Becoming a better Pickleball player starts with mastering the fundamentals of hitting good shots consisently.
Here’s what you need to focus on to improve your game whether you’re brand new or playing at 5.0.
1. Good Pickleball Footwork
Footwork is the #1 most important part of hitting ANY shot in Pickleball (or tennis, racquetball, ping pong, paddle, or any other sport for that matter).
To understand why footwork is so important, imagine a ball that’s bouncing 6 feet to your right. Can you hit it without moving your feet? Of course not!
But Footwork isn’t just about getting your body to the ball, it’s about getting your body set in the right place so that you can execute your ideal swing path to hit the ball exactly where you want it to go.
How will you know when you have good footwork?
You’ll know you have good footwork on a shot when you are:
- Balanced before, during, and after the shot
- Your swing feels natural and relaxed
- After the shot, you’re able to easily split step and get back to a good position on the court so that you’re ready for the next shot
You should be balanced before, during, and after every shot (except in extreme circumstances). If you lose balance at any point during drills, that is an area that you need to work on.
To maintain good balance, make sure that you:
- Have a wide base for your feet. If your feet are too close together, you will not be able to balance well. That’s why all pro players have a very wide base with bent knees on almost every shot.
- Know which foot your weight is on primarily before, during, and after the shot. In general, your weight should always be on your rear foot before the shot and you should move your weight to your front foot as you swing so that you generate forward momentum and power with your shot.
- Use your empty hand to create balance (your empty hand should be up and follow a similar swing path as the hand that holds the paddle to create balance).
3. Hip Thrust
Every good shot in Pickleball requires consistent power, even if it’s a very gentle drop shot. That power should always start with your hips and core activating because these are your biggest muscles that will create the most consistency for touch shots and the most power for drives or overheads.
Even for a baby dink shot, you should always generate the power from your hips and legs and use a soft grip to create the touch on the shot.
4. Hip and Shoulder Rotation
Every shot in Pickleball should be hit with hip and shoulder rotation. Sometimes there will be only a few inches of rotation and swing (like a dink or block volley), while other shots will require a lot of rotation (such as a rolling cross-court forehand volley).
In order to use effective hip and shoulder rotation on each shot, you must keep your body as relaxed as possible. Each shot should feel smooth.
Make sure that you do not over-rotate your hips and shoulders. Many beginners have far too MUCH swing in their shots caused by way too much rotation of their hips and shoulders, and that will lead to a less consistent shot. Even more importantly, that will lead to you not being ready for the next shot, causing you to lose the point.
Once you strike the ball, you should tighten up your swing and get back to a neutral (ready) position as soon as possible so you can hit the next shot.
5. Proper Arm Movement
When you generate your power with your hips and legs and you properly rotate your hips and shoulders, your arms should be doing little to no work at all for every shot. Your arms should be relaxed.
You should not be using your arms to swing or direct the ball or to generate power on 99% of shots.
You should strike the ball out in front of your body as much as possible. That means your arm should always be FULLY extended as you hit the ball for every shot, whether you’re dinking, driving, or hitting a volley.
Focus on your elbow. Is it fully extended for every volley shot you hit? If not, you’re hitting the ball too late and you’re going to hit bad volleys.
6. Keep your Wrist Firm
Your wrist should be firm and locked for almost every shot. Do not use your wrist to generator power or spin unless you’re hitting a ball that requires an enormous amount of topspin (like a heavy topspin lob or a topspin flick attack).
If your wrist is not firm and locked, you will lose power and consistency for all of your dinks, drop shots, drives, and volleys.
7. Use the Correct Grip Pressure
Grip pressure is how hard you squeeze the grip of your paddle. On a scale of 1-10 with 1 being almost no pressure and 10 being squeezing as hard as you possibly can, this is what your grip pressure should be:
- Dinks: 1-2
- Drop shots: 2-3
- Drop volleys: 2-4
- Flick attack volleys: 3-4
- Hard volleys: 8-10
- Hard serves: 8-10
- Hard drives: 8-10
You’ll notice that soft touch shots require a very soft grip pressure while hard, deep shots require a lot of grip pressure.
That’s because the less you grip the paddle, the more touch and finesse and spin you’ll be able to transfer to the ball, while the harder you grip the paddle the more power and depth you’ll be able to transfer to the ball.
8. Always Look at the Ball
You should always keep your eyes on the ball before and during your swing and as you hit the ball.
Use your peripheral vision to see where your opponents are and where to aim your shot, but always keep your eyes locked in on the ball for every shot!
Tom Corson-Knowles is the founder of Pickleball Oasis and plays Pickleball around the 4.5 level. He loves Pickleball and plays several days a week. He also takes regular lessons from one of the top Pickleball players and coaches in the world. He’s also a bestselling author and founder of TCK Publishing, a book publishing company.