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Pickleball: Topspin 101

Pickleball: Topspin 101
Credit: pixabay.com
What is topspin and why is it so important for pickleball? Most players have heard of topspin and know it’s something they should be using in their game. But what is it and where can it be helpful? Let’s get down to the nitty gritty and go through a topspin 101.

Why is Spin so Important for Pickleball?

When playing pickleball you can try to control a point in 5 main ways; using direction, power, height, depth and last but most important is spin. Using spin is crucial to competing successfully and moving up to and beyond the 4.0 level. Mastery of spin will allow you to compete more aggressively and tactically. Though for many players it is often the most difficult skill to develop.

What is Topspin?

The two main types of spin we use in pickleball are topspin (the forward rotation of the ball) and backspin (the backward rotation of the ball). The name topspin implies that you hit the top of the ball, which in other sports can be true, but not so much in racket sports where we are mostly trying to lift the ball.

We use topspin because of its useful effect on the both the flight path of the ball and it's resulting bounce. This is called the “Magnus Effect” (the downward force from the interaction between the rotating ball and the air). This relationship causes the ball to dip dramatically and much sooner than if the same shot is hit flat. This means we can hit the ball much harder or higher and it will still drop in. Think lifting topspin low volleys back up and over the net at the NVZ line.

How to Create Topspin

Topspin is created by the upward motion of the paddle on the back of the ball and the friction caused by that contact. This causes the ball to rotate forward, resulting in topspin. The faster your paddle travels up the ball the more friction is generated and the more spin you create. The swing shape we associate with generating topspin as known as the windshield wiper. In pickleball we can use this across a variety of shots. Most commonly; aggressive serves, dinks, volleys, lobs, attacking groundstrokes and for dipping the ball down at your opponents feet.

Photo: TopspinPro
Photo: TopspinPro

The picture above shows upward motion of the paddle and the windshield wiper shape used to apply maximum topspin to the ball.

How to Use Topspin to Control the Ball

Every shot you hit on the pickleball court will be different. Each one is unique, requiring ever changing amounts of spin, depth, power and height as well as tactical adjustments in direction.

Hitting a topspin shot is actually a combination of an upward and a forward swing. This swing needs to change shot by shot depending on what is required tactically.

Upward - The upward speed and steepness of the swing controls amount of spin.

Forward - The forward component controls power and depth. The faster you swing forwards the more power and depth you will have.

Example: If I swing steeply up the back of the ball, and less forward, my shot will dip shorter because there is more topspin and less power and depth. 

The ability to master mixing the upward topspin swing with the forward swing gives you more choices in your arsenal. It also allows you to adjust to the different topspin demands on the pickleball court. The blend you hit for a topspin serve is not the same as the one you hit for a topspin dink or volley. Therefore the more you master your topspin shape, the more you can practice a variety of different scenarios.

The Tactical Benefits of Topspin

We already know that topspin allows you to hit the ball higher and harder but what are its over all benefits?

Consistency - Hitting the ball with a larger net clearance means less errors in the net. This can be useful for return of serve, lob and general groundstrokes, especially in singles where there is no-one close to the net to reach a higher ball.

Accuracy and Aggression - The Magnus Effect causes an arc-shaped flight path which means we can:

  • Serve with an aggressive height, depth and speed
  • Dip the ball down closer to opponent's feet
  • Create wider angles off the side of the court
  • Hit more aggressive lobs (higher/faster)
  • Lift volleys with topspin and have them still drop in
  • Use topspin to avoid injuries

The added bonus of using topspin is that it's bio-mechanically efficient for your body. You are effectively rolling the ball back into the court vs hitting it. That upward topspin action takes away a large amount of the strike impact and therefore protects your body from overuse and shock injuries. Imagine swinging your paddle directly in a straight line at a solid wall vs glancing your paddle straight up it. You know which one will hurt more!

How the TopspinPro Can Help Your Game

The importance of topspin for every pickleball player is plain to see. No matter what your level is, you can use it to your advantage.

The TopspinPro for pickleball allows you to practice your topspin (upward swing) using a static ball = no pressure. It's all too common for people to try and implement a new skill in a game situation and then they get frustrated with the negative results. Isolating a skill enables you to practice with the correct technique enough times that you can build up required muscle memory and without getting distracted by the "outcome" (where the ball travels). You can also practice anywhere, anytime, with a fully foldable device and carry bag for transportation. Once you begin to master that skill you can start to add it into situations with a little more pressure such as rallying. Then ultimately into a game situation. You can even remove the panels on the TopspinPro to add in your forward swing and practice blending for different types of shot.

Get your TopspinPro now on our website here.

Here's how to set up your TopspinPro at the correct height to begin with:

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