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Pickleball Strategy: Quick Hands Beat Quick Feet Every Time!

For the players that are coming to pickleball from other racquets sports, many of your skills are transferable. A few are not, as an example your swing length will have to be modified for pickleball. Squash and tennis take a long full stroke to generate lots of momentum being delivered with a long, heavy racquet onto an object that has some mass to it. Even badminton with its light racquet and shuttlecock which cannot touch the ground at all employs a long full stroke. Racquet technique in these sports is biased towards generating the maximum amount of power.

Contrast that against pickleball with an extremely light paddle and a ball that also does not weigh much (playing outdoors on the breezy prairies often makes us wish the ball had more mass). This ball and paddle combination creates volleys played over a low net where great hand speed is needed to keep up with the fast pace of the rallies. Long, hard swings create too much ball speed and a loss of control that can easily push the ball out of court while taking you out of position for the next shot if your shot returned.

Using the Short Swing Tactically

When up close to the kitchen you are a matter of feet away from the opposition, so focus on:

  • height control and have your shot be below net height shortly after it crosses  over the net
  • force the other team to return the ball in an upward trajectory

Shot height is your enemy here as it gives your opponents an opportunity to put the ball away on you, with a volley having a downward trajectory. This is where your training in other sports may let you down. The key making these volleys is:

  • a short,  accurate stroke – too much swing simply causes errors and places you at a tactical disadvantage in the rally
  • keep the wrist cocked upward so the paddle is always above your hand height
  • swing length is equal between racquet preparation to follow through
  • the contact point is even with your body if you want to hit straight (down the line as an example) or out in front if you want to go crosscourt

Overall, the length of the swing will change depending on your court location. As an example, a service or service return will be a much longer swing than a volley as described above or when attempting the dreaded drop shot from the kitchen area.

What About Overheads?

There are a lot of advantages to a well-placed lob shot. Returning such a shot is often accomplished using an overhead shot. Overheads are a shot where you can easily be tempted to employ a longer swing path as you would in a tennis overhead or a badminton spike. Learning to think “accuracy” will help to control this urge and shorten your swing path. Too much swing simply lowers the likelihood that your overhead return will score due to the loss of accuracy and your vulnerability to mistakes.

Slicing the Ball

This is a common discussion in my lessons and clinics with players experienced in other racquet sports as they look to transfer their existing skills to pickleball. The technique is very different and once again, the short swing is the key to success when slicing the ball in pickleball. A short swing across the ball can create all the spin necessary and give your opponents new problems to deal with.

These shots are usually the signature of more experienced players that have worked on these shots for a while. I encourage you to give this shot a try and with a short swing and some practice, you will add an effective tactical tool to your game.

Through all of this, just keep one thing in mind:

Quick hands beat quick feet every time!