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Paddle Up And Ready

Woman serving the ball while playing mixed doubles in pickleball.

By Tim Smith, Dunwoody Country Club Director of Pickleball; USPPR, IPTPA, USPTA Certified Pickleball Professional

If someone throws a ball at you, wouldn’t you have your arms and hands up in front of your body, ready to catch the ball? I’m guessing, “Yes!”

When you advance toward the No-Volley Zone Line (aka the kitchen line), the ball can travel back and forth over the net quickly. This can be described as a “send and receive” situation, just like tossing a ball back and forth with a friend. In pickleball, the send and receive action can be VERY fast! Once you send the ball, how soon are you ready to receive it from your opponent?

This is something, I learned the hard way. (I got hit a lot and didn’t like it!) I learned that I needed to be ready to receive my opponent’s shot about the moment I sent the ball off my paddle. This aspect of playing pickleball at the next level has been something I worked at for my success in the game and is an aspect of coaching my students.

Here are two steps to developing skills to be ready to receive the ball at the kitchen line:

  1. Do some underhand toss/catch/toss with a friend from kitchen line to kitchen line. Once you toss the ball, prepare your hands to receive the ball before your friend catches the ball you toss. Do this at a slow pace and work up to a fast pace. This should be done in a cooperative frame of mind.
  2. Next, have one person hold a paddle in front of their sternum in a manner to hit a backhand volley. Now, do a toss/hit/toss with a friend from kitchen line to kitchen line. The underhand toss should be aimed at the paddle of the person hitting the volley. (Keep in mind: The volley should be without a swing — just a slight tap of the ball.) Again, once you toss the ball, prepare your hands to receive the ball before your friend makes contact to volley the ball back to you. As you do this send and receive toss/volley/catch sequence, notice how ready you get your hands up to catch. After a few minutes, trade being the toss person with the volley person. For the person hitting the backhand volley, it is worth noticing the timing of how soon you are ready for the next volley before your friend catches the ball. You want this to happen BEFORE your volley crosses the net!

When I do these two steps with my students, I follow up with some clarification of understanding of how these steps help a person be ready for the next ball! We discuss the value of MINIMIZING paddle movement on the volley. We discuss how SOON after contact they need to be in a good, ready position. We discuss what the ready position looks like and feels like. We discuss the importance of SEEING the face of the opponent’s paddle direction prior to contact and at contact.

Following the two drills and the clarification for understanding, we go back on court to practice “Paddle Up and Ready!” We do cooperative drills followed by competitive drills with the emphasis on the physical and mental aspects of Paddle Up and Ready.

My goal is to help you play better pickleball. When you are at the kitchen line looking ready and being ready with your paddle up in front of you with your knees slightly bent, you will be able to defend your opponent’s attacks, and you will be ready to pounce on your opponent’s weak shots! And, winning more pickleball!


Tim has played tennis all his life and coached tennis in the North Atlanta suburbs the past 35 years. He was on a Senior Men’s AA1 ALTA team that has won City Championships 5 out of the last 6 ALTA seasons. In the past 6 years, Tim has developed a passion for pickleball. He earned his IPTPA and USPPR Pickleball certification and won a Gold Medal in Men’s 4.0 50+ World Championships of Pickleball and 3 times Club Wars Championship Team. Tim is Director of Pickleball at Dunwoody Country Club.

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