Part Three – The Shuffle-step
The shuffle-step is arguably the easiest of the footwork methods to master. It is probably the most important, as well. The shuffle-step is used for lateral movement on the court, most notably along the kitchen line but can and should be used for most lateral movement.
The starting position for the shuffle-step is exactly like the ready position discussed in my article on the split-step. This is great since we should be in the ready position each and every time our opponents are about to strike the ball. Paddle out front, knees slightly bent, feet roughly shoulder width apart with our heels slightly off the ground.
From this position, when you move sideways, make small skipping-like steps, keeping your head, shoulders and hips facing forwards. Avoid taking any cross-over steps with the trailing foot as this will turn your hips and shoulders.
Pickleball is a sport filled with rapid exchanges, rewarding quick reactions. We can win more of these exchanges by being ready for them. Directly facing the ball as much as possible is paramount. Each time our body is turned away, hips and/or shoulders not facing the ball, it takes us extra time to recover to the ready position.
Practicing the shuffle-step is easy. Simply pick a line, stand behind it, get into the ready position, and move back and forth along the line keeping your hips and shoulders parallel to the line. Begin shuffling along the line in one direction then the other. Get comfortable moving this way.
Many will find that they can widen their feet apart as they perform the shuffle-step. This helps lower their center of gravity which is great for balance and playing low balls. The most important thing is to be comfortable and remain balanced as we move from side-to-side.
Once you are comfortable, begin adding a shadow stroke at the end – after each shuffle. It is important to come to a complete stop then perform the stroke. We need to train ourselves to be stopped and balanced before we stroke the ball, whenever possible. Next add a ball to practice the shuffle-step technique. Remember to be stopped while you hit the ball. The sequence for this method is this: ready position, shuffle to the ball, strike the ball, shuffle back, ready position, repeat.
Get comfortable using this method to get into position for both forehands and backhands. Backhands generally take more practice because for many of us it feels comfortable to perform a cross-over step prior to striking the ball.
Once you’ve mastered the shuffle-step you’ll find that adding a lunge-step for difficult to reach balls feels very natural. Following your split-step with lateral shuffle-steps will keep you balanced as you make quick adjustments to balls off to the side.
The footwork methods described in this three-part series: split-steps, shuffle-steps and lunge-steps are designed to work together and will help make your movement on the court more efficient. Keeping yourself balanced while stroking the ball will help cut down errors and provide greater accuracy to your shots.
Most of us won’t get quicker as the seasons pass by, however, we can become more efficient.
Party on, my pickleball friends!