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Pickleball Shots -The Complete Guide

Pickleball Shots and how to play them

TL;DR: This article provides a comprehensive guide on the 13 most essential shots in pickleball. It covers a range of pickleball shots, including the basic forehand and backhand passes, and more advanced shots like the drop shot and lob. The guide includes tips on strength requirements, when to use each shot, and how to master them. 

Highlights:

  • The guide aims to help both beginners and experienced players improve their pickleball skills.
  • The shots discussed include the drive shot, dink shot, lob shot, overhead smash shot, volley shot, drop shot, and more.

The Intro

Have you ever wanted to have a game-changing shot in your pickleball skillset? Well, you’re in luck because this comprehensive guide is here to give you the inside scoop on the 13 most essential pickleball shots!

So get ready for an exciting adventure into all things Pickleball! We can’t wait to show you how much of an impact these 13 essential shots can make in your game.

How many pickleball shots are there?

There are approximately 13 basic pickleball shots and strokes. However, you will only use a handful of them most of the time. The rest are there for when the arsenal of shots and strokes that you use most often, don’t work.

Whether you’re a rookie just starting out or a PPA tour pro who has been playing the game for years, this guide will help elevate your skills and provide the necessary tips and tricks needed to master each shot.

We’ll cover a wide range of pickleball shots from the basic forehand and backhand passes to more intricate ones like the drop shot and lob. We’ll also discuss how certain strokes require strength, as well as when it’s best not to attempt these shots.

  • When you’re done here, why not share your love of the game with this guide on why play pickleball. Send it on to a friend, so you have someone to drive a cross court overhead jump swing at them.

1/13 – The Drive Shot

The Drive Shot is your basic go-to offensive move in pickleball. As the name suggests, it’s used to drive the ball towards your opponent’s court in an attempt to score.

Shot Execution Difficulty?

It’s one of the easiest shots to learn, and doesn’t require much strength or power. It can be used at any time during the game, but be careful not to overuse it as it can become predictable.

2/13 – The Dink Shot

The Dink Shot is a soft and gentle stroke that gently taps the ball over the net and into your opponent’s side of the court. It is a great way to finish off a point, as it is difficult for your opponent to return.

Difficulty of the dink shot

This shot is easy to learn and does not require much strength. It is a great option for beginners, and can be used frequently in a pickleball game.

When not to use the dink shot

However, there are times when it is not advisable to use this shot. For example, if your opponent has positioned them self close to the net, it is better to go for a more powerful shot.

3/13 – The Lob Shot

The fourth shot we’ll discuss is the lob shot. This one requires you to hit the ball upward in a high arc, and can be used to send your opponent back far away from their base position.

Difficulty of the lob shot

It’s moderately difficult to learn, with a complexity rating of 6 out of 10. You don’t need too much strength when attempting this shot, only about 4 out of 10, so it’s perfect for players of all skill levels. Lob shots are very useful in pickleball games as they give you more time while your opponent is trying to get back into position.

When not to use the lob shot

However, using a lob shot can be risky if your opponent is close to the net or if there’s no space for them to move back. So it’s great to have in your arsenal if you know how and when to use it correctly!

4/13 – The Overhead Smash Shot

Let’s talk about the Overhead Smash Shot—one of the most intimidating yet exciting shots to play in pickleball! This flashy shot involves hitting the ball high into the air from overhead, with a powerful and aggressive stroke. It takes a good amount of dexterity and strength to execute a successful Overhead Smash!

Difficulty of overhead smash shot

It’s a difficult shot for a beginner as it requires a real mix of strength, power and technique. For beginners, it may take some time to perfect, while advanced players may find it easier to master.

Player strength scale

On a scale of 1-10 in terms of strength required—10 being the highest—we’d say an Overhead Smash requires an 8. You need to put some muscle behind that swing!

When to use the overhead smash shot in pickleball

This aggressive shot is used sparingly during a pickleball game, but when executed correctly can be absolutely thrilling! Just make sure you don’t use it if your opponent is already struggling to reach or return the ball—showing respect for your fellow player is key here.

5/13 – The Volley Shot

The fifth shot in this list is the volley shot. This is one of the easier shots to learn and can be mastered relatively quickly by beginners.

Difficulty of the volley shot

It doesn’t require much strength, although you may need a bit of athleticism to accurately return your opponent’s volleys.

When to use a volley shot (…and when not to)

The volley shot is an important one in pickleball as it allows players to keep up a fast-paced game and remain on the offensive side. You should attempt to use this shot as often as possible, but bear in mind that it requires timing and precision so make sure that you’re confident before you take a swing.

Improving this shot requires practise and consistency – try to set mini goals for yourself such as aiming for a certain number of volleys per session or attempting more difficult returns. The key is to have patience and trust your own ability – with enough practise, you’ll soon become a pro at the volley shot!

6/13 – The Drop Shot

The Drop Shot is probably one of the most challenging pickleball shots to learn, yet also one of the most satisfying and rewarding shots when done correctly. It’s a shot that can be used from any part of the court and is usually employed to surprise the opponent.

The basic idea behind a drop shot is that you have to hit the ball softly over the net in such away that it lands close to the no volley zone (NVZ), making it hard for your opponent to make a return. Depending on your skill level, this shot can range from Beginner (hitting short and close towards the front NVZ line) to Intermediate (hitting just shy of the back NVZ line) or even Advanced (hitting right on top of or just behind the back NVZ line). To improve this shot, practise hitting with soft hands and always try to aim for precise points on or around your target NVZ.

Strength required

You don’t need too much strength in order to make a successful drop shot, although it helps if you already have good control over your swing type and ball speed – so we would rate this as about a 7 out 10 for strength requirements.

When to use the drop shot (…and when not to)

This is an important shot because it can be used both offensively and defensively throughout a game of pickleball. The only time you want to AVOID using this shot is when your opponent has good reflexes and has been able to anticipate where you will aim – otherwise they will pounce on your drop shot and send an immediate return towards your direction!

7/13 – The Passing Shot

The Passing Shot is a crucial shot in pickleball and is often used to gain the upper hand. It’s basically a shot used to force an opposing player out of position and take control of the court. A player can do so with either a forehand or backhand passing shot, depending on the situation.

Difficulty of the passing shot

A forehand passing shot requires you to reach across your body while a backhand one requires you to reach over your shoulder. Both require skill and quick reflexes as they are typically hit during times of speedy exchanges and movement. To master this stroke, it helps to practise reacting to different court positions since it will depend on where you stand when attempting the pass.

To improve your passing shots, it’s essential that you understand when and when not to use them. Learn how to read your opponent’s positions and movements, practise quick reactions, continuously develop accuracy and aim for consistency!

8/13 – The Sky Ball Serve

The Sky Ball serve is an essential shot in pickleball and it will give you an edge if used correctly. It’s a serve that’s hit high—thus the “sky” name—which gives the opponent less time to react and gives you an advantage.

Difficulty of the sky ball serve

The shot can be used for both beginner and advanced players alike, with varying levels of difficulty and strength needed based on the skill level of players. Beginner players can use a light and low impact hit while more advanced players may try to put more power behind the ball. Practise is key here, as improving your technique will help improve your accuracy.

When to use the sky ball serve (…and when not to)

When it comes to pickleball shots, it’s important to remember that the Sky Ball serve isn’t something you should overuse all the time. Save it for times when you need a bit of a surprise or when playing against opponents who have slower reaction speeds. This means using it sparingly but effectively – let your opponent catch onto your game plan, know when to switch it up, and watch the points pile up!

9/13 – The Push Serve

The Push Serve is a vital part of every Pickleball game – and one of the easiest pickleball shots to learn. Counted as an underhand shot, it’s delivered from the backcourt with a quick arm movement to hit the ball softly with backspin. On a scale from 1-10 in terms of difficulty, it falls somewhere in the lower levels of difficulty at around 4-5, making it a great shot for beginners.

Strength Required

In terms of strength required, it’s also pretty low on the scale – around 3-4 – so it’s not essential to have a lot of power or strength in your arms when using this shot. The objective is to get the ball past your opponent with as little effort as possible and prevent them from getting into their full swing.

When not to use the push serve

With practise and improved accuracy, you can use this shot to your advantage and keep your opponents guessing throughout the game. A word of warning though: always avoid using this shot when playing against players who are more experienced than you!

10/13 – The Z Serve

The tenth shot on our list is the Z-serve. It’s one of the most iconic shots in pickleball, and one that’s usually reserved for more advanced players. The basic idea is to hit a serve that has an arc shape and lands in the middle of the court. There are multiple variations of this type of serve, like a high Z-serve, which is hit higher over the net and is far harder to return; or a low Z-serve, which is more commonly used and easier to learn.

Difficulty of the Z-serve

If you’re a beginner in pickleball, mastering the Z-serve shouldn’t be your first priority—but if you’re already comfortable with your skills, it’s definitely worth giving it a try! As far as difficulty goes, learning this shot can range from beginner to advanced depending on which particular variation you’re trying to pull off. To improve your skill level with it, focus on mastering placement and accuracy first before attempting tricky spins or variations.

Strength required

The Z-serve does require some strength— probably about a 6 out of 10— but this can be developed over time with lots of practise. In terms of how often it appears during pickleball games: you’ll see this shot used moderately when players feel comfortable enough attempting it; however, due to its high risk factor if done poorly, make sure that you have confidence in yourself before trying it out!

11/13 – The Roll Shot

Although the roll shot may not be as popular as the other shots, it can be incredibly effective in a game. The roll shot is used to get the ball around an obstacle like your opponent or the net, and keep it low to the ground. It’s very similar to a dink shot, but with more power behind it. The roll shot requires practise to master, and can be difficult for beginners to execute due to its reliance on timing and technique.

Strength required

The good news is that once you have technique down, the amount of strength required for a successful execution is minimal. As long as you are able to use your wrist correctly, this relatively simple shot should come with ease.

When not to use the roll shot

It’s important to remember not to use this technique when trying to get past an obstacle too close the net as this could lead to an easy unforced error. Generally, this stroke should not be used during a competitive game but only as practise when trying to improve your basic strokes.

12/13 – The Skim Shot

Let’s look at the Skim Shot – a really useful piece of pickleball know-how! It’s a shot played alongside the back wall when returning an opponent’s serve. There are two types of Skim Shot: no-spin or topspin. The no-spin Skim Shot is a gentler shot where you see the ball hug the ground; meanwhile, the topspin shot is one with more zip and power.

Difficulty of the skim shot

When considering how difficult this shot is to learn, it really depends on your skill level: a beginner would find it quite tricky, but those with some experience will likely find it easier to master. To improve your Skim Shot, practise is key! Focus on keeping your body still and direct your hit at low angle.

Strength required

Strength isn’t necessarily required with this shot, but it can come in helpful – so let’s rate it as a six out of ten on that scale. It also isn’t too important in terms of regular pickleball play – around 50% of shots are Skim Shots – but they are truly great to have in the back pocket so you can mix things up and surprise an opponent!

When not to play a skim shot

Just be sure to avoid using them when playing against someone who’s particularly good at volleying; that way, you’ll leave yourself open for disaster!

13/13 – The Poach Shot

The Poach Shot is the act of swiftly moving to the non-volley zone and executing a shot. It’s mainly used as an offensive manoeuvre to return shots that are well placed by your opponent. Depending on the style of play, there are different types of poaches: like playing a cross-court poach, a lob poach, or even a split step poach. It’s a sure fire way to make an unsuspecting opponent panic, and with little reaction time to return, it can make for a deadly shot when deployed.

Difficulty of the poach shot

Learning how to Poach Shot is something that requires a good bit of practise to master, but can be done by beginners. It requires good movement skills, timing and speed but not necessarily strength. On a scale from 1-10 in terms of strength requirement it would be rated at about 5 or 6 at most. You can also improve on this shot by consistently working on your footwork and timing as you practise.

The Poaching shot is not used as often as other pickleball shots but is quite important during rallies where both players are evenly matched in skill level.

When not to use the poaching shot

It’s best not to use this shot when you are very far away from the non-volley zone or if your opponent has an exceptionally powerful serve since you won’t have enough time to recover after attempting it.

  • Which is the easiest Pickleball shot to learn?

    If you’re just starting out and looking for an easy shot to learn, the best one to start with is the classic ground stroke. This pickleball shot requires only a minor level of understanding  and has the lowest chance of error, when used.

    It is a basic stroke that involves consistently hitting the ball back and forth to your opponent. All you need to do is hit the ball over the net and into your opponent’s court. The goal is to keep your ground stroke all on one side, and make it hard for your opponent to return it back over the net. This shot doesn’t require too much practise or skill and can be picked up quickly. Plus, if you play this shot right, it gives you time to think what your next move will be!

  • How do I hit a harder shot in pickleball?

    Soft shots not doing it for your game? To hit a harder shot in pickleball, the mechanics behind each shot need to be mastered. The more advanced your technique and footwork become, the harder you can hit. You must move to the correct position, generate momentum by coiling your body and coordinate your movements through the shot. With practise comes strength, precision and control; allowing you to hit harder shots with ease.

    Knowing when to use a hard shot is just as important as how to do it. If you’re up at the net, a put-away shot can be used since it is more difficult to return when being served from this location. Similarly, when hitting from the baseline, driving shots down the line are less risky and will give an advantage over your opponents.

  • How to hit pickleball shots better?

    You want to hit pickleball shots better? Sure, who doesn’t? There are many aspects that come into play, and everyone has their own style of play. However, there are some fundamental tips that can help you improve your game.
    For a start, the old adage ‘Practise makes perfect’ is an obvious first step to improvement. A second move is one many players may cringe at – but film yourself playing. Watch how you settle on shot selection, see your paddle angle in your hands, or spot any weaknesses with your backhand shots. With hours of video footage, you can spot more easily where you’re going wrong with your basic shots, or identify which shot to master next.

    Once you’ve identified those weak spots, work on them by practising those frustrating shots they encompass and improving your technique. You must also condition your body with strength and conditioning exercises focused on the muscles that help generate powerful shots while playing. Additionally, focus on the strategies involved in pickleball and strive to be a smart player by understanding when to take certain shots. With practise, strategic thinking and proper conditioning you will definitely see improvement in your Pickleball game!

  • What is the most powerful shot in Pickleball?

    The most powerful shot in Pickleball is the jump swing. It is an upward swing that creates a lot of force, akin to a tennis serve. It requires you to hyperextend your arm as you move forward and reach for the shot. It also requires immense strength and perfect timing as well as accuracy, so it’s not a stroke to be attempted by novices right away. However, with some practise and determination, it can be one of the most hard-hitting strokes in Pickleball. The jump swing can be used to hit overhand shots more powerfully than any other stroke, giving you a huge advantage if you can master it!

At the net – Summary

Pickleball is a fun and challenging game that can be enjoyed by people of all ages and skill levels. The twelve pickleball shots and strokes featured in this guide should help you become a better pickleball player. With practise, you can learn to play them all and master your pickleball game. Remember, practise makes perfect! So grab your paddles and get out on the court today and start putting these shots and strokes into play.

Want something to read next? While you’re learning to master the game, why not brush up on the history of pickleball, with our deep guide covering everything you thought you knew and more.

David Mason
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