If you’re like me, you’ve heard it a million times, “forehand covers the middle.” I don’t know about you, but this simple formula seems to cause me more harm than good. “But why doesn’t that work? Forehand down the middle is so straight forward,” you might ask.
Have you ever been in the middle of a paddle battle, you’re totally in the zone working your opponent, only to have your partner interject a forehand and mess up the rally?
Or maybe you’re outside playing in some wind, or playing against a spin-meister, and the ball appears to be going down the middle, only to have the ball kick sideways and your partner is not ready?
Well, this is where we can improve any teams outcomes on balls down the middle with the 3 F’s:
The first F is FLOW:
If your partner is in the FLOW—this is when your partner is in a nice rally, comfortably returning everything the opponents are sending back over—then don’t take away a ball down the middle that your partner can handle. Instead, stay ready and anticipate your oppositions attempts to change the flow, either they will make a mistake that can be put away or you’ll have to back up your partner.
The second F is FIRST:
The FIRST player that can comfortably return the ball, has FIRST dibs on hitting the return. This rule will keep you and your partner ready to back each other up, because we’ve all had balls get past us, only to have our awesome partner make a great recovery. Instead of getting testy about your partner taking a ball down the middle with a back-hand, get back into position and get ready for the next shot. You’ll appreciate it when your partner is engaged with every ball and (almost) always there to back you up.
The third F is Forehand:
Hey, “forehands down the middle” would not be such a popular rule if it wasn’t a pretty good strategy. However, when you combine it with the first two F’s, you have a much more powerful strategy. (Rule was italicized because pickleball is better with fewer rules and more artistry.)
How to use the 3 F’s:
The next time you have a ball going down the middle, instead of confusing communication, follow the 3 F’s in order—communicate the 3 F’s with your partner before the game 😉
• First, if your partner is in the middle of a solo-rally, let them stay in the FLOW.
• Second, if there isn’t a flow, then the player who comfortably reaches the ball FIRST should go ahead and take it.
• Finally, if you and your partner are going to arrive at the ball at the same time, then defer to the partner hitting a FOREHAND.
• And when you have two forehands (or backhands) down the middle, then ignore the third F. Play with the first two F’s.
As always, we’d love to hear your thoughts, comments, and questions. Additionally, please share this tip with your friends if you find it useful.
A big THANK YOU goes out to Christina for sharing this tip. She got the tip from an anonymous stranger that turned out to be a gracious 5.0 player who ended up drilling with her for an hour one random sunny morning in Palo Alto. (Thanks Sis!)