Hitting a Consistent and Powerful Serve

Your serve is the one shot you have 100% control over during a pickleball game. You can visualize ball placement, take a breath and send the ball exactly where you want it. But it can be surprisingly difficult to develop a reliable serve even when you have all these factors in your favor.

The following are a few tips that will help players improve the consistency of their serve and increase the power behind it. To start, we have a number of guidelines from pickleball instructor CJ Johnson. She lays out four points that all players should keep in mind. They are:

1. Keep the ball in front of your body. Regardless of whether you’re performing a backhand or forehand serve, it’s easier to keep both the ball and your target in sight like this instead of keeping it at your side or getting fancy.

2. Don’t use a big drop when releasing the ball from your hand. Keep the ball relatively close to your paddle and don’t use any large motions which could make it more difficult to determine the ball’s trajectory.

3. Follow through in the direction of the target with your paddle and arm. The “target” should be your opponent in the court box diagonally opposite you.

4. Develop a pre-shot routine. You’ll want to aim for your opponent’s weak point (normally their backhand), make note of any potential interference from the elements (such as sun glare and wind) and breathe. Some players include a bounce or two before their serve and this is fine as well.

To hear about these steps in depth, check out CJ’s video:

If you’d like to add more strength to your serve, Barrett of Pickleball Kitchen will show you the proper technique. Some players believe that you have to have a lot of power in your arms to develop a powerful serve, but this isn’t entirely true. While being fit and strong certainly helps, a powerful serve actually comes more from the motion in your hips than the arm or wrist.

You’ll need to develop a smooth hip rotation and also work on when you “break” your wrist. This isn’t as painful as it sounds! More specifically, when you swing there’s a certain point near the end of your follow-through where you’ll want to flip your wrist upwards to put more spin and punch behind the ball. Watch the video to see this demonstrated:

These tricks should help any player feel more confident when performing one of the most important shots in the game. What are some of your favorite methods to ensure your serves always go where intended?

How Did Thick Core Paddles Become One of the Hottest Pickleball Trends?

Over the past several years paddles with thick cores have risen in popularity and versatility. With major manufacturers such as Selkirk, Paddletek, Prince, Onix and GAMMA all offering thick core options, there’s a reason players have turned to this style of paddle and found it improved their game.

Many of those reasons are explained on our Thick Core Paddle guide where you can hear from a number of paddle manufacturers regarding why they’ve ventured into the world of thick core paddles and how their construction has changed over time. This is definitely a style that’s here to stay and players of all levels should give them a test if they’re looking for something highly controlled and stable under pressure.

One of the first thick core paddles to hit the market was the Selkirk Amped Omni, which was created in conjunction with pro player Glen Peterson. We recently had the opportunity to speak with Glen about his initial thought process behind the design and what he believes this style’s greatest strengths are. If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of thick core paddles, Glen explains them clearly:

“The idea of a thicker core appealed to my desire for a more stable paddle that generates more consistent shots across the surface. I hoped that a thicker paddle would be less likely to twist in my hand when the ball struck near the edge. Theoretically this made sense to me as a thicker core could have a lower modulus of elasticity. Practically, it just seemed the right direction the same way larger frame structures in other racquet sports improve performance.

“I cut a paddle out of a piece of 2 inch foam just to see what the thicker template felt like in my hands, and it felt great even though I couldn’t hit a ball. I then took two half inch cores and glued them together to create a usable paddle but with no edge guard. This 1 inch thick paddle was a breakthrough for me. Brian Ashworth hit with it and agreed. The challenge was creating a thicker paddle without dramatically increasing weight. Selkirk took on this challenge and made the Omni paddle with 5/8 inch thick core.  While an 1/8” thick seems small, it is a 25% increase in thickness.

“The key advantage is more consistent ball performance coming off a larger portion of the paddle surface. While it might seem a thicker core would generate more power or ball speed, the opposite seems true. I get more control, touch and consistency even when I miss-hit the ball. And I get all the power I need. Players like Ty McGuffin are able to generate amazing power even with the thicker core. Players who want tons of power with shorter strokes might prefer thinner paddles with smaller but dramatic sweet spots.

“Perhaps the only unexpected drawback to this type of paddle is that it’s harder to pick up a ball lying on the ground with the edge of the paddle since it’s thicker!

“I see paddles becoming even thicker with innovative core materials and improved paddle science. Additionally, I see ball development as being an important factor in paddle improvements. If balls become softer and less brittle, the paddles will change accordingly. Current top paddles are optimized for the Dura Fast 40 Ball which is preferred by most top players.”

Glen’s predictions have proven true so far, with manufacturer Prince introducing two new paddles featuring 9/16″ thick cores in 2018. The Prince Spectrum Pro and Response Pro have both proven popular and feature a unique oval-shaped design. The thick core makes these paddles very rigid and transfers energy evenly along the sides, top and bottom of the design. This effectively expands the sweet spot and lets players make use of space that would be “dead” in other paddles nearer to the edge guard.

Onix released their .625″ thick paddle, the Outbreak, in 2018 as well. It uses a carbon fiber face to create a soft feel that reduces vibration from impact, increasing stability and letting players maintain control over their shots. Paddletek’s Pro Series with 9/16″ cores was released later that year and included the Tempest Pro, which uses a graphite face. This combo is thought to create one of the best feeling paddles available, allowing players to hit against any area of their paddle’s surface without experiencing decreased responsiveness.

GAMMA was another major manufacturer which saw the strengths of thick cores and expanded the market in 2019. The Compass, Shard and Legend added more shape and weight variety to the mix and have shown the sweet spot can be broadened with this technology no matter the paddle’s shape or weight. With many top players enjoying these options and variety, there’s something that will satisfy everyone looking to try thick core paddles.

One of the only potential downsides players may want to be aware of when looking at these paddles is the fact that their handles tend to be more square-shaped and boxy due to the thicker construction. While several of the paddles mentioned above do come in small grip circumferences (4-1/8″), they generally have more of a structured feel to them.

Many players have found that they’re able to easily adapt to this shape after a few games with a thick core paddle, but this is something to be aware of when considering the various choices. Another option is to add an overgrip to these paddles for the purpose of softening up the more defined edges of the handle.

There are currently nineteen different paddles from six manufacturers collected on our Thick Core Paddles page, and with the way development is going, we expect this number will continue to grow. Learn more about all of these paddles here.

Win Tricky Points on Your Serve with the Nasty Nelson

To piggyback on our post about the lesser-known Erne Shot from earlier this month, today we have another technique that’s not seen often and is far more controversial: the Nasty Nelson.

Although this shot is legal, some see it as unsportsmanlike and it may leave a sour taste in players’ mouths. If you decide to use it, make sure you’re either playing among good-natured friends or in a high level competition where opponents should be ready for anything!

Timothy Nelson

Timothy Nelson

The Nasty Nelson was given its name by Scott Lipitz after watching Timothy Nelson make use of it.

The goal is to cause the receiving team to commit a fault. This technique is a serve aimed at the receiver’s partner instead of the usual crosscourt box. If the opponent’s partner hits the ball before it reaches the court—either with their paddle or body—then the point goes to the serving team.

The reason this works is due to pickleball’s service rules which state:

4.C.2. Interference. If the serve clears the net and the receiver or the receiver’s partner interferes with the flight of the ball on the serve, it is a point for the serving team.

Just like a ball is still in play if someone chooses to hit an “out” ball before it actually drops outside the court’s boundaries, if the partner blocks the ball from landing on the wrong side of the court (usually due to not moving fast enough or raising a paddle to protect their body), you get the point.

Although this shot may sound harsh, it’s a viable part of the game and can even be a wise strategy. The “cleanest” way to use the Nasty Nelson is if you notice the receiver’s partner positioning themselves aggressively near the center line.

Since the partner is already close to the legal side of the court, it’s easier to tweak your serve and pop them before they realize they need to get out of the way. It’s (literally) their fault for not realizing they’re blocking the serve’s flight path!

The Nasty Nelson can still be attempted when the partner is at the center or outer edge of their court, but it’s more difficult to achieve under those conditions and may not win many friends.

You can see the shot executed below. In this instance the receiving partner isn’t particularly close to the center line, but the Nasty Nelson is unexpected and he notices the ball heading toward him too late. Despite this surprise attack, all the players take it in good stride!

If you want to see Timothy himself use this shot on an opponent far from the center line, check out this video at 7:04. Just be warned that the rest of the highlights contain strong language.

Do you think the Nasty Nelson’s reward is worth the risk? Even if you don’t want to use this shot yourself, it’s a good one to know so you don’t get caught off guard.

Legally Volley at the Net with the Erne Shot

“Stay out of the kitchen!”

This phrase is bandied about the courts so often we even made a shirt out of it. The non-volley zone or “kitchen” is the 7-foot segment in front of the net every player is introduced to and then subsequently told to avoid. You’re not allowed to return a ball in the kitchen without letting it bounce… unless you’re willing to give your point away.

So is it impossible to ever enjoy a slam right at the net? Not necessarily.

If you’re an advanced player and have the ability to read opponents, set up your positioning and wait for the right opening, there is a way to sneak in a smash at close range: the Erne.

Instructor Jeff Shank saw Erne Perry use the shot at the 2010 Nationals and gave the move a title in honor of its creator.

The Erne involves stepping immediately to the left or right side of the NVZ, outside of the court boundaries, to volley the ball at its apex. Since it’s normally impossible to perform a put away shot so close to the net, opponents are often surprised that their “unattackable” ball has suddenly whizzed past them.

You can see the Erne demonstrated by several players including Brian Ashworth in this video by Third Shot Sports (warning for headphone users: loud noise at 1:20):

To legally perform the Erne you must make sure your feet aren’t in the NVZ when you make contact with the ball and continue to stay outside of it afterwards. If you fall back in the kitchen, even if the ball has cleared the net, it will be considered a fault.

The next video will show you how you can practice drilling the Erne with a partner and provides details on how to set this shot up. Since you’re hitting from the sidelines you want the ball to be near the edge of the court, so the goal is to get your opponent to hit down the line.

You can attempt to get your opponent to do this by hitting a down the line shot yourself or by hitting an angled shot so that they’re forced to reach for the ball, making it more difficult to return anything but a more predictable, straight dink.

The Erne is often a devastating, point-winning shot although it takes precision, speed and excellent predictive skills to pull off. Have you ever attempted or successfully performed it yourself? Share your tips and knowledge in the comments if you’re willing!

The Best Pickleball Gear for Summer 2019

Summer can be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to playing pickleball. Most people prefer playing outdoors, and so you now have the perfect excuse to hit the courts and soak up the sun.

On the other side of things, those same rays can also make it easy to overheat or lose grip of your paddle, and no one likes playing in sticky, sopping clothes.

At PickleballCentral we have an array of great gear to help you minimize stresses the weather can bring so you can fully enjoy the warm weather and competition.

GAMMA Tacky Towel

GAMMA Tacky TowelYour hands get slick from sweat and your paddle is constantly on the verge of flying across court, but you can’t bear to wear a glove in the heat of the day. What’s a pickler to do?

With just a few passes of the GAMMA Tacky Towel your hands will feel stable again thanks to a sheen of its main moisture-repelling ingredient: bee’s wax! The Tacky Towel will last through multiple uses so you can continue to play consistently no matter how sticky the situation.

Chilly Pad Cooling Towel

Chilly PadWhile a standard towel would get soggy and heavy after enough passes over a perspiring player’s skin, the Chilly Pad Cooling Towel absorbs liquid and then allows it to evaporate. You can use this towel again and again without fearing that you’ll just be re-applying sweat!

The extra benefit of this product is that it can also be used as a cooling device. If you dunk it in some water and set it against your neck you’ll feel a pleasant cooling sensation radiate from the material. It retains its temperature for some time but can easily be re-wetted when you want another refreshing experience.

Wilson ProGrip Lotion

ProGrip LotionThis is another great option for players who want to keep a firm grasp on their paddles no matter how humid things get. The Wilson ProGrip Lotion applies to a smooth finish and doesn’t feel sticky, yet you’ll feel far more comfortable keeping your hand in contact with your grip. The gel is quickly transferred to the skin and dries to white finish so you an ensure it’s good to go.

The ProGrip Lotion lasts for around 2 hours and has a non-toxic formula with a pleasant citrus scent.

Overgrips

Absorbant GripsIf you don’t want to fuss with products you need to apply to your hands, you can always stick an overgrip on top of your existing handle. We have plenty of options that offer an array of different finishes so that you can find one with just the right amount of tack and absorbance.

For those who want some guidance on the best overgrips for reducing moisture, we recommend the HEAD HydroSorb Pro and Tourna Moisture Absorbency Grip. The HydroSorb has more of a traditional tacky texture with a thin construction that allows players to still feel a solid connection to their paddle. The Tourna Grip has more of a dry feel that will actively wick moisture away from the hands.

Hats & Visors

Summer Hats It should go without saying, but a simple hat can go a long way to keeping the sun out of your eyes when you’re trying to position your shots just so. You don’t want to trap heat next to your noggin’ though, so we recommend choosing something that maintains good airflow and visibility.

Our Heritage Shade Cap has ventilated mesh siding and a protection flap that will keep the back of your neck from burning during extended games. The Margaritaville Visors are a colorful way to celebrate the season while feeling the breeze. If you want to go for accessories that are as minimal as possible, the HEAD Headband and Wristband will prevent sweat from reaching your hands and eyes.

Shoes

Head Shoes Shoes can make or break your game, and all players want to avoid injuries! Beyond their stabilizing and cushioning nature, a good shoe should allow your feet to breathe so you aren’t sliding around or dealing with smelly digits after your fun.

In addition to great multi-court traction, arch support and a light weight, the HEAD shoes we carry feature a special vent with air holes at the bottom of the soles which allow for plenty of cooling air to enter.

Gloves

HEAD Airflow TourWe’ve offered several alternatives to gloves for when the summer heat may make them feel smothering, but there is one option you may still want to consider. The HEAD Airflow Tour Glove uses a perforated leather that lets air in while also pulling moisture away from the hand.

If you appreciate the added security of a glove but want to ensure you’re not sweating up a storm, the Airflow Tour Glove is your best option.

Apparel

UV PerformanceOne of the easiest ways to stay cool in the heat is to make sure you’re wearing clothes that have a wicking feature and won’t get bogged down with sweat. This usually means utilizing a polyester or poly-blend fabric.

We have several options that are great for this purpose, and will not only prevent you from leaving a trail on the courts, but will protect you from burns as well. Our Sun Shield Tee provides UVA/UVB protection in addition to some of our long-sleeved tops like the UV Performance Top. Choose from our many designs to customize them to your heart’s content!

Eyewear

HEAD RaptorYou can defend your eye’s from glare and wayward balls and paddles all in one go if you select some great protective eyewear. Check out our HEAD Raptor Eyewear which feature anti-scratch and anti-fog construction.

They have interchangeable lenses and wearers can use their “smoke” colored lens for when they’re dealing with bright outdoor rays.

The Real Lowdown on Pickleball Skill Levels

The USAPA provides a handy definition of their rating system online, but we all know those skill levels translate a bit differently in reality compared to a perfectly curated list.

Thankfully, David Mark Lopez of Pelican Landing (Bonita Springs, FL) took to Facebook to provide a bit more substance and flavor to these descriptions. Enjoy a big laugh before the weekend with these Revised Pickleball Skill Level Definitions!

For more of David’s witty writing and cheeky humor, visit www.davidmarklopez.com. He’s created a charming series of historical fiction books for kids titled Maddie’s Magic Markers.

David Lopez

David Mark Lopez of Pelican Landing

1.0 Skill Level: Beginner

Calls the paddle a racket, poops in pants, serves overhand, thinks pickleball is a stupid sport for old people, wears huarache sandals to play, is bored and wants to start drinking early.

2.0 Skill Level

Thinks the sport was named after a dog born 20 years later, walks slowly through your match, does not close gate, drinks the last beer, hits on your spouse who hates you for poaching, played last 6 months ago indoors at a Michigan Y with his cousin from Ypsilanti, smokes between matches, falls often, serves the ball into the next court.

3.0 Skill Level

Forgets score frequently, talks during rallies, explains every freakin’ point (well the ball went this way, but I meant it to go there…uh, I know I was right here watching), hits their partner with ball or racket (still) at least once a game, trips partner regularly, thinks the third shot drop has something to do with an incurable disease, has a fit-bit.

3.5 Skill Level

Frequently misinterprets NVZ rule, hits every single shot with maximin velocity, puts the ball in play roughly 50% of the time, argues line calls, laughs loudly, has new smart matching outfit, lays it up across the middle, only dinks accidentally, frowns at you when you say UP UP UP, calls the score for both teams, leaves phone on during match because daughter is expecting.

4.0 Skill Level

Sighs loudly frequently, wants you to stay for one more game, coaches you up on every single point, swears like a sailor, practices dinking in garage, pretends to be interested in your personal life, talks crap about ATPs and ERNEs, shows you new paddle (it’s not a racket, newbie), acts like a baby after losing, smashes the living hell out of your weak-ass lobs, plays at 3.5 in tourneys, openly argues with spouse during matches when supposed to be just having fun.

4.5 Skill Level

Brings 5 paddles, mysteriously disappears after playing once with mixed group of 2.0 2.5 and 3.0s, encourages you to poach so they can poach with reckless abandon, takes every shot across the middle, knows the rules but tells you to look them up so you can learn them, wears two gloves, hits you very hard with the ball at the NVZ (it’s part of the game) because your paddle was not up, subtly blames partner after loss, recommends videos, has stopped playing tennis, almost went pro, was club ping pong champion in 1987, had 3 ATPs and 2 ERNEs yesterday.

5.0 Skill Level

Knows Kyle Yates, has many many medals, post incessantly on PICKLEBALL FORUM about balls, rules, paddles and tournaments, wants pickleball channel on ESPN (cornhole wtf?), strategically hits to your backhand every shot, apologizes for hitting you very hard with ball at the NVZ because your paddle was not up, will gladly give you a lesson for $50, has 7 supercool pickleball outfits, drinks mysterious electrolyte concoction, is way younger than you, patronizes your terrible backhand, would love to play one more with you but has a dentist appointment and will see you at the clinic Saturday.

6.0 Skill Level

Shows up on the FORUM in foreign places playing pickleball, has savage tan and incredibly white teeth, can beat you in doubles as a singles player, has a cool nickname, returns your ATP like it wasn’t nuthin’ bruh, dropped out of high school to go pro, walks on water, heals the pickleball lame, has a weighted paddle, stacks with partner in fast food line, has met you several times but still has zero idea of who you are, posts videos of 73 hit rallies, wears white unitard, dink…dink…dink then backhand rocket drive that hits you in the head and ricochets off your partner’s teeth. You’re in love, fanboy.

Defending Against Slammers, Bangers and Other Power Picklers

Advanced pickleball players say that “slammers,” or those who always return the ball hard and fast, are demonstrating poor technique, lose steam quickly and reduce their precision. “Just learn to defend and force them to dink,” they might suggest.

This is solid advice, but hearing it summarized in a sentence or two doesn’t really illuminate all the skills needed to achieve this. Slammers are a real threat to many picklers who are still working on their own positioning and placement, and having to deal with supersonic speeds on top of everything else makes it harder to keep these things in mind.

Here are a few methods for dealing with bangers that go into more depth so your defensive abilities will be a sight to behold:

Soft Grip

It’s only natural to feel flustered when you see a slam heading your way, so players have a tendency to seize up and squeeze their paddle in anticipation of impact. However, this is the exact opposite of what you want to do! By tightening your grip you’re creating a stronger connection between your paddle and your arm.

This not only causes the vibration from impact to uncomfortably travel up your arm, but it redirects the power in the shot back toward your opponent, causing the ball to pop up so they can return yet another slam.

If you instead loosen your grip while holding the paddle steady, the power from the slam will be diffused exactly where you want it—through your paddle—before returning to the other side of the court with much less steam. This prevents your opponent from attacking again, changing the game into a more finesse-based affair.

(Credit: Darryl Kenyon)

Lob It

If you really want to annoy a dedicated banger, return their shot with a leisurely lob that travels all the way to the base line. “But this will make it easy for them to slam again!” This is true, but craning your neck upwards and banging over and over is tiring work and will cause your opponent to become drained faster.

Not only that, but being stuck at the base line is such a huge disadvantage that you may find one of their slams comes in at a less severe angle as they tire. At that point you can direct it right behind the kitchen line so they either desperately fling themselves upcourt to try and make the return or lose the point altogether.

Note that this strategy can be frustrating for those on the receiving end… but if someone is incessantly banging, then sometimes turnabout is fair play!

Keep It in the Kitchen

The most obvious advice is to keep the ball in the kitchen because players aren’t allowed to volley in this area, but how do you achieve this when a slam is coming directly toward you? While using the “soft grip” technique described above, try placing your paddle close to your chest and using your backhand to return the shot, with your paddle facing slightly upwards. No need to swing as you do this; simply hold your paddle in place.

The purpose of keeping the paddle close to your chest is because slams often come directly toward your body. Using your backhand is less awkward than trying to strain your wrist to reach the same position with a forehand. And the angle gives the ball a bit more time to lose momentum before dropping into the kitchen.

It takes some time to work against the instinct of tightening up during the approach of a slam, but keep practicing these techniques and you can be sure that bangers will be surprised as the wind is taken from their sails!