I’ve been playing pickleball for six years and competitively now for two years. As I’ve grown as a player, I’ve picked up a few things from playing with people who are a lot better than me. These are tournament level 4.0 players and even a 5.0 level coach. The one consistent that they all do well is keep the ball low when playing pickleball.
The 6 easiest ways to keep the ball low in pickleball are:
1. Minimize low to high shots
2. Keep your paddle angle as low as possible
3. Hit the ball out in front of you
4. Strike the ball early
5. Adjust your grip pressure
6. Relax and have fun
As you grow in your journey as a pickleball player, you’ll notice that you tend to hit “too high” and tee up easy put-aways for your opponent. I’ve been there. In this article I’m going to outline the 6 most game-changing skills I’ve learned over the years and how any player, even a beginner, can start to implement them.
Keeping the ball low is what separates a good pickleball player from a casual recreational player.
Once you master these skills, or even just a few of them, you’ll see a difference in your game. You’ll see that the trajectory of the ball has changed in your favor and your opponent now has fewer “attackable” balls coming from your side of the net.
Don’t know what an attackable ball is? Keep reading and we’ll go over the basics of attackable shots, how to minimize them, and how pros implement these concepts.
Related: Click here for more basic strategies around winning pickleball designed for beginners to maximize their development.
Want To Know Which Paddle I Beat A 4.0 Pro With?
Why Keeping The Ball Low In Pickleball Is So Important
Keeping the ball low is such a fundamental concept for all players because it keeps your opponent from going on the offensive and putting points away.
The general rule most pickleball coaches will tell you is that a ball hit high is called an “attackable ball”. Balls hit high in pickleball tend to be put away by the opponent and allow for an aggressive shot hit at you.
The fewer chances you give your opponent to hit an aggressive shot, the better. Meaning the fewer attackable balls you give them, the better.
The best way to do that is to keep the ball low.
The lower the ball, the harder it is for your opponent to attack it. The fewer attackable balls you hit, the harder it will be for your opponent to find a shot they can attack.
In fact, by hitting low in pickleball, you’ll be forcing your opponent to hit up on the ball which means you’ll have the attackable ball!
Learning to keep the ball low can be difficult for beginners to master. But once you go through the following tips, and practice them, you’ll be implementing them during a game in no time.
6 Easy Tips To Keep The Ball Low In Pickleball
Below are the 6 steps I've learned from tournament level players and even coaches that have helped me learn how to keep the ball low and win more points.
Tip #1 - Minimize Low To High Shots
Keeping the ball low when you hit in pickleball often requires a certain angle on the ball.
It’s hard to keep the ball low when you're forced to hit up on the ball. This usually happens when a low ball is actually hit at you.
So, the trick is to minimize your “low to high” shots that you hit. This means hitting as few shots as possible that require you to hit up on the ball to keep it alive.
If the arc of your paddle is starting low, then coming underneath the ball, then headed upwards - you’re hitting low to high.
Low to high, generally means you’re about to hit a high shot, allowing your opponent to attack it and most likely put it away.
So the trick is to minimize these types of shots. Every shot you hit should be neutral or high to low if possible.
If you absolutely must get under the ball (which is often unavoidable) it may require a looser grip and a slight alteration to your paddle angle for less “plow-through.”
This will keep your low to high shots more “net height” versus flying way above the net.
Keep reading for more on paddle angle and grip pressure.
Recommended: Click here for the paddle that I believe helps me keep the ball low more consistently.
Tips #2 - Keep Your Paddle Angle As Low As Possible
The next step to keeping the ball low in pickleball is to decrease the angle of your paddle. Probably a more accurate description would be to “control” the angle of your paddle more.
Basic physics says that when something is hit at an upward angle, it will travel upward. On the other hand, if the object is hit at a downward angle, it’ll travel downward.
This rule is important to remember when playing racket sports, especially pickleball. Given these facts, it’s important to reduce the angle of your paddle consciously.
From the ready position, with the paddle out in front of you at chest height, you’ll want to decrease the angle enough that the ball travels in a gentle, shallow arc rather than straight up in the air. The less of an angle your paddle has while still hitting the ball over the net, the lower the ball will remain during play.
Having one of the paddle faces aimed completely upward is called having an “open paddle face”. This will make the ball bounce straight upward. You’ll want to avoid this.
Instead, “close” your paddle face by turning your wrist counterclockwise so that the ball still travels up enough to clear the net but isn’t popped up any higher.
But be patient, the best way to master this skill is through practice. Through a scrimmage or game of wall ball, take notice of the angle of your paddle every time you hit the ball. Change the angle slightly after every few shots to see how the change in angle affects the ball’s movement.
The way I do it is to drill with a partner. I stand at the kitchen line and my partner hits hard shots at me from the baseline. This requires me to adjust the angle of the paddle, take pace off the ball if possible and practice various angles so I can keep my return as low as possible.
With enough practice, this tactic will become second nature in a competitive setting.
Tip #3 - Hit The Ball Out In Front Of You
Part of improving at any sport is knowing your own body and strengths.
When it comes to any paddle and racket sport, you’re usually at your strongest when the object you’re striking is out in front of you. This is also true for pickleball, especially when you’re trying to keep the ball low. This move is crucial, no matter whether you’re playing as a beginner or competitively.
Not only do you want to strike the ball as early as you can, but you’ll want to position yourself so that the ball is in front of you when you hit it.
Why is this so important?
You’ll have the most control over the ball, generate more power if needed and have the proper follow through to allow for way more accurate shots.
Think about it. If the ball is behind you a little - your angle is off, your ability to strike the ball in the sweet spot of the paddle decreases, and you’ll lose accuracy and power. This all results in a shot that is more likely to pop up.
By positioning yourself properly and hitting the ball out in front of you, you’ll have time for proper swing technique and get more control. This results in keeping the ball low in pickleball.
Tip #4 - Strike The Ball Early
As a general rule of thumb while playing pickleball, the earlier you hit the ball, the lower it’ll stay. This is because the sooner you hit the ball, the more power you have behind it.
This also means that the earlier you hit the ball, the smaller the chance for outside factors such as wind (if playing outdoors) or gravity to play a role in the shot.
If you wait too long to hit the ball, swing technique suffers and accuracy drops considerably. This will most likely result in a shot that has a curve to it like a rainbow, arching high when going over the net.
We don’t like rainbow shots in pickleball. They’ll come back blasted at you.
Hitting the ball quickly and reaction time is a crucial skill in pickleball. When you hit the ball quickly, immediately after the bounce, it’ll be more likely to stay low to the ground.
That’s because you’re hitting the ball at its highest point before it loses momentum coming back down to the court.
Once the ball loses momentum you’ll find yourself needing to get under it in a hurry. And getting under the ball means you’ve got to hit up on the ball.
As I’ve said, when hitting up on the ball you run the risk of hitting a rainbow shot. Hitting the ball early prevents shots that require you to scramble and get under them to pop them up.
Hitting the ball early is crucial to keeping the ball low in pickleball.
Pro Tip: Hitting the ball early is especially effective at the kitchen line. Many coaches will say when a dink shot is hit at your feet, don’t back up and wait for the ball to bounce.
Instead, reach over the kitchen line (without stepping over) and volley the ball early back over the net.
Tip #5 - Adjust Your Grip Pressure
One of the less obvious ways to keep the ball low in pickleball is to adjust the pressure of your grip on the handle of your paddle. When playing a fast-paced game like pickleball, it’s easy to get distracted and become more focused on the location of the ball on the court rather than how you're holding your paddle.
When at the net, pickleball can become fast and furious, so some players will naturally tighten their grip on the paddle. Your focus heightens but your nerves also unconsciously make you squeeze your paddle tighter. This can have a negative effect on the accuracy of your shots and ultimately force your shots higher than you’d want.
I’m guilty of it. I’ve been a part of a bang-bang rally at the net, trying frantically to keep up with the pace of the attacks only to send a return flying shoulder height to my opponents.
The result? Slam! A put away shot down the alley or middle of the court.
My shoulder-high shot that made this happen was a result of my gripping the paddle way too hard during the frantic bangs after a soft dink rally.
By consciously loosening your grip, you’ll also relax your paddle angle a little and allow your swing to be more fluid and free, rather than stiff and rigid.
The harder the ball is hit, the more bounce it’ll have as it reaches your opponent’s side, making it easier for them to volley back a winner. Less pressure on the ball will result in less power or pop, which will keep the ball lower over the net.
It may not sound like much but it makes a difference.
By consciously loosening your grip on your paddle, you’ll ensure that the ball doesn’t have as much pressure as it soars over the net.
Try loosening your grip when things get fast paced at the net, this will help you hit it back with less pop and give you more touch. This can be a difficult skill to master, but once you loosen your grip, you’ll see the dynamic of your game change, and the ball will remain lower over the court.
The best way to loosen your grip while playing is by being more consciously aware of your body and your movements. So take a deep breath, notice your grip pressure and relax....which brings me to my final tip.
Tip #6 - Relax And Have Fun
My final tip for keeping the ball low in a game of pickleball is to simply relax, and have fun. Never lose sight of the game’s ultimate goal…to bring people together and have a good time.
The most vital part of any sport is remembering to enjoy yourself. Competition aside, sports are meant to be enjoyable, and you’ll probably perform better if you’re more relaxed and more importantly; having fun!
Studies have shown that when athletes are having fun, they tend to play better.
Not to mention, when you’re having fun and playing well, it will be easier to remember and implement the other tips in this article.
So, take some deep breaths before the game and try to stay in the moment. While it’s easier said than done, having the right mindset is crucial for a good performance.
The more you play, the more relaxed you’ll become. Any skill takes time to master in sports, so as long as you’re enjoying yourself in the process, you’ll improve your performance.
It may seem daunting to remember all of these steps at once while you’re in the middle of a game. That’s okay! With practice and experience, the skills will come more naturally over time, improving your game and increasing your likelihood of winning more points.
Pickleball is quickly reaching the mainstream, which means that games are becoming more popular and competitive at the same time. This article should help you keep the ball low during play, which is vital to improving your game and winning more matches.
While learning to do so will take time to master, the most important way to improve is to spend time practicing and having a good time, so get ready to hit the court and show off your new skills!