One of the most important concepts in pickleball, which is not taught or discussed enough, is the ready position on the pickleball court. The ready position in pickleball is important for a number of reasons, including:
- A strong ready position will cut down on your reaction time to counter your opponents’ shots. This is key, as you have only a fraction of a second to react in many circumstances (think of those fast hands battles), so you need to be as efficient as possible in your movements.
- It will prevent your opponents from getting the best of you (for instance, tagging or hitting you with the pickleball).
- A good ready position will help you hit the best shot possible, as a good ready position can help you hit the pickleball out in front of your body and set you up for good mechanics on your shots.
With that said, what ready position should you use to win more points on the pickleball court?
The Pickleball Ready Position
The pickleball ready position has three components: (1) your body position; (2) your paddle position; and (3) your mental approach.
Prepare Your Body on the Pickleball Court
First, your entire body needs to be engaged and ready for the action. To do this:
- Feet Shoulder Width Apart – Have your feet about shoulder width apart. You want to feel as if you have a solid base, so that you are stable and balanced. However, be wary of having your feet too wide, where you are slow to move side-to-side. Having your feet about shoulder width apart, or slightly wider than shoulder width apart, should help you accomplish this.
- Be Athletic! – Compress into an athletic position with your knees bent and your weight on the balls and insides of your feet. Think of this position like any other sport—e.g., baseball/softball player that is ready to field a ball. It is important to have your knees bent and weight on the balls of your feet, so you will be quicker to move and react to the pickleball.
To help you get into this ready position with your body, try using a split step just before your opponents strike the pickleball. A split step will help you remain balanced and be ready to change direction or move to react to the pickleball. To enter into the split stop or split step, think about when you were a kid jumping hopscotch. Take one or two small steps forward, and then jump into an athletic stance with your knees bent, your feet shoulder width apart, your weight on the balls and insides of your feet, and your body compressed.
Lastly, be sure to keep your eyes looking up and forward for the pickleball!
Prepare Your Pickleball Paddle
Second, it is important to prepare you pickleball paddle. Your pickleball paddle preparation has three components:
- Paddle Angle – Pickleball shots can come from all directions on the pickleball court. This includes both your forehand and backhand sides of your body. So, you want a paddle angle that permits you to attack and defend shots on both your forehand and backhand sides of your body. With that said, the angle of your pickleball paddle may alter based on how deep you are in the pickleball court:
- Near the Baseline – If you are near the baseline of the pickleball court (for instance, for a return of serve), then your paddle positioning will likely be more neutral. In other words, your pickleball paddle will be at 12 o’clock if you imagine that you are standing on a clock face. For most pickleball players, the majority of shots from the baseline will be forehands, as usually forehand shots will be stronger than backhand shots. As a result, the 12 o’clock paddle position will give you enough time to load your forehand shot from the baseline, as well as hedge in case you hit any backhand from this court position.
- Transition Zone and Non-Volley Zone Line – Your paddle angle will become more important as you make your way up to the Kitchen line, as you will have less and less time to react to your opponents’ shots. As you move up in the pickleball court, to cover both sides of your body, you will want your paddle face to be at 10 or 11 o’clock if you imagine that you are standing on a clock face (or 2 or 1 o’clock position if you are a lefty). Your opponent should be able to read the face of your paddle, as you should be in a semi-backhand position. This semi-backhand position will give you faster reaction time for shots, while also still giving you a chance to flip your paddle and hit a forehand. However, try not to over-rotate to the 9 o’clock position (or 3 o’clock position if you are a lefty) because you will be too committed to only backhands. Stay in the 10 or 11 o’clock position (or 2 or 1 o’clock position if you are a lefty) with your paddle face.
- Paddle Height – Another component of your pickleball paddle ready position is the height that you hold your paddle. Traditionally, many pickleball players held their paddles around chest height. However, there is a trend to drop the paddle to the belly button. This is because if you are holding your paddle at chest height, anything above your paddle head will likely be going out of bounds. As a result, there is no need to move your paddle upward from this ready position because you do not need to hit your opponents’ shots that are traveling out of bounds. But, you would have to move your paddle downward to cover any shots from your opponents (which takes more time). Since you generally have to move your paddle down, but not up, you are starting from an inopportune paddle ready position and it may take you longer to attack or defend shots below your chest height. So, by holding your pickleball paddle around your belly button, you will have equal distance to travel to go up for a high shot and go down for a low shot. As a result, you can have the greatest coverage of shots (that are staying in the pickleball court) in the least amount of time possible.
- Paddle Forward and Paddle Head Slightly Up – Your arms should have a slight bend in the elbow (not completely outstretched), and your pickleball paddle should be out in front of your chest, so that you can see your paddle in your peripheral vision. If your arms are too outstretched, you will either have no power on your shots or you will waste time bringing your arms back to load for your shots. On the flip side, if your arms and pickleball paddle are too close to your body, you will not have the room to react to your opponent's shot, and your shots will be jammed in many circumstances. Also, keep your paddle head slightly up, as opposed to down toward to the ground.
Before we move on to the third component of the pickleball ready position—your mental game—it is important to note that your pickleball paddle ready position may change based on a number of factors, including your opponents (and their tendencies), your own strengths and weaknesses, where you are on the pickleball court, and the shot that has been played. As a result, while a 10 or 11 o’clock paddle angle and a paddle height around your belly button may be a good general rule, there are always exceptions. For instance, if your opponents are consistently attacking your shoulders (while still keeping the pickleball in the court), then you may need a higher paddle position to counter their high attacks. Or, if your opponents have a tendency to attack your “chicken wing” area with a low-sitting pickleball, then you may want to try to raise your pickleball paddle to hit a Scorpion shot. It is important to make adjustments to your game and strategy on the pickleball court in order to evolve and keep an edge over your opponents.
Prepare Your Mind to Play Your Best Pickleball
There may be one element that is even more important than your physical game and physical ready position, which is your mental game and mental readiness. Pickleball is as much of a physical game as it is a mental and strategic game. As a result, it is important to keep your mind engaged in what you are doing on the pickleball court. As they say, “Be where your feet are.” In other words, be present on what you are doing, which is to hit the best pickleball shot you can in that moment. Focus on each shot—one shot at a time, one point at a time—and anticipate what your opponents will do next.
Be ready both physically—with your body and paddle—and mentally out on the pickleball court!
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