Pickleball Positioning Strategy Basics

Image of a pickleball player's balanced legs as they approach a hit.

Top five pickleball pro James Ignatowich here. One of the most common things I hear on the court is something like “this shot feels great when I drill, but it’s so much harder in a game for some reason.”

Of course it’s harder! When you drill, you know where the ball is being hit, and what you’re trying to do with it. In a game, you must react, move, and make a decision, and that all comes down to your positioning strategy.

What isn’t talked about enough is how your positioning and shot selection are connected.

EXAMPLE: If someone hits a dink a little too high, but you’re on one leg and off balance, then maybe it’s NOT the right ball to speed up on.

The pros make the game look easy because they are always balanced and in the right position - like you are when you drill.

The best players will still miss, or pop the ball up, when they are stretched or off balance.

One thing that separates the pros from rec players is that they stay within their means when they are off balance, and attack when their balance is strong.

You won’t find too many pros who speed the ball up off balance, on one leg.

Remember, a necessary quality of any speed up is that you are ready for it to come back.

Speed ups are set up shots, and as you get better, you can’t expect to win the point right away with your speed up.

So, where do we begin with our pickleball positioning strategy to maximize options for each shot?

  • First, focus on your own recognition. For example, if you hit a deep serve on the baseline, go ahead and take a step forward early, because the chances of a weak and short return is greater.
  • Second, react with your feet first. I see way too many people stab at a reset with their paddle before they even try to get behind the ball with their feet.
  • Lastly, focus on the split step. You don’t have to be crazy with your feet like me, but split-stepping before every shot is critical.

Having your core centered and your legs bent will prepare you to react and also stay in control.

Way too many people fly through the transition zone, thinking it’s a rush to get into the kitchen.

You want to get to the kitchen as quickly as possible, but not at the expense of balance. You do not want to be moving while your opponent is hitting a ball at your feet.

Read Next: Two-Person Pickleball Drills and the Most Important Practice Tip

So next time you’re on the court, be conscious of your positioning and how balanced you are on each shot.

Being balanced will give you a greater chance of making a defensive shot, and will give you a greater chance of finding an offensive opportunity.

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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