Common Pickleball Mistakes New Players Make (And How to Avoid Them)

Last Updated on July 11, 2020 by Cathy Jo Johnson

It is never easy being a beginner, and pickleball, as fun as it, isn’t an exception.

You’ll find your fellow pickleball players anxious to help a newbie learn. So much so that beginners get inundated with advice. Unfortunately, not all of its useful information. Here are my top six common pickleball mistakes, the things that are keeping you from advancing that I rarely hear mentioned on the courts.

Keep in mind; these mistakes aren’t limited to beginners. They keep intermediate players from advancing too.

Poor Grip

Having taught golf for years, I shouldn’t be surprised to see so many lousy grips in pickleball. But what exactly am I referring to when I say a bad grip?

It’s when the grip is more in the palm of your hand versus in the fingers.

When the paddle is in your fingers, you have more control. When the paddle is in the palm, you have less control of the paddle’s face and a greater tendency to swing up on the ball. Combine the upward path of the swing with the open paddle face created by the grip, and you get a higher ball trajectory. Not exactly ideal for pickleball.

The continental grip allows you to control the paddle more efficiently and translates easily between forehand and backhand.

Here’s the exception. If someone is accustomed to a grip from another racquet sport and as long as it’s not too extreme, I encourage them to try that grip in pickleball. Unless it is so far into the palm, they lose paddle control. It may prove challenging to change your grip. However, if you find yourself struggling to control the trajectory of the shot, it’s better to avoid the pain later and change now.

Click here for more help with your grip.

Poor Footwork.

Pickleball is a game of movement. It’s hard to be a good pickleball player if you don’t have good footwork. While there are a lot of examples of poor footwork on different parts of the court, the most common error I see is either not using a split-step or not knowing when to do it.

The split step is a small hop onto the balls of the feet, which stops the players’ momentum and allows them to move in any direction.

It’s common to see new players charge from the baseline to the net without stopping to hit the ball. Often their bodies’ continuous motion causes the mishit.

The minute you see the person on the other side of the net ready to hit the ball, it’s time to split step and get prepared for the return.

Click here for more help with your split step.

Controlling the Height of the Ball

Most newer players have a hard time controlling height because they are unable to control the speed of the ball.

When a pickleball is losing speed, it doesn’t travel as high. Try this: stand on the court, hold your arm parallel to the ground at shoulder height, and drop the ball from your hand. Notice the height of the bounce.

Do the same thing, but this time add some speed by moving your wrist or arm down to the pavement when you release the ball. You’ll see that the ball bounced higher.

Newer players tend to make strokes that are very long. The longer the stroke, the more speed that you can add to the shot.

The pickleball court is only 44 feet long, and most of us would gain more consistency and give up little power with a smaller stroke.

One of my favorite drills to shorten the paddle stroke is to stand two to three feet away from a fence. Have the person drop step back to the fence to prepare to hit a forehand. It shortens their swing by keeping the paddle from going too far past their rear leg.

If you think that a long stroke is giving you problems, a fence can be your best friend.

Trying To Do Too Much Too Soon

Too many players are trying to spin shots or hit them too hard before they’ve developed dependable shots. When you first start, if you focus on creating a consistent serve, return, and the third shot, you’ll win more often.

It doesn’t take you long to realize that consistency is essential but does it translate into your game?

As an example, chances are someone has told you that the best return is a deep return. (Deep yes but that’s only half of the equation and the subject of another video)What you may not know is why it’s crucial.

A deep return, one that’s near the baseline, causes a more challenging third shot for the serving team and further solidifies the receiving teams’ advantage.

If it’s common knowledge, then everyone hit’s it deep. Right?

Well…..Mark Rennison from Third Shot Sports shared some unofficial statistics from the 2018 Nationals. What he found is professional players hit 79 percent of their returns towards the baseline.

Care to guess the percentage for non-professionals?

Twenty-nine percent. Yes, in a national championship, less than 30 percent of the returns were hit deep.

You’d win more points and, consequently, more games if you focused on mastering the deep return before you tried to spin the ball, hit the lines, or any other fancy penny you may think you need.

Attacking Unattackable Shots

One of the next problems that I see a lack of patience or attacking shots that are not attackable.

What is unattackable?

Shots where the apex is below the net. If the apex is below the net, you need to do something, typically create topspin to get the ball over the net and keep it in.

You’d make fewer mistakes and win more points if you wait to attack until the shot is above the net.

Playing From the Baseline

This is the one I hear discussed frequently. Good pickleball is played from the non-volley zone, not the baseline.

So, if it’s common knowledge, why doesn’t everyone get to the kitchen?

I’m not sure that people understand why it’s essential.

When your team is at the net, you’ve shortened the distance between you and your opponents and, by doing so, have taken away their most precious resource, time to react.

The players at the net have time to plan and direct their shots while the players at the baseline are forced to react and try to keep the ball in play.

That’s because being at the net is an offensive position, whereas the team at the baseline is defensive. And that’s a problematic situation to score any points

Conclusion

Understanding the mistakes is the first step to correcting them. Now it’s time to get to work. Choose the error that you think plagues you the most and commit to changing it. Here’s a link to a playlist that will help.

Better Pickleball CJ Johnson

CJ Johnson Better Pickleball Age Well with C.J. Train Smart · Live Bold · Age Well

Email: CJ@BetterPickleball.com

Better Pickleball on YouTube

P.S. Do you want to play better pickleball? Click here for 31 Quick Tips.

 

13 Comments

  1. CHEN HSU on July 11, 2020 at 3:52 pm

    CJ,

    Excellent teaching with the good strategies for avoiding the mistakes and winning the points. Thank you very much!



    • Cathy Jo Johnson on July 11, 2020 at 6:36 pm

      Your Welcome Chen. Let me know what you work on first.



  2. Georgianna Vaughn on July 11, 2020 at 4:39 pm

    Good info. Thank you



    • Cathy Jo Johnson on July 11, 2020 at 6:35 pm

      Thank you Georgianna. Glad you found it helpful



  3. Cam on July 11, 2020 at 5:21 pm

    Excellent column this week…gave me plenty to think about! Thanks!!



  4. Cathy on July 12, 2020 at 6:09 am

    Great video- you touched on my major concerns.
    What should my grip measurement be? I feel that I don’t have enough control with my current paddle.
    Thanks. Cathy



  5. Connie Martin on July 12, 2020 at 12:44 pm

    So before I went to play this AM, I read this post. I thought, hmmm, wonder if my grip is more palm than fingers? I changed my grip to more fingers and voila! I played a totally different game. WAY fewer pop ups and WAY more control over my shots. Wow! Thank you, CJ. That one tip alone was the bomb.



  6. Mj Boudreau on July 19, 2020 at 3:50 pm

    I have been teaching 2x a week . One group is free and I am getting more confidence. Happily I have been teaching all the great thing u mentioned. Having fun lots of energy and laughter. One guy kept running in on his serve so I just had athe idea yo lie down in front of him. It worked & was hysterical. Another gig I like is putting a chair at nvz or a bit back and sit . Hit several volleys. Yes they did figure it out. Bend knees & keep paddle out front . MJ Boudreau should I try to get my level 11 certification?? Might be in Naples for the open 2021. Have a guy 79 and I will be 76. Hope we get in. Do they have an over 75 entry



  7. Mj Boudreau on July 19, 2020 at 3:55 pm

    Thx Teaching 2x’s week. Had a guy who kept running in after his serve so I just took myself down in front of him for a nap. He was cured! Hope to be in Nationals apr 2021. Have a guy age 79 I will be 77 hope we get in. Should I try to get level 11 certification? Mj Boudreau. Love the hints.



    • Cathy Jo Johnson on July 19, 2020 at 7:42 pm

      Those are great solutions! As far as certification I think it depends on your reason for wanting to be certified. I started down the road to IPTPA certification and for a variety of reasons chose not to complete it. I would recommend looking at Pickleball Coaching International. They just started certification and it looks like a great program.