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Win More Points with an Aggressive Airborne Attack

Celebrated pickleball coach Steve Dawson

Steve Dawson

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By Steve Dawson

The airborne attack, in the words of pickleball pro Steve Dawson, is how you “punish your opponent” if they cannot land the ball in the kitchen.

It’s a good response to a dink that’s hit too deep.

When playing a deep dink, you also have the option to back up and let the ball bounce, but Dawson, who has won 18 majors, prefers the airborne attack because it forces the opponent into “riskier and riskier” dinks. “The know if they dink it too far you are going to take it out of the air and attack their partner,” he says.

In theory, this means that an opponent will make more mistakes during a match, potentially giving you points that don’t require you to work as hard. A riskier dink is more likely to fall short and end up in the net, and your opponents may also have to go for more aerial attacks themselves, potentially putting them in danger of stepping into the kitchen and faulting.

Types of airborne attacks

  1. When the ball is below the net and closer to your knees than your waist, Dawson favors an attack where you reach up and put as much top spin on the ball as possible. This gives the ball a wicked dip and makes it hard to return.

  2. The second type of airborne attack is clearly Dawson’s favorite and, likely, the favorite of most pickleball players. This opportunity comes when your opponent hasn’t controlled the shot well and the ball sits up over the net in a spot that you can reach without the risk of stepping into the kitchen. In this situation, smash it and finish the rally with authority.


  • When playing an airborne shot, Dawson advises that you attack the player closest to you. (The player directly in front of you.) An airborne attack allows you to create more speed and power over a short distance than any other shot, so the player in front of you will have less time to react than the player in front of your partner.

  • Don’t worry about hitting the ball in the court. If you hit the shot directly at your opponent with pace, Dawson says, your opponent won’t be able to get out of the way – even if the ball would otherwise land 15 feet out of the court.
  • Disguise your shot. If your bounced dink and bounced attack look different, your opponent will read you and may be able to take control of the rally, Dawson says. If each shot looks the same, your opponent will have a much harder time anticipating your next move. Think of it like a baseball pitcher who needs his fastball and changeup delivery to look the same to keep the batter off balance.
  • Use your bounced attacks wisely. “It isn’t done when you feel like it,” Dawson says. “It is done when your opponent’s bounced dink sits a little too high.” In other words, don’t attack on a net-skimmer or a good defensive shot. Wait for the right moment, then go for it. Then congratulate yourself on making the smart play.