How do I start poaching?

drop_shot

New User
No, literally! I know the drill but in real life I just don’t. I see better players do it all the time, they are not faster than me and they can do it. So, what’s up? What should I do , think, don’t think? Is there any useful coaching advice? How do I start doing it??!!
Level 3 here.
 

JW10S

Hall of Fame
Many times players do not end up poaching because they wait to make their move after their opponent has hit the ball, they try to decide if they can reach it, usually by then it's too late and they end up just staying put. Good poachers move just before their opponents hit the ball based on whether it's a set play or due to the position of their partner's previous shot. And it is not necessary to be super quick to be a good poacher because it has more to do with when you move not how fast you are.
 
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Cindysphinx

G.O.A.T.
I don't know what Level Three means.

I think the best way to become a good poacher at the 3.0-3.5 ladies level (in a situation like you described, where you never seem to make it happen) is to do planned or signaled poaches. Once you know the DTL is not your responsibility, you are free to take off as soon as you want. All you have to think about is, "This cross-court ball is mine no matter what, so I had better go get it." It takes the timing/hesitation issue out of it -- if you go too early, your partner should be crossing for the DTL and if she doesn't she is the one with the problem.

Also, this can help with partners who cannot place their serve. It is easier to poach if the serve is up the middle. But if you (and your partner!) have no idea where the serve is going ahead of time, well . . . it doesn't matter because the crosscourt ball is still your responsibility. If it is wide, you had better take off a little earlier, right? (And of course, if you are an alley camper, that is probably half your problem. You should not be shading toward the alley when your partner serves if you hope to be a good poacher).

I know the conventional wisdom is that you should poach like crazy and shouldn't worry about the DTL shot, but that is not very realistic in the early stages of learning to poach. The minute the returner wins a point DTL or you muff a few poaches (or worse, mis-time a poach and bail out at the last second and thereby fake out your own partner), your partner will tell you to stop. Which doesn't do much for the confidence of the fledgling poacher.
 
I think the first step to learning how to poach well is to understand that you were taught to stand in the wrong spot. Move 3-4 feet toward the center from where you think is the correct starting position, and then you will actually be in the correct starting position. If you are not leaving a big enough gap in the down-the-line alley to tempt the returner to consider going down the line at least 1/3 of the time, then you are making it way too easy on the returner by giving him/her a free low-risk wide window to hit crosscourt.
 
You don't have to start doing it in matches where you might have an unsympathetic partner who doesn't get how to play higher-level doubles.

Start on the practice court. 3 people would be fine: you at net on the Ad court [if you're righty, because then you can start with a FH poach rather than a BH], a feeder partner in the serving position on the Deuce court, and a returner. Set up a cone where the returner's partner would be.

To make the drill more successful, just have the feeder feed easy balls; if he serves, some will be way out or into the net which will disrupt the flow of the drill.

Initially, have the returner hit slow balls in the middle. Practice your timing cutting them off and volleying at the cone.

As you get better, the returner can increase the pace and angle of the "return", making the scenario more realistic.

The rule of thumb is to start moving as the returner starts the forward part of his swing. The old advice of waiting for the ball to bounce in the service box is too variable, IMO: the serve speed and spin could vary dramatically, making that rule sub-optimal.

The most important thing is to go after the ball: don't worry about getting burned DTL. If you're signalling, that's the server's responsibility anyway. Once you're free of that chain, you can pursue the ball with gusto. Adopt the mindset "the next ball is MINE, come he|| or high water." Commit. You'll miss tons; that's OK. Developing that aggressive mindset will pay huge dividends down the road; much easier to scale it back a bit than to get a passive person to be aggressive.

And don't just stroll: sprint. This is not a "walk in the park" type of play. You want to surge across the middle and swat at anything you can get your racquet on. Even if you miss, this will have match benefits in making the returner uncertain what you're going to do. Then, you can fake poach and cause him to go for too sharp a CC angle and miss. That's when you know you've gotten in their head.

Deploying this in a match can be tricky: you need a partner who is on the same page. Signalling should become a given but I understand if you don't want to burden yourself or your serving partner with that while at the same time trying your new poaching skills. But keep it in mind for future practice.

If you have a partner who sighs, drops his racquet, slumps his shoulders the instant you get passed DTL, even if you've won the previous 5 points by poaching, you're in for a long day. Do yourself a favor and get another partner who is simpatico. The first partner will likely never break out of his comfort zone and will blame you for "messing things up" and "not playing right". Leave those partners behind.

Have fun with your new-found awareness! You might become the person people talk about as in "when did @drop_shot get so good at the net?".
 
The first step to good poaching, is to hook-up with a partner who has a really good serve, forcing your opponents to hit up so you can angle them off for winners. Step two : anticipation.
 

Kalin

Legend
The first step to good poaching, is to hook-up with a partner who has a really good serve, forcing your opponents to hit up so you can angle them off for winners. Step two : anticipation.
This :) Not much fun in poaching (or even just standing at your spot) when the opponent is teeing off on every serve.

Many otherwise good singles players just hit the same serve in doubles and wonder why they have trouble holding serve...
 
And another thing: if you wait for the perfect opportunity to poach [ie you're 100% sure you're going to win the point], your success rate will be higher [ie 100%] but the impact you have on the match will be a lot lower [you only did it twice].

Contrast that with an active poacher who gets burned DTL 3 times but wins 10 points in the middle [either by successfully poaching or contributing to an opponent error].

I'll take the latter partner any day. Many lower-level players don't venture out on that limb because they are afraid of getting beat DTL. But they aren't looking a the big picture of "how can I impact the match most significantly?".
 

drop_shot

New User
all of the answers are right on the spot where my problems lie - everywhere. Fear, lack of commitment and anticipation, may be positioning. lack of communication looks like the biggest missing piece to me. but at this level (3.0) or/and in this team we do not communicate to plan points at all !
 

OnTheLine

Hall of Fame
I love to poach but that was not always the case. I was petrified to begin with.

A coach told me a couple things.
  • In your first receiving game .... poach no matter what on the very first point. Makes receivers a bit nervous whether you succeed or fail
  • Look for your opportunities for a FH poach (standing from Ad side if righty) more aggressively than for a BH poach
  • Watch the serve placement ... if you see a serve to the T (or to the body) 100% commit ... watch the ball with a laser focus ... those are your balls
  • Conversely if you see a very wide serve may be better to stay home ... easier for returner to go DTL or heavy angle cross court
  • Don't hit the ball back to the baseliner!!!! If you do you just opened up every angle for them and your team is very vulnerable ... your shot is to the net person angled to the T or angled wide
  • If you cross .... don't cross back!
 

WhiteOut

Semi-Pro
No, literally! I know the drill but in real life I just don’t. I see better players do it all the time, they are not faster than me and they can do it. So, what’s up? What should I do , think, don’t think? Is there any useful coaching advice? How do I start doing it??!!
Level 3 here.
like the ad says...just do it. a lot.

i primarily watch the returners hips. once they are squared-up and set, and right before the backswing is finished, that's when i go. once the hips are set and and the take-back is complete, the returner is pretty much committed to whatever shot they have decided to hit. by the time they strike their ball I'm generally in range of where it's headed, and the volley is simple at that point. if they are able to change their mind mid-swing and burn me DTL...then kudos to them. but that's a low percentage shot for them, and they'll likely only get it 1x per match if at all.
 

Moveforwardalways

Hall of Fame
The first step to good poaching, is to hook-up with a partner who has a really good serve, forcing your opponents to hit up so you can angle them off for winners. Step two : anticipation.
This is more true than many realize. If the server can’t hit a serve that minimizes the possibility of a down the line pass, you are going to have a touch time poaching.
 

Dartagnan64

Legend
all of the answers are right on the spot where my problems lie - everywhere. Fear, lack of commitment and anticipation, may be positioning. lack of communication looks like the biggest missing piece to me. but at this level (3.0) or/and in this team we do not communicate to plan points at all !
Just tell you partner to aim first serves down the T. Tell him if he hits his spot you are going to poach it every time so he has to be ready for DTL. This can be arranged before the first ball is ever put into play.
At 3.0 you won’t get a ton of chances but be ready when they come.
 
Poach if you see a high ball that you are sure you can end the point with by angling it off for a winner--if you don't end the point, you have left your side of the court open for your opponents to take advantage of.
 

sureshs

Bionic Poster
Is there a maximum distance from the net within which to stand for poaching? Assume the person is less than 6 feet tall.
 

GeoffHYL

Rookie
Is there a maximum distance from the net within which to stand for poaching? Assume the person is less than 6 feet tall.
Got a good tip on this from the Andy Gerst podcast. You can start back from the net, but you should be moving both sideways and towards the net when you are poaching, minimizing your distance from the net to ensure an easy put-away shot. I tend to get within 3-4 feet from the net when poaching or attacking.
 

WhiteOut

Semi-Pro
for me (6' tall), i find it easiest to poach when i position myself within the first third of the service box from the net, and about the middle of the box, maybe cheating a foot to the outside....basically to where you can take a 45 degree step or two diagonally without touching the net. By cheating to the outside a tiny bit, I'm telegraphing to the returner to go cross court -- making them think I'm more concerned about the DTL (I'm not). I feel like since they feel like they have more room to work cross court, they tend to not go for the sharper angle, which lends itself to a good poach-able ball...

also, when I stay home, since I'm cheated just outside of center (literally only about 6-12 inches), in the event the returner tries to go DTL, i'm right there for the easy volley between the defenders.

this is what works for me...the folks I play with tell me I'm one of the better poachers they play with. I miss plenty of poaches or dump them in the net, but the percentages are in my favor, and if I show them early that I'm active, it makes the returner start to have to watch me versus focusing on the ball.

Quite often the returner will start lobbing, so when that happens, I just move back to the service line, usually i get a bad lob for an easy put away, then when that happens, they go back to trying the cc return...
 

NastyWinners

Professional
To throw a different bone into the mix as a lot of people have discussed crossing on the serve if you your partner is strong in that area. Now what to do if your partner is not the best server in the world, you're kinda stuck right? No, not at all!

What I like to do often is wait for the second or third ball to cross on when I get used to my opponents rhythm. Do they have a tendency to keep the ball cross court on returns and also the proceeding shots? If so, take that extra step towards the center and explode over for the cross when they are about to make contact on the ball.

It'll also help you feel more certain if your partner knows of your strategy too so they can cross behind you.
 

sureshs

Bionic Poster
Got a good tip on this from the Andy Gerst podcast. You can start back from the net, but you should be moving both sideways and towards the net when you are poaching, minimizing your distance from the net to ensure an easy put-away shot. I tend to get within 3-4 feet from the net when poaching or attacking.
My problem with that distance is due to me eyesight (progressive lenses) which makes it difficult to see the ball if it coming fast.
 

ptuanminh

Hall of Fame
Learn how to read your opponent and trust your partner (this is harder). Come up with your own way of recognizing opportunities. For example, when your partner hits a good shot towards opponent backhand, then anticipate an easy return and put it away.
Honestly, i get very pissed off at my partner if i hit a good attacking shot at opponent backhand and he (she) doesnt move to poach the return. :)
 

Dartagnan64

Legend
I played a tournament doubles match last night. I don't think I poached a single time. My partner serve was just awful for poaching. First off, he stands far out wide in the doubles alleys to serve so he can't get it down the T to save his life. Second he was going too big on the first serve so he hit maybe 10% but they were all winner so I didn't need to volley anything. The 90% of his other serves were weak second serves that got pounded or double faults.

If there was a lesson in exactly how not to serve in doubles, that was it. My job was to clear balls from the net apparently.
 
I played a tournament doubles match last night. I don't think I poached a single time. My partner serve was just awful for poaching. First off, he stands far out wide in the doubles alleys to serve so he can't get it down the T to save his life. Second he was going too big on the first serve so he hit maybe 10% but they were all winner so I didn't need to volley anything. The 90% of his other serves were weak second serves that got pounded or double faults.

If there was a lesson in exactly how not to serve in doubles, that was it. My job was to clear balls from the net apparently.
Even in that extreme circumstance I will occasionally poach just to make it known that I'm potentially a factor. At the risk of making a fool of myself, I still poach. Doesn't work very well against a 5.0 but I'm not going to just stand stationary all match.
 

FedLIKEnot

Professional
Trusting or knowing your partners General game plan when they’re serving helps. Make sure they know when your poaching so they can cover the dtl if it goes their and as someone said once you cross play it straight up don’t cross back and expect the ball!!!!!!
 

Dartagnan64

Legend
Even in that extreme circumstance I will occasionally poach just to make it known that I'm potentially a factor. At the risk of making a fool of myself, I still poach. Doesn't work very well against a 5.0 but I'm not going to just stand stationary all match.
I guess officially I poached on his first serves that went in but since they were serve winners, my job was to not touch them. Poaching the second serve would have been a disaster given he was putting the ball in their wheelhouse all night and given these guys were 4.5 they didn't care what we did. They'd put a wheelhouse FH wherever they liked at a pace I was not comfortable handling. I wasn't going to "get in their heads". I was going to become a shooting gallery target. At one point I was thinking I should just play back on his serve.
 
Honestly, i get very pissed off at my partner if i hit a good attacking shot at opponent backhand and he (she) doesnt move to poach the return. :)
I know the feeling, I get stuck occasionally with a rec partner who SHOULDN'T ever poach! He just can't put anything away for a point ending winner. He's been playing rec probably half his life, gets to everything but then can't put a setter away for the life of him--he DE-celerates on all his volleys, he just doesn't have the stroke technique to angle a shot off for a winner that a nine year old junior could hit.
 
I wasn't going to "get in their heads". I was going to become a shooting gallery target. At one point I was thinking I should just play back on his serve.
Two back is totally fine; too many people don't even consider it.

But your two sentences "I wasn't going to get in their heads" and "I was going to become a shooting gallery target" are actually somewhat contradictory: if you make them alter their normal CC return game and instead focus on you, you already have gotten in their heads. It may not be successful; heck, it may be an epic failure. That's not the point: the point is you made them change what they were doing. You might even win some points that you might have otherwise lost.

if you're not comfortable with the pace, fine; don't poach. Although they might hit it at you even if you stay home. I play with some 5.0s who hit their FHs faster than I can serve; I definitely am not going to be poaching when they wind up. But when they aren't pummelling the ball, I've snuck a few poaches in simply because they weren't expecting it.
 

penpal

Semi-Pro
all of the answers are right on the spot where my problems lie - everywhere. Fear, lack of commitment and anticipation, may be positioning. lack of communication looks like the biggest missing piece to me. but at this level (3.0) or/and in this team we do not communicate to plan points at all !
As you said, lots of good advice has been presented.

Re: communication. My rule of thumb is, if I'm playing with my wife I'm not going to do anything to tick her off - even if that means we'll lose the match and I'll be blamed for the loss. A happy marriage is more important than a tennis match :love:.

Any other partner though, that's a different story. I'll attempt to communicate my intentions/beliefs about poaching, but if they aren't on board and express in some form their desire for me to discontinue (that could be flat out telling me to stop, sighing whenever I miss a poach volley or get beat DTL, etc) I simply ignore them and continue to poach at will. At best, I might tell them that if they really don't want me to poach at all, they should hit all of their serves wide - because anything to the T or into the returner's body is practically an invitation for me to poach :).

The only other communication I typically engage in is to let my serving partner know if I'm planning a fake poach in a particular situation.

I know a lot of players like set plays. I'm not big on them, unless you play with the same partner all of the time and you both like to run set plays. And at the 3.0/3.5 level I really haven't seen teams with set plays be very effective. Simply, if you both know that a serve down the T is an invitation to poach, a serve to the body is an opportunity to poach, and a serve out wide requires coverage of the DTL shot - then you probably don't need much more communication than that.
 

Dartagnan64

Legend
if you make them alter their normal CC return game and instead focus on you, you already have gotten in their heads.
They wouldn't have altered their CC return game, they would have just drilled me (if I could have even got there). I'd have been stepping into harm's way and making a pig's ear of things likely.

I'm a pretty active poacher generally but this was another level of bang-bang hitting. I know my limitations. Two back would have been smarter.
 
No, literally! I know the drill but in real life I just don’t. I see better players do it all the time, they are not faster than me and they can do it. So, what’s up? What should I do , think, don’t think? Is there any useful coaching advice? How do I start doing it??!!
Level 3 here.
It is hard to poach successfully if you are standing in one spot on your heels. You have to constantly be moving with the ball. This video talks about footwork and moving with every ball during the point:

The second thing to work on is finding a partner who can place their serves - and do it well enough to put a little pressure on the receiver. After a game or two you will be able to anticipate, almost predict the receiver's return so you can put it away or take control of the point. As @WhiteOut says, don't worry about getting burned down the line. It will happen. Just watch the returner a little more carefully and you will be able to tell when they are going to DTL put the volley between them and their partner at the net.
 

Dartagnan64

Legend
It is hard to poach successfully if you are standing in one spot on your heels. You have to constantly be moving with the ball. This video talks about footwork and moving with every ball during the point:

The second thing to work on is finding a partner who can place their serves - and do it well enough to put a little pressure on the receiver. After a game or two you will be able to anticipate, almost predict the receiver's return so you can put it away or take control of the point. As @WhiteOut says, don't worry about getting burned down the line. It will happen. Just watch the returner a little more carefully and you will be able to tell when they are going to DTL put the volley between them and their partner at the net.
I love the first point shown in that video. You have one net guy moving like I try to do and the other net guy standing dead still like 90% of 3.0-3.5 players. And it's these 90% that a) complain that doubles isn't enough exercise and b) that they get more volleys in when playing singles than in doubles.

As someone once said, "You make your breaks." If you aren't moving in that triangle every point as a doubles player at net, you are doing it wrong.
 
It will happen. Just watch the returner a little more carefully and you will be able to tell when they are going to DTL put the volley between them and their partner at the net.
Regarding this, don't make your move to poach until the returner's head/eyes are down focusing on the ball--he is then less likely to see you making your move. Test the returners ability to go down the line successfully early in the match by making an obvious, (the train left the station too early), poaching move and see if they have the DTL passing shot. If they pass you easily, you now know they have that shot and need to time your future poaches with more stealth.
 
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