Let’s take a look at what defines a volley and explore the strategies that skilled pickleball players rely on to defend and score points off of volleys.
What Is a Volley in Pickleball?
A volley is a shot where a player doesn’t wait for the ball to bounce before returning it. Since the receiving team and serving team both must hit their first shots off the bounce, volleys can only occur after the ball is served and then returned twice.
One of the key rules of pickleball is that players cannot hit a volley while stepping on the non-volley zone line or from inside the kitchen. Therefore, volleys are always hit from at least a slight distance from the net.
Why Is Volleying Important in Pickleball?
With its smaller court size and non-volley zone, pickleball incentivizes players to move toward the net. From a ready position with feet close to the nonvolley zone line, players are better able to defend both volleys and dinks. A result of this strategy is that when returns are on a trajectory to land beyond the kitchen, the most effective shot is often a volley.
Sometimes, fast returns leave you with no choice other than to volley, or you might hit volleys to give opponents less reaction time or to place a shot out of their reach. With so many factors making volleys advantageous or essential, it’s critical that you develop good volleying skills as part of your overall game. Often, the team that can volley with more consistency and control is the one that prevails.
10 Top Pickleball Volley Tips
Here are 10 tips you can begin incorporating into your game for hitting sharper volleys and more reliably returning those of your opponents:
More Resources: 18 Essential Pickleball Tips For Beginners
1. Start From The Right Position
Reacting in time to an incoming shot depends on being in the right position. Ideally, you should be situated in the middle of your half of the court, with your legs shoulder-width apart, and your knees bent. Your weight should be slightly loaded on the balls of your feet. This athletic posture ensures you can move quickly in any direction and gives you a better chance of getting to volleys, regardless if they’re shallow, high, or fast. You’ll also be in the ideal position for hitting volleys of your own.
Since most volleys are hit backhand, keep your paddle in front of your body with the face slightly open (tilted upward).
2. Choose Your Volleys Carefully
While a well-executed volley can often result in winning a point, it isn’t always the smartest shot. Frequently, players attempt to volley shallow balls and end up leaning into the kitchen, overextending, and hitting the ball into the net, or they’ll volley a high, fastball that’s headed out of bounds. Part of refining your volleying skills is refining your judgment. Prioritize making smart calls over hitting any volley opportunity you see.
3. Think About “Pushing” The Ball
Rather than using a swinging motion, volleys rely on more of a pushing motion, where you lean forward and “push” the ball with an open paddle face. Angling the paddle slightly upward helps to direct the ball over the net. Especially if hitting a fast-moving return, it’s crucial you avoid using any backswing. Doing so typically results in hitting the ball too hard or high.
4. Don’t Grip Your Paddle Too Hard
The harder you grip the paddle, the harder you’ll deflect the shot. This runs the risk of overpowering your volley, giving your opponent a high ball, or losing control of your shot’s placement. Your grip should be just firm enough that it remains at the intended angle through the shot.
5. Place Your Shot
Sometimes a volley is a purely defensive return that keeps the point alive, but most of the time you can think about where you’d like to place your shot. Like with most other returns, aim for a spot that would be difficult for your opponents to get to, whether because of their position or momentum. Shots along the sidelines or right at your opponents’ feet are often smart plays.
6. Avoid High Volleys
The biggest risk of an uncontrolled volley is hitting the ball too high. Doing so gives your opponents an easy shot to slam. As you practice your volleys, focus on how the angle of the paddle affects the ball’s trajectory. Unless attempting a winner, the ideal volley passes just over the net and forces opponents to hit a low ball from a tough angle.
7. Emphasize Consistency
While there are many fine points to becoming an excellent volleyer, your top priority in games is going to be keeping the point alive and avoiding unforced errors. Trying to hit hard volleys or leaning too far into the kitchen will often result in missed shots. First, focus on volleying with correct form and hitting the ball with the right amount of force. As you improve your fundamentals, you can then turn your attention to hitting more precise angles and adding more pace to your shots.
8. Drill Volleying
Volleying is one of the easiest skills to drill, making it one of the easier ones to improve on your own. Find a wall and aim for a spot that’s the height of an ideal volley. Bounce the ball off the wall and work on finding the precise angle and amount of force that enables you to consistently place the ball at that height.
9. Predict Opponents’ Returns
When an experienced player returns a ball, they can often correctly predict how their opponent will respond based on the placement and speed of their shot. This means that with some practice, you can usually see a volley coming before your opponent hits it. If you assume a volley is incoming, you can make slight adjustments to your paddle and body so that even if the shot is fast, you can get to it in time.
10. Rely On Your Legs
One of the best ways to ensure you’re not swinging when volleying is to think about drawing power from your legs. From the ready position, push down through your legs to generate power and minimize any arm movement that could overpower your shot.
Ultimately, a great volley depends on a combination of good judgment and good mechanics. Bearing these 10 tips in mind will help you go a long way in developing both and winning more of your games.