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The quickest way to improve from a beginner-level pickleball player to an intermediate or advanced is not by mastering advanced or perfectly placed shots. It’s simply by eliminating unforced errors in pickleball. Those silly, mental error shots that you didn’t mean to hit, but you just cost your team a point.
In this guide we break down everything about unforced errors and how you can avoid them in your next pickleball game.
Also Check Out: Best Intermediate Pickleball tips
What Does an Unforced Error Mean in Pickleball?
Determining whether an error was unforced might feel subjective, especially for a player at the beginner level, or while playing an opponent who can hit the ball with pace where you’re forced to handle a difficult shot.
In addition, is it an unforced error if you miss relatively difficult types of shots or try to play the game-of-inches and hit a ball down the line only for it to go out of bounds?
Point being, why get down on yourself for missing that “pretzel” backhand shot you saw on Instagram by a top-level pickleball professional or the shot that threads the needle aiming for the outside edge of the line.
This is why it is important to establish a definition of what an unforced error should mean for you versus what it means for Ben Johns or Tyson McGuffin.
An unforced error in pickleball is “a mistake in play that is attributed to one’s own failure rather than to the skill or effort of one’s opponent,” but a better definition should read “one’s own failure at an otherwise routine effort…”
This way, one can focus their practice at avoiding unforced errors through specific developments and strategies to help them keep the ball in play.Having guide posts that limit the number of comments going on in one’s own head is the true strategy that creates consistency.
Why is it Important to Avoid Unforced Errors?
Unless it is a smash or an insane feat of athleticism by your opponent that wins the point, you are probably the reason you lost the point. Most points gained are because of unforced errors at the amateur level.
Unlike in tennis, it is nearly impossible to drive the ball through your opponent to win a point, unless, of course, it’s during a hand battle at the net. Rather, the majority of points are won through unforced errors.
Even with a smaller court than tennis, the game of pickleball is won through sustained pressure in hopes of forcing your opponent to make the first mistake.
Sustained accuracy for long rallies creates high pressure situations, high pressure situations increases the chance your opponents make the first mistakes, this is the true strategy that creates a winner — hitting that pickleball in bounds as many times in a row as possible.
How to Avoid Unforced Errors
Save for the professional pickleball players, the number one key element that almost all pickleball players are not doing or not doing enough, and that would eliminate an overabundance of pickleball unforced errors, happens to be an astonishingly easy tactic to deploy.
If there were a single most important piece of advice that would be the key to improving your pickleball game, it is making the ready position a top priority.
Reducing the number of reactive shots and increasing the proactive ones is the true strategy that actualizes winning. Other than
Squat low! Think less of Bob Marley’s “Get up, Stand up” and more Flo Rida’s shawty got “Low.” When it comes to pickleball unforced errors, the low ball with little bounce is the crime, and the player standing like a statue is the culprit.
Every amateur pickleball video I have seen (and I’ve seen thousands), there is always a player or two or four that stand like they are in the backrow of a concert. If you are looking to avoid unforced errors squat low, do this for returns on serve, for net shots, or during any in-game play.
Keep your paddle up! When you see a boxer get tired in the tenth round and his or her hands drop, that fight will soon be over. Likewise, if you or your opponent drops their hands, take not of this easy target. A good way to know if you are keeping your hands up is constantly asking yourself, “can I see my paddle?”
However, this doesn’t just mean your dominant hand, your non-dominant hand should have as much of a role to play in your pickleball game as the one holding the paddle.
For example, one of the most important shots in Pickleball is the 3rd shot. Mastering a 3rd shot drop takes touch, and touch takes practice, but including your non-dominant hand as a guide when striking the ball will help you memorize the power needed to land that ball shallow into the kitchen.
When you hit the ball on service returns and 3rd shot drops, imagine there is a string attached to the wrist of your non-dominant connected to the wrist of your dominant hand. The more you memorize the motion, the more consistent your game will be, which means less unforced errors and more points!
Play the court!
Whether it be a dink or a ball with pace, hitting the ball crosscourt will reduce unforced errors.
Hitting the ball crosscourt gives you the most room for error and the most court to work with. A pickleball court is 44 feet long but the diagonal from corner to corner is 48 feet — that’s an extra four feet to keep the ball in bounds.
This same principle applies to a dink in the non-volley zone, a service return, a volley, or a groundstroke with pace — the more court you have to work with the greater your consistency will be. You always have the option to hit the ball directly over the net to opponents on the same side of the court as you to keep the ball in play but you have less chance at hitting an accurate of a shot.
This is a sport where the shots that win a point are dramatically based on errors determined by the narrowest of margins.
To win points, one must put themselves in a position that optimizes the chances of a forced error by their opponents or a position to reduce the chances of an unforced error of their own doing.
Practice habits, not shots!
The hardest part of any sport is making good habits and avoiding bad habits. Ever notice that the team that commences the hand battle with the first hard volley loses more often than the team that has to defend it?
It is because we Pickleballers love to admire our shots. The best players admire their points-won instead of the shot-taken, and then immediately prepare for their next attack.
Winning depends on the player or players prepared more often than their opponents, reducing their likelihood of making unforced errors.
The game is easy, winning is not, but the players that know the right habits to make and the wrong ones to avoid will keep the pickleball unforced errors on the other side of the court.