The drive is an essential shot in pickleball. From catching your opponent off-guard with speed to set up your follow-up shot, a solid pickleball forehand drive is a must in your arsenal. So when is the best time to get aggressive and drive the pickleball?
4 Ways to Use a Pickleball Forehand Drive
When Your Opponent Is Unprepared
If your opponent is not in position or not ready, you can catch them off-guard with an aggressive pickleball drive; this will give you more time to get into position for your next pickleball shot. So, what are some indicators that your opponent is ill-equipped to receive a drive? For example, they might be crowding the kitchen, leaning in one direction, flat-footed, or displaying a long/slow backswing.
When You Need to Take Control
If you want to take control of a pickleball rally, an aggressive pickleball drive can help you do that. It’s a great way to seize the momentum and put your opponent in a defensive position. All it takes is a single successful drive to change the complexity of a point. Hard drives can lead to high pop-ups; just be ready to put the ball away! Since pickleball is more about keeping the ball in play and picking and choosing aggressive moments, stay patient!
When You Need to End the Rally Quickly
If you need to end the pickleball point quickly, an aggressive pickleball forehand drive is often the way. The power and speed of this shot can be difficult for your opponent to return, allowing you to win the pickleball point quickly. On the contrary, an aggressive pickleball drive can be a relatively low percentage shot–so you might end the rally early yet lose the point. But if you’re winded and need a minute, this could be a necessary tactic to catch your breath.
When You Need a Change of Pace (Literally)
Sometimes, I’ll show up on the pickleball court and play the game the “right” way: deep serve, third-shot drop, dink, dink, dink, boom–yet points are hard to come by. That’s when I’ll tap into my “power” game. It’s like flipping the script midstream and is sometimes enough to throw your opponent off and swing things back in your favor.
These are just a few situations where an aggressive pickleball drive can be beneficial. But if I’m completely honest, I tend to use the drive when playing someone at or below my level. Because the reality is a 4.0+ player will negate your speed 95% of the time with proper NVZ play.
Now there are a few downslides to relying on an aggressive pickleball drive.
4 Reasons NOT to Use a Pickleball Forehand Drive
You Want to Play the Odds
Life today is all about following the data. And if numbers talk, they send a clear message: drives are a low-percentage pickleball shot. An aggressive drive can leave you vulnerable to errors, and if you don’t have the skill or accuracy to back up your drive with your follow-up pickleball shots, there might be better options than an aggressive pickleball drive. Pickleball is a sport grounded in shot consistency and less about winners than tennis, though they are satisfying if you nail one. If you are attempting to hit a passing shot down the line, keep in mind that you have less room to work with than in tennis, and most skilled players can cover the alley.
Your Footwork Isn’t Fantastic
Let’s journey back to either grade and look at Newton’s Third Law: Action & Reaction–for every action (force) in nature, there is an equal and opposite reaction. The harder you drive the ball, the sooner your opponent can return it! That can leave you woefully out of position, particularly if you are rushing towards the transition or non-volley zone. There have been many occasions where I hit a satisfying forehand drive, only to have my opponent seemingly stick his/her paddle out and make me look foolish.
You Are Injury Prone
The drive also uses more of your body, potentially setting you up for soreness or worse yet, injury. While most of pickleballs’ motions come from your shoulder, constant driving could put strain on your shoulder, hips and back. When you look at the mechanics of how to drive the ball in pickleball, you are inviting much more of your body to the party; that’s a lot of moving parts. And as the saying goes, the more that moves, the more that can go wrong. I actually have no idea if that’s a real saying, but let’s go with it!
You Don’t Want to Be a Bully
I mentioned earlier that I sometimes leverage frequent drives against players who don’t play as well as I do. But let me be clear: I am not driving the ball at players that are significantly weaker than me, older than me, have mobility problems, etc. The growth of pickleball is exploding, leaving many open pickleball etiquette questions, but when in doubt, use common sense. Dominating an opponent never feels good for either side, and often minimizes exercise and a good time.
When used strategically, the drive can give you an advantage in pickleball. So, the next time you’re on the court, consider these scenarios and see if an aggressive pickleball drive is the right move for you.