If you have watched or played pickleball long enough, you might have heard the word “shape” or the phrase “hitting the ball with shape” on the pickleball court. But, what does “shape” mean and why is this an important skill in pickleball?
What Is “Shape” in Pickleball?
Generally speaking, you can hit a pickleball in two ways:
- Flat – A flat shot generally means hitting the pickleball on a straight line without much spin. A flat shot is usually hit with more power, as it takes less time for the pickleball to travel on a straight line to its desired target. A flat shot also usually has more margin for error, as your paddle will travel through the pickleball, meaning you will have many chances and more time to make strong contact with the pickleball because your paddle is traveling on a somewhat straight path to meet the pickleball.
- Shape – A shot hit with shape generally means hitting the pickleball on a curve (instead of a straight line), using spin, to reach a desired target. A shot with shape will usually have less power, as it will take more time for the pickleball to travel on an arch (again, instead of a straight line). Shots with shape are usually more difficult to accomplish, as your paddle will need to travel at an angle to create spin—for instance, a lot to high trajectory to create topspin—which results in less chances and less time to make the proper contact with the pickleball. As a result, timing is critical.
When to Use a Flat Shot Versus a Shot with Shape on the Pickleball Court
There are times when flat shots are preferred, and times when shots with shape are preferred, on the pickleball court. For instance:
- Flat shots will benefit you when you want to hit a heavy ball through the court (for instance, there is a wide opening in the pickleball court for you to put away a shot that is out of reach of your opponents). Flat shots will take less time to travel through the court, so they will travel faster through any open court. Put away shots should usually be powerful, flat shots.
- Shots with shape will benefit you when you need to open up the pickleball court, as shots with shape typically force your opponents to move, as they curve off the pickleball court. These shots with shape are difficult for your opponents to handle because they generally result in less time in your opponents’ “strike zone,” since they are moving off of the court. It is also important to note that shots with shape are not meant to be hit as hard as you can, but focus more on spin, curve, and angles, and shots with shape can give you more time to react and adjust between shots, since they move at a slower pace.
As a result, decision-making—just like any shot selection on the pickleball court—is key when deciding whether to hit a flat shot or a shot with shape. Consider opening up the court with shape, and putting away a point with power.
Keys to Hitting a Flat Shot Versus a Shot with Shape on the Pickleball Court
If you decide to hit a flat shot, focus more on your legs, body, and paddle speed through the pickleball to power and drive the ball through the court. Also, try to make contact with the pickleball as it is rising or at its apex (the highest point of the pickleball’s bounce), which will allow you to be more aggressive and take more time away from your opponents.
Before you decide to hit a shot with shape, be sure to master your ability to hit with direction and hit targets. This is because, once you add spin (which creates shape), you are increasing your risk for error, and pickleball is all about managing your unforced errors on the court. So, build up to this advanced skill by mastering your direction and then slowly experimenting and mastering spin and shape on your shots.
Further, when hitting a shot with shape, consider the following:
- The key is spin (and the shorter the distance to shape the pickleball, the more spin you will need). You will largely want to put topspin on the pickleball (which is spin that travels from 6 o’clock to 12 o’clock, toward your opponents). To create this spin, you will want to (i) start with a slightly closed paddle face toward the ground; (ii) drop your paddle head and your paddle below your contact point with the pickleball; and (iii) pronate your paddle from each of your wrist, elbow, and shoulder from low to high toward the sky, and continuing to the opposite side—like a windshield wiper. The steeper the paddle trajectory, the more spin that you may be able to achieve, but also the more risk for error, as you have a smaller window to make contact with the pickleball. And, remember that it is important to finish your shot!
- Once you get the hang of topspin, you can get even more technical by zeroing in on where exactly you are making contact with the pickleball. For instance, you could hit more of the outside of the pickleball to create a different spin (i.e., more side spin) to send the pickleball to a different target (i.e., steeper crosscourt angle).
- Find the right point of contact for your shot. For instance, you may have to wait to hit your shot until the pickleball has already reached its apex and is starting on the descend to be able to hit the pickleball with more spin on your low-to-high paddle trajectory. And, as always, remember that your point of contact is out in front of your body.
- Use a pickleball paddle that adds to your spin and mechanics. There are certain pickleball paddles that have a grittier surface that accentuates and adds to spin, such as the Joola Ben Johns Hyperion CFS 16mm, the CRBN paddles, or the Engage Pursuit,
Master your flat shots, then slowly amplify your game by learning to hit with shape to open up the pickleball court.
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