Best Way to Improve Your Pickleball Drive? Slow it Down

James Ignatowich demonstrating a superior pickleball drive

Top five pickleball pro James Ignatowich here. And I'm here to say: you should hit your drives at only 70% power.

Hitting a 70% pace drive is more effective than “going for broke” on the drive. You shouldn’t be trying to hit it as hard as you can.

I used to hit every drive almost as hard as I could. Some of them would go out while others would get “saved” by my opponent hitting them.

As I went up in level, most of my drives wouldn’t really be that effective.

Why Slightly Less Powerful Drives Work

If you’re a 3.0 - 3.5 and you’re able to hit a drive with a lot of power, by all means - do it. On the other hand, if you’re playing against higher level competition, the sheer power of your drive is probably NOT going to be difficult for them to react to.

After all, drives are typically hit from well behind the kitchen line. Rarely will you surprise a higher level player with the pace of your drive.

To the contrary, I’ve had significantly more success hitting drives at 70% of my full power, or even less.

  • I’ll aim these drives to land at around 5 feet past the kitchen line. Or, almost directly in between the kitchen line and the baseline.
  • If you ever miss a drive deep, your head is not in the right place - or you missed your target by about 10 feet. Let’s just go with “your head wasn’t in the right place.”
  • The best drive is designed to hit your opponent in between the ground and the height of their knees, as they are on their way forward after a return.

This drive will force the opponent to “hit up” on the ball. As a result, a drive that is low and dipping at 70% power is much more “crashable,” meaning your partner can poach off of it more easily.

Additionally, since this drive is slightly slower, it gives your partner more time to track and read how to successfully poach off of it.

By contrast, a full power drive will often move too quickly for your partner to get a good read on the crashing potential of it.

Working on your backhand drive? Here's everything you need to know.

A hard drive will also likely meet your opponent above their hip height. I’ll ask you this question - do you feel more comfortable hitting a 4th shot volley from your ankles or above your hips? The answer is above your hips.

So to recap: a 70% pace, low, topspin drive is more effective than a near 100% pace drive because

1) it gives your partner a better opportunity to effectively poach off of it

2) there’s less risk of missing long

3) it will force your opponent to “hit up” on their 4th, drastically increasing the probability that they “pop the ball up.”

James Ignatowich is giving out hot takes like this, instructional videos, and strategy input from other top pros in his weekly coaching newsletter! Click here to subscribe and catch up on previous editions.

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