Tennis players figured out a long time ago to more simply deal with stacking.
“Hey, Maurice — you want to play forehand or backhand?”
But stacking is not so simple for pickleballers, and I am not necessarily suggesting that you stack your doubles team, but you should be knowledgeable enough to play against it.
When I play Rick Bell, the odds are stacked against me. He is so much older and wiser than me that Vegas would certainly bet on him. But there may be a way to beat him.
Over the last two doubles articles, I have discussed pickleball doubles for the receiving team, and the serving team. There are some doubles teams that are better when Partner A plays forehand, and Partner B plays backhand. When switched, with A on the backhand, they are much weaker. That’s when they might choose to stack.
First, allow me to explain the rules of stacking. The rules of pickleball only define who should serve and return, and from where. There are no rules where your opponent must stand. You may have already experienced stacking when two players seem to play the same side all the time. But more often than not, it looks quite confusing because, having not practiced it together, your opponents begin wandering around, scratching their heads.
The first time I stacked was with Rick Bell, and he asked me to wear a bracelet. I thought he was asking me to “go steady.” But, actually, the first person to serve on each team from the right side wears the bracelet as a reminder of who serves first, and it also helps in backtracking the score if you lose track, because the player with the bracelet should start serving when their team’s score is even.
The one firm rule about stacking is that your team must adhere to your team’s serving and receiving rotation — thus the bracelet.
Mike Smith of Fairway Village has been drilling with me helping me practice stacking so it becomes second nature.
There are several reasons why a team might want to stack.
I don’t know if you noticed, but good backhands in pickleball are as rare as the two-and-a-half-dollar bill. One reason for this is that the much smaller court allows you to easily step around and take the ball on your forehand side. But when a right-hander does that from the left side of the court, they momentarily leave the middle open, and if their service return is lukewarm, a hard return up the middle might put your team on the defensive.
Let’s say your opponents can routinely serve and return wide to the backhand side line. You might stack so you could put your more effective defender on that side. If your opponents get into the “zone” where they can do no wrong, and repeatedly they are hitting passing shots wide to your backhand side, your team could be in trouble. But, if you know how to stack and set your team up to counter that shot and put your strongest defensive shot against them, you might jolt them out of the “zone.”
There is also the partial stack, when your team is serving. Unlike tennis, where you need to declare a side for the entire set, in pickleball you can rotate in and out of the stack. It is only mandatory that you respect the serving and receiving positions in which you started the game.
If your team switches in and out of a stacking position, you are constantly giving them a different look, and this never allows them to get into a routine or the “zone” because they are never sure where your strongest shots are going to be during each point.
Defending against the stack
One of your opponents is momentarily out of position once the ball is served, and a ball hit with spin to the vacated spot can be effective — especially if it runs away from them after it bounces. Of course, this strategy only works if you have a well-practiced return-of-serve.
If our team is playing a right-hander and left-hander who are stacking to keep as many of their forehands in the middle, then we together should hit as many balls deep to the corners — to their backhands. In other words, take away that advantage they are trying to gain from stacking. Remember, you basically want to stack to minimize a weakness or, even better, to present your best shots.
The very first tip I will pass along is that you shouldn’t use stacking unless you have practiced it for some time. Otherwise, you will waste your energy on trying to figure out where to move on court, rather than focusing on the match. My purpose today is to draw your attention to considering whether you want to learn to stack with your regular doubles partner.
Regarding Rick Bell — I think the best strategy against him is to just tell him the wrong date or location for the match.
As for the reader, the one thing I can guarantee is that if you spend a little less time yakking and explore some of these techniques, then you will send more of your opponents packing. And by the way, why not spend a little bit more time practicing how to hit the backhand properly, rather than just whacking at the ball. Sorry — I’m just wisecracking.
A good pickleball team moves as one; otherwise the match is already done.
Don’t move? The score will soon be zero for you, eleven for the other two.