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Pickleball courts are laid out so there’s 7 feet of non-playing room on either side of the net, or 14 feet of playing space where the ball can bounce from paddle hit to paddle hit.
Playing too high forces people to hustle back and forth to allow the bounce, and can make the volleys long and hard on the knees.
To play the game well, you want to keep the ball low.
How to keep the ball low in pickleball
Work to relax your grip during a long volley.
Choking up on the paddle can twist or crank your grip and may lead you to directing the ball either into the net or into the sky.
For backhand play, the simplest step for how to keep the ball low in pickleball is to hold the paddle like a hammer.
If you catch yourself squeezing the handle, note which way the playing area of the paddle turns and rotate it a bit to get a flat plane.
If possible, loosen your grip a little so the head of the paddle dips down and your thumb is diagonal across the handle.
This grip is more versatile and will work much better for forehand strokes than the hammer grip. It’s also much harder to squeeze down on the handle in this position.
Be ready to shuffle step so you’re actually hitting the ball with your arm and not just blocking your body with the paddle.
If you need more time to shuffle, play a bit further back.
Net play isn’t really a concern in pickleball, but you don’t have to play at the front of the kitchen all the time, either.
Keeping the ball low will reduce the number of direct shots, or hits straight at your body, which will help you stay in control of your shot.
By moving from side to side to stay in control of your return volley, you can prevent the risk of a direct shot and have more fun.
If your opposing player seems to be constantly going for the direct shot, try to hit the ball when it’s in front of you instead of beside you.
This will give you the best control of your paddle and the trajectory of the ball.
It may feel a bit weird to be reaching in front of yourself to hit the ball, but with practice, it will make the most sense as you improve the visual field of your play by hitting the ball while it’s out front.
Also, remember why you got into pickleball.
If you’re just trying to enjoy some fun, get some fresh air and sunshine, and improve your health, players who try to get you with a direct shot may not be the best opponent.
Not every match needs to be hypercompetitive, and not everyone is happy to be part of a tournament.
Find a volley partner and only keep score against yourself as you improve, rather than worrying about winning.
In addition to keeping your grip loose, you want to keep your wrist stable.
The paddle strike field is large and the ball is quite light, so if you flick your wrist as you hit the ball, you can pop it up and give your opponent the chance to either target you with a direct hit or hit the ball right at your feet, neither of which will give you the time to react effectively.
Keep your grip loose and the angle of your hand and wrist consistent as you stroke through.
Avoid scooping or lifting the ball as you hit it unless you’ve been working on the distance of your dinks and are pretty sure you know where the ball will land.
Too much power in the hit, combined with a wrist flick, and you’ll either be out of bounds or get the ball back in your teeth.
If you’re hitting pretty consistently but struggling with weird pop-ups, have someone video you while you’re playing.
Keep an eye on your stance, hand position and wrist movement when pop-ups happen and notice the difference between a good hit and one that goes too high.
Go ahead and hit the net
Don’t worry about hitting the top of the net. Working out how to keep the ball low in pickleball, even if you clip the net, means you can hit a dink.
Dinks are good because they force your opponent to hustle forward, and they may respond with a pop-up that gives you the chance for an overhead hit straight past them.
To successfully clip the top of the net for a good dink, you’ll need to have some heat on the ball.
Because the ball is designed to have some wind resistance, this heat will be short-lived, but catching the ball at the right point in the bounce can get it moving back pretty quickly.
Build a visual field for solo practice
If everything you hit is either into the net or 5 feet above it, give yourself a visual target.
Find a court where you can practice and take a hula hoop and some grip clamps with you.
Fasten the hoop to the top of the net so approximately 1/3 of the hoop is creating an arched window over the net.
Now that you have a visual field, step back and aim to hit the ball through that arch.
Toss it through there without the paddle a few times to feel the space, the grab a few balls and hit them through.
Keep checking your grip to avoid getting too tense.
A hula hoop is also a good target for practicing where you want your volleys to land.
Just lay it on the court near an exterior barrier and hit the ball so it bounces inside the hoop, then against the fence and back at you.
If you struggle with paddle grip tension, you can practice relaxing after every hit until the bounce lands as you intended.
To enjoy a good volley, you need to clear the net but not by too much.
For safest and easiest play, don’t give your opponent the chance to return directly at your body.
Keeping the ball low gives you time to shuffle and stay loose.
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