CJ Johnson
CJ Johnson
Tony Roig
Tony Roig

Caution – Bad Pickleball Advice Ahead

Most of us started our pickleball journey learning from the pickleball enthusiasts who preceded us. The sport was passed down to us from the court elders or the group’s pickleball experts who shared their nuggets of wisdom.

“Stand up there when I am returning serve.”

“The first team to serve only gets 1 serve.”

“After the third shot, get to the kitchen as fast as you can.”

And so on. Some of the wisdom passed down to us by other pickleball players was good advice. In fact, it was necessary so that we could learn the rules of the game.

But some of the advice we received, particularly before we had a better understanding of pickleball, could fall under the category of bad pickleball advice because in most cases, it proved counterproductive to our improvement.

This is not to say that those who taught us did so with anything but the best of intentions. We are thankful to those who took the time to help us on our journey with this awesome sport that we are now a part of.

What we want to do with this series is set the record straight on some of these “tips” with the hope that we can push them out of the lore of the game. So that when the next new player comes to your facility, you can get them on the path to pickleball improvement, without the unnecessary detours we all went down.

Bad Pickleball Advice-Topic #1

Perhaps the most damaging bad advice most of us pickleball newbies received as we started our journey was “rush up to the kitchen” when you are on the serve side. This advice suggests that as soon as you or your partner hits the third shot, you both should rush headlong up to the kitchen line.

The advice is based on the generally correct premise that pickleball is won by being up at the kitchen (non-volley zone) line. While it is true that we want to play rallies from up at the non-volley zone line or NVZ, we first have to get there. And that is where this advice falls short.

Often in recreational play, particularly when we are first starting out, we do not know how to hit unattackable third shots. The most common definition of unattackable is a ball that bounces or stays below net height. It takes a greater degree of skill to attack a low shot. As we dutifully rush forward up to the non-volley zone line, our opponents are already starting their downward slam with their paddles. The result is that we get slammed or passed. Over and over again.

We are doing what we were taught by the elders. But it is not working. Rather than exploring the fallacy of the advice to rush forward, we blame the result on our third shot not having been good enough.

As a result, we spend the next few months in a hopeless repeating cycle. Third shot – rush forward – get slammed – “My fault. Bad third shot.” Rinse and repeat.

Hopefully at some point we learn (or figure out) the correct movement to the non-volley zone. Good third shot: move forward. Not so good third shot: hold your ground and defend – wait for a better shot to move forward. No more getting repeatedly smashed like at an all-you-can eat pickleball buffet.

Indiscriminately rushing to the non-volley zone line was a needless detour occasioned by the bad, if well-intentioned, advice we did not know to ignore.

What detours have you taken along your pickleball journey?

More specifically, what advice was shared with you that you later learned was not correct? Forehand in the middle? Wait until the ball bounces before you step into the non-volley zone? Something else?

We’d love to know what bad pickleball advice have you received along the way? We will dispel it in this series and, with any luck, improve the advice given to players as they come into the game. Please put it in the comments below.

P.S. Are you ready for some great pickleball advice? Click here for 7 Tips for Playing Awesome Pickleball.

22 Comments

  1. June Bossow on May 8, 2021 at 3:22 pm

    Always stay out of the non-volley zone.

  2. Marika Roth on May 8, 2021 at 3:24 pm

    I also learned to rush the net after the return of serve. Recently I have learned that is not always correct. I hope I can now practice judging when that is appropriate and when to stay back until I get a good shot back to the opponent.

  3. Rich Kruzynski on May 8, 2021 at 3:32 pm

    CJ and Tony, thank you for this wise advice. I totally agree. However, a thought on your commentary.

    You are advising beginners (? or anyone) to Come to the Net after a Good 3rd shot, and not come if a Not So Good
    Shot. I play doubles with players who NEVER come to the net. So my advising them to consider coming to the net should be judicious/selective…..as to when

    It would be helpful to help with more clearly defining what “a good 3rd shot” is…………I think I know but not sure. So I can’t help them exactly.

    Love to hear from you.

  4. Dale on May 8, 2021 at 4:13 pm

    I came from volleyball and was used to call out balls out as partner communication. Someone told me that I could not do that. I switch to let it go which is too long. Took me almost a year to change it to no. Some habits are hard to break. Later by reading the rules I found out that I could have continued to just saying out and it would be considered partner communication.

  5. Joe Nenninger on May 8, 2021 at 4:28 pm

    Forehand always covers the middle

  6. John cioffoletti on May 8, 2021 at 4:30 pm

    The partner who was not lobbed should always run back behind and take the lob.

  7. John cioffoletti on May 8, 2021 at 4:31 pm

    The forehand always takes the middle.

  8. rich kruzynski on May 8, 2021 at 4:36 pm

    I meant to coming in, close to the kitchen line, not the net. sorry (I was thinking tennis)

  9. Ken Nola on May 8, 2021 at 5:04 pm

    Bad advice I received when starting out always seemed to start with “never” or “ always”. Not knowing any better, it made me develop some bad habits. After some time I realized there are very few “always” and “nevers”.

    Never serve short.
    Never retreat from NVZ.
    Never hit to stronger doubles opponent.
    Never dink straight on.
    Never back peddle.
    Never lob on windy days.
    Never hit a drive that’s above your chest.
    Never stay back after your 3rd shot.
    Never take a shot that your partner can get with their forehand.

    I could go on and on, there are just as many “always”.

    Although you might be able to say “mostly never” or “almost always”, close matches are won by those who know the difference.

    Never say never.

    Ken Nola…

  10. Ann Maes on May 8, 2021 at 5:26 pm

    The forehand always takes the shot!
    Hit a drive to their backhand!
    Always hit it as deep and hard as you can!
    After I return, I’ll rush to the NVZ, you stay back in case they hit it over my head!

  11. Lou on May 8, 2021 at 5:42 pm

    run up to the kitchen line as fast as possible, i was always getting hit while i was moving

  12. Forrest on May 8, 2021 at 7:05 pm

    I moved to Australia 18 months ago. After playing in the USA for a couole of years, it’s slowly starting here. I’m afraid I am guilty of actually offering some bad advice myself. As much as getting up to the kitchen is critical, many new and older players just are not quick enough to volley at the net. They actually win more points hitting ground strokes, msny are previous tennis players. I suggested they come to the net now, when they hit a really good deep return or when they get a short ball. The most difficult part has been getting players to realize that using the dink shot can be so effective. But we are getting there. The other advice that has worked is serving usung the bounce… Seems much easier for beginners.

  13. Sue on May 8, 2021 at 7:37 pm

    To cover my own 10 feet of the NVZ vs being tethered to my partner and moving with him/her. Someone young and quick can do this. I need to adjust with my partner and maybe readjust with the shot they hit. I’m also a 25 year tennis player so this is a habit that would be very hard to break

  14. Jerrie Howe on May 8, 2021 at 8:22 pm

    I don’t feel I ever got “bad” advice. I took the advice I got and adapted to what worked for me. After playing USTA league tennis for 40 years I took my tennis skills and adapted to Pickleball. I prefer to make a first shot drop off the return of serve instead of waiting for the third shot drop. Longtime Pickleball players are ingrained to get that third shot drop. If you send back a first shot drop they are caught off guard. They are back, as the serving team, waiting for the return to be deep. I don’t do the first shot drop every time, I mix it up. I wish I had found pickleball sooner. At 74 I love this game.

  15. Susan Reeves on May 9, 2021 at 2:38 am

    As I look back over how I use to play and how I play now the biggest difference for me is yes we were told to get to the kitchen as fast as you can yet I never was told to be there for my partner don’t leave them behind cause you are setting up a big gap between you two. It wasn’t that it was bad advice I just didn’t look at the game that it’s 2 of us playing together on the same side and how our shots could make it extremely tough on your partner basically setting them up to get slammed balls or maybe direct hit to their body cause I chose a poor shot not knowing what the smarter shot was. Not playing a racquet sport there has been many challenges.

    Taking lesson has helped by looking at the bigger picture for me and my partner as a team as well as me learning how to execute different shots when and where !

    Thank you both for all that you do for our pickleball world !!

  16. Bobby DeBlanc on May 9, 2021 at 3:49 am

    “Just play; your shots (skills) will get better along the way.” My game improved by leaps and bounds when I started PRACTICING. As Jack Nicholas once said, “The more I practice, the luckier I get. “

  17. Ann Mayer on May 9, 2021 at 6:07 am

    Worst advice I have received as an intermediate: Your serve is just meant to start the game so simply hit a “patty cake” serve into your opponent’s box. This advice never made sense to me as serving is the only time the server (and only the server) has complete control over the ball. Why would the server give up this offensive advantage to hit a soft, patty cake serve and immediately be put on the defensive as the receiver now has the advantage? I prefer intentional serving. I mentally divide the PB serving box into 9 squares. I see if the receiver is right or left handed and evaluate where they are standing (far right, left or centered) and how they are standing (upright or crouched; alert or nonchalant; weight balanced and forward or shifted to one side or on their heels). Then I aim for the square within the service box that will make my opponent work the hardest to return the ball.

  18. Bonnie Blomberg on May 9, 2021 at 6:33 am

    Bad advice: don’t be in “no man’s land”. I’ve since learned that it’s a transition zone & it’s also an excellent spot to attack from if the circumstances warrant.

  19. Ann Mayer on May 9, 2021 at 7:37 am

    Worst Advice: “Aim the ball for the center of the court. All other shots are low percentage. ” ALL shots are low percentage until you master them. Be unpredictable – use the whole court – aim for sidelines – your opponent’s feet – hit deep – hit shallow – dink – drive – lob – slam – drop. Master them all. Use the whole court every time you play. Keep your opponents guessing.

  20. Janet Moore on May 9, 2021 at 8:00 am

    stand at the kitchen line with my paddle drawn back to a back hand position. I like pointing forward much better because I am ready for backhand or forehand.

  21. Steve Nelson on May 9, 2021 at 3:13 pm

    This bad advice I have corrected many times over the years: you can’t go into the kitchen until the ball bounces.

  22. Warren on May 9, 2021 at 6:29 pm

    Forehand ALWAYS covers the middle.

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