One of the overarching keys to successful execution of any of your shots on the pickleball court is to be in an “appropriate” ready position – from both a preparedness and paddle position perspective. From this balanced, ready position you want to be able to move quickly to the ball – in any direction – forward, backward, right or left.
To be able to move quickly in any direction, your feet should be approximately shoulder-width apart (perhaps slightly more), knees slightly bent and your body weight on the balls of your feet. You also want to make sure that your paddle is up and in front of your body.
Ready Position at the Pickleball Kitchen Line
A very common mistake made, particularly for beginning pickleball players, when moving up to the kitchen line – or at the kitchen line – is having your paddle dangling down by your side. With your paddle “down,” you will likely be unable to get your paddle in the proper position quickly enough to execute an effective shot.
Instead of having the paddle down at your side, you want to have the paddle up and in-front of your body. Now, there are a couple of different ways to hold the paddle up and in front of your body. You will want to incorporate into your game the option that is most comfortable for you.
Neutral Paddle Position at the Kitchen Line
The first option is to hold the paddle straight out and on edge in front of your body – at a 12:00 position. This is commonly referred to a “neutral” paddle position. A benefit to this “neutral” paddle position is that it allows you to hit volleys from both the forehand wing and backhand wing with fairly minimal movement. If you come from a tennis background, this may be the more intuitive of the paddle positions when at the kitchen line.
Backhand Position at the Kitchen Line
On the other end of the spectrum is holding the paddle in front of you in a “full” backhand position – at an approximate 9:00 position – assuming you are right-handed. As you play a bit you will notice that, using your backhand, you can quite easily hit volleys that are hit right at you (and into your body). Try doing that with your forehand! It doesn’t work nearly as well. Executing volleys that are hit right at you with the forehand requires significant contortion of your arm, wrist and shoulder – and more easily takes you out of position for your next shot.
This “full” backhand paddle position is very effective for covering volleys in front of and to the backhand side of the body. In essence, with your backhand, you can cover more surface area than that of your forehand. It does, however, make those balls on the forehand side more difficult as it requires additional movement (and, consequently time) to flip your wrist to execute the volley. And during quick exchanges at the kitchen line, time is critical.
Strategy Tip – Because most people default their paddle position to the backhand at the non-volley zone, an effective attack is one that is hit at your opponent’s dominant hip or shoulder (or slightly above) when attacking. This spot will be most difficult for them to defend.
My Preferred Paddle Position at the Kitchen Line
Personally, I like to hold the paddle somewhere in the middle of these two extremes when at the kitchen line – at an approximate 10:00 or 11:00 position. It gives me the benefits of both paddle positions. This 10:00 or 11:00 paddle position – as I am very slightly defaulted to the backhand – allows me to easily block those volleys that are ripped at my body or to the backhand side with very minimal paddle movement and it also allows me to cover shots hit to the forehand side with relative minimal paddle repositioning and wrist flipping.
Ready Position at the Baseline
When at the baseline, I favor a more conventional “neutral” paddle position. Being at the baseline allows one more time to get the paddle to the correct position. Therefore, I like to hold the paddle on edge and slightly in front of my body so that I can easily turn my shoulders and position the paddle for either a forehand or backhand. There is no need when further back in the court to default your paddle position to the backhand as you have more time.
Final Thoughts on the Ready Position and Pickleball Paddle Positioning
Being ready – being balanced so you can move quickly – and having the paddle in an appropriate position is, indeed, important. The actual paddle position, however, isn’t nearly as important as it is to have the paddle up and in front of your body as you opponent strikes the ball. Your paddle position should be the one that is most comfortable for you.
See you on the courts!