As I instruct beginning pickleball players, I feel that it is important for them to understand early on the proper positioning of where they are standing in relation to the lines on the court.
In a previous column (titled “Driving Directions”), I discussed the theory of north/south and east/west in regards to moving our opponents around on the court.
In this article, I will utilize that theory to explain where on the court we should be positioned, and why we need to be positioned there for the start of the point.This instruction is designed for right handed players. (My apologies to all you lefties out there, but you guys already know to just reverse everything I say to make it work in your world.)
If we are regular, daily pickleball players, we should already understand and comprehend the proper starting positions going north/south, aka, baseline to baseline, for both the serving and returning teams. However, it is also important to understand and comprehend where to position ourselves east/west, aka, sideline to sideline, as well. Let me clarify and point out, that this position is actually the space from the sideline to center of the court, aka, the center service line.
Most beginners, in both tennis and pickleball, are more comfortable hitting forehands than backhands. The forehand is our natural dominant side and it is simply just an easier shot to hit.
On advanced levels, in both tennis and pickleball, experienced players efficiently and effectively utilize a one-handed backed slice groundstroke. As a lifelong tennis instructor, I have to admit, that one of the most challenging shots to become proficient at is the onehanded backhand slice groundstroke.
This fact holds true in the sport of pickleball, as well as tennis. So because of the smaller court size of the pickleball court, I encourage beginner level players to take advantage of their dominate side and hit mainly forehand groundstrokes.
I will address how to properly hit a backhand slice in pickleball for intermediate/advanced level players in a future article.
So back to proper east/west positioning.
Because the full width of the pickleball court is only 20 feet, and since we are usually playing doubles, we only need to defend/cover, one-half of the court, or 10 feet. This allows us to place ourselves in a position on the court, which will invite a forehand, without compromising the backhand wing.
As a righty, I want to position myself more to the left side of whichever half side of the court I am standing on. So, if I am on the right side of the court (aka, even court), I want to position myself more towards the center service line. If I am on the left side of the court (aka, odd court), I want to position myself more towards the sideline. This position will open up my side of the court to my forehand wing. This position applies whether I am the server, the server’s partner, or the designated returner of the serve.
As the server, from this position, if the return comes to my side of the court, I will be in a comfortable/natural position to hit a forehand. As the server’s partner, if the return comes to my side of the court, I will also be in a comfortable/natural position to hit a forehand. Most importantly, as the returner, this position makes it very difficult for the server to get the serve to my backhand side!
Remember, even on championship level pickleball competition, players are not attempting to hit and ace against you when serving. Players at this level are getting their serves and returns in over ninety percent of the time and they are utilizing the third ball scenario/strategy to play out the point. Because of this fact, our east/west position to encourage a forehand is not giving up any space that the server can take advantage of, as it would in tennis.
So make sure you are in proper position to start the point. Don’t allow a smart player to have an opportunity to pick on a possible weak backhand. Even if you don’t have a weak backhand, until you reach a high level of play, most players have a higher percentage of errors on their backhand side.
Wayne Clark is a certified professional tennis instructor with over 25 years experience coaching players on all levels of the game. Wayne is also qualified in pickleball instruction. He has been the head instructor at The Marco Island Racquet Center since 2001.