How to return a lob serve in pickleball | 3 simple ways

Well, it’s fun doing the tricks until the tricks go reverse on you. A lob shot is a perfect example. Since everyone is learning the offensive lob shot, it has become harder and harder to beat the lobbers on the court. Typically, the players miss the shot and serve the opponents a cake on their plate. But hey, you don’t have to do this anymore! 

How to return a lob serve in pickleball

Here you’ll learn how to return a lob serve in pickleball in three ways. The first is to hit the overhead. The second is to chase it by running in a question mark shape, and finally let it go out of bounds. We’ll explain all strategies to return a lob shot along with the right shot selection to make your return count. 

Best ways to return a lob shot: 

With the lob, you can decide whether or not to play the shot. If you want to play the shot, you’ll have two choices: 

  • Play it in the air
  • Let the ball bounce before you hit it 

Both these methods require a dedicated skillset and a planned strategy. You can’t just backpedal or jump awkwardly to play the shot. In this case, your best option is to leave the ball as it is. 

The following three ways will help you return a lob shot effectively.  

Jump to hit an overhead

1. Jump to hit an overhead: 

The best reply to a lob shot is to direct the lob to your opponent at the baseline (if you had one). However, if both you and your partners are at the NVZ or if you’re playing, you need to jump enough high to send the ball back. 

First, check your food synchronization with your body. Avoid backpedaling and also stepping forward. You can, however, move sideways if the ball goes in the otherwise direction. Keep the paddle surface open, in front of your face because the ball can be on your non-shoulder paddle. 

Aim downward and take your arms up in the sky. You want to send the ball to the opponent’s feet. The angle of your paddle is very critical. If you keep it too high, the ball will land in your own court. Whereas, if the surface is aimed too downward, the ball will go straight into the nets. 

The difficulty level of this method depends on how tall you’re and how high you can jump. If you’ve got short in height, this is probably risky for you. The next method is for the shorties :))

2. Run in the question mark shape back to the baseline 

In all cases, it’s recommended that the earlier you send the pickleball back, the better. If you wait for the bounce, you’re risking a missed shot with much confusion in your head. However, in some scenarios letting the ball bounce is the only lifesaver. Here’s a twist. Reaching the ball after it has bounced requires a technique that resolves the knot of confusion. This is how: 

un in the question mark shape back to the baseline
  • Go sideways, turn your back and go back to baseline. You need to clear the path of the ball so the ball goes uninterrupted and you also get yourself set up to return it before the ball reaches the baseline. All of this should be done in a “question mark” shape, i.e., you moved a step in sideways, turned around, went back 3-4 steps, and then faced the ball. 
  • Keep your paddle angle the same as in the above situation. At 11’o clock or 1 o’clock depending on your paddle hand, so the ball isn’t going in the nets or getting dropped in your own court. 
  • Get to the point where the ball is about to bounce. You can’t wait for any further after the first bounce to send the ball. Your paddle must be ready and the moment it touches the ground and gets up, you must hit it immediately. 
  • Make sure you hit the ball in front of your body and one foot (most likely the paddle foot) should be outside that’ll make your body stay in balance without falling. 

3. Let the ball out-of-bounds 

Let the ball out-of-bounds

Your last option is to leave the ball as is. This can rather turn in your favor if the ball is swift. If you’ve sent the volley and your opponent has sent you a lob, you’ll know the speed is extraordinary and the ball is going to land beyond the boundary, which means the fault on the opponent. This is kind of smart working. You didn’t play, but you played well. 

The best drill to practice for returning a lob shot: 

Similar to the drills of lob shots, there is a phenomenal trick we learned from the experts of pickleball players. This is a famous drill of Simone Jardim, cofounder, and codirector of Peak Performance Pickleball Academy. 

First, leave your paddle on the court and pivot with your non-paddle leg on the side. Initially, this drill requires you to go off-paddle so your mind can be more active in the situation. 

Now run back to the baseline. The motion is the same as in executing the lob shot after it bounces, i.e., in the question mark shape.  

The best drill to practice for returning a lob shot 

Catch the ball with your hand. Practice your point of contact with the ball. You need to reach the same spot the ball lands and catch it before it bounces the second time. This will educate your mind to be quick and accurate without letting your mind process several things at once and shut down at the same time. Plus, don’t run forward to catch the ball. Pivot again with the same foot. 

Now, step forward with the caught ball and do the same drill with your paddle. However, you need to slow down the pace. Remember, speed is only required in running and getting to the spot. After the ball is in your possession, just slow things down remaining in control. After this, you can use three shots to return the ball. 

3 shots to make the lobber off the position: 

You got the ball on your paddle–that’s 70% success. The remaining 30 percent success depends on your shot selection. Thinking of revenge by lobbing back? Not a good idea–unless, you’ve got no other options and your position is quite complicated with pace issues. You can rather try one of the three shots to deserve the “hero title” in a true sense. 

1. Drop shot: 

Drop shot

A drop shot is the best reply to a lobber. This shot is both, technically and practically, lethal and effective. As a returner, you’ll buy more time to return the shot, the speed is already in favor, plus the distance is all-measured–there is a low chance of error. For your opponent, the drop shot is already hard to return as the ball will land in the NVZ with a relatively low speed. Finally and most importantly, you’ll get enough time to reach the NVZ again. 

2. Drive: 

Drive

If you’re an aggressive player, we’d suggest you drive the ball toward your opponent. This can also synchronize your body’s speed with the paddle, as you’re running backward. Still, this is quite tough to execute with everything considered. 

3. Defensive lob:

There’s a reason why we put the lob shot in the last. It’s the weakest return of a lob shot. However still better than no shot. It’s only because you can’t hit a lobby or a dink in return for a lob, and you have to neutralize the game if the drop or drive is out of skill set currently. 

 Defensive lob

Note: All of these shots are in response when you’re executing the second way, i.e., letting the ball bounce first. If you’re hitting the ball in the air, you’re already going to hit an overhead. 

Few tips to keep in mind: 

Wrapping things up, we’d like to gift you some of our tips and keynotes before your excitements prevail and you end up hurting yourself. 

  • Safety 
Safety

Pickleball has over 50 percent of players aged >50 who are (no offense) don’t have good footwork. Onto that, a returning player needs to light their arm high to make contact with the ball. Therefore, it’s not necessary for players with injuries, age problems, and tennis elbows to take such risks. You can leave the ball as is. The worst thing that’ll happen is a lost point to your team. However, you could save yourself from any strain, sprain, and further injuries

In addition, you can reposition yourself if your returns are weak. Limit the lobbers to play their tricks by already positioning the weaker partner at the baseline. This way you can effectively play the lobs, volleys, and short dinks—but of course, you need proper coordination with your partner for this double strategy.  

  • Never backpedal 
Never backpedal

You’re not at fault if you backpedal to return the shot. Every player’s mind operates this way until they learn a few tricks and re-educate it. You can turn around, run to the baseline, and then return it as we planned above. However, if you backpedal while focusing on the ball, you’ll most likely have a toe ache. 

  • Don’t send a dull dink 
Don’t send a dull dink

Typically, a lobber is looking for a dead ball to lob you. Therefore, keep the speed of your dink regular, such that, the opponent is forced to send back a dink. Also, it’s important to predict the shot. If the opponent is getting focused, their paddle angle is flat, and they’re doing the backswing, it’s the lob you’re going to receive. Get ready! 

  • Hit at the opponent’s backhand 
Hit at the opponent’s backhand

Lob shots are forehand shots, so a shot hit at the backhand will empower your position and make your opponent replace the lob with a volley or dink.  

  • Quickly march to the NVZ if the return of the was good

After you’ve executed a shot in return for a lob serve, you need to run forward to the NVZ again to regain your position. This also charges up your position to turn the game in your favor. 

That’s all! 

Now you’re all set. You’ve learned how to return a lob shot and we know you’ll send back a kickass shot on your opponent. Go on and play a Hero! 

HARRY ANDERSON
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