Let me guess… You’ve been called the banger in pickleball, or you’re afraid you’d be. Well, let’s face it. 8 out of 10 players have been called this at the start of their career–I was the one too, and it’s because of the lack of knowledge about pickleball shots and how to play them. It’s not the only reason to learn and grow, though. Adding new pickleball shots to your assortment won’t only make you win the games but also enhance your rankings, athleticism, fitness, and of course, you’ll be a better player either way.
So, I’ve got your back if you want to improvise your ranking, stay ahead in your beef with rivalries, or simply learn the game. I did my work compiling all the pickleball strokes and shots I learned in my 5-year career. These are basic, advanced, and funny ones, too, so you’re not missing anything when you’re here. I’ll further be guiding you on how to play pickleball shots, what are the best ones among them, and how you can make your game elevated with the correct use of any shot. So, let me call the shots!
3 Basic Pickleball Strokes
Pickleball is made of 3 strokes only. And here’s a thing: stroke and shot are two different things. Most of the players use the term stroke with a shot, though. A stroke is your “action” on the ball, while a shot is “how the ball acted”. For example, a dink is a stroke, while drop, block, and deep return shots are the shots because they used the same action of the dink, but the intention was different. And once you’ve got a good grip on these 3 strokes, you’ll ace the game in no time.
Dink is a soft shot and is played near the NVZ line. It’s the most candid shot in pickleball to master. As easy as dink is, it needs a relaxed posture, no effort, and just serene action. First, make your legs apart and be on your knees. Let the ball bounce once on your court to reach your paddle, and then gently hit the ball in an upward arc to let it pass the plane of the net and land in the opposite side’s kitchen.
From the effect of the spin-serve ban, many tournaments are based on dink strokes only. Dink isn’t your winning shot, though. However, they make room for a winning shot by making your opponent commit a mistake.
The dink has two types. One is a straightforward dink – Like your opponent is standing in front of you, and you throw him the ball “straight”. The other is a cross-court dink, which means you’ve to send the dink in a cross direction. It’s, by far, a strategic shot and helps you open up space for other shots in your opponent’s court. You can hit both forehand and backhand dink, just what you’re more comfortable in.
Last, there’s no “best time” to hit a dink. However, there are restrictions. Don’t Dink when your opponent is on the baseline or sends you a volley– which I’m coming on next…
A volley is a shot you hit without letting the ball bounce. The ball is supposed to stay in the air when you’re volleying. Unlike dink, volleys are fast and can’t be when you’re in the Non-Volley Zone; the area’s name pretty much explains it, though. Plus, volley has no points in the game, but it makes way for groundstrokes and dink so that you can score and strategize the game.
Do you get the strategy now? The dink x volley combo. The plan is to keep the game slow with short-length dinks and make your opponent comfortable entering the NVZ, hit them a volley, and you’ve won!
Since anything can be a volley unless the ball isn’t bounded, it gives volley variation into the many types. Most of the advanced shots are volley strokes. Topspin volley, block volley, reactive volley, push volley, half volley, overhead, forehand/backhand volley, etc.
To hit a superb volley, hit hard but aim low. Focus on the opponent’s waist or chest so that it’s hard for him to make a return of it.
A groundstroke is a modernized name for the dink. It’s simply in any shot that has bounced once. However, it’s different from dink in the sense that it can be hit from anywhere in the court, while you can only hit the dink from near the NVZ line.
- One bounce, anywhere in the court: groundstrokes
- One bounce; near the NVZ: dink
- No bounce; anywhere except NVZ: volley
5 Basic shots in pickleball:
Basic shots are a must to learn in pickleball. Technically, there are just 5 basic shots in pickleball that make up 90% of the game. In fact, these are the shots in the arsenal of 4.0-5.0 players. So, the only 5 shots you need to learn in pickleball are;
The serve is the first shot of pickleball, and it’s just sending the ball to the other side. Previously, the advanced players used to serve chainsaw, but due to its weaker return, the USAPA has banned the serve. Now, it’s a drop serve and traditional serve, which means passing the ball over the net’s plane with one bounce.
Lob is an effortless, strategic, and defensive shot. A lob shot is when you hit from a low arc and aim high. The goal of a lob is to send the ball over your opponent’s head. The advantages of lob are;
- Your opponent will lose their position.
- The pace reverts from fast to medium.
- You’ll have an open front area to mix a variety of shots.
However, you’ve to be very careful when you use this shot. Treat the lob shot as your means of survival—limit their use but whenever you do, make sure they benefit you 200%. This is because overusing this shot will overpower your opponent, and they can trick you back with a much harder smash, which will cost you a lot, if not the entire match.
What if you receive a lob? How to return a lob shot?
Do whatever but lob in return. You may run after the ball, but don’t backpedal. This will cause a severe back injury, plus it won’t be sure whether you’ll receive the ball on your paddle. A key to face lob shots is to have an elongated and fiberglass-faced paddle. The best return to a lob shot is to pivot at the baseline first and hit a drop shot.
Drive shots are hard volleys and groundstroke. Simply put, any shot you hit hard and deep with or without bounce is a drive. Drive shots aren’t meant to play ball after ball. They’re consistent, fast, and produce a rhythm in your rally. You can use drive shots in an opening or for the third shot. However, when the pace gets too out of control, you can drift back into the normal speed with a block shot and then go with whatever shots you like.
A block shot is a defensive shot to block power and quick shots. The strategy is simple. You just have to hold the paddle backhand in front of you. Similar to what you’d do with a buckler shield, the purpose is the same: to defend. And holding backhand means no swing, no added power. Let the ball come to the paddle and send it back to the other side, aiming at their kitchen. Other than drives, you can also hit a block shot to return a powerful volley or fake dink.
The fifth most crucial shot in pickleball is the Cross-court dink. It’s similar to a straightforward dink, just sent in a cross direction, plus the distance is double. Double distance means double efforts, making a cross-court dink hard to master shot. Yet, cross-court dink is the most popular and widely used shot in advanced plays in pickleball.
Cross-court dink has advantages in both singles and doubles play. In singles play, you can reposition your opponent and open a vast area in front of you to trick your opponent. While in the double play, it’ll confuse the two players, and they’d make a fault.
3 Advanced pickleball shots:
After learning the basics, you’d want to add some advanced shots into your arsenal. Pickleball advanced shots are effort-requiring shots for which you’ve to be patient and consistent enough to practice. These might be scary and, in the start, make you commit a fault very often. I also advice that you be a master of basic shots before you transition to the advanced ones. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck in nowhere.
Third shot Drop:
Third-shot drops are the deadliest pickleball shots to master. These seem easy, but with the calculations, they can be a nightmare. Even some of the advanced don’t serve drop shots because they fear they may hit the ball into the net or won’t make it to the kitchen zone of the opponent side. Again, it’s the practice that’ll take you far in your pickleball career.
A drop shot is an essential shot when you’re at the baseline. To hit it, just arc your paddle high, and hit the ball with a medium force such that it lands in the kitchen.
Tip: the nearer the drop shots to the net, the deadlier. The purpose of a drop shot is to freeze your opponent to dink on the return. In the meantime, you can march towards the kitchen line and serve the next ball with a powerful lob or overhead.
Overhead shots are winning shots, and can only be hit as a returning serve. The serving team can’t serve you an overhead. However, it’s your opportunity if the ball you receive is slightly high, then power up and smash it hard on your opponent’s backcourt. These shots aren’t playable and make your opponent lose a point.
The backhand punch shot is a fierce shot which aims high and hits low. It literally means, punching the ball right at your opponent’s feet, making him unable to return the shot. The technique is to hold the paddle face open in a backhand grip and make a hard stroke aiming at your opponent’s feet. A backhand punch is primarily best for tennis players. However, this shot makes an excellent return for a dink and volley.
Be Smart and Strategic; Learn the 5 Best Technical shots!
It’s time to be a little clever now and play smart. The shots, I’m going to explain now, are very tactical and need the actual skill and mind planning to play. Unless you’re against an advanced player in a tournament’s play, you don’t actually need these shots. However, there’s nothing wrong with learning and growing, so let’s go.
Deep return serve:
A deep return serve is an effort-requiring shot that strengthens your first return. These aren’t your perfect shots unless you’ve put too much practice into mastering them. A deep return means aiming at the backcourt of your opponent and hitting low. If you hit high, this makes it an overhead instead of a deep return.
Focus on two things: distance and pace. The more these elements are, the better your deep return shot will be. Most beginners and intermediates overlook this shot, so it’s effective if you play the deep return shot when you’re in a serving team.
Fake dink is one of my favorite pickleball shots, and I honestly lost count of how many times I won just because of this holy shot. Just like its name, you’ve to fake dink. Act. Pretend. And drive the ball with an extreme topspin. It’d be lethal if you’ve got a spin paddle in your handle–like Tempest Wave pro. The entire strategy behind the fake dink is: you’ll pretend that you’re about to dink a ball, aim a little high, and smash the ball into a classic drive.
It’s a wholesome pickleball shot involving the action of a dink stroke and the power of a volley while positioning the groundstroke and, yes, the spin. You can fake a dink on a third shot, or in a medium-paced rally. However, be careful of your position and the arc. A minor mistake can ruin your entire rhythm if somehow you manage not to make a fault.
Centerline ace is one of the most frustrating shots to receive in pickleball, while in the meantime, it’s a hilarious one to send. To play this shot, position yourself near the NVZ line and send a hard stroke at the centerline of the opponent’s side. Its strategy is the same as cross-court dink. However, the distance is shorter, and it’s not actually in a cross. However, you’ve to make your opponent believe that it, and when they receive the hard, non-playable ball in the mid of their court, just watch their face. Ah, heaven!
Half-Volley from the Transition Zone:
Half-volleys are another confusing shot and more likely to serve as a rescue when your opponent has frozen you in the No-man’s-land. The technique is simple: don’t apply much force and pretend you’re volleying while at the NVZ of the opponent’s court. The half-volley is a half-dink, too, since the opponent had to let the ball bounce. Otherwise, they can’t hit it back from the NVZ area. And this is precisely the point. Your opponent either had to enter the NVZ, where they’ll lose a point, or return weak, while you’ll also get enough time to approach the kitchen’s line.
Around the post shot:
My last sneaky shot is the ATP or Around the Post shot. It’s the riskiest shot, giving you either a miss or a hit. A good ATP shot means winning the rally, while the slightest mistake means losing it all–it’s that scary. But what’s fun with no twists, right?
You don’t have to make the ball pass over the net for an ATP shot. Instead, you’ll send the ball low and deep from the sides, and when? Well, having good brain cells automatically made you speed the “cross-court” dink shot. This shot puts you at risk of committing a fault because if the ball touches the side post, even if it’s the opponent’s side, you’ll lose. So be mindful and only play this shot when you’re confident to manage the pace to land the ball in the NVZ zone of your opponent’s court.
3 Funny pickleball shots:
Enough of the hard stuff. Let me reveal to you the fun side of pickleball. There are three fun shots that you can play with friends and family in non-official games. These are the winning shots, like the dink, but playing them always turns the game a little enjoyable.
Falafel is an awkward short shot, and yes, I love its name too, that isn’t made to the other side of the net. It’s a powerless shot. Just compare it to the block shot. However, the block shot is fair since the ball already has enough power. In falafel, the ball is dead, and while you’re also not applying any force, it won’t let the ball go anywhere.
Carry shots are the ones the paddle just “carry”. They don’t bounce exactly on the paddle, just a slight touch and throwing the ball away. These are powerless shots too, and often the kids play these shots. Besides, these can make a tremendous strategic shot in a forward swing.
A pickleball shot that hits the cord and falls off in the player’s own court is called the let shot. Let isn’t a fault, though. However, these shots were always replayed until the recent Rule update in which the USAPA Rules Committee banned this shot in the official tournaments. However, I don’t find it evil to piss off my opponents with the let shots when my rivals are the group of people I hate—of course, in friendly–not so so friendly–matches.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Gear up – make a shot!
That’s all I got about pickleball shots for you. Per my internet research and court surveys, I’m optimistic that this is the most comprehensive list of pickleball shots you’d get. A little advice: instead of mastering all, take 3-4 shots, practice them, and make them your powerful weapon. While intermixing the other shots to strategize your rally and make it unpredictable to your opponent. This way, you’ll be stable and lethal at once.
In the end, it’s about putting into practice what you know. Knowing with no implementation is a burden only, so gear up, take your paddles and ball, and start playing to master pickleball shots and strokes from today!
Have a great session ahead.
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