The main rules for backhand shots in pickleball relate to using the proper grip, stance, swing, and follow-through to execute effective shots like drives, drops, volleys, or lobs.
Pickleball is a fun hybrid sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis. It has exploded in popularity in recent years, with thousands of dedicated players across North America. Like any sport, pickleball has an official rulebook that covers all aspects of the game, including serving, scoring, court dimensions, faults, etc.
However, when it comes to actually playing and winning points, mastering the different types of shots is crucial. One of the most common yet often tricky shots is the backhand. So what exactly are the rules and proper technique for hitting backhand shots in pickleball?
Understanding the Backhand Shot in Pickleball
Before diving into the specifics, it is important to understand what defines a backhand shot in pickleball.
What is a Backhand Shot?
A backhand shot refers to any shot hit from the non-dominant side of the player’s body, using the back of the paddle. For a right-handed player, backhand shots would be on the left side, and for a leftie, they would be on the right side. The term “backhand” indicates the orientation of the paddle face and swing path coming from behind the body.
Backhand shots are essential for defending and returning shots directed to a player’s weaker side. Since most opponents will try to attack the backhand and avoid the stronger forehand side, developing solid backhand skills is vital in pickleball.
Why is the Backhand Shot Important?
Having a reliable backhand can provide several strategic advantages:
- Hitting more shots consistently to the weaker backhand side of your opponent. This allows you to control the rallies.
- Being able to alternate forehand and backhand shots during a rally. This makes your shots less predictable.
- Having better court coverage and angle options on both sides of your body. This expands the court you can defend.
- Being able to attack with the backhand to catch your opponent off guard. This can win you more points.
In short, a solid backhand expands your capabilities and court coverage as a pickleball player. Now let’s go over the proper technique and rules for executing backhand shots.
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Proper Grip and Stance for Backhands
As with any pickleball stroke, proper grip and balanced stance are the foundation. Here are some key guidelines for backhands:
Choosing the Right Grip
- The most common grip for backhands is the eastern backhand grip. This is a slight clockwise rotation from the continental grip used for forehands.
- The grip should place the paddle lightly in the pads of your fingers. Avoid gripping too tightly.
- The eastern backhand grip allows solid wrist support on the backswing and flexibility in the paddle face upon contact.
Assuming the Proper Stance
- Stand sideways at roughly a 45 degree angle to the net. Your dominant shoulder should point forward.
- Keep knees slightly bent and feet roughly shoulder-width apart for balance.
- More weight should be on the front foot on the side of your backhand.
- The non-dominant arm can cradle the paddle elbow for support.
The proper grip and balanced stance will make your backswing and follow-through more controlled and powerful.
Backhand Swing Technique and Motion
Executing the proper backhand swing path and using your body for added power are key for accurate and penetrating backhand shots.
Initiate the Backswing
- Rotate your torso and pull the paddle back in an arcing motion at about an 80 degree angle.
- Allow your non-dominant arm to guide the paddle back. Keep the elbow relatively still.
- Shift your weight onto your back foot as you prepare to swing forward.
Follow Through on the Swing
- Initiate the forward swing with your dominant wrist and forearm. Allow your body to rotate forward as you swing.
- Keep the paddle face closed and angled slightly downwards to impart topspin.
- Swing through the ball fully and allow your paddle arm to continue moving forward after contact.
- Transfer your weight forwards towards the shot as you swing for added power.
Utilize Your Body for Power
- Use the rotation of your dominant shoulder and hips to generate force as you swing forward.
- Let your non-dominant shoulder pull back as your dominant side rotates forwards.
- Avoid gripping the paddle too tightly. Allow the paddle to hinge back and forth loosely like a pendulum.
Proper weight transfer, paddle angle, and full use of your body in the swing path are essential for powerful and controlled backhand shots.
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Types of Backhand Shots in Pickleball
Now that we’ve covered the basics, let’s go over some of the most common backhand shots you can employ in pickleball matches and how to hit them effectively.
The Backhand Drive
The backhand drive is used to deeply return the ball to your opponent’s backcourt with power and pace. It is effective for neutralizing your opponent’s attack or moving them out of position.
- Hit with power using your body rotation and weight transfer forward into the ball.
- Keep the paddle face closed at impact to drive the ball deep and prevent it from going too high.
- Aim down the line or cross-court to move your opponent backwards and from side to side.
The Backhand Drop Shot
The backhand drop shot is used to delicately return the ball just over the net so it drops into the non-volley zone (NVZ). This can catch aggressive opponents off guard.
- Lightly brush underneath the ball with an open paddle face. Do not swing fully.
- Disguise the shot by using the same backswing motion but truncating the forward swing.
- Aim close to the net posts where opponents have farther to run.
The Backhand Volley
The backhand volley is used to hit the ball out of the air before it bounces. This allows you to act fast and take time away from your opponent.
- Keep your eyes firmly on the ball and your paddle up. Prepare early.
- Punch or punch slice the ball with a short, compact swing. Do not swing far back.
- Aim to hit the volley deep or towards your opponent’s feet to keep pressure on.
The Backhand Lob
The backhand lob is used to lift the ball high over your opponent’s head, often as a defensive maneuver when pulled wide.
- Maintain an open paddle face through the point of contact to create height.
- Swing intentionally upward, allowing the ball to lift over your opponent rather than driving forward.
- Move your paddle towards the ball rather than swinging back for a quicker reaction.
Executing these backhand shots properly will make your game more unpredictable and aggressive. Work on each shot type until you can confidently alternate them during rallies.
Following the Rules and Etiquette for Backhands
While hitting proper backhand shots involves technique, footwork, and strategy, players must also follow the standard rules and etiquette guidelines of pickleball when executing any shot. Here are some key reminders:
- Respect all boundaries – Ensure backhand shots land inside court lines. Know the rules for volleys landing in the NVZ area.
- Call faults on yourself – Immediately call faults against yourself for any mishits such as into the net, outside boundaries, or in the NVZ.
- Avoid body contact – Never intentionally use your body to block your opponent’s access to the ball.
- Play by official pickleball rules – Follow standards for legal serves, line calls, scoring, changeovers and all other rules.
- Respect your partner – If playing doubles, communicate with your partner and avoid collisions or interference.
- Be a good sport – Congratulate opponents for nice shots and never argue heatedly over a call.
While mastering backhand shot skills is important, upholding rules and showing good sportsmanship reflects well on you and the game.
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Conclusion: A Solid Backhand Expands Your Game
In summary, the main rules for executing effective backhand shots in pickleball relate to grip, stance, swing path, shot variation, and upholding etiquette. Mastering backhand technique provides more court coverage, shot versatility, and strategic options during rallies. With the proper grip, stance, swing path, and use of power from your body’s rotation, you can reliably drive, drop, volley, or lob backhand shots.
Mixing up backhand shots with your forehand and volleys will boost your pickleball skills and competitiveness significantly. However, committing the rules and etiquette to memory ensures you develop your backhand the right way. With practice and repetition, your backhand mastery will reach new heights over time and make you a well-rounded player.