11 Common Pickleball Mistakes & How to Avoid Them

Pickleball Mistakes Beginners Make (& How to NOT Do Them)

Here are some of the most common pickleball mistakes that I see when new players start playing. I know I made many of these when I first started playing.

Common Pickleball Mistakes:

MISTAKE #1 – Standing straight up with your paddle low by your side. INSTEAD: Get into the ready position and maintain it. Here’s what the ready position looks like.

MISTAKE #2 – Standing towards the back of the court, no man’s land or behind the baseline after the third shot drop. INSTEAD: Move to the non-volley zone line as quickly as possible after the third shot.

MISTAKE #3 – Not perfecting the soft shot, AKA, the dink shot. INSTEAD: Get efficient and consistent with the dink shot because games are won or lost at the net. Here’s more about dinking.

MISTAKE #4 – Unable to consistently hit a good serve. INSTEAD: Perfect your serve with serve drills. Having a good serve will make or break a game. 

MISTAKE #5 – Not understanding how or where to return a third shot drop. INSTEAD: Perfect your 3rd shot drop shot with drilling.

MISTAKE #6 – Not communicating with your partner is a big mistake. INSTEAD: Agree on how to play together so you collaborate and avoid unforced errors

MISTAKE #7 – Staring straight ahead at your opponent while ignoring your partner. INSTEAD: Keep an eye on your partner as they serve, and return the ball.

MISTAKE #8 – Hitting the ball to your opponent. INSTEAD: Focus on ball positioning so that you can place a ball somewhere on the court that your opponent isn’t.

MISTAKE #9 – Hitting the ball to your opponent’s dominant hand. INSTEAD: Determine which hand is your opponent’s non-dominant hand and focus on hitting the ball to that hand.

MISTAKE #10 – Hitting the same shot repeatedly. INSTEAD: Hit different shots to your opponent and remember #8 and #9 above.

MISTAKE #11 – Going into the kitchen and committing kitchen faults. INSTEAD: This is likely one of the biggest mistakes beginners make. Focus on not stepping into the kitchen when volleying the ball.

In this article, we list the top 11 common pickleball mistakes and provide solutions on how to fix them.

1. Standing straight up with paddle low by your side.

This is one of the most common beginner mistakes I see beginner players make and that is to just stand straight up with their paddle hanging at their side.

Tennis players will understand how important the ready position is when playing a game of pickleball. As will anyone who plays a racquet sport.

When you’re in a relaxed position, rather than in a ready position, your reaction time can be slow and it becomes difficult to respond quickly enough to hit a good shot.

The first step to getting into the ready position:

get into the ready position
  1. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  2. Bend your knees slightly or as far as you feel comfortable and will help you feel that you’re in a good position. I bend my knees quite a bit.
  3. Stand with the weight toward the balls of your feet, rather than standing flat-footed or back on your heels. Will help you move more quickly.
  4. Position your paddle in front of your body – keeping your paddle up in front of you is the best way to know you’ll be in the best position to respond to a ball.
  5. Use the 12 O’Clock or 9 O’Clock paddle position as suggested in the video below

The guidelines above about how to get in a ready position are accurate for most situations but you might find that you need a slightly different posture if you’re standing close to the non-volley zone.

The short video below explains 3 options for paddle position and the pros and cons of each.

2. Standing towards the back of the court, no-man’s land or behind the baseline after 3rd shot drop.

The second tip that has made me a better pickleball player is moving to the non-volley zone line as soon as possible after the return of serve. 

Some intermediate players and advanced players might dispute how soon after the return of serve but for most players, especially new players, this is a key strategy.

Here are 5 reasons to move to the non-volley zone line as soon as possible after the return of serve:

  1. If you don’t get to the kitchen line quickly your opponent will likely get there before you, gain control and work hard to keep you and your partner at the back of the court.
  2. Your partner can see you and knows where you are and what you’re doing.
  3. The net blocks your feet making it a bit tricky for your opponent to see exactly what’s going on.
  4. Getting to the non-volley zone makes your opponent’s next shot (3rd shot drop) harder because they need to strategically place the ball to go past you (a hard shot) or volley the ball to keep it in but out of your reach.
  5. Getting to the non-volley zone quickly gives you a chance to smash a hard shot or strategically place a dink shot.
Diagram of the non-volley zone, also known as the kitchen

The easiest way to remember to get to the non-volley zone quickly is to train your brain (through practice) to automatically move up as soon as your side has hit the return of serve.

Developing muscle memory will help newer players improve their game.

3. Not perfecting the soft shot, AKA, the dink shot

A dink shot is when a player stands at the non-volley zone, lets the ball bounce, and then gently hits the ball over the net so that it lands on the other side of the net in the non-volley zone. A ‘dinking’ game is when both teams are playing at the non-volley zone.

The best players know that being able to hit a good dink shot, either a straight or a cross-court dink, is one of the easiest ways to win a game.

And the best way to win is to position yourself at the non-volley zone line where you can control the ball and give the opposing team a hard time.

This is a critical part of learning how to play a pickleball game.

In fact, learning the dink shot is a critical tip and essential to learning the soft game – which is a very strategic part of the pickleball game.

Many beginner players find it intimidating or difficult to remember to move up the non-volley zone line.

More experienced players understand how important the dink shot is so they make it a priority to learn.

get efficient with dinkthe dink shot

The dink shot is important because it eliminates the chance that your opponent is going to hit a power shot, or hit a long shot. 

When both teams are at the net, the team who dinks consistently, and strategically has a better chance at winning the point.

Learn how to dink so the ball lands in the non-volley zone and you aren’t giving your opponent an opportunity to smash the ball.

Don’t make unforced errors because you don’t understand the kitchen rules.

4. Unable to consistently hit a good serve.

Learning how to hit a good serve takes time but is an essential part of pickleball strategy for winning pickleball games.

PERFECT YOUR SERVE
  1. Practice hitting a deep serve into the far back corner of the service box, towards the baseline.
    • Some players stand too close to the baseline which makes this a more difficult to get a full swing.
    • Players incorrectly estimate that the ball is either in or out and choose to not hit the ball (when they should have it because it was in).
  2. Practice hitting the ball toward the middle of the court by the centerline.
    • This is the best shot because it can confuse players – they aren’t sure if the ball will land on the correct side of the court and that can delay their attempt at returning the ball.
    • It can also leave both opponent players unsure of who is actually going to hit the ball.
  3. Practice hitting the ball so it lands close to the non-volley zone but just outside.
    • Some players will stand back behind the baseline while you’re serving and will find it more difficult to move quickly enough to get to the non-volley zone and return the ball.
  4. Target your opposing player’s non-dominant hand which is usually their backhand side (make sure you know if they’re a left-handed or right-handed player)

It’s always a good idea to figure out which serves your opponent can easily return versus which ones they seem to have difficulty returning.

Adjust your serve according to their strengths and weaknesses.

5. Not understanding how or where to return a serve.

When hitting a serve return shot, hit the ball down the middle of the court so it lands just inside the receiver box.

Do this for 3 reasons:

  1. It forces a right-handed person to use their backhand.
  2. The middle of the net is lower by 2″ which can help low balls over.
  3. Shots down the middle can confuse your opponents (who should hit it?).

Remember:

  • The return of serve does not need to be fast or low to the net.
  • Hit a deep return. Deep enough to keep your opponent away from the net and further back on the court making it more difficult for them to get to the net and take control of the game.

Learn the 7 Must-Know Pickleball Rules that will help you become a good player and take your game to the next level.

6. Not understanding how to hit the third shot drop

The third shot drop is about returning the ball so that it lands in the non-volley zone.

It’s referred to as the 3rd shot drop because it’s the 3rd shot that is made following the serve and ideally, will go over the net and then land in the non-volley zone.

Third shot drop shot:

  • The 1st shot is from the serving team,
  • 2nd shot is from the receiving team and
  • 3rd shot (drop) is from the serving team.

It’s an important shot because it forces your opponent up to their side of the net, giving you time to move up to the non-volley zone line.

In fact, some pickleball players believe that the third shot is the most important shot of the game.

If possible, make your 3rd shot a drop shot that lands in the non-volley zone, targeting your opponent’s backhand which is often a harder ball for players to return.

7. Not communicating With Your Partner

Someone should always call the ball, MINE, YOURS, NO (or ‘out’ to help your partner understand that they should not hit the ball since it’s heading out of bounds).

There’s no point risking that you miss the ball or return the ball ‘out of bounds’ if your opponent’s hit onto your side of the court was going out.

I always suggest that you talk with your partner before you begin playing about how you want to collaborate during the game. 

This is really important when you’re playing with a new partner.

Consider the following questions:

  • Will the ball default to the pickleball player who can easily hit a forehand shot? Or is the centerline always the defacto in determining who hits the ball?
  • Are you both okay with helping each other out?
  • As an example, if it looks like the ball is going to the back of the court and the player on that side of the court appears to not be able to make it to the back of the court, can the partner hit the ball (assuming its a doable shot)? Or do you want to agree that you both play only your side of the court?
  • Do you both agree that after the 3rd shot at the beginning of a rally, you both get to the non-volley zone line as quickly as possible? This is the most common strategy and recommendation but not all pickleball players agree on this tactic. And in the case of beginner players, they don’t remember that they need to do this so a discussion prior to the game, can be a good reminder.

8. Staring straight ahead at your opponent while ignoring your partner.

When your partner is receiving the ball on a serve, you’ll be standing just outside the non-volley zone line.

Most of the time, a pickleball player will stand horizontally to the line, facing the opponent.

Rather than just looking forward at your opponents, keep a slight turn in your body and head so that you can help your partner determine if the ball is landing inside or outside of bounds.

The receiver is usually focused on hitting the ball and can’t always keep an eye on the lines.

9. Hitting the Ball Where Your Opponent Isn’t

Focus less on making strategic shots (close to the non-volley zone, in the back corner etc…) and focus on getting the ball over the net and into play.

If you can hit the ball where your opponent isn’t standing or where you know they’ll need to run or make a tactical move to hit the ball, aim there.

Otherwise, stay focused on hitting a shot that will remain in play.

Remember, the way that pickleball scoring works is that if you make mistakes, you will lose the ball and control over the rally.

This is truly a game of who makes fewer mistakes so keeping the ball in play is more critical than making a really strategic hit.

10. Hitting the same shot and into the same position.

INSTEAD: Mix up where you hit the ball. If you typically hit to the back corner, hit down the center line. And then hit into the non-volley zone. Try to keep you opponent guessing.

11. Stepping into the non-volley zone

INSTEAD: This is probably one of the biggest mistakes beginners make. Focus on not stepping into the kitchen when volleying the ball. Easier said than done, I know. But committing kitchen faults is definitely the most common mistake beginners make.

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