5 tips on how to play against a retriever

12th June 2019

Often you will come across an opponent who is what is described as a retriever. This type of player is generally very fit, relatively quick, strong legs and has the lung capacity of a blue whale. These assets tend to favour a more attritional and retriever style of play meaning that they are happy to scurry around the court, getting balls back again and again and generally not really looking to attack as they know the longevity of the match will give them a greater chance of wearing down their opponent and winning.

It is very hard to play against this style of play but it is worth having a game plan that could cause some problems against this type of player. It also does depend on how fit you are yourself as in what tactics you should employ. There is little or no point taking someone on head to head in their own style of play if your fitness is unlikely to match or better theirs. Saying that if you feel that you are in great shape and strong and fit then extending the game and seeing what they can do is a good plan.

Below we will look at some more specific and detailed tactics about what should be done to combat these players. You may use a combination of all of them or focus solely on just one and stick at it. It will take a bit of trial and error on your part but over time you will build your knowledge base of what will work most effectively in line with the assets and weapons you possess.



When opportunities present themselves in the game you need to quickly decide and assess what your risk:reward ratio will look like. This also depends on the scoreboard and how you are feeling at the time. I often see players taking way too high risks as they feel the panic of trying to finish off the rally too early fearing the retriever will grind them down. I also believe that when playing a retriever you may need to take a few more calculated risks that you may normally do. Sometimes the retriever gives you very little errors compared to a shot player so you may need to step in and take the initiative to attack. Be careful however as when the risks are too high and too often the rewards tend to disappear quickly and panic can set in.



This tactic will be one of your keys to unlocking how to beat a retriever. There is no doubt you need to be patient as a retriever will get balls back time and time again and what you think is a winning shot is now a working shot. You have to be prepared to play an extra 2, 3, 4 or even 5 shots a rally to win the point. This can sap you of energy but you need to be mentally ready and prepared to do this as if you think winning on a single shot will do it you may be mistaken and be surprised and how much they do get back. This will also put a lot of mental pressure on that shot you think is a winner but if you reframe it as a working shot and be prepared to back it up again and again this will put you in a good frame of mind to be patient but also with purpose in what you are doing.


Play it tight!

No matter how quick or how fast or how strong a player is, the tight ball can douse these assets quickly. The tight ball completely nullifies all of these strengths and the opponent now has to have extremely high skill to be able to play out from these positions. It will be worth being more measured and calculated on openings you have by prioritizing hitting a tight ball over a quicker and faster ball maybe. It is a wonderful feeling to play an extremely tight ball glued to the wall, the opponent comes hurting in under all sorts of pressure and panic and just sprays it off the wall right to the middle where you can pick it off nicely. Keep looking to put the squeeze on your opponent who loves to retrieve as their biggest assets are nullified this way.



A retriever loves to play the game on their terms and they tend to play at a medium to fast pace a lot. If you match this pace of the game you will likely find yourself in a lot of trouble. Bringing in lots of variations will be a great way to cause them some issues. Think about variations in a number of ways. You could slow it down or speed it up, you could use more cut the on the ball or less, you could play the ball high on the wall and then low, you could play the ball straight and then bring in angles. There are lots of subtle variations you can bring in and if you start knitting them together effectively this can really disturb the rhythm and flow of the retriever. Be careful with this tactic as overusing all the variations all the time can lead to you opening up the court too much and your opponent picking you off easily.


Holding the ball

If you have the skill and are confident to do it, being able to hold the ball can really hurt a retriever. The retriever tends to like a certain pace and rhythm and flow to their game and if you can hold the ball, stop their movement and make them jerk and judder they tend to get a little panicky and play rash shots. Also physically it is hard to stop and start and stop again for a sustained period. No matter how fit a retriever is there will be an endpoint to their fuel in their tank. Holding the ball effectively really gets into the legs of an opponent and can make them feel heavy and cumbersome and gives you a great sense of controlling their movement and ultimately controlling the game.


Jesse Engelbrecht

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