15 Common Pickleball Mistakes (and How to Fix Them)
If you’re a beginner at pickleball, there’s a good chance that you’re making some mistakes that are preventing you from playing your best.
So whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been playing for a while, make sure to read this article so that you can improve your game.
In this article, we list the top 15 common pickleball mistakes and provide solutions on how to fix them!
Mistake #1: Not being ready for the shot.
This is a mistake that a lot of beginner pickleball players make, especially if they haven’t played a paddle or racquet sport previously.
Although I have a background in squash and racquetball, I really needed to focus on being in the ready position when I first started playing pickleball. There are similarities between these paddle and racquet sports, however, there were pickleball rules and skills to learn which often had me preoccupied and not focused on being in the ready position (something that was automatic when playing squash).
Beginner players think they have time to get ready for the shot, but by the time they’re ready, the ball has already gone by! It’s important to be in the ready position so that as soon as the ball is hit your side of the net, you can react quickly.
Solution: The best way to fix this mistake is to practice holding your paddle in front of you in either a 12 O’Clock or 9 O’Clock position with your knees slightly bent.
You can ask someone to hit a pickleball to you and practice standing in the ready position, holding your paddle in the ready position and hitting the ball.
The repetitive motion will help your muscle memory and make it more natural when you’re playing a game. This is a great drill to do at home or when practicing on a court with a partner.
Simone Jardim does a great job in the video below, of explaining 3 options for the ready position.
Mistake #2: You’re not keeping your eye on the ball.
The most common mistake that beginner pickleball players make is not keeping their eye on the ball, which means they don’t know where it’s going next!
It’s really important to keep your eye on the ball at all times and watch it carefully so you can react quickly to its movements.
Solution: The best way to fix this mistake is to practice. The more you play, the better you’ll get at keeping your eye on the ball. There are various pickleball drills that can help you improve your hand-eye coordination.
Mistake #3: Not following through on your shots.
This is a common mistake that beginner players will make, especially when they’re trying to hit the ball hard.
They swing their pickleball paddle and then stop short of the ball, which doesn’t give their shot enough power. It’s important to follow through with your shots so you can hit the ball harder and with more control.
Solution: The best way to fix this mistake is to practice your swings. The more you swing, the better you’ll get at following through.
Mistake #4: Hitting the ball to your opponent’s forehand
Solution: This is a common mistake and one that is difficult to control and learn.
At least, it was one of the most difficult skills for me to learn. Hitting the ball to your opponent’s forehand makes it easy for them to return the shot.
Instead, focus on hitting the ball to their backhand, as often as possible. Many players struggle with returning a backhand shot, or they’re not even ready or in a position to return with their backhand. This is a particularly good strategy when you are serving, returning the third shot drop and dinking cross-court.
Dinking cross-court is tricky because you want to be sure that the ball is low over the net to their backhand, otherwise, you’re setting them up to smash return the ball and make it harder for you to return it.
Mistake #5: Hitting the ball too hard.
This is a common mistake that even intermediate players make when they’re trying to hit the ball so that it’s out of reach of their opponent.
They swing as hard as they can and end up hitting the ball out of bounds. It’s important to hit the ball with control so you can place it where you want it to go.
Solution: The best way to fix this mistake is to practice hitting the ball with a partner on the court. One drill you can try is to practice hitting the ball to a partner at a specific part of the court and just keep repeating the swing until you can consistently place the ball in the right place. When given the opportunity, I love to include this drill in my warm-ups.
Mistake #6: Dinking with your paddle down
Often when dinking, players will keep their paddles down to their side instead of keeping it up and perpendicular to the floor.
Solution: If you find yourself dinking with your paddle down, try to focus on keeping your paddle up or perpendicular to the ground with both your forehand and backhand stroke. This will help you generate more power and keep the ball from going into the net.
You can also try practicing your dinks with a partner so that you can get a feel for how to keep the ball in play. Learning how to play a great dink game is key to winning a pickleball game.
You can practice this skill against a wall. Pick a line or mark on the wall that is about net height and practice by hitting/dinking the ball against the wall. In this situation, you’ll need to keep your paddle up and perpendicular to the floor otherwise it will be very difficult to return the ball so it lands above the line on the wall.
Mistake #7: Not being prepared to return the third drop shot. This is the 3rd shot after the serve. Knowing how to best return the ball will set you up to control the rally.
Solution: It’s best to practice this shot with a partner on the court. It truly is about repetitive motion – to get that muscle memory working.
Get on the court with a partner who can land a third shot drop into the non-volley zone, time and time again, so you get plenty of practice returning the shot.
When returning the third shot drop, aim to have the ball lob over the net into the non-volley zone. Or, if you are reading your opponent correctly and know that they’ll be up to the non-volley zone quickly (as they should do), aim to have the shot land at the back of the court, just inside the baseline.
Mistake #8: Too much wrist action will cause the ball to go into the net or where you don’t want it
Solution: Use your arm more and keep the wrist stable. The paddle should be an extension of your arm. You shouldn’t be ‘flicking’ your wrist.
Mistake #8: Pickleball partners leave a gap between them which leaves an open space where their opponents can hit the ball down the middle, leaving the partners unsure of who should hit the ball.
Solution: Ensure that you and your partner have agreed on how to cover the centerline. Will the person who can hit the ball with their forehand, always hit the ball regardless of which side of the centerline the ball is? Or do you only hit the ball if it’s on your side of the centerline? Will you always call it ‘mine’?
Mistake #9: Hitting a high shot to a player at the net gives them the opportunity to smash.
Solution: Try to keep the ball low when you hit it to a player at the net. This will make it more difficult for them to hit a smash. This is where learning how to play a really good dinking game can help.
You can also try to mix up your shots so your opponents don’t know what to expect.
Another way to avoid this mistake is to practice hitting the ball further into your opponent’s court, way past the non-volley zone.
Mistake #10: Not being aggressive enough and just hitting the ball back without any power or spin.
Solution: Try to be more aggressive when you’re playing. This means learning how to hit the ball with more power and spin. It’s really a tactic for more intermediate and advanced players but once you have the basics of pickleball mastered, learning about control, power and spin is helpful in winning pickleball games.
Mistake #11: Drifting (moving up) when you serve the ball
It’s common for players to step forward after serving. It’s just a natural movement but what you want is to stay in position after serving so you’re ready for the return shot.
Solution: Practice taking steps back instead of forward immediately after you serve. It’s muscle memory that will help train you to not wander up into the court. It’s much easier to return a shot that is deep in the court if you are a couple of feet behind the baseline. Ever tried returning a deep shot when you aren’t far enough behind the ball? It’s tricky and you end up with your arm and wrist all contorted and most times, miss the shot or it’s a bad shot. It’s also much easier to run forward to return a shot, rather than trying to take steps to back up.
Mistake #12: Hitting dead dinks
This is almost like dinking for the sake of hitting the ball with no real intention or strategy which means you dink the ball directly to your opponent, making it easy for them to return the shot.
Solution: Make your dink shots more purposeful by changing up placement or adding spin to the ball if you can. Try to place the ball so that you are forcing your client to have to move in order to return the dink.
Granted the term ‘dink’ is odd. To learn more about where pickleball is going, have a look here.
Mistake #13: Too easily pushed from the non-volley zone
If your opponent is hitting the ball into the non-volley zone but you let it bounce before returning the shot, this can push you back into the ‘no man’s land’ part of the court (without you even being aware it’s happening).
If this happens, you are no longer in an aggressive position – your opponent can now return the ball into the non-volley zone or to the back of the court by the baseline – and you’re no longer in a position to easily or strategically return their shot.
Solution: Where possible, dink volley the ball which means that rather than letting the ball bounce before you dink, hit the ball before it bounces. And if you do step back from the non-volley zone, get right back to the line.
Mistake #14: Trying to win from the back
It’s too hard to win points from the back of the court so stay focused on moving to the non-volley zone as quickly as possible and then work on staying there.
Solution: Practice and more practice will train your mind and your body to stay close to the non-volley zone line and think strategically when dinking or volleying the ball. Learn more.
Mistake #15: Hitting a shot that should be hit with your backhand with your forehand instead makes it almost impossible to correctly return the ball.
Solution: If the ball is on your backhand side, hit it with your backhand. It may feel like you’re not hitting the ball correctly or easily, but you’ll be able to control it better and place it where you want it to go if you practice your backhand shot.
Hitting the ball on your forehand when the ball is on your backhand side will make it difficult to return the ball properly.
If you find that you’re struggling to hit a backhand, try this: take a step with your backhand foot towards the ball, then rotate your body so your shoulders are facing the direction you want the ball to go. This will help you get more power behind your shot and make it easier to hit the ball correctly.