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What is a dink in pickleball?

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Betsy Kenniston

Updated on: Jan 11, 2024

Brandon Mackie hitting a dink in a game of pickleball

One of the first unique pickleball words you'll hear on the courts is the word "dink". It's also one of the most important and strategic shots in the game.

In this article, I'll cover everything you need to know about dinks in pickleball, including how and when to hit them. Plus, I'll give tips on how best to use them to your advantage.

What is a dink in pickleball?

A "dink" in pickleball is a soft, controlled shot intended to land in your opponent's non-volley zone or "NVZ" (also known as the "kitchen"). The kitchen is the area measuring 7' on either side of the net, and from sideline to sideline.

Players are not allowed to step into the kitchen when volleying the ball (i.e. hitting it without letting it bounce.) Hitting accurate shots into this zone (dinks) takes practice so that they land softly and cannot be attacked.

Graphic showing the non-volley zone (or "kitchen") on a pickleball court
The non-volley zone (or "kitchen") on a pickleball court

Dink rallies generally start when both you and your opponent are at the NVZ line. Players may wait for the ball to bounce or volley it before it bounces when dinking, depending on the depth of the oncoming shot.

Usually, when you receive a deep dink, you would hit it before it bounces, rather than stepping back so it can bounce at your feet. Either way, a "dink battle" is an exchange of soft, controlled shots back and forth across the net.

Dinks are fundamental, strategic shots that are essential for every pickleball player to master. They help you to gain control, slow the game down, and set up offensive plays. Well placed dinks can create openings or cause errors from your opponents.

How to hit a dink shot in pickleball

To hit a good dink, you should be at or close to the kitchen line. Bend your knees and adopt a low body position with your paddle out in front of you.

Dinking requires finesse and control. Lift with your legs, using a soft grip when making contact with the ball. You don't need to swing hard. Your goal is to create a gentle, controlled, upward tap to lift the ball just over the net.

Brandon Mackie hitting a dink in a game of pickleball
Brandon Mackie hitting a dink in a game of pickleball

Practice making reliable, repetitive dinks that land consistently in the NVZ. Since these shots have very little pace, your opponents are forced to create their own return shots—this can cause errors. Note which side is weakest in your opponent, and target that side with your dinks.

After executing each dink, be sure to move back to your original, neutral position (close to the middle of your side of the court). This is so you can better anticipate your opponent's response and move accordingly.

Don't be lulled into a dinking rally where you find yourself planted in the exact same spot. This leaves the middle exposed and creates an opening for your opponent to hit into. Return to your ready position with a balanced stance, knees slightly bent, and ready to react to the next shot.

Mix up your dinks by using different angles, depths, and directions. As you become more proficient, you might add spin to your dinks. Anything that keeps your opponents guessing will add an element of unpredictability to your game.

How to use dinks in your game

Dinks can be offensive or defensive. An offensive dink should put pressure on your opponent, and ideally force them into making a mistake. Target your opponent's weaker side or their feet, which might cause them to step back off the NVZ line.

Look for and exploit an opening in their defense, putting pressure on them to make difficult returns and cause errors. Be patient. Lengthy dink exchanges will test your opponent's skills and could wear them down over time.

You can also use a dink as a defensive strategy to reset the point when you're in a challenging position. A well placed dink can help you neutralize your opponent's attack and regain control by slowing down the pace of the rally.

Where to place your dink shots on the court

The placement of your dink shots is a key aspect of strategic play. Knowing where to put your dinks can apply pressure to your opponents, control the pace of the game, and set up offensive opportunities.

Try to hit your dink shots so that they land close to the NVZ line. This forces your opponent to make precise and controlled shots while being restricted by the NVZ rules. They will also have to make quick decisions on whether to let the ball bounce or volley their next shot.

Dinking to the corners of the NVZ makes it more difficult for your opponents to reach the ball, increasing the chances for errors and sometimes providing you with an opportunity to attack.

Also, targeting the middle gap between your opponents can lead to miscommunication or indecision from them.

How and why to do a cross-court dink

Cross-court dinks are hit diagonally across the net. They force your opponent to move further toward the sidelines, increasing the chances that they'll make an error or be unable to make an effective return.

By creating wider angles, you challenge your opponent's positioning. This makes it less likely that they'll be able to reply with an offensive shot and will give you a better opportunity to set up a follow-up attack.

Also, cross-court dinks pass over the net at its lowest point, which can help reduce errors.

When is the best time for a dink shot?

Dink shots can be played at any time in the game. However, here are some examples of when they can be especially useful.

When returning a dink shot

When your opponent hits a dink to you, sometimes the best option is to dink back rather than attempt an aggressive return.

Patience is important in pickleball. Don't try to score off of a dink, unless there is an opening. A patient dink rally can offer you a better opportunity to attack once you create an opening.

On the third shot

After the serve and return, the third shot is often played as a light, controlled dink that's known as a "third-shot drop".

This gives the serving team more time to get to the NVZ line. This shot is usually returned with a dink, in turn setting up a rally, until an error is made or an opening is created that allows one team to score.

When you have to let the ball bounce before hitting it

If you have to let the ball bounce—especially if it bounces in the kitchen—a dink shot is a good choice. Firstly, by having to let it bounce, your opponents have more time to be ready for your return.

Secondly, you will be contacting the ball lower than you might if returning a volley. Dinks are best hit when you are lifting your paddle upward, so a low ball position is ideal for dinking.

When against a power player

When you're under pressure from a banger, a dink can help slow down the rally. A banging rally quickly becomes a battle of those with the best reactions, and usually have little to do with control.

Use dinking to take control. This way, you can force your opponent to create their own shots rather than feed off the energy of a hard hit shot.

Tips for a successful dink shot in pickleball

Timing

Use your third shot to hit a drop into your opponents' kitchen to start a dinking rally. Alternatively, if you're caught off-guard or out of position mid-rally, a drop shot gives you a little time to reset the point and change from defensive to offensive.

Get low

Always return to your ready position with your knees slightly bent and your weight forward on the balls of your feet. This stance is more stable and allows you to move in any direction quickly. Lift up with your legs as you stroke the ball over the net.

Make contact in front

Keep your paddle in front of you so that you make contact with the ball at the earliest possible moment. You might be able to reach it to volley it before it bounces, or you can let it bounce.

However, don't let it land down at your feet or deeper. This puts you immediately on the defensive, making a dink nearly impossible.

Skip the backswing

Keep your swing short and compact. A short swing helps when maintaining accuracy and precision. Focus on using your wrist and forearm together, with very little shoulder movement, rather than relying on a full arm swing. This gives you greater control.

Lift the ball, gently

Stay relaxed, especially with your grip, and focus on a smooth, controlled motion. Lift up with your legs as you hit the ball gently, and follow through towards your target. Avoid jerky movements as these will misdirect the ball up or into the net.

Hold the line

During dink exchanges, try to stay close to the NVZ line. Don't allow your opponents' shots to push you back, as this exposes your feet and gives them more space to aim at. If you have to take a step back, once you've taken your shot, move back up to the ready position at the kitchen line.

Bottom line

So, that's my guide to hitting dinks in pickleball. I hope I've answered your questions and given you some tips on how best to use this fundamental shot in your game. For more great tips, check out more pickleball tips from me, the Crazy Pickleball Lady.

If you have any further questions, comments, or advice for other players, hop onto the Pickleheads social media and share them. In the meantime, get practicing your dinks by checking out sessions on your local courts.

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About the author
Betsy Kenniston
I’m Betsy, the founder of Crazy Pickleball Lady, a blog I created to share my love of pickleball with the world! I discovered pickleball when I finished working in 2012, and the sport has defined and thoroughly enriched my retirement. I spend the warmer months in Toledo, Ohio and the winters in SW Florida, and I’m a member of four pickleball clubs in total, serving on the board of directors for one. In my time off the court, I write my blog as a way to reach others who want to learn to play pickleball, and to give tips to players looking to improve their game.
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