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Mastering the Pickleball Forehand Technique – 8 Steps to Achieving a Pro-Like Forehand

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This pickleball lesson focuses on developing a pro-like forehand technique. It will help you effortlessly generate power and maintain consistency in your shots. Many pickleball players face challenges with their forehands, especially when dealing with short balls or attempting to control rallies from the baseline. However, don’t worry! This step-by-step guide will provide you with the foundational knowledge of the forehand technique, enabling you to enhance your game quickly. Let’s begin!

Step 1: The Grip

Let’s delve into the significance of your grip when it comes to your forehand in paddle sports. How you hold the paddle directly impacts your ability to sense and manipulate the ball. Consequently, if your grip is not properly aligned, you’ll struggle to maintain control over your forehand, regardless of how impeccable your technique may appear.

You may already be familiar with the Continental or Eastern grip, both of which I highly recommend for a stable and dependable forehand stroke. However, even if you are acquainted with these grips, you may be still gripping the handle incorrectly. One prevalent misstep involves holding the paddle perpendicular to your hand, which fails to provide sufficient support due to the index finger not being properly spread out. This can result in the paddle feeling cumbersome, leading to the unnecessary tensing of your wrist muscles in an attempt to regain control, ultimately compromising the touch and precision required.

The correct grip entails slightly spreading your fingers across the grip, allowing the index finger to be positioned beneath the paddle. This finger plays a critical role in propelling the paddle head upwards when applying topspin. By doing so, it offers excellent support and allows the paddle to snugly rest within your hand.

Take a moment to assess your current forehand grip and ensure that you incorporate this subtle yet effective index finger technique. It will enhance the stability of your paddle and grant you superior control, elevating your overall performance.

Step 2: The Ready Position

Now that we have covered the grip, let’s discuss assuming a ready position. Often, I observe players in a seemingly ready position, but they are merely standing there. They wait for the ball to move in a specific direction before they engage. Although they call it a ready position, it does not truly reflect being prepared.

In a state of readiness, you must be in motion, much like dancing. Shift your weight from one foot to the other or execute small split steps. Movement is imperative. When the ball is in play, never remain stationary, not even for a split second. Continual motion is key.

There are two significant reasons why this continuous movement is vital. Firstly, it enables you to react more swiftly when taking that initial step, especially when executing a split step. Secondly, it keeps your mind alert as your body is in constant motion. Consequently, you can respond promptly to any situation that arises.

While I am here explaining the pro-like forehand pickleball technique, I want to emphasize the significance of assuming a ready position and state. They are fundamental to playing pickleball skillfully, I assure you. So, bear in mind: if you are not in motion and if you are not executing a split step, you are not playing pickleball as well as you can. It is as simple as that.

Therefore, ensure that you incorporate this into your game, alright? Otherwise, your performance will suffer. Playing pickleball well is impossible if you merely stand around without executing a split step.

Step 3: The Preparation

To effectively handle a forehand shot, begin by promptly turning to the side as soon as you spot the incoming ball. Utilize your shoulders and hips in conjunction, while ensuring that the paddle head is oriented upwards towards the sky.

One commonly made error is excessively relying on the arm to execute the backward movement. Instead, concentrate on turning to the side and primarily utilizing your off-hand to prepare the paddle.

As you rotate sideways, allow your right hand to rest on the paddle while your non-dominant arm takes charge of the preparation. When executed correctly, the palm of your dominant hand, the face of the paddle, and your non-dominant hand should all be pointing toward the side.

Maintain your hitting hand’s wrist position just below the height of your shoulder, while ensuring that your arm remains slightly bent.

Step 4: The Drop

During the preparation phase, it is beneficial to allow the paddle to drop, harnessing the power of gravity to accelerate it. As you transition into the forward swing, take control with your hitting arm.

Here’s the secret: to effortlessly and efficiently execute a forehand, leverage the laws of physics to your advantage. Gravity is one such law, and by simply letting go, you can tap into its force. Instead of relying solely on your arm, allow gravity to provide that initial paddle acceleration.

Now, it’s important to understand that when we talk about the “drop” in coaching, it is not meant to be taken literally. The paddle doesn’t just fall straight down; it also swings around due to the rotation of our body using our shoulders and hips.

The key to the drop technique is to let the paddle descend towards the back edge. Imagine it like this: let your wrist turn backward as if you were waving. By doing so, your wrist will be slightly laid back (it will fully lay back in the next step!) and will naturally find the correct position in relation to your forearm when you make contact with the ball.

Here’s the beauty of it: you don’t have to rush to find that laid-back wrist position right before contact, risking a miss. Your wrist will settle into a stable position early in the swing, simplifying the stroke for you.

Now, here’s the trick with this drop-on-the-edge technique: as soon as your wrist starts turning, allow the paddle to drop completely, and then gradually take control to accelerate it. Any hesitation or pause in the drop where the wrist remains still for a split second will compromise the full benefit of this technique. It only works when the entire forehand stroke is executed smoothly and continuously.

Once you have mastered the technique of dropping the paddle on the edge and consistently hitting forehands, your forehand technique may naturally evolve into a more dynamic pro-like style through repetition.

Step 5: The Acceleration

After going through the preparation and reaching the tipping point, it’s time to release the paddle on the edge. From this moment, gravity takes over and starts accelerating the paddle, initiating the phase of picking up speed. However, before that happens, there’s a slight lag that needs to occur. It starts with your hips rotating as your arm begins to drop.

Visualize your hips turning about 90 degrees in this initial stage of building the forehand. Although in most cases, your hips won’t rotate that much before contact, it’s beneficial to exaggerate the movement to truly feel it. While your hips rotate, keep your arm relatively loose, allowing it to naturally fall with the assistance of gravity.

This creates a subtle lag in your arm. Although it’s not necessary to overly focus on lagging the arm in this early phase, it’s essential to be mindful of the lag in your wrist. This creates a stretching effect in the forearm, effortlessly accelerating the paddle head into the ball.

Here’s something important to grasp: the lag in the paddle head and the laid-back wrist occur naturally. We don’t force it by pulling the paddle back or flexing our wrist. It happens because we maintain a loose wrist and rotate our body towards the ball, causing the paddle to fall behind. It will simply fall into place, generating power through the stretch effect and providing stability as it fully lays back.

Step 6: The Swing Path

Now that the paddle is accelerating forward, we must guide it into the correct swing path to maintain control over the ball. The ideal swing path is a straight line both before and after contact. We choose to swing straight for a portion of our swing because it is impossible to time the ball perfectly. If we were to swing in a circular motion and misjudge the timing of the forehand by even a fraction of a second, the ball would strike the paddle at a slightly altered angle. Even a slight change in paddle angle upon contact can greatly influence where the ball lands on the opposite side of the court. By swinging in a straight line, we ensure that the paddle propels the ball towards our intended target, even if our timing is slightly off.

One helpful way to envision this swing path is to compare it to a bowling motion rather than a discus throw. To grasp the feel of it, you can take a few pickleball balls and bowl them towards a target. After around 20 attempts, pick up your paddle and try to incorporate that bowling sensation into your swing.

Remember, the bowling motion serves as the fundamental swing path for the forehand. It allows us to become attuned to the effects of gravity, aiding in the acceleration of the paddle and enabling us to consistently and accurately play. This motion also comes naturally when we encounter a relatively low ball and can swing in a downward trajectory. However, when we encounter a higher ball, we must adapt our swing to be more horizontal, resembling a discus throw. It is important to bear in mind that this variation is derived from the fundamental forehand swing and will only be effective if we have mastered the “bowling” swing path beforehand. Without a solid grasp of dropping the paddle with the assistance of gravity and executing effortless swings, the more horizontal swing will feel rigid and forceful, resulting in forehands that lack smoothness and pace.

Step 7: Contact & Extension

Now, as we reach the ball in our swing, it’s time to make contact. If we want to add some control to the ball, we can impart a little spin.

When teaching spin, I prefer explaining it as rolling the ball rather than brushing it, which is the more common approach. The term “brushing” can create a misleading image where you approach the ball with your paddle, but then only brush it with an upward motion. This technique doesn’t generate any forward force, resulting in a short and slow shot.

Instead, I emphasize applying pressure and rolling the ball, even if it’s an exaggerated motion. This approach helps players grasp the concept quickly, allowing them to accelerate that movement into the actual swinging speed used to hit the ball.

Now, let’s discuss the extension. As mentioned earlier, the goal is to swing straight through the ball to enhance shot accuracy. After making contact, we usually describe it as extending after the ball.

You can envision following the ball for a moment or even hitting through multiple balls to develop this extension. Advanced players naturally do this when they have a clear intention and aim for a specific target.

Having a clear and early intention of what you want to do with the ball is crucial for playing consistently and accurately, as it directly impacts your stroke technique.

Step 8: The Follow-Through

In our training, we’ve emphasized directing the ball and extending through the contact zone. Now, let’s shift our focus to perfecting our stroke in the follow-through.

For the forehand, here’s a valuable tip: imagine as if you’re catching the paddle with your non-dominant hand, positioned somewhere above your shoulder. By visualizing this action, your non-dominant arm and shoulder will naturally move out of the way, avoiding a common mistake in the forehand follow-through where the non-dominant arm simply drops without any purpose, leaving the hitting arm to finish the stroke alone. This can result in the shoulders conflicting with each other and hindering the swing through the ball.

By envisioning the act of catching the paddle, we allow our shoulders to move fluidly during the shot. This not only enhances our power but also improves our overall efficiency in movement. Give it a try and experience the noticeable difference it can make!

Pro-Like Forehand Technique – Summary

Mastering the pickleball forehand technique can be achieved by following these 8 steps. These fundamental principles are particularly beneficial for recreational and junior players who may be encountering challenges with their forehand. By implementing these steps, players can refine their skills and elevate their game to a higher level.

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Randy Reynolds
Randy Reynolds
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