I had a suspicion that when I hit a bad shot, 9 times out of 10 it was because my feet were out of place.
We started recording many of pickleball sessions recently, and I realized that was a mistake. My feet weren’t out of place on 9 of 10 of my bad shots; they were out of place on 10 out of 10 of them!
Simply, we make nearly all of our errors because our feet (and, in turn, the rest of our body) don’t put us in a good position to make a proper return.
Sometimes there’s no fixing this- our opponents hit a great shot with the intent to keep us out of position so that we might hit a bad return. While we try to neutralize that by better preparing ourselves for each return, in some sense this will always happen to us as we strive to play against better opponents.
However, the real unforced errors are what we ought to be trying to neutralize: those shots that we duff into the net when we had time to get our feet into a good position, but we simply opted not to.
Here are 3 situations I make errors on the court that I’m hoping to fix, and my hunch is these are many of the same unforced errors that are common to many sub-pro level pickleball players.
#1- Creeping up from the baseline after a serve:
If you’re like me, sometimes you’re REALLY proud of yourself when you drill your “A” serve right where you hoped to, and you just KNOW that your opponent is going to hit a weak return. As I gloat and admire said serve, I move forward in front of the baseline…just a smidge.
And what happens? My opponent does hit it back high and softly…but it lands just on the baseline, and I’m out of position to hit my 3rd shot drop. I hit a heavy 3rd shot and set my opponent up for a put-away.
I’m kicking myself now for all the times I’ve done this, but I sense I’m not alone. It’s SO easy to creep forward after the serve, and frankly, we get away with this most of the time.
But as your playing partners improve, you’re going to get more and more deep returns- even on your best serve.
The worst part of this for me is there’s ZERO advantage to creeping forward. None. You have to let the ball bounce anyway, and if they hit a high, soft, and short return, you’ll have PLENTY of time to work your way up to the ball to hit an aggressive 3rd.
The lesson? Keep your feet behind the baseline and stop admiring your serve. You aren’t Zane…
#2- Sprinting to the net after your 3rd (or 5th)…only to have your opponent hit it right at your feet:
I’ve mentioned one of my friends getting pickleball lessons from a top 10 touring pro, and he’s consistently given feedback that my friend (a tourney-winning 4.5) crashes to the net much too quickly.
The first lesson we all learn in pickleball is get to the net, so what gives that he’s telling us to not get to the net?
Well, we should be trying to make our way to the net, but we shouldn’t be in a hurry to do so. We know good opponents attack our feet, but it’s especially tricky to handle the ball at our feet when we’re on the move. When we hit a nice drop, we should move forward, but at a controlled pace. As we see our opponent handle the shot and return it to us, we should slow down, stop, and set our feet to ready ourselves for the return.
Suddenly, that ball at our feet becomes much easier to handle as we hit another soft drop into the kitchen and get all the way to the NVZ line after our 5th.
#3- Not resetting our feet after each and every dink:
Much like I admire my best serves, I’m also guilty of admiring a beauty of a dink I hit to put my opponent in a vulnerable position. Heck, maybe I even think I’ve set my partner up for an Erne!
I was playing a couple weeks ago in one of the strongest games I’ve ever played in, and I hit one such dink. I thought for sure I had my opponent snockered.
However, he was a tourney-winning singles player at the 5.0 level. Sadly, I am not, and predictably (in retrospect), he was more than capable of handling my dink.
Because I believed I had him, I didn’t reset my feet. He got around the ball to his backhand side, and cut it sharply back to my backhand side…where I was standing too high and wasn’t in an athletic position to get around the ball (as he did) and hit a weak backhand dink down the sideline- and I got Erne’d. How embarrassing..
I used to think it was overkill seeing Simone Jardim over-exaggerate her footwork and mechanics with the simplest of dinks. The more I play, I realize she’s the best BECAUSE she has the discipline to do so.
Want to play better? Clean up your feet!
Until next time…