How to Lob in Pickleball: Technique, Strategies, and Defending

Good lob technique demonstrated by this pickleball going over a man's head on the court

The pickleball lob shot seems to be a hotly-contested maneuver in the sport. Pro players hardly use it, while many recreational players seem to rely on it. Most of us have likely encountered "a lobber" before, much to the chagrin of many rec players.

So, do you need to master the lob? And if so, what's the strategy behind using it versus defending against it? 

The lob can definitely be a weapon chosen wisely, but is there a point of diminishing returns for the shot?

We'll dig into that below under the Lob Strategy section, but just know that opinions on this topic are mixed. One thing most agree on, however, is that you should never use a lob just to mix things up.

Instead, you need to be intentional and recognize situations that maximize your lob shot success. We'll show you how to do that below.

Pickleball Lob Technique

Though you may not see pros use the lob often, this doesn’t mean it’s an inherently bad shot.

If timed well and hit correctly, your lob forces opponents to decide who is running back to defend it. Even if they get to the ball, they need to decide whether to return it with a drop or a drive.

All of these factors can cause confusion and, hopefully, error. So the first key to a successful lob is: don't do anything that signals you're about to use it:

  • Avoid a large backswing, which might reveal your strategy
  • Initiate the lob at the kitchen line during a dink exchange
  • Choose a time when your opponent expects you to dink out of the air; i.e. after they've completed an aggressive dink deep into the kitchen
  • Make your lob look exactly like your dink, which you can practice any time you practice dinking

Next, try to avoid a "flat" lob. Ideally, you want to put topspin on it:

  • Flat lobs sit up more once they land instead of bouncing and moving with  forward momentum, meaning they're easier to defend if you're the person running after them

Now, for placement. Pro James Ignatowich says you need to consider the geometry of the court.

"If we lob cross court, there is simply more space for the ball to travel and still land in the court. You can hit the lob harder this way, and not worry about it going long," he says.

But if you're going to lob down the line, go over your front opponent's backhand side.

"For example, if I am playing on the left and I have a righty in front of me, I can hit my backhand lob directly down the line," James says.

"Even if my opponent hits this ball out of the air, it will be a high backhand, which is one of the hardest shots to hit consistently well."

Lob Example

Here's a high level example of a great lob...Actually, it's two great lobs in one point, a rarity in pro pickleball.

Watch this video (from 1:29), paying close attention to the pressure put on the left side by the right, and how the left responds: 

Anna Bright, left side in green, successfully uses the lob in this situation to reset the point's momentum.

  • After Lob #1, her team is pushed back, patiently working back to the NVZ.
  • Once there, the two are still under pressure from their opponents' aggressive dinks
  • During the struggled dink exchange, Anna makes sure her opponents are both at the kitchen line, identifying a second lob opportunity
  • Anna likely also notices that her same-side opponent just reached far for a dink, meaning she could have been somewhat off-balance
  • Anna makes it look like she's about to dink out of the air, but subtlety flicks up to lob once more - this time, it's a winner 

Of course, the fact that Anna's second lob was highly unusual and therefore unexpected probably helped. But the technique was solid during both shots' executions.

Lob Strategy in Pickleball

While James Ignatowich says he doesn't want to "bail out" his opponents in the pro scene, preferring to use speedups over lobs, pro Allyce Jones says its lower-level players who should probably avoid the shot.

"They put no spin on the ball when they lob. I don't see that many mid-level players drilling enough, and it's a shot you really have to drill for it to be effective."

No matter what level of play you're at, clearly the lob is an option that can work if executed properly. So look for the following conditions to inform your lob strategy - just know that sometimes, a speedup may in fact be a better choice:

When to lob:

  • Your opponent is leaning forward, taking balls out of the air
  • Their shoulders are leaning toward the net and down
  • You've moved them around the kitchen prior to lobbing

When NOT to lob:

  • Your opponents are off the kitchen line or in the transition zone
  • Your opponent(s) is really tall, or someone who has great footwork and speed
  • You sense a speedup would either win the point or set you up to do so
Pickleball lob options for offense

How to Return a Lob

By now, we've either convinced you to use lobs in your game or have thoroughly dissuaded you from doing so.

Either way, you should also be prepared to defend a pickleball lob, particularly from players who sneakily maneuver them under the guise of a volley dink.

To prevent your opponent lobbing you in the first place, try to keep good dink form by preventing your shoulders from sinking

"You should be in more of a squat position so that you're able to be on your toes to run back and take lobs as overheads," Allyce says.

But once your opponent launches one, you want to start your defense by turning around, leading with your shoulders, instead of backing up blindly with your feet (never a good idea in this sport!).

Then, if you've practiced your sprints, you should hopefully be able to make it to the ball before it bounces twice.

Read Next: Learning the Strategy Behind Attacking in Pickleball

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