How and When to Effectively Use A Pickleball Lob Shot

The lob shot gets called a lot of different things - sky shot, pop up, sky ball, moon ball, high floaty ball, etc. Okay, maybe nobody refers to it as the high floaty ball, but with a matter of certainty, nobody talks about this well-known and often nicknamed shot as much as they should.

The lob can be an incredibly effective tool for you on the court, yet it gets far less airtime than dinks, volleys, third-shot drops, and other pickleball shots. How could this be? When you look at dinks, volleys, and third-shot drops, they all have two major things in common - clear directions on how and when to perform each.

Then there's the lob shot sitting on the sidelines, waiting its turn. Completely misunderstood - players aren't sure where it fits into a rally or what signs to look for. We think it's time to end the confusion by answering the biggest questions that shroud pickleball lobs.

So join us as we walk you through all things related to the most well-known, but least utilized shot in pickleball - the lob shot. Let's start by getting on the same page with the term.

What's a Lob Shot?

A lob shot is a high-lofted and deep hit created by opening the face of a pickleball paddle. It's primarily used to push opponents off the kitchen line (non-volley line) and move them toward their baseline, buy yourself time and space, or generally catch an opponent off-guard.

The latter is particularly useful when an opponent is starting to pick up on patterns with how you play, such as anticipating a softer shot, like a drop shot. This will usually lead to your opponent creeping toward the kitchen line and its corners.

A well-timed lob will have them scrambling to get to the ball before a double bounce fault.

Is a Lob Shot Good in Pickleball?

A pickleball lob can be both good and bad depending on when and how it is used. There's a low margin for error with lobs relative to time and placement. For instance, a lob can easily become a powerful volley opportunity for your opponent if it falls short, or go out of bounds if hit too far. 

That said, the right lob shot can be a game-changer and make all the difference in a rally. It's also an incredibly useful tool when it comes to disrupting your opponent's rhythm as they won't know what kind of shot is coming next.

How Do You Hit a Lob Shot in Pickleball?

Similar to a dink, hitting a lob shot requires a soft touch in a hammer grip. It also incorporates minimal backswing like a dink and volley. The power that fuels the broad arch of this shot comes from your legs. You'll start in a low squat and lift and push the ball out as you stand up.

Your wrist and elbow will remain steady as your shoulder and legs are the driving force as you try to arch the ball over the shoulder of your opponent's weaker arm, typically their backhand. Your goal is to land the ball as deep into their baseline as possible.

When Would You Use a Lob Shot in Pickleball?

When playing offensively, you can use a lob shot when your opponent is overly committed to the kitchen, not looking forward, or in a poor stance. As a last-ditch effort to restart an exchange, you could lob from a defensive position, but ideally, lobs are best suited as offensive weapons.

In essence, a lob can be useful at different times on offense and defense, such as when your opponent leaves a large gap toward their backcourt, when you want to decrease your predictability and surprise your opponent, or when you desperately need time and space it can be useful to disrupt your opponent's flow.

How Do You Counter a Lob in Pickleball?

When faced with a lob, you'll have to decide on your shot and among several options, two stand out as tried methods of countering. First is smashing the ball back as a volley, and second, using a drop shot to send the ball back. Both can be effective methods for turning a defensive moment into an offensive one.

While many choose to counter a lob with a lob, we would only recommend this as a dire measure for buying time. This is primarily because your opponent will have ample time to get into position, and if you lob it back that will just extend it.

Instead, countering with something that requires immediate reaction is a nice tension to the time and space the initial lob created, which will hopefully catch your opponent off-guard.

Now that we've covered all things lob shots, it's time to talk about how it can be applied to serving - that's right, the lob serve.

What Is a Lob Serve?

A lob serve in pickleball is a high-lofted style of serving that sends the ball high overhead and deep into an opponent's service area. It's useful for keeping an opponent behind their baseline, creating more space for a third shot drop. It can also surprise an opponent standing too close to their baseline or just make their serve return more challenging.

To successfully pull off an effective lob serve, you'll need finesse and precision since you need the ball to arc high, but with restrained power, yet still land as deep as possible - this is why it's also referred to as the "High Soft Serve." In terms of speed, medium to slow is the correct pace, and this varies based on height and how deep you're trying to land the ball in the service area.

Lob serves are extremely helpful at disrupting rhythm for serve returns, which can jumpstart a shift in advantage.

They're great for catching your opponent napping, forcing them to move backward while trying to keep the ball in play. Even if your opponent anticipates your lob serve and takes it straight on, the height of the bounce can make it difficult to figure out the best point to make contact for a return while needing to cover half a court or more in distance.

That said, it should be used sparingly, mixed in with driving serves since it gives your opponent more time to react. If it becomes a predictable serve you're opening yourself up too much.

How Do You Hit a Lob Serve in Pickleball?

To hit a lob serve, hold the paddle face up like you're holding a pan. With slow to medium speed you'll want to lift, moving your legs from bent to fully standing, while at the same time swinging your arm from the shoulder to scoop the ball up. If looking at the ball in profile, you'll make contact at 7 o'clock, at around net height.

For this serve to be effective and keep its finesse, you'll need to generate power from your shoulder and legs rather than your wrist. This serve is not about power at all, it's about touch, which places more emphasis on your velocity and placement.

One helpful way to do this is to limit your backswing. This will change based on your paddle speed, but setting a mark, such as not pulling back further than your knee on your dominant leg, can get you in the habit of keeping your backswing tighter. Where your backswing is confined, your follow-through should almost feel exaggerated.

A good follow-through is going to ensure your ball arcs high and deep, pushing your opponent back as far as possible. To get in the habit of doing this, try to finish your follow-through above your head.

Is a Lob Serve Any Good?

A lob serve is a useful tool when done correctly, allowing you to pressurize your opponent. It sets up a third shot nicely, can create mistakes for the receiver, and it helps disrupt the flow of a game.

However, it shouldn't be used often as landing it short puts the serving team at a huge disadvantage, and since it creates more time, if predicted, your opponent can also capitalize on it rather easily.

How Do You Return a High Lob Serve in Pickleball?

To return a lob serve, you should square up to the net, placing the ball in front of you as much as possible. After the bounce, returning it as quickly as possible will begin the process of shifting from a defensive return to an offensive one, as your opponent is expecting to have time for their third shot.

Since you have to let the ball bounce at least once, you can't just volley a lob back. But you also don't have to wait for the ball to bounce to its full height before returning it. Hitting it right after the bounce is going to make the best use of the kinetic energy, meaning less effort for you to return it deep. Combined with a short time for your opponent to react, you'll surely catch them off-guard.

Squaring up is essential for your return. Once you recognize the lob, drop back a bit and turn your shoulder to face the net. You want to move into the ball on its bounce to take on its power, plus going head-on will make sure you don't end up chasing the bounce.

If for some reason you aren't able to get at it directly from the front, gauge where you think it will bounce to and head there rather than following the ball.

It's a bit nuanced, but if you try to chase after the ball, you're going to keep playing from behind, which will almost certainly ruin your angle of return. Yet if you can gauge its landing from the bounce, you'll be more likely to create a more approachable angle for your return.

Don't Sleep on the Lob

Overall, lobs are a powerful tool in pickleball that can be used offensively or defensively depending on the circumstances, but typically it's best reserved as an offensive weapon rather than a defensive weapon. It's also best suited for beginner to intermediate skill levels.

As long as you have control, power, and placement — lobs can be great for creating unexpected advantages. Ultimately, to become a successful pickleball player you'll need to master every shot, including the lob. So give it a shot, just be sure to mix it up as part of your repertoire. With these tips in mind, you're well on your way to lobbing victory.