Better Footwork, A Three-part Series
Opinion by Wayne Kerr
With the addition of younger and more skilled players from other racquet sports such as tennis, badminton and squash the game of pickleball is changing. To keep up with additional power and more spin we need to improve or get left behind. Better footwork will help us get to more balls and hit higher quality shots, plus improved footwork might even be the easiest way to move up a level.
Most of us can dink the ball, hit decent dropshots and put the ball away when we get the opportunity. How will moving my feet differently help me hit the ball better? The answer is better preparation and improved court coverage, which includes transitioning from the baseline to the kitchen. Better, more efficient, footwork will help your game no matter what your level.
How you are moving on the court probably isn’t incorrect or wrong but there may be more efficient methods you can add to your game. In this series I’ll discuss three footwork methods we can all employ to help us with better court coverage: the Split-step, the Lunge (the better way), and the Shuffle-step.
Part 1 - The Split-step
Most of us were taught to get to the kitchen as fast as possible (and stay there). While it is true that being at the kitchen line is the most effective place to be on a pickleball court, getting there fast at the expense of hitting a low-quality shot or making an error is not the answer. Any extra motion, such as running, while you’re striking the ball can cause mishits, outright errors and is generally less accurate. Adding a split-step to your movement can pay big dividends.
What is a split-step? It is a method of getting into the optimal balanced and ready position: paddle out front, knees slightly bent, feet roughly shoulder width apart and heels off the ground. No matter where you are on the court or where you are moving to, just before your opponent hits the ball you want to be in this position - balanced so that you can easily react to any shot that comes across the net.
Practice getting into this position by taking a couple steps forward, then for just a moment stop and assume the ready position, then continue forward. Do this over and over until it becomes comfortable and you can maintain your balance throughout the process.
Many top players hop into the ready position, whether or not they are moving, each and every time the other side is about to hit the ball. This is a great habit as it gets them off their heels and ready to react in whatever direction is needed to prepare for the incoming shot. This early preparation gives a player the best opportunity to be as balanced and as steady as possible so that they can strike the ball cleanly and accurately.
You will find the sweet-spot on your paddle and become more accurate when your head and body are stationary while hitting the ball. A split-step gives us the best opportunity to be as prepared as possible to strike the ball well.
Rather than rushing through your shots on your mad dash to get to the kitchen line, employ the split-step and hit high quality balls, before continuing to your destination. This simple change will immediately result in fewer unforced errors and help get you to the next level.
Next time we will discuss a better, more efficient way to lunge for difficult to reach balls.
Source: Pickleball Canada Scoop - August 2, 2023