Intermediate Mistakes Everybody Makes


After you’re comfortable with the basics of Pickleball, it’s only natural to look for new ways to improve your game. Sometimes the best way to add to your game isn’t to learn anything new, but to fix what’s already there make sure you’re not beating yourself. Now that you’ve mastered your beginner mistakes, here are five intermediate mistakes to watch out for.

Running Through Shots

In the dynamic and fast-paced world of Pickleball, the ability to hit a return while on the move can be a valuable skill. However, for the majority of shots, setting your feet before hitting is crucial for accuracy and power. This fundamental aspect of the game cannot be overstated.

The Importance of Footwork

Footwork is the foundation of any successful Pickleball shot. By arriving at your spot early, you give yourself the best chance to find your balance and set your feet, which in turn allows you to deliver a solid shot. This process involves several key steps:

  • Anticipation: Predict where the ball is going to land and move towards that spot as quickly as possible.
  • Positioning: Ensure that you are in the optimal position to hit the ball, which often means being slightly behind it so you can step into your shot.
  • Balance: Maintain a low center of gravity and keep your weight evenly distributed on both feet.
  • Execution: With your feet set, swing through the ball with confidence, using your entire body to generate power.

Developing Advanced Skills

As you become more comfortable with these basics, you’ll naturally start to develop the ability to hit on the run. This advanced skill is particularly useful in situations where you are forced to cover a lot of ground quickly. However, it’s important to remember that even advanced players benefit from setting their feet whenever possible. The key is to strike a balance between mobility and stability.

Practical Tips for Improvement

To enhance your footwork and shot execution, consider incorporating the following practices into your training regimen:

  • Footwork Drills: Regularly practice drills that focus on quick, precise movements. Ladder drills, cone drills, and shadowing exercises can all help improve your agility and coordination.
  • Balance Exercises: Incorporate balance training into your routine. Exercises such as single-leg stands, balance board activities, and yoga can help you maintain stability on the court.
  • Video Analysis: Record yourself playing and review the footage to identify areas where your footwork can improve. Pay attention to how quickly you move to the ball and how well you set your feet before hitting.
  • Professional Coaching: Consider working with a coach who can provide personalized feedback and help you refine your technique.

The Psychological Aspect

Footwork and shot execution are not just physical skills; they also involve a significant mental component. Confidence and focus play a crucial role in your ability to arrive at your spot early and set your feet. Visualization techniques, such as imagining yourself executing perfect shots, can help build this mental strength.

Hitting to Your Opponent’s Forehand

In the strategic game of Pickleball, understanding your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses is paramount. One of the most common mistakes intermediate players make is consistently targeting their opponent’s dominant side, usually the forehand. While it might seem like a safe bet, this approach often gives your opponent the best chance to return the shot effectively. Instead, a more strategic approach involves targeting their non-dominant side, typically the backhand.

Understanding the Forehand Advantage

The forehand shot is generally considered the stronger and more reliable shot for most players. This is due to several factors:

  • Natural Movement: The forehand stroke aligns more naturally with the body’s biomechanics, allowing for a smoother and more powerful swing.
  • Greater Control: Players tend to have better control and accuracy with their forehand, making it easier to place the ball where they want.
  • Increased Power: The forehand allows for greater leverage and power, making it a more formidable weapon in a player’s arsenal.

The Backhand Weakness

Conversely, the backhand shot is often the weaker side for many players. Here’s why:

  • Awkward Angle: The backhand requires a more awkward body position and swing, which can lead to less power and control.
  • Less Practice: Many players naturally favor their forehand during practice, leading to less proficiency with their backhand.
  • Reduced Reach: The backhand typically has a shorter reach compared to the forehand, making it harder to return wide shots.

Strategic Targeting

To exploit this common weakness, aim your shots at your opponent’s backhand. This strategy increases the likelihood of forcing errors and weak returns. Here are some practical tips for implementing this approach:

  • Cross-Court Shots: Use cross-court shots to target your opponent’s backhand. This not only forces them to use their weaker side but also increases the distance they have to cover, adding pressure.
  • Dinks and Drop Shots: Employ dinks and drop shots aimed at the backhand. These softer, more controlled shots can be particularly challenging for opponents to handle with their backhand.
  • Serve Placement: When serving, aim for your opponent’s backhand side. A well-placed serve can immediately put them on the defensive, setting the tone for the rally.

Psychological Warfare

Targeting your opponent’s backhand isn’t just a physical strategy; it’s also a psychological one. Consistently forcing them to use their weaker side can lead to frustration and decreased confidence. Over time, this mental pressure can result in more unforced errors and a higher likelihood of winning points.

Adapting to Different Opponents

While targeting the backhand is a general strategy, it’s important to adapt based on your specific opponent. Some players may have a surprisingly strong backhand, or they might be adept at running around their backhand to hit a forehand. In such cases, observe their tendencies and adjust your strategy accordingly. The key is to remain flexible and responsive to your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.

Not Using (or Working on) Your Backhand

In the realm of Pickleball, the backhand shot often stands as a glaring weakness for many players. It’s not uncommon to see individuals scrambling to position themselves for a forehand shot, thereby neglecting the development of a robust backhand. While exploiting an opponent’s weak backhand can be a strategic advantage, you certainly don’t want this to be your own Achilles’ heel. To elevate your game and become a well-rounded player, dedicating time to practice and refine your backhand is indispensable.

The Common Aversion to the Backhand

Many players instinctively avoid their backhand for several reasons:

  • Comfort and Familiarity: The forehand shot feels more natural and comfortable for most players, leading them to favor it over the backhand.
  • Perceived Weakness: Players often perceive their backhand as weaker and less reliable, which can create a mental block against using it.
  • Lack of Practice: Due to the above reasons, players tend to practice their forehand more, further exacerbating the disparity in skill between their forehand and backhand.

The Importance of a Strong Backhand

A proficient backhand is crucial for several reasons:

  • Versatility: A strong backhand allows you to handle shots on both sides of your body, making you a more versatile and unpredictable player.
  • Court Coverage: Relying solely on your forehand can leave you scrambling to cover the court, leading to poor positioning and increased fatigue.
  • Strategic Advantage: A well-developed backhand can turn a perceived weakness into a strength, giving you more options to outmaneuver your opponent.

Steps to Improve Your Backhand

To transform your backhand from a liability into an asset, consider the following steps:

  • Dedicated Practice: Allocate specific practice sessions to focus solely on your backhand. Repetition is key to building muscle memory and confidence.
  • Proper Technique: Work on the fundamentals of backhand technique, including grip, stance, and swing. Consider seeking guidance from a coach to ensure you’re using the correct form.
  • Drills and Exercises: Incorporate drills that emphasize backhand shots. For example, practice hitting backhand volleys, dinks, and drives. Use a ball machine or a practice partner to simulate game scenarios.
  • Footwork: Good footwork is essential for executing a strong backhand. Practice moving quickly and efficiently to position yourself for backhand shots.
  • Mental Focus: Overcome the mental block associated with the backhand by visualizing successful backhand shots and maintaining a positive attitude during practice.

Practical Drills for Backhand Improvement

Here are some practical drills to help you strengthen your backhand:

  • Wall Drills: Stand a few feet away from a wall and hit backhand shots continuously. This helps improve your timing and consistency.
  • Cross-Court Backhand Drill: With a partner, practice hitting cross-court backhand shots. This drill enhances your accuracy and control.
  • Backhand Volley Drill: Stand at the net and practice hitting backhand volleys. Focus on maintaining a firm wrist and proper positioning.
  • Shadow Swings: Without a ball, practice your backhand swing in front of a mirror. This allows you to focus on technique and form.

Standing in No-Man’s Land

In the strategic game of Pickleball, court positioning is crucial for both offense and defense. One of the most common pitfalls players encounter is standing in the dreaded “no-man’s land.” This area, situated between the non-volley line and the baseline, is notorious for putting players at a significant disadvantage. Understanding why this position is detrimental and how to avoid it can elevate your game to new heights.

The Non-Volley Line: Prime Real Estate

The non-volley line, often referred to as “the kitchen line,” is generally considered the best position to play from for several reasons:

  • Offensive Advantage: Being close to the net allows you to execute aggressive volleys and put pressure on your opponent.
  • Control and Precision: At the non-volley line, you have better control over dinks and drop shots, which are essential for strategic play.
  • Quick Reflexes: Proximity to the net enables you to react quickly to your opponent’s shots, making it easier to intercept and counter.

The Baseline: Defensive Stronghold

While the non-volley line is ideal for offense, the baseline has its own strategic importance, particularly for defensive play:

  • Time to React: Standing at the baseline gives you more time to react to your opponent’s shots, especially powerful drives and lobs.
  • Shot Preparation: The baseline position allows you to prepare for and execute groundstrokes with greater ease.
  • Court Coverage: From the baseline, you can cover a wider range of shots, making it harder for your opponent to find open spaces.

The Perils of No-Man’s Land

No-man’s land, the area between the non-volley line and the baseline, is aptly named because it puts players in a vulnerable position:

  • Limited Reaction Time: Standing in no-man’s land reduces the time you have to react to your opponent’s shots, making it difficult to return volleys and groundstrokes effectively.
  • Awkward Angles: Shots aimed at your feet are particularly challenging to handle from this position, often resulting in weak returns or unforced errors.
  • Lack of Control: Being caught in no-man’s land compromises your ability to control the game, as you’re neither in an optimal offensive nor defensive position.

Strategies to Avoid No-Man’s Land

To avoid the pitfalls of no-man’s land, consider the following strategies:

  • Quick Transition: Move quickly and decisively between the baseline and the non-volley line. Avoid lingering in the middle of the court.
  • Anticipate Shots: Anticipate your opponent’s shots and position yourself accordingly. If you’re expecting a lob, retreat to the baseline. If you’re preparing for a dink, advance to the non-volley line.
  • Communicate with Your Partner: In doubles play, effective communication with your partner is essential. Coordinate your movements to ensure neither of you gets caught in no-man’s land.
  • Practice Footwork: Good footwork is crucial for transitioning between court positions. Incorporate footwork drills into your practice routine to improve your agility and speed.

Practical Drills for Better Positioning

Here are some practical drills to help you avoid no-man’s land and improve your court positioning:

  • Transition Drill: Practice moving from the baseline to the non-volley line and back again. Focus on quick, efficient movements.
  • Shadow Play: Without a ball, simulate game scenarios and practice positioning yourself correctly. Visualize where you need to be for different types of shots.
  • Partner Drills: Work with a partner to practice coordinated movements. Take turns hitting shots that require the other person to transition between positions.

Not Being in Sync with Your Partner

In the dynamic world of Pickleball, the transition from singles to doubles introduces a new layer of complexity. While singles play revolves around individual skill and strategy, doubles necessitates seamless coordination with your partner. The synergy between partners can make or break a match, and understanding the nuances of effective teamwork is crucial for success.

The Importance of Partner Coordination

In doubles, the court is shared, and so are the responsibilities. Here’s why being in sync with your partner is essential:

  • Court Coverage: Effective coordination ensures that both players cover the court efficiently, minimizing gaps and making it harder for opponents to find open spaces.
  • Strategic Play: Doubles strategy often involves setting up plays and creating opportunities for your partner. This requires a deep understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
  • Reduced Errors: Miscommunication can lead to unforced errors, such as both players going for the same shot or leaving a shot uncontested. Clear communication helps prevent these mistakes.

Maintaining Consistent Positioning

One of the key aspects of doubles play is maintaining a consistent distance between you and your partner. This involves:

  • Side-by-Side Positioning: When both players are at the net, maintaining a side-by-side formation helps cover the width of the court effectively.
  • Staggered Positioning: When one player is at the net and the other is at the baseline, ensure that the distance between you remains constant to avoid leaving gaps.
  • Dynamic Movement: Be prepared to move dynamically with your partner, adjusting your position based on the flow of the game and the location of the ball.

Effective Communication

Communication is the cornerstone of successful doubles play. Here are some tips to enhance communication with your partner:

  • Verbal Cues: Use clear and concise verbal cues to indicate who will take the shot. Phrases like “Mine,” “Yours,” or “Switch” can prevent confusion and ensure that both players are on the same page.
  • Non-Verbal Signals: Develop a system of non-verbal signals, such as hand gestures or eye contact, to communicate intentions without disrupting the flow of the game.
  • Pre-Match Discussion: Before the match, discuss strategies and preferences with your partner. Agree on who will take shots down the middle and how you will handle different game scenarios.

Covering Gaps on the Court

Opponents in doubles will often aim for the gaps between partners. To mitigate this, consider the following strategies:

  • Shift Together: Move in unison with your partner to cover the court more effectively. If one player moves to the left, the other should shift accordingly to maintain coverage.
  • Anticipate Shots: Anticipate where your opponents are likely to aim and position yourselves to intercept those shots. This requires keen observation and quick reflexes.
  • Stay Low and Ready: Maintain a low, athletic stance to react quickly to shots aimed at the gaps. Being ready to move at all times is crucial for effective court coverage.

Recognizing the Team Dynamic

Understanding that doubles is more than just two players on the same side of the net can significantly enhance your game. Here’s how to embrace the team dynamic:

  • Play to Each Other’s Strengths: Identify your partner’s strengths and weaknesses and adjust your play accordingly. For example, if your partner has a strong backhand, set them up for backhand shots.
  • Support Each Other: Encourage and support your partner throughout the match. Positive reinforcement can boost morale and improve performance.
  • Adapt and Adjust: Be flexible and willing to adapt your strategy based on the flow of the game. Effective doubles play often involves constant adjustment and fine-tuning.

Practical Drills for Partner Coordination

Here are some practical drills to help you and your partner improve coordination and communication:

  • Shadow Drills: Practice moving together without a ball. Focus on maintaining consistent positioning and covering the court effectively.
  • Call-Out Drill: During practice rallies, call out who will take each shot. This helps develop clear communication and prevents confusion during matches.
  • Gap Coverage Drill: Set up cones or markers to simulate gaps on the court. Practice moving together to cover these gaps and intercept shots.

Overcoming these mistakes should help any player feel more confident on the court. Soon you’ll be adding spin shots and new techniques to your game, but before you do, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got all your basics down pat. You don’t become better play overnight, but keep playing, keep learning and as always, practice, practice practice.

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Written by Billy Pickles

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