There are some pickleball shots you just need to practice to perfect. Pickleball is a game of consistency. Being able to hit dependable shots again and again, can wear down opponents. Opponents may attempt to do too much with their shots to win points if they realize you’re not going to make many unforced errors.
Over time, the consistent pickleball player will win more games and matches.
Everyone knows there are some challenging shots in the game: third-shot drops, backhand roll volleys, around-the-post shots (ATPs), and Ernies. Shots like these are difficult to master. For the latter two, you may have to play a lot to even have the opportunity to attempt one of these shots.
On the other hand, there are some shots that are not that difficult to execute. You can really improve your winning percentage by increasing your consistency on these common shots.
Let’s take a look at five pickleball shots you should (almost) never miss. And, as always, remember, “Do as I say, not as I do.”
1.) The Return of Serve
Missing a return of serve is the worst error in pickleball. Why? Because the team returning a serve has the highest percentage of winning any point (assuming playing abilities are competitive).
The returning side has the first opportunity to get both players to the kitchen line in a dominant position. This is because of the double-bounce rule. The side that gets both players to the net first wins more rallies. But if you miss a return of serve, you lose that opportunity, and the opposing team gets a point.
Because of the big advantage of having both players at the net first, the risk-reward relationship of hitting your service return with full force at a difficult angle is not great. It’s better to play conservatively and make sure your return is in play. Hitting a service return deep and in the middle is nearly always a good choice.
2.) The Overhead
When you and your partner are at the net and your opponents hit a short lob, a good pickleball player knows how to handle it. Practicing overhead smashes at different angles can really improve your win percentage.
Even if you can’t hit a winner, recognize that you and your partner are both at the net and by just hitting the ball in, your team still has a big advantage to win the point. If you can’t hit a winner, keep the ball in play.
Unlesss the lob is going to land in the kitchen or you don’t have time to get into position, it nearly always is to your benefit to hit an overhead volley versus letting the ball bounce.
Pickleballs don’t bounce that high, and the wind and the court surface add additional variables. You’ll seldom get a ball to bounce as high and to be as easy to hit as if you take it directly in the air.
3.) The Cross-Court Dink
If you watched any professional pickleball doubles, you know how big a role the cross-court dink plays in the game. It has to be the most-hit shot in pro pickleball doubles. It’s not uncommon to see 20 cross-court dinks in one rally in the pros.
Even for folks coming to pickleball from other racquet sports like tennis, badminton, and ping-pong, there isn’t any reason to hit this type of shot so many times. This is truly a shot that one tries to master for pickleball.
The good news is that the shot is not that difficult to hit. But it does take practice – and lots of it. If you’re committed to playing pickleball at a high level, it pays to drill and practice on your cross-court dinks. And while you’re at it, practice all of your dinks.
My friend Roger converted part of his basement into a dinking practice facility. The ceiling is too low to play full pickleball, but with a net and some line markings, he and his friends have been able to practice their dinks and speed-ups effectively. The positive results from this type of practice show quickly.
Drills like these work because of the repetition. In a half-hour, you may hit as many cross-court dinks as you do in 10 hours of playing regular games at the park.
4.) The Kitchen Line Volley When the Opponent is at Baseline
When your opponent hits a groundstroke from the baseline, and you’re at the kitchen line, you have some time to prepare for your return.
If you have the proper form with your paddle in front of your body, knees bent, and use a short punching motion – not taking your paddle back beyond your body – you should be able to hit a very high percentage of volleys back into play.
With your opponent back, you don’t have to hit winners. But you do have to keep the ball in play. Forcing your opponent to hit one more shot is frequently a prescription for a winning rally.
Make sure you get down if the ball is hit low. Your paddle handle shouldn’t be higher than the paddle head. It’s important to assume every opponent’s shot is going to clear the net. Be ready so you’re not caught off-guard.
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5.) The Serve
The serve in pickleball is like the free throw in basketball. It’s the one shot that the player is in complete control of. If you’re committed to being a great pickleball player, you should be great at serving.
There’s nothing more demoralizing for a team to have the opportunity to win points and for the server to make an unforced error.
Some folks consider the serve as a shot you should never miss. However, there’s a solid argument to be made that you should take a hard look at service winners compared to service errors.
Since the team serving is not favored to win the rally, a trade-off of a service winner for a service error – a one-to-one ratio – is considered by many to be favorable. Especially if you include not only aces as service winners but also points resulting from very weak returns (as a result of your difficult serve).
Finding that right balance between hitting a challenging serve and being able to consistently avoid missing the box is a good place to land.
Improving your consistency on the five shots outlined above will help you develop a more reliable game.
Pay particular attention to the service return.
Playing percentage pickleball sometimes means resisting that urge to attempt a winner on a service return and instead hitting a strong shot that you know you can put in play.
By Mike O’Halloran
Mike is the founder and editor of Sports Feel Good Stories. A former tennis instructor, Mike has been playing pickleball for three years.
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