That troublesome pickleball backhand

Hopefully, during your forehand session you learned that footwork, pre-positioning yourself, before you hit the ball, is the real key to any successful shot. I have seen some terrible strokes over the years by players who won significant tournaments, because their footwork and speed took precedence over their actual strokes. Same with the backhand.

The backhand does not have to be a weak shot, and in many ways is a very natural shot if you roll your shoulder into the ball. In tennis, for example, my backhand was a very simple motion, my more reliable shot, and those who played me frequently would attack my more complicated forehand.

The one thing that I have seen universally among players without any confidence in their backhand is that they (for right-handers), regardless of the flight of the ball, initially turn their shoulder right to prepare for taking the ball with a forehand. Then there is a slight pause as if the brain says to them, “No, dummy — it is coming toward your backhand.”

By the time they finally begin to take back their backhand, their opponents have scored.

From the very moment that your brain recognizes that the ball is coming to your backhand, at least twist at the waist, allowing you to turn your paddle shoulder to the left in preparation. While turning, I might need to take a step or two to the location slightly behind where I anticipate I will engage the pickleball.

Ideally, I take short steps to get in position so I first get balanced, load weight to my left leg, and then step into the ball and transfer power into it as I contact the ball slightly in front of my right shoulder. I also bend my knees so that I am not leaning over at the waist, but am rolling my shoulder into the ball as the power uncoils from my left leg into the ball.

People ask how I can almost always volley the ball in front of my body. First, I have practiced hitting volleys hundreds upon hundreds of hours. I hold my paddle in a comfortable ready position for a volley in front of my body. Second, I am watching my opponent prepare to hit the ball. I concentrate and my brain is constantly evaluating and anticipating the most likely shots that my opponents will hit.

Third, when they strike the ball, I move into the ready position, up on the balls of my feet, with my weight evenly distributed on both legs and the balls of my feet. Finally, I intercept their ball and block back their shot with my paddle face so the return goes low and near their backhand foot. Immediately, I return to the ready position in anticipation of their return of my shot.

There are various grips for hitting the backhand. I use the Continental — the same grip for forehand and backhand — and make sure that I make contact with the ball out in front of my body. There is very little time in a fast three- or four-shot exchange at net to change grips or use a second hand.

Let’s summarize the last few months: First, I wanted you to stop making so many errors, and then I wanted you to improve your footwork and balance. I then had you stop leaning over to hit the ball, but use a split-step to get into position.

Next, I asked you to focus on your forehand, because you hit more of those than any other shot. Finally, we took it up a notch and discussed the backhand, because you do need to have one. If you do these very simple things, you will definitely enjoy a higher level of pickleball, and others will enjoy playing with you as well.

‘So you want to be in the sports business?’ continued…

Rejoining our story from after the last pickleball tip…

I had just invited the wife of the house on the foothills of Casablanca to join us for the feast she had provided, and the CIA guy mumbled something suggesting I just might want to button it.

OK — so now it is just me and the boys, and I had not a clue about how to eat this amazing preparation she had laid out on this large bronze tray. In casual conversation, I mentioned that I had enjoyed a similar pig roast the prior summer. The CIA dude first stared at me and then said something like, “I don’t believe you said that. Where did you come from? It’s lamb, dummy, and you don’t want to say ‘pig’ again.”

I must admit that the food was good, and the conversation, although a bit stilted, was very interesting, about life and business in Morocco, their royal family, tennis and various social problems. We chatted late into the night, and then they drove me back to the Hyatt.

I was grateful, because I worried that, with all my cultural mistakes, they might just have decided to roll me downhill all the way back to Casablanca. And, honestly, after that “pig roast” comment, I would have been a candidate.

The next morning, the call to prayer echoed throughout the casbah across the street where, before my flight from Africa to Europe, I spent time shopping. I was heading to Paris, and the exact same products cost in the casbah but a small fraction of what they cost on the Champs Elysées.

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit