Better Footwork, A Three-part Series
Opinion by Wayne Kerr
Source: Pickleball Canada Scoop - September 2023
Part 2 The Lunge-step
Does this sound familiar? Our opponent somehow manages to hit a different shot or places the ball better than expected. We either watch the ball go past and say ‘Great shot!’ or end up lunging for the ball, paddle and arm outstretched, leaning as far as humanly possible. Sometimes we manage to get our paddle on the ball, sometimes we don’t. Often when we do get the ball back over the net it is an easy return into an open court while we grab the fence to regain our balance. At least we made them hit one more ball. There is nothing else we could have done, is there? Well, maybe there is.
If you’ve watched Wimbledon or the US Open during the past few years you may have seen Novak Djokovic practically doing the splits as he hits a ball from well outside the sideline of the court. Then to our amazement he sprints along the baseline and does it again from the other side on the very next ball. Incredible court coverage! He is employing a lunge-step to accomplish this.
Ten years ago, even the best players used to hit running forehands and backhands in these situations. Most of them were fast enough to get to the first ball. However, they couldn’t stop and recover quickly enough to get to the next ball if it came back.
As you will learn, employing the lunge-step is very effective for pickleball, as well. It really isn’t too difficult. Instead of leading with your outstretched paddle, lead with your foot. Yes, your foot.
Lunging foot first does several good things: keeps our body and head in a more upright position, frees up our paddle and arm to prepare for the required stroke, allows us to stay in a more balanced position and lets us recover more efficiently and rapidly.
When done correctly both feet play an important role in this method. Lift the nearest foot to the ball and take a large step toward it, leaving the trailing foot planted where it is (if it drags a bit, no problem). The planted foot is referred to as the anchor foot. Get as settled as possible and then dink, drive or reset the ball. Once you’ve contacted the ball, pull the lunging foot back to the anchor foot and you will be back in position ready for the next ball. I made that sound easy. It is, once you get the hang of it. With a little practice you can execute this technique easily.
The lunge-step can be done in any direction. Lunging to the side is the most common form, but lunging backward or forward can also be quite useful.
Imagine while dinking you or your partner accidentally pops up a ball. You can duck, turn your back, freeze in place or you can take one quick lunge-step back. A lunge-step lowers your paddle and your center of gravity, while giving you some space to defend the incoming attacked ball.
What if, the next time you chase down a very good dropshot, your final step is a lunge-step into the kitchen, drop the ball back over the net, then quickly pull yourself back to your ‘anchor’ foot and out of the kitchen ready for the next ball.
A great way to practice lunging in any direction is to imagine you are standing in the center of a clock face (you can put out a target at each number, if wanted). Take a lunge-step toward each number returning to your anchor foot each time. Your right foot lunges to numbers one through six while your left foot lunges toward numbers seven to twelve. This drill doesn’t need a court, it can be done in your living room or basement.
When using your paddle during this drill, be sure to practice waiting until the lunging foot is planted before swinging the paddle. The order should be: Lunge and plant, stroke the ball, recover to anchor foot. As we discussed in the first part of the series, you will be far more accurate if your head and body are as stationary as possible during each stroke.
Have fun improving your game.
Party on, my pickleball friends!