Rule change for 2024

Carries or scoop shots are no longer allowed, so these are now faults and lose the rally. In my squash days this was described as an egg and spoon! However, unlike I think every other racket game, double hits are still not faults in pickleball as long as both contacts with the paddle are in the smooth execution of the same stroke and unintentional. I’ve notice that some if not most of us occasionally have double hits. In my case it is usually because I haven’t middled the shot and the ball clips the guard strip. This is almost impossible to do deliberately and doesn’t seem to make any difference to the shot. If it is one continuous stroke – no fault.

Observations from a matchplay session

At a Heaton matchplay session on December the 20th I saw a number of recurring errors worth mentioning that we all make from time to time when serving or receiving serve.  When your partner is serving, as we know, you need to stay back in the court to allow the second bounce. Too often we stand a couple of feet inside the court. This invites the returner of the serve to drive the ball back to your feet. You either have to play a half volley around your ankles or, even more difficult, play it while back pedaling.  Either way, the returner of the serve has the opportunity to advance to the kitchen in anticipation of a week shot from you. So stand back on or behind the service line when you partner is serving. If you have to move forward to get to a short return of serve (easier than back pedalling to play a shot) you are moving in the right direction for your momentum to take you towards your kitchen line. In particular, you have an opportunity to attack the incoming service returner.

Some of the players were trying to return serves with a heavily spun or fast low drive. Nothing wrong with the idea but risky if not executed well. Trying to spin excessively (i.e. lots of wrist, exaggerated arm movement) risks losing both power and direction. It can be particularly difficult is the serve is fast, low and sliced. Your return can quite easily go into the net or drift out. It will often land three-quarter court so brings your opponent forward when ideally a return of serve should generally be deep to the baseline to keep them back while you advance to the kitchen. The depth of the return of serve is generally more advantageous than speed or spin. In fact a medium paced or even slow return that lands close to the server’s baseline can be the most effective return of serve as it gives you plenty of time to move up the court and join your partner at the kitchen where, of course, he should already be!

Dink drill

Dinking is a very important part of the game, especially at the intermediate level and above. At the highest level it is not unusual to see dinking rallies of 10 or more, often many more, These are very tactical, The idea is that your opponent has to be hit the ball below net height, making it difficult to attack. Ideally your opponent will need to step into the kitchen to play the ball after the bounce. If they are able to reach in and volley, the lower the ball and closer to their feet the better.

Variation 1. The drill requires two players, the ‘coach’ and the ‘student’ The coach initiates the drill by dinking to the feet of the student. The student dinks the ball back to the coach. After playing the dink the student should stay in the same position. The coach will then play a dink to on to the student’s backhand. The student dinks back to the coach who has not moved. The coach then dinks to the student’s back hand for the second time.. Assuming a right-handed student this requires the student to move further to their left who then dinks back to the coach who has remained in their initial position. The coach then dinks again to the student’s backhand who, for the third time dinks back to the still unmoved coach.

At this point the coach is in their starting position and the student is 3 steps to their left. The coach’s next dink, their fourth, is played to the student’s forehand. The student dinks back to the coach.The coach’s fifth and sixth dink is again to the student’s forehand. The student continues to dink back to the coach. After the coach’s sixth dink  the student is back at the starting position directly opposite the coach who has not moved throughout the drill.

The drill can be repeated as often as required. It can be made competitive by a point being scored every time the rally breaks down. Note: the coach stays in the original position throughout. The student,after playing a return dink to the coach, should stay in that position in anticipation of where they know the next dink will be played to.

Variation 2. This drill is the same as above but this time the coach moves along the net to mirror the position of the student. Instead of staying in the same position as above, the coach will move along the net to be directly opposite the student as they return the dinks. The student plays a dink back to the coach who is now directly opposite them. This means the drill is comprised of the coach and student moving up and down the net together, 3 dinks to the student’s backhand and 3 dinks to the student’s forehands.

Video. How to dink consistently

Drop shot drill

The drop shot, where the ball dips over the net and lands in the kitchen or near the kitchen line, is one of the most important and powerful shots in pickleball. Your opponent has to play the ball below net height and lift the ball rather than try to attack it. The drop shot can be played from anywhere in the court and for a variety of purposes. It can be played against pairs that are slow to get to their kitchen. It can be used to reset a rally when you are being attacked and driven back. And, of course, a dink from your kitchen line is a drop shot. It is also a common shot played by experienced players when they are the serving team. Having served, they have to stay back to allow the bounce of the return of serve before they can play their second shot (which is the third shot of the rally). The so-called third shot drop.

This drill practices drop shots from different positions on court, specifically in order to advance from the back of the court, through the transition zone and up to the NVZ line. This requires 2 players. Player number 1 stands at their kitchen line and acts as the feeder. They feed player number 2, the ‘student’ who starts at their baseline.  These roles are reversed at some point, after so many feeds or so many minutes. This drill can be played down one half of a court so 2 pairs can drill on the court at the same time. It could make part of a good warmup for instance.

To start the drill the player 1 stands near their kitchen line and hits a friendly shot to player 2 who is at the back of the court. Player 2 plays the ball after the bounce and lifts the ball to fall short in or near player 1’s kitchen. The ball doesn’t have to land in the kitchen but ideally should be short enough to make player1 play the next feed from below net height. Player 2 should advance up the transition area to play the second feed that should be another friendly shot back to them. Player 2 then plays a second drop shot (which should be easier as they are closer to the net) and continues to move up to their kitchen line. Having arrived at the kitchen line the rally is completed with a dinking dual. It may take more than 2 drops to get to the kitchen line. Playing 2 drops is quite usual.

A couple of things to remember. When you have to play a shot in the transition zone, pause your forward movement so you are stable when you hit your shot. This is likely to be below knee height and around you feet. It is hard to control shots from there if you are moving. You should also keep your paddle low. Ideally you play a lifted shot that reaches its apex before the net so that it is dropping as it goes over. (See the diagram at the end of this post on controlling the apex of your shot).

Both player 1 (the feed) and player 2 (the drop shot) can volley if the opportunity arises but should keep to the pattern of the drill. Depending on your position on the court and the shot you are receiving you should be able to play drop shots from anywhere on the court. None of this is easy to begin with. That’s why drills like this are useful. Repartition and grooving are the key.

Notice that the further back in the court you aret, the higher the apex and the further from the net it has to be. It’s all about pace and height. For instance, playing drop shots from near your baseline, you need more height and the apex will be around your own kitchen line. When you are at your kitchen line, the apex is low and just above the net.

Note on the 3rd shot drop. The drop shot is the favoured 3rd shot in a rally, i.e. the serving team’s 2nd shot that is typically played from at or near their baseline while the opposing pair are already at their kitchen line. A good 3rd shot drop allows the serving team to get to their kitchen line or at least make progress towards it. However, it is a difficult shot to play reliably and can go very wrong! This is why it is rarely seen in beginner games and relatively infrequently in intermediate play where it is more usual to drive the 3rd shot.

Don’t play in no man’s land

The zone of transition is often referred to as no man’s land for a reason. It can be very dangerous! It’s an area of the court you pass through on your way to the kitchen line or the baseline. While you are in no man’s land you are vulnerable to attack by the opposition. You need to get out as soon as possible. However, inevitably there will be times when you will have to play shots from there, particularly drop shots, passing shots down the middle or down the line, and occasionally lobs. But these often have to be played round your feet or as a reaction shot, both of which can be difficult to control.  Play it as best you can and, depending on what shot it is, move either to the NVZ line or back to the baseline. If it is a good drop shot (the usual shot to play when trying to move up the transition area), or a good lob, move up. If it’s a high shot that can be attacked, more often than not you are better off dropping back keeping your paddle low  anticipating a shot around your feet. If the ball comes rocketing at you at chest height, it’s going out so get out of the way! Be sure you and your partner advance or drop back together (see playing doubles as a unit) or you are giving your opponents some inviting targets to hit into.

Quite often you won’t be able to get from the back of the court to the NVZ line in one move and have to play 2 or more shots to advance to the kitchen. While moving in the transition zone, just before your opponent hits the ball, stop moving, stabilize in the ready position. Have your feet shoulder width apart with one foot slightly forward of the other to help push off forwards or backwards as necessary, and raise a little on to your toes. Hold your paddle in the ready position and you are giving yourself the best chance to deal with anything that comes your way. If you play a good drop from there you can continue forward to the NVZ line.

NVZ (kitchen) rules

This coaching tip is prompted by observing one of our group’s pickleball competitive matchplay sessions. It was good to see so many of our players advancing to the NVQ (kitchen) line to take up the dominant court position when the opportunity arose. Not surprisingly many points were won from there. However, quite a few were also lost due to volleying while standing on the NVQ line or in the zone. This is a fault and so the shot that should have been a winner was actually a point lost. What made this error particularly galling was that the volley could have been easily played and still been a winner if the shot had been played a foot further back, well outside the NVZ.

These faults were obvious. Not so obvious were the NVZ foot faults when the volley was executed from just outside the NVZ but on the follow through of the stroke the player stepped on the line or into the kitchen. This is also a fault and a point lost. According to the official rule book (84 pages in length!)

9.B.1. The act of volleying the ball includes the swing, the follow-through, and the momentum from the action.

So the volley is not completed at the moment that the paddle strikes the ball. The impetus is part of the stroke. If the impetus of the volley takes the volleyer into the NVZ it is a fault. Imagine the following scenario. I am standing just outside the NVZ line. I reach forward and play a volley. In the process I lose balance and teeter for a second or two before having to step forward into the kitchen. In the meantime, one of the opposing players hits the ball into the net. It doesn’t matter. They have won the point because my impetus took me into the NVZ. The volley was illegal, and any subsequent returning shot is irrelevant.

The rule concerning this is quite clear. On completing the volley at the kitchen line, the player must be in full control, balanced and stable. If there is a referee, this is what they look for. Of course, if you are unbalanced and manage to step backwards, that’s ok. You’ve not stepped into the kitchen.

The coaching tip is to stand a foot behind the NVZ line to give yourself a little bit of leeway for forward momentum when you volley. This will not cost you any points and prevent you from losing quite a few. It is especially important if you ever get to play on a proper pickleball court. Although the overall dimensions are identical to the badminton courts we usually play on the NVZ is deeper. The line is 7 feet from the net, not the 6 feet 6 inches of the badminton service line we use as the NVZ in pickleball. By routinely stopping short of the NVZ by a foot you will soon get a feel for how close you can get to the net rather than looking down to see where the NVZ line is.

This video illustrates some of these point quite well.
The non volley zone rules

The serve is not just to start a rally

The serve is the only stroke you have the ball in your hand and complete control (?!). Ideally you want to make the serve as long as possible. The reason for this is that the receiving side will want to get to the NVZ line as fast as possible in order to dominate the rally. The receiver’s partner should already be at the NVZ line and the receiver wants to join them immediately if possible. The deeper your serve the longer it will take the receiver to move up the court to the NVZ. If they are a bit slow getting there they will be in no man’s land so you can play the ball back to their feet as they are on the move. This can be an easy point or at least provoke a weak shot and allow you and your partner to move up and take the initiative. So practise hitting long serves. In a friendly game you could agree to allow a second serve if the first serve goes out to help practise the long serve. The serve can be, more than just getting the rally going!

Receiving the serve

Unlike tennis, it is an advantage to receive serve. This is because the serving team have to stay at or behind the baseline in order to wait for your return to bounce (the two-bounce rule) before they can play the ball, It is because the serving team has to allow this second bounce that the receiver’s partner can stand at the NVQ line, the dominant court position. The service receiver would normally return the serve as deep as possible so as to be able to advance to join their partner at the kitchen. So after the first two strokes of a rally, the serve and the return of serve, ideally the receiving pair will both be at the NVZ line and the serving pair pinned to their baseline. That’s the theory.

To receive the serve you should be standing in the ready position and alert with a stance that allows you to push of if you get a short or wide serve. The serve will normally be a deep one to keep you as far back from the net as possible. An ideal serve will land on or just inside your baseline. Beware of standing in the court area. Bear in mind it is easier to move forward to a shortish serve than have to skip backwards for a very deep one. Also moving forward on to the serve gives you the momentum to get up to the kitchen quickly. Having to step back to return the serve can force your return to be short and slow down your advance to the kitchen. Potentially this can keep you at the back of the court or in no man’s land (the zone of transition) as you try to get forward. So, return deep and quickly move up the court to join your partner who should already be there of course.

Playing doubles as a unit – movement and communication

A doubles pair should aim to play as a unit. This means two things – communication and coordination. You should to move as one. Most of the time this means moving sideways when your partner does. Advance up to the NVZ line when they do and move back down the court when they do. There are some situations when this basic rule cannot be kept, for instance when your partner has been lobbed and you run behind them to return it. If this happens your partner should switch i.e. move over to cover your side of the court which you have had to vacate. This also means you get out of the way of their shot as, if you don’t move, you would be standing in front of them. Your partner may call out ‘switch’ to alert you that they are going back to cover you.

Padel position

When you’re at or near the NVZ line keep your padel in front of you above waist height, slightly inclined towards your backhand side It’s here you will have to volley balls coming at you above net height. When you’re near the back of the court the ready position should be fairly low and be prepared to bend your knees to play low balls after the bounce. You are unlikely to volley from there as if it hasn’t bounced by the time it’s reached you the ball is on its way out! If you are halfway up the court (variously called the zone of transition and, more often, no man’s land) it is not so clear cut where you should hold your padel. Sometimes you will need to volley above waist height. Quite often you will need to get low to play the ball off your toes, a very hard shot to control. This is why if you see an opponent in no man’s land it is good to hit the ball at their feet. In the mid court area hold you padel at about waist height and be prepared for anything!