Inevitably, in any “new” or “emerging” sport, a player with an “innovative” spirit will pioneer a new shot, technique or strategy that takes the sport by storm. The Erne shot is such an example in the sport of pickleball.
What is an Erne Shot in Pickleball?
An Erne shot in pickleball is a legal, “surprise-tactic” volley executed from outside the non-volley zone – in the out-of-bounds area to the right or left of the respective sideline – and close to the net that typically results in a downward strike of the ball and winning shot.
The Erne is typically executed in response to an opponent’s dink to the sideline that is made by the player straight in front of them.
How did the Erne Shot get its Name?
The Erne shot – or simply, the Erne – was a term coined during the 2010 USAPA National Pickleball Tournament in Buckeye, Arizona, by videographer, Jeff Shank, after witnessing tournament player, Erne Perry, consistently dominate rallies with this tactic.
Although Erne Perry was not the “inventor” of the shot, he nevertheless gets credit for making this shot popular during competitive play. The naming of the shot after an actual person is also why we spell the shot, “Erne” and not “Ernie.”
Why is the Erne an Effective Shot to Hit?
Because the player will be hitting the ball closer to its apex and above the net, they will be able to hit down on the ball instead of waiting for the ball to descend near their own non-volley line and being forced to hit up on the ball to clear the net.
It’s also an effective tactic due to the element of surprise. Your opponent is likely not expecting a ball to be hit out of the air so close to the net. Even the threat of the Erne results in indecision and stress for your opponent. And if your opponents are indecisive or feeling stress, they are much more likely to commit unforced errors.
How Do you Hit an Erne?
An Erne can be executed in one of two ways: (1) By running thru – and subsequently establishing both feet outside – the non-volley zone before hitting the volley or (2) By jumping over the corner of the non-volley zone and hitting the ball while airborne.
Setting up the Erne
Hitting an Erne requires seemingly equal parts patience, quickness, agility, anticipation and the ability to recognize your opponents’ shot patterns.
Because you will be positioned outside of the court (to the left or right of the respective sideline) when attempting an Erne, it is critical to bait your opponent into hitting a straight-ahead dink near the sideline so that you can reach into the court of play and hit the volley without stepping into the non-volley zone.
It’s this setup of the shot that requires patience and precise execution. It generally involves – from-and-to the player straight ahead – mixing up the locations and depths of several dinks in a row – and then dinking deep (near the outside foot or slightly deeper) towards the unsuspecting opponent’s sideline. The unsuspecting opponent will likely respond – because of a tougher angle to redirect the ball cross-court – with a dink straight ahead and near the sideline. Voila! It’s the perfect time for an attempted Erne.
Anticipation and, most importantly, timing, is, therefore, paramount. Make your move just as your opponent is making contact with the ball and while their eyes are focused down on the ball (and away from you). And make sure your partner is ready to cover your vacated position in case the Erne is not successful.
Recognizing your opponents shot patterns is also important and helpful when considering the Erne.
Why is the Erne in Pickleball a Legal Shot?
It seems strange that hitting the ball out of the air in such close proximity to the net is legal. But it is. The official pickleball rules clearly state that “all volleys must be initiated outside of the non-volley zone.” Now keep in mind, the non-volley zone is simply the two-dimensional area of court bounded by the non-volley line and the two sidelines.
A player is, therefore, able to legally stand outside of the court (to the left or right of the sidelines) – and close to the net – and hit the ball out of the air.
What are Other Rules to Consider when Hitting an Erne?
Here are a couple of other legal considerations when attempting an Erne:
- If moving through the non-volley zone to hit an Erne, “both feet must make contact with the playing surface completely outside of the non-volley zone” before volleying the ball.
- Crossing the plane of the net prior to striking the ball is a fault.
- After striking the ball, a player or anything the player is/was wearing or carrying may cross the plane of the net.
- The player may not touch any part of the net system, the opponent’s court, or the opponent while the ball is still in play.
How do you defend against an Erne?
The best defense against an Erne – and to avoid being posterized – is preventing an Erne from being executed in the first place. If you see your opponent make a move for an attempted Erne, hit your dink cross-court or into the middle of your opponents non-volley zone. The player attempting the Erne will likely not be able to reach into the court far enough to hit it out of the air without committing a non-volley zone fault.
A lob is also a great option when you see your opponent make a move to Erne.
While there are certainly other skills, techniques and strategies that should arguably be mastered first, the Erne is a great shot and strategy that will add an element of surprise to your repertoire. And it’s fun!!!
See you on the courts.