Everybody knows that the rules of pickleball dictate that you can’t hit the ball on a volley up close to the net, right?
Wrong! Using a maneuver called “The Erne,” you can take advantage of a sort of loophole in the rules and get right up at the net to smack your opponent’s high dink back down at their feet. In this article we’ll cover how you can set up an Erne in pickleball.
Other Resources: Intermediate Pickleball Tips
It’s a perfectly legal shot that seems like it shouldn’t be.
It does requires planning, awareness, and a little fancy footwork, though. In this article we’re going to go through all three so you can start working on adding this specialty shot to your pickleball toolbox.
The Erne in pickleball is named after Erne Perry, who was the first to popularize the move. If you’re not familiar with the strategic concept and implementation of the Erne, I suggest you pause now and read our article describing the maneuver.
A note on nomenclature: I hesitate to call this move the “Erne shot” as some do since it’s not really a shot so much as it is a play or a maneuver. Read on to find out why.
Why Try An Erne?
Well, put it this way: WHY NOT TRY AN ERNE??
After all, pickleball is fun to learn and play, and most of us are always looking to expand our capabilities, skills, and goals when we’re on the court. So why not try something new?
When contemplating an Erne, you need to prepare ahead of time so you can effectively strike when the conditions are just right and your opponent is least expecting it.
Let’s take it step by step.
How to Setup an Erne in 4 (Not-So-Easy) Steps
The Erne is an opportunistic play that takes advantage of a very particular position which is difficult to create, so I would not recommend trying to force one if the situation does not favor it.
That said, it’s definitely a maneuver you want to know about and have in your pocket in case the opportunity presents itself. Just don’t try too hard to manufacture one or you may miss an even better, easier opportunity to score a point or end a rally.
Step 1 – Dink Until Necessary
The first thing you need to do to set up the Erne shot is to get a good dink exchange going. The non volley zone is where most points are won or lost on the pickleball court, and this is where setting up the Erne starts.
While many advanced pickleball players can seemingly dink forever, intermediate players must exercise extra patience to keep the dink rally going until they have an opportunity to truly control the exchange.
What does this mean? Basically, you want to be comfortable enough in your court position and your touch to hit an intentional shot to purposefully provoke a reaction from your opponent.
In this case, the reaction you want is for your opponent to return it to you close to the sideline on your side of the court. If your shot gives them the opportunity to hit the ball cross court, your chance of executing an Erne goes with it.
The best way to get your opponent to return the ball to you down the line is to try to keep the ball as close to the sideline as you can when you dink it back to them. Your ability to do that will depend on your skill in placing the ball and your attentiveness to the ball’s position.
By keeping the ball along the sideline, you are trying to restrict the type of return shots your opponent will be able to hit.
Which brings us to our next step…
Step 2 – Limit Their Options
In order to execute an Erne, you need your opponent to hit you a very specific shot. If you can limit their options for a return, you can increase the chances that they will hit you the shot you need.
As discussed in Step 1, you want to keep your dinks close to the sideline since that’s ultimately where you want to contact the ball.
Depending on who you’re playing and what side of the court you’re on at the time, you can also gain an advantage by dinking the ball to your opponent’s backhand. Many players have less confidence in their backhands than their forehands, leading them to hit “safer” returns, i.e. back down the sideline and into your waiting paddle!
Step 3 – Watch Their Footwork
An angle dink could work if you have a good, soft touch and can get it past them while they are moving in the opposite direction. To that end, make sure to keep an eye on your opponent’s feet.
For example, if you notice them leaning towards the centerline, it would be a good time to angle a dink past them toward the sideline. Hopefully this will catch them off guard and their first reaction will be to simply get it back over the net…hopefully down the sideline!
If they don’t have time to set up a good shot and end up popping it up to shoulder height on the return, all the better! The more unforced errors you can get your opponent to commit, the better your chances of jumping on the perfect ball to make your move.
Step 4 – Seize The Moment
You’ve been dinking, patiently waiting, looking for that perfect return right down the sideline for you to unveil your attack. When you see the perfect opportunity, it’s time to make your move.
There it is! Your opponent has hit you the ideal return; it was a reaction to your shot, and ideally about chest-to-shoulder height. Now is the time to pull out your ultimate surprise shot.
You must now step off the court and out of bounds, past the kitchen line and up close to the net. As the ball crosses the net into your court (remember, you cannot legally strike it until it does) smack it down into an open or uncomfortable spot in your opponent’s court, preferably using your forehand.
Be aware that even if you jump out of bounds over the non volley zone line you still need to establish one foot on the ground before striking the ball in order for it to be a legal hit. In other words, you cannot just jump and strike while both you and the ball are in the air.
Placement Is Key
In order to properly execute a successful Erne, you must be confident in your ability to place the ball where you want it to go. If you can’t deliver the type of shot which will elicit the return you want, you will be at the mercy of your opponents’ shot choices instead of the other way around.
The advantage of the Erne lies in the surprise to your opponent of (1) you stepping out of bounds and (2) your proximity to the net when you return the ball.
The Erne is obviously a specialty shot that many people will never even attempt during their pickleball careers. And that makes sense; even the best players must exercise discretion when setting up this maneuver.
So even though the opportunity may not present itself very often, just knowing the strategy behind the Erne and how to set it up adds variety and depth to your game.
Now grab a friend, get out there on the court, and keep practicing.