It’s something most of us are programmed to do – particularly as we first enter the sport and before we learn the nuances of the softer shots. We want to learn how to hit a pickleball harder. We want to blast it “down-the-line” and by our opponents. Regardless of where it lands on the court, we want to hit missile-like serves. These are common tendencies.
While there are certainly advantages that come with hitting a pickleball harder, there are also inherent disadvantages in doing so. However, with proper understanding of when, why and how to hit a pickleball with pace, penetration and spin, you will become a better and more unpredictable pickleball player.
Advantages to Hitting a Pickleball Harder
Hitting the ball hard in pickleball can be advantageous for several reasons.
It decreases your opponent’s reaction time – affording them less time to prepare and position themselves for the next shot. This frequently results in shots from uncomfortable positions where it is challenging to control the ball, potentially leading to weak returns or pop-ups – and, ultimately, offensive opportunities for you and your partner.
For example, a hard drive on the third shot, may result in an easy opportunity for a drop shot on the fifth shot that will allow you and your partner to get to the non-volley line.
A final advantage to hitting the ball hard, is it simply makes you a more unpredictable and a more-rounded pickleball player. The player who resets everything and hits everything “soft” is not a threat. There’s nothing to fear as an opponent. The “scarier” player is one that can hit both hard and soft.
Disadvantages to Hitting a Pickleball Harder
While hitting the ball hard in pickleball certainly has its advantages, there are also some disadvantages to consider. First and foremost, is the increased risk of errors – hitting the ball out-of-bounds or into the net. Hitting the ball hard requires precise timing and technique.
Your “fast-handed” opponents may be able to use the pace and power against you by volleying the ball firmly at your feet or by keeping you pinned to the baseline without the opportunity for you and your partner to get to the non-volley line.
Finally, hitting the ball hard (without spin), results in a smaller margin for error. Minor mistakes in technique, timing or contact point can lead to significant deviations in the shot’s trajectory or power. This reduced margin for error increases the likelihood that the ball will be hit out-of-bounds or into the net.
Technique for How to Hit the Ball Harder
Hitting the ball harder does not mean you have to sacrifice control. That statement may seem counter-intuitive at first blush. Afterall, how can you maintain, or, dare I say, increase control by hitting it harder? Harder does not necessarily mean faster.
Topspin creates “shape” to the ball trajectory. Instead of the ball traveling linearly, a ball with topspin will dip into the court of play as it passes over the net.
Obviously, there’s a time-and-a-place for taking a full backswing and hitting the ball harder. The following will describe the steps necessary to execute a shot with pace and penetration – all while adding additional shape to the ball (margin for error).
Get the Grip Right
While I use the “continental grip” for most shots on the pickleball court, I do rotate my hand ever-so-slightly when hitting the serve and the forehand drive. This rotated grip (the eastern forehand grip) puts me in a more powerful position with the palm of my hand behind the handle as I swing forward. It also allows me to “brush” up behind the ball as I hit it.
Early Preparation & Backswing is Key
As the original GOAT of women’s pickleball, Simone Jardim stresses to “be ready at the bounce” when she disects the mechanics of the drive. As soon as you identify if you’ll be hitting a backhand or forehand drive, get your paddle back and in position to swing it forward by the time the ball bounces on your side of the net.
Having an appropriate backswing is also important. For a serve or drive, put that paddle directly behind you with a laid-back wrist. While you don’t want much of a backswing when you are positioned at the non-volley line, you do want one when you are further back at or near the baseline.
Transfer Weight from Back Leg to Front Leg
To hit a ball with pace and penetration, bend your knees, step into the ball and transfer your weight from your back leg to front leg. Make sure you rotate your hips and shoulders prior to contact with the ball. This weight transfer initiates the kinetic chain and will result in a more powerful stroke. Many people struggle with pace and penetration because they are swinging only with their arm and are not getting good hip or shoulder rotation.
Contact in Front of your Body & Follow Thru
Point-of-contact is crucial. Make sure you contact the ball in front of your body and follow thru over your opposite shoulder. Do not stop your stroke at the moment you contact the ball. Instead, let your arm naturally follow thru over your shoulder.
Low-to-High Swing Path
Here’s a final point about the technique of a harder hit drive. Make sure you are swinging out-and-around with a low-to-high swing path. This low-to-high swing patch will allow you to brush up on the ball – creating a forward-rotating spin (topspin) on the ball that allows you to hit the ball harder and still keep the ball in the court of play!
Experiment with how much you brush up on the ball. A drive is always a combination of hitting (1) out and (2) up on the ball. Experiment with different ratios of out vs. brushing up. A flat ball (no topspin) – one in which you hit out (100%) without brushing up (0%) – can be hit faster, but is more difficult to control as you minimize any margin for error over the net. On the other hand, one in which you primarily bush up on – with very little outward motion – will generate excessive topspin, but won’t travel as fast.
As you heed these tips, make sure you are loose and smooth as you swing. The swing should be one, continuous smooth motion. All-to-often I see students do the drive in two parts. They swing (motion 1). Then they remember to follow thru as an afterthought (motion 2).
Final Thoughts On Hitting the Ball Harder – and Tips to Defeat the Player Who Hits it Hard
It is absolutely imperative to learn to hit the ball hard – but with appropriate shape (spin). It’s important, however, to find a balance in your shot selection. Incorporate power, but don’t use it exclusively. Being able to reset and slow the game down is still important. Hitting dinks and drop shots will always be a significant strategic element in game.
Now that you know how to hit a pickleball harder, here are some tips on how to defeat the player who hits the ball hard. I think you will find these tips helpful.
See you on the courts.