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Top Tips For Developing The Perfect Forehand Shot
Whether hard or soft, groundstroke or lob, the forehand is the go-to shot for most pickleball players. Learning how to hit one correctly and effectively is key to developing your pickleball fundamentals.
What’s more, it is essential to have several different forehand shots in your toolbox so you can pull out just the right one when you need to drop a soft dink over the net or rip a screaming forehand drive down the sideline.
Let’s take a look at some of the basics of hitting a forehand in pickleball and go through a few of the most common types of forehand shots.
Helpful Resource: 18 Best Pickleball Tips For Beginners
What is a forehand?
In simplest terms, a forehand shot is when a player hits the ball on the same side of their body as their dominant (paddle) hand.
It is probably the most natural and instinctive movement someone might make the first time they hold a paddle. And since it favors movement on the player’s dominant side it is probably the most-used shot in pickleball.
Before we go any further, it’s important to note that there is no one correct way to hit a forehand.
Bodies come in all shapes and sizes and, given the exploding popularity of pickleball, all ages and physical conditions as well.
The same swing mechanics used by a younger player who is 6’4″ might not work for an older player who is 5’2″ with limited mobility. When it comes down to it, what works best is what works best for you!
With that in mind, let’s break down the basic mechanics of a forehand.
Four Steps To Hit A Basic Forehand Shot
As the ball approaches, rotate your body by pivoting your hips so that your non-paddle shoulder faces toward the net.
Hold your paddle out to your dominant side with your elbow slightly bent and make a short backswing at around waist height. Keep the paddle face slightly tipped back from vertical.
Swing the paddle in an arc as you pivot your body back around to meet the ball.
Make contact with the ball with your paddle arm naturally positioned outward from your body on your dominant side. Overreaching or overextending will compromise your power, balance, and accuracy.
Make sure that you connect with the ball out in front of your body, shifting your weight from your back foot to your front foot as you swing.
Follow through on your swing in a smooth motion after the ball leaves the paddle. When you complete your follow through, your paddle should be up around your shoulder on your non-dominant side.
Once you’re comfortable with the basic swing, you will start tailoring it with different amounts of power and spin depending on the situation. Let’s take a look at a few different types of common forehand shots.
Move Your Feet
Remember that in pickleball an effective forehand shot always starts with first moving to the correct court position.
This means moving your feet, not just your arms. Go to where the ball will be rather than trying to reach out and hit it from too far away.
The Forehand Drive
The forehand drive is a hard, fast, powerful shot that can overwhelm an opponent if hit directly at them or put the ball out of their reach if well-placed and well-timed.
A forehand drive usually involves a longer backswing to generate power and momentum on the ball. It can be enhanced with topspin or side-spin to add up-and-down or left-and-right movement to the ball.
To add topspin, move your paddle up and over the ball in a swiping motion as you contact the ball. Your follow through should end with your palm and the face of the paddle pointing slightly downwards.
Topspin will keep the ball low as it crosses the net and, if executed correctly, will make the ball dive down to the ground on your opponent’s side of the court.
An “inside out” stroke adds backspin or side-spin to the ball, making it curve in the direction of the player’s paddle hand. For example, a right-handed player hitting an inside out shot will see the ball curve away to the right.
To achieve this effect, keep the paddle face tipped back even further from vertical, and as you strike the ball bend your wrist to keep the paddle face angled back from the ball through the shot.
When To Use a Forehand Drive
The forehand drive is a good shot to use if your opponent’s return of serve is short, meaning that it lands in or just beyond the non volley zone (NVZ).
Your opponent will likely start creeping up to the NVZ, assuming that it will take you some time to get to the ball, so this is a great opportunity to drive a hard shot right past them as they try to make their way forward.
Along those same lines, a fast drive can keep an opponent back at the baseline, where you can better control the tempo of the game.
Always remember that preventing your opponent from moving up to and gaining position at the NVZ is your top priority, so use a well-placed forehand drive to keep them in the backcourt.
If you can keep them busy returning your deep, fast shots they won’t have time to strategize how to make their way forward.
A forehand drive works especially well when you’re hitting your third shot after a good, deep serve at the baseline.
You should also consider using a drive whenever you catch an opponent loitering in the “no mans land” in the middle of their service box.
In this situation, a solid drive aimed at your opponent’s feet will be nearly un-returnable.
Alternatively, you can try to angle your drive to aim it out of bounds or behind them, whichever keeps them from being able to comfortably hit the ball back.
The Forehand Dink
Dinking is the action that happens near the net at the NVZ.
The purpose of the dink game is to hit soft shots just over the net that are difficult for your opponent to return.
The perfect winning dink either puts the ball out of your opponent’s reach or pulls them out of position, thus exposing a hole that you or your partner can exploit to put the ball away.
Dinking in pickleball is all about touch. The idea is to lift the ball just over the net keeping it as low as possible. If your dink pops the ball up too high, your opponent will have an easy time smacking it down and likely winning the point.
Think about letting the ball “fall” onto the paddle face, and bringing the paddle up to “catch” it. The aim is to get the ball to just clear the net and not pop it up high enough for an opponent to put it away with an easy smash.
It’s best to use little to no wrist movement in your dink swing. Instead, use your whole arm with your elbow slightly bent and your grip on the paddle loose and easy.
If you are familiar with different pickleball paddle grips, you should use the Continental grip for dinking (and for most action up at the net). If you’ve never explored different grips and want to learn more about them be sure to check out “How To Grip A Pickleball Paddle: Three Main Grips And How To Use Them” on this site.
In dinking it’s important to follow through on your shot; don’t punch at the ball, as it might pop just high enough for your opponent to attack.
You can use a small backswing if it helps your stroke, but don’t plan on taking the paddle too far back. The action at the net can speed up in the blink of an eye, and too long a backswing can cost precious time.
Generally speaking, your paddle should never come behind your body when dinking.
The Forehand Lob
A forehand lob is a high, arcing shot that takes a relatively long time to bounce. It’s purpose is to either go over your opponent’s head into their backcourt, making it difficult or impossible to return, or to give you time to adjust your position on the court.
That said, hitting a lob comes with some risks.
First and most obviously, it’s a hard shot to hit! You need to get it over your opponent’s head and near the opposing baseline without the ball landing out of bounds. Ideally you want to make the shot drop deep enough into the backcourt that your opponent has no time to chase it down and get in position to hit a decent return.
Second, it sets up your opponent for an overhand smash that can quickly end the rally. While the smash is itself a tricky shot to hit, your opponent will certainly have the opportunity to try one if you don’t get the ball over their head and behind their position.
On the other hand, sometimes a lob can leave an opponent with too much time to think about how to return it, which can lead them to second-guess their decisions and mis-hit the ball.
So while the lob can be very effective strategically, use caution when selecting this shot as it can backfire on you spectacularly!
Why is the forehand an important shot to have in your arsenal?
The forehand is the most important shot to master in pickleball. It is incredibly versatile and allows you to hit the ball strategically from just about any position in almost any game situation.
Because the forehand stroke starts from your dominant side it makes the movement of the swing feel natural and instinctive.
Also, since it starts on the paddle-hand side of the body it allows for a variety of good backswing depths. And the natural movement of the swing provides for a nice long follow-through across the body, which helps with accuracy and consistency.
Plus, if you are like most players you will likely be using a forehand swing for your serve, so you want to make sure your forehand mechanics are dialed in – every player knows the frustration of wasting a serve by hitting it into the net!
The forehand is arguably the most important shot to master in pickleball since it will be your first option on the court most of the time. Whether you are teeing up a serve, returning your opponent’s third shot, or trying to keep the ball alive during a rally, you want to have a reliable, consistent forehand shot ready to go at any time.
Now that you’ve learned a bit about the forehand and its variations, get out on the court and practice! Happy hitting!