When to Counter and When to Reset

When to Counter and When to Reset

When I first started playing pickleball my hands and my reaction time were terrible at the net. I would get so frustrated when someone would speed the ball up at me (whether it was a smart speed up or not) and I would get jammed up or even take a ball into my chest. The aggressive players knew that they could send something fast my way and more than likely win the point. For a while I stayed upset about it and constantly complained that they were just playing “banger” pickleball. I see many players come into the game of pickleball with naturally fast hands. That wasn’t me. The more I got beat by speed-ups, the more I realized that I was going to have to do something about it. I start by learning to block (resetting)  and then I started working on countering with a little more pace.

One mistake I see many players make not knowing when to counter and when to block. Players often feel like they must counter or swing big on every ball that comes into their strike zone. For me, pride often gets in the way. I want to prove to my opponent that they can’t speed the ball up on me and get away with it. Often however, I counter too aggressively and hit the ball into the net or launch it out of bounds. As I get better at countering, I’m learning which balls I need to reset, and which ones I give myself permission to counter back. Here are a couple of things we need to look for and take into consideration when we are deciding between the two.

Who has the hand advantage between my partner and I and our opponents?

When we play someone new, we must test their hands and see who has the advantage in a hand battle. Knowing whether I can sustain a fire fight and win against my opponents will determine a lot about how I play them, but the most important thing is whether I’m willing to freely counter their speed ups. If I realize me and my partner are at a disadvantage, I know I will have to be more selective on which speed ups a I counter and which ones I reset. Resetting against opponents with better hands gives us the ability to work the point a little longer to create a speed up opportunity for ourselves. Know your hand speed/reaction time and know that you may need to grind out more points if you feel you are at a disadvantage in firefights.

Where is the ball when I am countering?

During battle, we must be able to determine where we are going to be striking a ball. Is it above the net? Down at our knees or feet? Net level? Knowing this factor will give us a good idea on whether we should be aggressive with a counter, or if we should neutralize with a reset. When I am dinking with my opponent and I know I have left one too high, I’m more than likely going to choose to reset that ball off the speed it up. The higher they strike, the more likely I will be to reset. Reason being, they will be hitting down on the ball pushing it more towards my hips/thighs or even lower. I’m at a disadvantage here because I will be hitting up on the ball and giving them another opportunity to hit the ball even lower. I don’t want that, so I will reset and work the point a little longer to try to win it a different way. However, if I see that my opponent is attacking a low ball off the bounce or they are attacking a ball out of the air that is below the net, I will be looking to counter that ball. In this situation, I’m now hitting down on the ball and can gain a major advantage in the rally if I hit a good counter. Remember to take into consideration of your opponent’s hands here as well. The more of a disadvantage I have, the more I’ll choose to reset. Even on balls sped up at net level or slightly below the net.

Am I out of position?

If my opponents do a great job of moving me around and choose to speed a ball up while I am moving back into position, Ill be looking to reset almost 100 percent of the time. Reason being I’m not balanced and more than likely won’t strike the ball as cleanly as I would like. Also, If I am moving, that means my partner is probably moving as well trying to cover any holes in the court. We don’t want to engage in a hand battle unless both of us are in position and ready to sustain it. The hand battle advantage/disadvantage between my team and our opponent doesn’t apply so much here. We always want to make sure were in position for a hand battle. Out of position…reset.

My advice is to be patient with this process. Work on your blocking skills first and get comfortable blocking from every spot of contact on opposing speedups. At that point, you can move to punching back and adding a little pace. Once this develops more, you can add more pace to your counters that you will be confident bringing into a hand battle.

Resetting doesn’t win matches!

While resetting is a crucial part of the game, its not going to get the job done. The reset is used to neutralize and create better opportunities for you and your partner. If I see that my opponent is only looking to reset my speed ups, I’m going to keep speeding up. This will apply added pressure and I’ll eventually start winning some points. If my opponent starts countering, however, it will be more of a threat to me and I’ll have to choose better balls to speed up and be more calculated with my offense. The better an opponent’s hands, the less conservative they need to be on their speedups and counters. But even the best pros still reset when then time is appropriate.  

Work on the reset, develop the counter, and then begin learning to decide which one to use in any given situation. Good luck and feel free to reach out with any questions:)

-Mitchell Johnson


Please feel free to reach out to me with any pickleball questions or if you are interested in taking pickleball lessons in Augusta, Georgia!


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