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Playing in the Wind

By Paul Olin, Team GAMMA Contracted Player |

A majority of the premier pickleball events take place outside in the elements.  Additionally, they take place in warm environments where the wind intensity tends to increase and has an impact on the play of the game. When playing outside, you encounter many elements (sun, wind, lighting, temperature, humidity, etc.) and need to recognize the impacts that they have on your game and your opponent's game.  When practicing or playing recreation games, it's important to play in conditions that are less than optimum.  Get out there and play when it's extremely hot, cold, windy or humid and see how the ball plays differently.  Do not shy away from the windy days.  Tournaments may cancel for rain, but will likely not cancel for the wind (unless it's a hurricane?).  Therefore, it's important to play in these less than ideal conditions and be more prepared than your competitors.

Since you are now hopefully motivated to get out in the wind, I offer the following advice when playing in windy conditions:

First, notice the conditions.

From which direction is the wind coming from and in which direction is the wind blowing?  Do you have a headwind (hitting into the wind) or a tailwind (hitting with the wind)?  Is the wind blowing across the court from left to right or vice versa?  Or is it a combination - perhaps a slight tailwind with a left to right component?  Is the wind sustained or is it gusty? Is it changing directions? How will the wind impact your shots, and how will it impact your opponent's shots?  Look at wind socks if available or trees in the area to determine the answers to these questions.  Most importantly, discuss the wind situation with your partner at the beginning of each game to ensure you both understand the impacts.  Continue to communicate with your partner about these conditions, especially if they change through the course of a game and don’t always assume your partner is reading the winds correctly.

Second, and probably most important, play with more margin.

Playing with more margin means giving yourself a little more margin for error. Hit more to the middle of the court to avoid the sidelines and baseline. This will help reduce errors exacerbated by the wind. This applies to all shots from serves and returns to dinks. Also, consider what impact the wind has on your shots.   If you're hitting into the wind,  the wind will tend to knock down soft drop shots, so you may have to strike the ball with a little added oomph. Conversely, hitting with the wind will require a little added finesse or spin. Either you control the ball with your placement, power and spin or the wind will control it.

Third, proper footwork becomes even more critical in windy conditions.

The wind will always have an impact on the ball.  The wind will move the ball at unexpected times and will move it in unexpected directions. The ball may bounce differently and it may not bounce to your liking. Most of us tend to get lazy with our footwork and these lazy habits will be magnified in windy conditions.  Shots that you normally reach for may move slightly due to the wind to the extent where you miss hit the ball or miss it all together. That could be the difference between a well struck unattackable dink or a pop up dink that gets drilled back at you.

Fourth and last, have fun with the wind.

It can be frustrating, but try to learn how to use it to your advantage. Lobs may be crazy to attempt in gusty wind conditions, but if you learn how to judge the wind and adjust your shot, a lob now becomes a very difficult overhead to hit. If you have a crosswind, try hitting the ball into the wind (with enough margin) and allow the wind to push it back into the court.  This is not an attempt to promote hitting lobs and shots off the court during windy games.  They may not be the best percentage shots.  This is an attempt to have fun in the wind and expand your shot selection while understanding the impact that wind will have on your shots.

Sketch to explain how hitting a lob in wind will affect where the ball goes

Try different shots in rec play and bring what works for you at your next tournament. Bottom line, don't cancel your next game because it's too windy. Get out there, practice and have fun!  


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