How To Play Pickleball Well-It’s Not As “Sexy” As You Think

As fun as the game of pickleball is, I doubt anyone wants to play badly. Quite the contrary, everyone wants to play pickleball well. That’s why players are susceptible to falling in love with some of the game’s sexier shots.

What’s a “sexy” shot in pickleball?

The unusual ones. The shots you don’t see every day—the ones with the unconventional names, like the Erne and the ATP (around the post).

If you’re new(er) to the game, likely, you’ve never seen one of these in person. Heck, even in the Senior Pro division, they are elusive, and there’s a simple reason why. These are tough pickleball shots to execute consistently. When I was looking through pickleball game footage to find an Erne for this video, I viewed three games from top professional players totaling more than an hour and fifteen minutes. I counted 4 failed attempts and one success.

Then why are so many players fixated on shots that lose more rallies than they win?

I have a theory on that.

For us, mere mortals, even if we know how to execute those shots in pickleball, the opportunity to hit them rarely occurs. Perhaps once every thirty games? I believe we are enamored with these shots because we feel like the king or queen of the pickleball court on the off chance we execute one successfully.

Even if you’re not ready to try an ATP or an Erne, they are an example of what fixates some pickleball players, what I like to call the “sexy shot.” That one shot in a pickleball game that players are convinced will help them break through to the next level. Unfortunately, that’s the mindset that keeps them at their current rating.

Before you write to me to tell me how important the Erne and ATP are to the game, I agree. If you’re playing in the 19 plus open pro division, you need to be able to hit both of those. At that level, players are so consistent at the non-volley zone that those shots in pickleball can differentiate between winning or losing.

But most of you reading this are likely playing in the 50+ division, and if there is one thing, at any level that wins more games, it’s simple. Good footwork creates consistency. Move Better!

Pickleball rewards quickness, and to play pickleball well requires efficient footwork.

The more skillfully you move, the quicker you’ll be on the pickleball court. The faster you are, the more rallies you’ll win. Rallies translate into games, and that’s what makes you the star of your local club.

The game of pickleball requires quick sprints forward and back, dynamic lateral movement, and a well-timed split-step that enables us to change direction abruptly.

Wouldn’t you know, I have a drill to improve your footwork.

Since this drill contains all movement elements, forward/back, lateral, and a split-step, I consider it advanced. If you struggle with patterns, break down the elements one at a time, become proficient at each one, and then put them together.

For this drill, you need three objects to make a V. Place two of them 6-8 feet apart and one in the center about 6-8 feet back, making the V.

I like to have a pickleball paddle in my hand because it reminds me to stay in the ready position. Start at the object at the back of the V. Run forward to the top left side, and when you reach it, split step. Then without looking, use a side shuffle to move around the cone and back to the original marker at the bottom of the V. When you reach the starting point, split step.

Do the same thing on the opposite side. Sprint forward, and when you reach the top of the V on the right side, split step, use the side shuffle to move around the object, and back to the base of the V. Repeat.

Footwork Pro Tips

Make sure you bend your knees. As we get older, we tend to stand upright with little flex in our knees. That’s one of the things that cause us to topple over when we move laterally, so be sure to flex your knees.

The purpose of the split-step is to allow you to change directions quickly. That means it’s a light hop onto the balls of the feet, not a heavy thud.

Don’t hit the objects on the court, and don’t look down at your feet. Think about watching the ball. It develops body awareness without using your eyes.


This drill is an excellent way to warm-up before play or a stand-alone cardio workout. It’s most effective in 30-second intervals, 30 on and then 30 off. Do that for about five minutes. You’ll be huffing and puffing, and your footwork will make you quicker. You might find yourself winning more games without having to hit the “sexy” shot.

If you can’t get the Erne out of your mind, check out this video from my buddy Tony at


.Better Pickleball CJ Johnson

CJ Johnson Better Pickleball Age Well with C.J.
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  1. Patricia Grant on November 1, 2020 at 8:23 am

    Very helpful C.J.

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on November 1, 2020 at 6:22 pm

      Hi Pat, I’m glad you found it helpful. How are you doing?

  2. Sue Donlin on November 6, 2020 at 2:00 pm

    Love it! Reminds me of Basketball drill when I was in high school 🙂 although we had to dribble a ball too, maybe you should hold your paddle too!!

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on November 7, 2020 at 8:51 am

      Hey Sue, I like holding my paddle during footwork drills! Today I saw a video of a soccer player dribbling a ball on a treadmill while her trainer place objects on the treadmill that she needed to avoid. If you are on Instagram check this out!

  3. Happy Kathy on November 22, 2020 at 7:43 am

    Wow! I really need this drill. My mind is much quicker than my body. I’m having a bit of failure of the imagination, though. Would love to see a quick video of how the drill is performed. And a pivot step. My pivots seem to wrench my lower back/lumbar. I’m doing something wrong.

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on November 23, 2020 at 11:04 am

      First question is what shoes are you wearing?

      • Cathy Jo Johnson on November 28, 2020 at 12:33 pm

        Hi Kathy, I’m wearing the Tyrol Drive Outdoor Pickleball shoe. This is a pickleball specific shoe built to stand up to the lateral forces we get from pickleball. My feet feel amazing in these! Have you tried them?

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on November 28, 2020 at 12:34 pm

      I’ll put that in my notes. Thanks for the suggestion.