switch from defense to offense when you see an opening or an opportunity to make a winning shot. Recognizing these moments is key to a balanced strategy.

Q. How can you improve your defensive skills in pickleball?

To improve your defensive skills, focus on drills that enhance your consistency, such as dinking and resetting. Practice maintaining a steady and error-free game.

Q. What are some effective ways to counter aggressive opponents in pickleball?

Effective ways to counter aggressive opponents include maintaining a solid defense, forcing them into errors, and using their speedups to create offensive opportunities for yourself.

What do you think?

Written by Billy Pickles

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