Why is it important to keep the ball low in pickleball?
As I have written before, mastering the game of pickleball is all about limiting your own unforced errors and causing your opponents to make unforced errors.
How to keep the ball low in pickleball is synonymous with how to cause your opponents to make unforced errors. This is the reason why hitting the ball low is so important. When a pickleball player hits a ball low, it lowers the chances of their opponent making offensive plays.
Conversely, high balls exponentially increase the likelihood of offensive plays. Fortunately, there are some easy swing techniques you can learn that create fewer attackable balls and create successful aggressive plays of your choosing.
All it takes is a few games of making a conscious effort to deploy these swing techniques and you’ll soon find yourself limiting your high shots and mastering the low ball required to become an experienced player.
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Top 5 Tips For Keeping the Ball Low In Pickleball
The Bowling Technique
When I first started playing pickleball, I found myself trying to use the tennis swing technique because that was what I thought provided the most control and what I was most comfortable with.
It worked for a while but when I faced the national champions of the 60+ women’s doubles team and got destroyed, I realized that I needed to recreate my swing.
These experienced pickleball players knew what they were doing when it hit the ball high so I asked them for their advice on how to keep the ball low in pickleball. Their immediate advice was the bowling technique.
Pickleball is a similar game to tennis, but with pickleball, the paddle’s angle needs to be much more of a steep angle than a tennis racket should be in order to keep the ball low.
To use an analogy, in tennis the racquet face mimics a windshield wiper but in pickleball the paddle face mimics the throw of a bowler.
My muscle memory of the tennis swing often caused me to hit a high ball and lose accuracy, but as I practiced the bowling technique, my muscle memory shifted to a steeper angle and created more direct shots that kept the ball lower.
If you haven’t frequented the bowling alley in some time, I highly recommend planning a date night or night out with friends with the ulterior motive of improving your pickleball game.
Next time you are on the court playing pickleball, try practicing the bowling technique, especially on service returns.
That said, the swing technique to keep the ball low on the third hit, when you’re on the serve or when resetting the point to get yourself to the kitchen line, is slightly different.
The technique for these shots that maximize your time at the non volley zone line is what I like to call the shave shot.
The Shave Technique
It’s often thought that in order to keep the ball low in pickleball, the paddle face should not angle high but experienced players will tell you this isn’t always the case.
To use another analogy that illustrates, imagine the pickleball paddle is a sharp single-blade razor. When using this razor, the blade angle must be open but the motion must glide on a straight plane parallel to your skin, otherwise, you’re either going to cut yourself or miss the hairs altogether.
The same goes for your pickleball paddle when hitting a dink shot or when hitting a shot where you want the ball directly over the net.
If the plane of your swing goes low to high, your going to hit a higher shot, if the plane goes high to low there’s no telling where the ball is going.
Advanced players understand these physics and will keep a level plane parallel to the court to avoid hitting the ball high. In addition, this key skill will generate backspin which most beginners have a difficult time predicting the ball’s trajectory and gives fewer chances for the opposing side to hit an attackable ball.
If this technique is a new shot for you, I recommend hitting the ball at its highest point to give you a better position to keep the ball low just above the net height.
Spin can be both a friend and foe when it comes to answering the age-old question of how to keep the ball low in pickleball, but the above tips will maximize your chances at hitting the best shot.
Each shot requires a certain angle and as a general rule the swing plane is most important in keeping the ball low. But what type of spin should you use to direct shots and maximize long rallies? What type of spin will throw your opponent off balance or keep the ball in play?
The Spin Technique
There are key moments in points, especially at the kitchen line, where you are unsure about how to hit the ball. This often leads to indecisive shots that lose the point.
To mitigate against this plight of hesitation, you can preemptively decide what type of spin you are going to use to keep the ball low in various situations. Know how you are going to hit a ball when it requires a backswing motion, when you are going to hit a fast paced shot, a dink, return of serve, etc., before the game starts.
The below are my takes on what type of spin you should use for a variety of shots when trying to keep the ball low in pickleball.
The Backhand motion: when you hit the ball with this motion, I recommend backspin. Backspin causes the ball to float so when at the kitchen line it takes some practice to keep the paddle loose, hitting low on the ball, and placing your shot within your opponent’s non volley zone line.
The forehand swing motion: when you hit a forehand shot, I recommend both types of spin. To keep the ball low on returns of serve or if you want to hit fast paced shots, top spin is best. For the forehand dinks at the non volley zone line or a third ball reset to get yourself to the net, backspin is the best — but remember the paddle is a sharp razor, too steep and you might cut yourself off from winning the point.
Responding to Fast Balls: when facing a ball with some pace on it, whether it be a hand battle at the net or your opponent’s hard drive to the baseline, I recommend limiting the spin. It is likely that your opponent already added a ton of spin to their ball so unless you are an experienced player you won’t have enough reaction time to add your own spin to the ball. In fact, by neutralizing the spin you will often send a ball your opponents way that moves like a knuckleball.
If you’ve done any research on this topic, you will find a lot of commentary on grip pressure. Most talk about keeping the grip loose, and avoiding the death grip. The reason this is often brought up is that in a player’s early days of playing pickleball, they tend to be rigid and highly focused on their mechanics which transfers to an increase in grip pressure on their paddle. I contend that this is subjective and should be user’s choice.
Yes, a death grip on the paddle doesn’t help and should be avoided, but grip pressure is all about feel and feel is personal to each individual. If you are playing with a loose grip and you find it doesn’t help you that much, then try playing with a tighter grip pressure. The important thing is to find what works for you that adds to the success of your touch shots.
There are three final thoughts on keeping the ball low that will dramatically improve your game.
The first is hitting the ball early, especially when you see a fast hit coming. Hitting the ball on the up-rise forces you to shorten your swing motion. In addition, hitting the ball early levels the plane of your swing motion which can help in keeping the ball low. If you are forced to hit the ball at a higher point in its trajectory try to play a ball at that lengthens the rally of the game. In other words, get the ball in play no matter what.
The second is body shots. For right-handers, it is very difficult to play a ball at the right hip of their body, and the left hip for left-handers. Playing a body shot can feel like your hands are handcuffed to the paddle. When possible, hit the ball in this direction because it offers both an aiming point and confuses your opponent on where there paddle needs to be.
The third is making a conscious effort to keep your paddle up. If you have to hit a highball you’re in the best position to do so if your paddle is up. Remember, mastering the game of pickleball is all about limitin