In pickleball, few shots are as satisfying as that crisp punch volley that lands just in front of your opponents’ feet resulting in a weak pop-up and a subsequent easy put-away volley for you or your partner. Or the drop volley that lands softly and harmlessly just over the net after a hard struck drive from the baseline from a notorious “banger.” In pickleball, there are different volleys for different situations and knowing which one to hit is paramount to winning pickleball.
What is a Volley?
A volley in pickleball is simply defined as hitting the ball out of the air before it bounces. Volleys are typically executed at or near the non-volley line – or possibly in the transition area as you are working your way from the baseline to the non-volley line.
Official Pickleball Rules with Respect to the Volley & the Non-Volley Zone
In pickleball, the official rules clearly state that both feet must be behind the non-volley line when striking the ball out of the air. Additionally, momentum from the act of volleying the ball cannot take you into the kitchen (non-volley zone). For additional clarification, check out these frequently asked questions about the rules of the volley with respect to the non-volley zone.
Ready Position at the Kitchen Line as You’re Hitting the Volley
Regardless of the type of volley you are getting ready to hit, there are certain commonalities that should be present relative to your “ready position” and preparation.
- Feet shoulder-width apart (perhaps slightly more)
- Shoulders square with the net (your chest facing the net)
- Knees slightly bent
- Bodyweight on the balls of your feet
- Paddle positioned up and in front of your body
With respect to paddle position, there are varying preferences about exactly how the paddle should be positioned in front of your body. Some like a “neutral” paddle position with the paddle straight out and on edge. Some prefer a complete backhand default paddle position with the paddle parallel to the ground. Still others prefer a paddle position somewhere in between these two extremes. You will want to use whichever is most comfortable for you.
Grip When Hitting the Volley
Because volleys are frequently rapid-fire exchanges from the non-volley line – with little time to react and change grips – a single grip is preferred. The continental grip is the preferred grip for volleys.
Where Should I Hit my Volleys?
Placement of your pickleball volleys depends on the context and situation of the rally. Here are several rules-of-thumb for where you should hit and target your volleys.
- Hit your volley at the feet of your opponents. This is rule #1. It’s most difficult to return volleys that are hit low at one’s feet.
- Hit your volley to the paddle-side hip or shoulder of your opponent. Your opponent will likely be defaulted to a backhand ready position when at their own non-volley line – thus making the paddle-side hip or shoulder vulnerable to an attacking volley.
- Hit your volley away from your opponents towards an opening or gap if one exists.
- Hit your volley deep so that it pins your opponents to the baseline if they are “stuck” in their own backcourt. Keep in mind, however, that your opponent may quickly advance forward and, as a result, the volley that would have landed deep if they had stayed back may now be chest high for your opponent and susceptible to counter-attack.
- Hit your volley so that it “drops” softly and harmlessly over the net if your opponents are driving the ball hard at you or if you simply want to “reset” the point.
Types of Pickleball Volleys
Given these different strategies with respect to the placement of the volley, there are different types of volleys that are more effective than others within that context. There is not a one-size-fits-all type of volley that should be executed in all situations. Rather, the type of volley that is executed depends on your court positioning, the height of the ball relative to the net, and your objective when hitting the volley.
There are essentially three different types of pickleball volleys:
- Punch Volleys
- Roll Volleys (Topspin Volleys)
- Drop Volleys (Block Volleys)
- Dink Volleys
1. Punch Volleys
A punch volley is the most common type of volley. A punch volley is generally hit with a paddle face that is perpendicular to the court, perhaps slightly open, in a forward “punching” motion. As you hit this type of volley, you are extending your arm forward from the elbow – basically using the elbow as a hinge. With punch volleys – or all volleys for that matter – your wrist should remain firm and your body “calm.”
A punch volley is a great option for hitting volleys at your opponent’s feet or into a gap when the ball is at medium height (not below the net nor too high).
2. Roll Volleys
The roll volleys are topspin half-swinging volleys that are most successfully executed when your contact point would be below the height of the net and when your opponents are positioned in their own backcourt. This frequently occurs after your opponents attempt a drop shot or third shot drop. Roll volleys are executed with a low-to-high swing path and are ideal shot selections when you are attempting to keep your opponents pinned to the baseline.
3. Drop Volleys
The drop volley is also frequently referred to as a block volley or reset volley. The drop volley is most effectively executed when your opponents are banging the ball at you and you want to “reset” the point by landing the ball softly over the net. Drop volleys require a soft grip and the ability to “absorb” the incoming pace of the ball.
4. Dink Volley / Volley Dink
A dink volley (or volley dink) is simply the act of volleying a dink shot into your opponent’s non-volley zone when positioned at the non-volley line. It’s executed by blocking / pushing / lifting the ball before it bounces. Taking an opponent’s dink shot out of the air helps you to avoid retreating from the non-volley line and it also gives your opponent less time to react and prepare.
A Note about Low Balls
We previously discussed the use of the roll volley on a low ball when the opponents are staying back – frequently after they attempt a drop sot. But what about a low ball while your opponents are up and at the non-volley line? In this case, you will want to open your paddle face slightly and not do much punching. Instead, take some pace off your volley so that it lands close to your opponent’s feet. If you were to punch that low volley you run the risk of hitting it too high where your opponent will be easily able to attack it.
Being able to successfully execute the different types of volleys is critical to playing winning pickleball. It’s important to have all the volley types in your tool belt. It requires practice. And gameplay. And practice. See you on the courts!