Throughout your journey as a pickleball player, you may find yourself hitting the ball a bit higher than you would like, more frequently than you would like.
What separates a great pickleball player from the rest is their ability to keep the ball low during competition. Keeping the ball low makes it more challenging for your opponent to make successful aggressive plays against you.
In this article, we look at some of the best ways of keeping the ball low in pickleball.
Why Keeping the Ball Low is Important in Pickleball
In pickleball, keeping the ball low reduces the chances of your opponent going on the offensive and stacking up points in their favor. That’s why this fundamental skill is an important one for both recreational and competetive players.
Coaches and partners alike will tell you that when you hit the ball too high, it’s called an attackable ball. Such a ball will often be put away by your opponent with an aggressive shot or a smash or at the very least, put you and your team on the defensive.
A general rule in pickleball is that the lower you keep the ball on your opponents side, the fewer attackable balls they will have, you will stay in the point longer and give yourself more chances to win the point. A great side benefit of hitting the ball low is that when you do that, your opponent is then forced to hit up and the chances of them handing you an attackable ball has inceased.
While keeping the ball low in pickleball takes time to master, it’s definitely a learnable skill that will really help your game.
The following techniques, when implemented correctly, can help reduce the number of attackable balls you hand to your opponent.
Seven Tips to Keep the Ball Low in Pickleball
There are so many techniques that pickleball players use to keep the ball low.
Here are some of the top tips, that once mastered, are the vital components of what it takes to keep the ball low. Doing these things will keep the ball low in your opponents court making it hard for them to attack you while at the same time increasing the chances that you will receive an attackable ball in return.
1. Avoid Hitting Low to High Shots Hard
In order to keep the ball low in pickleball, you need to hit the ball at a certain angle with the right touch.
When you contact the ball at net height or above, it’s pretty straight forward what you have to do.
Assuming you’re going to send it back at higher speeds, which is usually what you will do on shots that you contact high, you have to keep the paddle face almost parallel to the net (slightly tilted up to combat gravity) at contact to keep the ball crossing low over the net.
But how do you keep it low on the other side when you yourself have received a low ball, and still have to clear the net with your shot. Well, you do so with low to high soft shots.
So what are low-to-high soft shots?
You must use a low-to-high swing motion in order to get a low ball up and over the net. There’s no way around that.
Depending on what shot you’re hitting (groundstroke vs. dink vs. drop etc…), you may take your backswing high or low.
The point is that, regardless of your backswing, you must ultimately get your paddle under the ball and come up into contact with the ball and finish your motion higher than contact with the ball.
Anytime you have to do this, there is a danger that if you send the ball too hard with a low to high motion, it will produce a high contact for your opponent and therefore be attackable.
A very good strategy to keep the pickleball low when you must use a low to high motion is to have a much softer touch. You want to send it in such a way that is just hard enough to bounce before it gets to your opponents or force them to have a low contact even if they choose to volley it.
Always be mindful when you have a low contact that you must not hit it too hard and it’s almost always a good idea to use a soft shot in this situation such as a dink, drop or reset shot in order to keep your chances of winning the point high.
Focus on hitting with precise touch and just the right amount of arc to your shot so as to avoid the dreaded pop up that will be ruthlessly attacked by your opponents.
Your primary goal on these types of shots should be to setup neutral height or high-to-low shots for yourself on subsequent shots that come back from your opponents. At a minimum, you want to keep yourself from being attacked. You will do that by hitting low to high soft shots that bounce and stay low as we described.
2. Target Your Opponents Feet
As mentioned, it’s important to keep the ball low on your opponents side so as to stay away from producing high contact points for them that they can hit down on and attack you with.
This is one of the main objectives of pickleball: avoid being attacked.
But the truth is, it doesn’t matter if it’s high at some point on your opponents side, it only matter that they aren’t able to contact it high.
So more specifically rather than just saying to “keep it low”, the more important objective is to make them “contact low”.
One of the best strategies to achieve this is to always aim at the feet of one of your opponents with a great majority of the shots you hit.
I also tend to call this “finding their shoelaces”.
So, even if you do have a low contact, if you can find a way to hit their shoelaces and force them into a low contact even if it was technically high before they are able to hit it then go ahead and do that.
This will be a more viable strategy when they are further back in the court rather than if they are up in the court.
The point is, you can hit it any which way you want and as hard as you want, as long as you are able force that low contact and targeting their feet is a great way to do that.
3. Develop Quick Hands & Feet To Hit The Ball Early
Moving to the ball and striking it as soon as possible after it crosses the net will allow you to take the ball at the highest contact point available.
This sets up hitting the ball with a better angle to keep the ball low. Anytime you can make a contact above the net it becomes dramatically easier to keep it low on your opponents side. This is due to the possibility of hitting down into your opponents court. You don’t have to worry about clearing the net because your contact point is already above net height.
This also means that your shot will be affected less by external factors in the game such as wind during outdoor play and gravity.
Taking too long when hitting the ball has a number of downsides. For starters, the ball can start getting low as it loses momentum and your swing technique and accuracy may suffer as you may have to reach further down in order to make contact. Your backswing and follow through will likely have to be more compact as a result and your swing speed will be affected as well. It will be on the slower side.
Consequently, you may not be able to get under contact enough in order to produce the topspin that would be needed to hit a curved shot that would get up and clear the net and curve down once it has cleared the net. You are therefore at greater risk sending the ball too high over the net, giving your opponent the advantage of being able to get a high contact point and hit dow and hard back at you.
Reaction time is very crucial in pickleball so try to be as quick as you can without losing control.
Pro Tip: if you are playing at the kitchen line, do not wait for the ball to bounce if your opponent hits a dink shot at your feet, strike the ball out of the air and as soon as possible!
4. Contact (Comfortably) In Front
You are most effective if you can hit the ball when it is out in front of you and not beside or behind you. Biomechanically, you can best transfer your energy into the ball when your contact is out in front of your body.
Keeping the ball in front of you works hand-in-hand with striking the ball as early as you reasonably can when it come over the net.
Many players tend to hit the ball late, particularly on the forehand. Keep an eye on your wrist. If your wrist is straight at contact on the forehand that chances are your contact is beside you and that is inefficient. Your wrist should be laid back with wrinkles on the back of your wrist at contact. It will be in front when this is true. Many don’t find the feeling of a laid back wrist at contact comfortable at first but you MUST learn to get comfortable with it in order to have a strong forehand.
You will lose accuracy and power on your swing if your contact is anywhere but in front of your body.
There is another way in which you also want to get comfortable at contact. Contacting the ball in front has a range to it that frames an ideal strike zone.
You don’t want to be reaching out and fully extended nor do you want the contact to be just out in front of you by millimeters. You want to have a least a slight elbow bend at contact with a laid back wrist and you want the contact at least several inches out in front of your body.
There is a range because it will vary based on the type of shot that you’re hitting but generally, you shouldn’t feel stretched or jammed. That’s the goal.
5. Be Conscious of Your Grip Pressure
Your grip pressure on your pickleball paddle can affect how high or low you hit the ball.
What many people are unaware of is that when you are playing a fast game, it is easy to get distracted and subconsciously tighten the grip on the handle of your paddle.
This is because you may tend to tense up when you are under attack. This can cause a problem because the tighter your grip, the more the ball will rebound off your paddle.
Often this sends the ball harder and higher than you would like.
When things get fast-paced at the court, breath and try to consciously loosen your death grip on the paddle.
This will allow your paddle to absorb some of the speed of the ball and as a result you can send it back softer and shorter in the court.
Being aware of your grip on the paddle and keeping it loose when things get heated is not an easy technique to master and takes dedication and time. But, this is a key skill in pickleball and you need to take the time to understand how to hit shots soft and short in the court with a gentle arc.
The benefit of this is that you will keep your opponents contact low even if they have hit hard a you and it’s your best chance at preventing repeated attacks.
6. Don’t Flick Your Wrist or Break Your Elbow
One of the main culprits of sending the ball unintentionally to high is excessive use of the wrist and/or elbow during your swing.
We see this all the time and it’s very important to eliminate most of any wrist of elbow motion you may have during contact.
You’ll want to hit your shots swinging primarily from the shoulder and keep the wrist and elbow relatively stable with only minor motions.
Flicky motions with the wrist or elbow typically introduces instability into any pickleball motion and generally leads to a loss of control and accuracy.
Generate power using the rotation of your body and allow the main hinge to be your shoulder.
It will be much easier to keep the ball low when you have this squared away.
7. Be Confident, Relax & Enjoy The Game
Sporting activities are meant for people to enjoy and have fun.
Whether you are playing pickleball competitively or simply for recreation purposes, you will probably play better when you are relaxed. Competition aside, pickleball like any other sport is meant to bring people together for a great game.
Don’t be too hard on yourself once you make a mistake while playing.
Better yet, you are more likely to remember other techniques that help keep the ball low in pickleball when relaxed. So every time you are in that court for a game, stay focused on your performance but at the same time try and enjoy the game (whether competitive or not).
Great performance in pickleball will always be reflected depending on your mind-set towards yourself, your opponent and the game in general.
There are many techniques that can help keep the ball low in pickleball.
While it is not possible to remember all the mentioned steps, you can simply start with the ones that are easy to remember and implement during the game.
Over time, you will realize that your skills in keeping the ball low during the game will come naturally.
With pickleball increasingly becoming a mainstream sport, it has also become very competitive. The techniques highlighted above should help you play low balls which form a strong basis of winning matches.
Above all, regular practice at the court is what will improve your overall performance as a pickleball player. We hope you enjoyed these pickleball tips.
If you want to step up your game and develop a killer 3rd shot, then take a look here.