Understanding Pickleball Strokes & Shots
Are you looking to master your shots and master some new ones? First things first - keep in mind that the basic shots are very important to master. So keep practicing them!
THE BASIC STROKES:
A stroke is different than a shot. A stroke is the basic fundamental of how you apply action to the ball. The shot is what happens after you’ve made a stroke. A shot is more specific, whereas a stroke is based on principles and is broader.
There are 3 basic strokes in pickleball.
A groundstroke is simply any shot you make after the ball has bounced once. Most of the shots that you will make in pickleball, like dinks, for example, will be groundstrokes.
To put it simply, a volley is any shot that is made before the ball hits the ground. It doesn’t matter if you hit the ball near the ground or over your head, as long as it hasn’t bounced, it’s a volley! Volley shots are typically much more powerful. A popular type of volley is the overhead smash. Keep in mind that you can’t volley in the kitchen!
A dink is a type of groundstroke that’s only used at or near the net. The main characteristics of a dink are that they are done at the kitchen, are very soft and just barely get over the net. There are tons of different types of dink shots that you can use during a pickleball match.
So how do you perform a dink stroke? As softly as humanly possible.
The dinking stroke is gentle but precise. You want it to be as soft as possible because you don’t want them to be able to return the shot hard to you. But the precision part is a bit more important. Again, the whole purpose of a dink is to make your opponent mess up. Is your opponent better with their backhand or forehand? You want to hit it to whichever side is weaker. That requires precision.
You can perform a dinking stroke however you want. Just keep in mind that it should be a controlled, mindful and focused shot. It requires an enormous amount of touch and precision. But as always, the more you practice it, the better you get.
THE BASIC SHOTS:
There are a lot of shots to learn in pickleball, but the most important ones to master are the basic ones.
1. The serve
The serve is the shot that gets the point started. It’s neither a volley nor a groundstroke. It’s just the serve. There are many different ways that you can serve.
2. The lob
The lob shot in pickleball is infamous. This is a shot where you hit it high up into the air and over the heads of your opponents. It forces your opponents to turn around quickly to run the ball down in backcourt. The sudden change of pace can make your opponent panic and their likelihood of making a mistake increases. This shot is used almost primarily for one reason: it helps to reset the tempo (pace of play) of a point. If your opponent is smashing ball after ball at you and you can’t seem to slow down the pace, the lob can help you reset all of this. Lobbing the ball into backcourt forces your opponent to run away from the net, allowing you to take the net instead. You don’t want to do this too often though because lobbing it too short can result in them smashing it back at you, or it can easily go out if you lob it too far.
3. Cross-court dink
A cross-court dink is simply a dink stroke that is sent from one side of the court to the opposite side of the opponent’s court.
The cross-court dink is one of the most brutally effective shots in pickleball. It’s also very hard to master which can make it one of the most frustrating shots in pickleball. But learning how to perform a cross-court dink and return them is crucial.
The key here is to understand your distances. A dink that’s going straight ahead of you is going to be much shorter in distance than a dink that’s going cross-court. It’s at least twice as long. This means that you have to use more power to get it over there.
4. The drive
A drive is simply a groundstroke or volley that you hit at, or near as hard as you can. Drives are meant to be hard, fast and unstoppable. Drives are great for people who have the upper body strength to pull it off but will be very difficult for people who aren’t very strong. Drives should be used as a tool and not a shot to use regularly. If you see an opening in the court or if your opponent is running towards you, driving to any of these positions can be very effective.
5. Block shot
In pickleball, the block shot is used to stop third shot drives or just regular drives from giving your opponent the advantage. It’s easy to mess up if an opponent hits a hard shot at you. But the block shot is here to help.
Block shots are also a great way of slowing down the game so that your opponent doesn’t have the advantage.
6. Deep return serve
This is a very important shot to learn how to do well. It’s not exactly difficult, it just takes time to learn how to do effectively.
Understandably, it can be very difficult to know how far you’re hitting the ball into backcourt. Our depth perception gets a bit funky when we’re trying to judge distances that far. The best way to train this is to find a friend or pickleball buddy and return serve to them. They can then tell you how far you’re hitting it in order to help you figure things out. Eventually, your brain will develop a pattern and you’ll get used to it.
7. Backhand punch
This is a cool little shot that always catches the opponent off guard. The backhand punch is a shot typically made at the net that literally involves you punching at the ball. This shot is designed to turn a high dink that your opponent made to a shot that shoots straight for them.
It’s simple to perform. Just put your paddle in the backhand position and pretend like you’re punching with your fist! Easy!
8. Overhead smash
The overhead smash is designed for one thing and one thing only: to destroy the ball and make it impossible for your opponents to return it. It’s an opportunity shot. If your opponent’s pop up a shot that goes slightly over your head, then it’s your chance to put it away! Reach up and smash the ball downward. The key here is accuracy. If you’re hitting them into the net, don’t use as much wrist action. But if you’re hitting them out the opponent’s baseline then either use more wrist action or use a lighter paddle.
9. Third shot drop
The third shot drop is the most important shot to master in pickleball. This shot is absolutely essential to learn in advanced pickleball play. A lot of points are lost on the third shot. The reason is that players feel a lot of pressure when trying to make this shot. The opponents are already at the kitchen with a huge advantage, but you and your partner are still at or near the baseline.
Third shot drops are soft shots that arc upward then land softly into the kitchen. The soft landing will force your opponent to dink the ball instead of drive it. If you hit your shot too far, or too high, your opponent can smash or drive the ball making it likely that you lose the point.
10. The dink fake
This is one of the sneakiest and slyest shots in pickleball. The dink fake is brutal if done correctly, but it’s difficult to pull off.
The dink fake is when you make yourself look like you’re about dink a semi-high ball, but you end up driving the ball instead. It’s sudden, fast and can also be used for a third shot drive if the return was short.
The key here is to make it seem that it’s coming out of nowhere. You want to shock your opponents!
This shot is also very effective if you aim it right at your opponent.
11. Backspin return serve
This shot is not only effective when used correctly, but it’s absolutely hilarious when it’s done perfectly.
To do this shot, wait for a semi-high serve to come your way. When it looks soft and easy, slice straight downward with your paddle. The ball will sail up into the air softly but will land with a tremendous amount of sidespin on it. The ball should bounce straight to the side and be nearly impossible for your opponent to return. When done perfectly, the shot will land on either side of the kitchen, and bounce a foot off the ground and to the side. Brutal!
12. Around-the-post shot
It’s one of the most flashy shots considering it’s rarity and prestige. The only way you can pull this shot off is if the opponent makes a powerful cross-court shot or dink that is bouncing way out of your side of the court. The key here is actually to run with the ball to keep up with the speed. As long as the ball has bounced far enough out the sideline, you can hit it around the post.
Remember though, if it hits the side post, it’s automatically a fault, even if it lands in the opponent’s side of the court!
13. Backhand spin dink
If you’re already comfortable with a dinking stroke, then you may want to look into upgrading it to something a bit more special. This kind of shot only works if it’s a cross-court dink shot being made with your backhand. If you’re right-handed, you will be on the left side of the court and vice versa for lefties.
This is such a fun shot to use if you’re confident enough. The trick is to cut underneath the ball to apply some backspin. Your opponent will probably see the shot in action and will be ready for it, but that doesn’t mean that mistakes won’t happen.
This shot is deceptive because the dink is usually soft, but the backspin makes everything much more unpredictable. A common mistake with this shot is to hit it too high. If you’re playing against tall players with huge wingspans then you may want to stick with a normal cross-court dink.