Like any sport, pickleball has it’s fair share of myths. Avoid falling for these common myths that can have a seriously negative impact on your game.
1. The third shot drop is your only option
Being able to hit a drop into the kitchen on the third shot is certainly an important skill to have in your repertoire. But it’s not your only option.
Choosing your third shot depends on a number of factors including:
- Court position of your partner and opposition players
- Type of ball being received
- Abilities of the players in the game
To be sure, a drop shot is often a good choice for your third shot. But if you believe it’s always the best option, just watch a few gold medal matches for national level tournaments. These are the best players around and will choose to drive the ball fairly regularly on their third shot.
A classic example when a drop may not be the best option is when your opponent’s return of serve lands around mid court and bounces high. In this scenario, your best option is likely a third shot drive rather than a drop. For some other common scenarios, check out our article on choosing between a third shot drop vs drive.
2. Don’t step in the kitchen until the ball bounces
There’s a lot of mystery around what you are and are not allowed to do around the kitchen – especially for newer players.
Some players mistakenly believe that you can’t even step into the kitchen until the ball bounces. This is a myth I’ve seen perpetuated multiple times – whether through misinterpretation or a poor explanation of the rules – and it’s just not true.
If you know you’re going to have to enter the kitchen, you get set yourself up for a better shot by moving into the kitchen before the ball actually bounces.
Here’s an excellent video from Pickleball Channel explaining the rules of the kitchen with lots of great examples. It’s the best video I’ve found on the topic.
3. Run to the kitchen as fast as possible
Being at the kitchen line is a great place to be in pickleball – there’s no doubt about that. In fact, this is so well known it’s one of the first principles that gets introduced to new players.
Get to the kitchen as fast as possible. That’s the commandment thrown in while explaining the primary rules of pickleball, as if getting to the kitchen was a rule itself.
It’s good to communicate the importance of being at the kitchen and getting there quickly. But, newer players usually interpret this as ‘run to the line as soon as I hit my shot or see that my partner is taking the shot’.
Instead, before sprinting to the kitchen, note the flight path of the ball and the position of your opponents. If you see your opponent squaring up to hit the ball, stop your forward momentum and be ready to move sideways and return their shot. You’ll find returning these shots much easier if you’re not in the process of making a headlong dash to the kitchen.
Get to the kitchen quickly, but not so fast that you can’t slow down to return a shot if necessary.
4. Lobs are bad
If a player is referred to as a ‘lobster’, it’s usually not a compliment.
While some players certainly overuse the lob shot, there is a time and place for them.
A lob can be a great defensive option when you’re out of position and need to buy yourself some time.
They can also be used as an effective offensive shot while dinking at the net or against slower or shorter opponents. Similarly, lobbing against opponents with weak or inaccurate overhead smashes reduces the potential danger of a bad lob.
Just be sure to use lobs strategically and be ready to back off of them if your opponents are frequently smashing them back at you.
5. Poaching is greedy
‘Poacher’ is another dirty word in some pickleball communities. As with the other myths, there is a bit more nuance to this topic.
Now, before you run off and start poaching all your partner’s shots, know that there is a time and place for it. Your partner should also be onboard with you poaching shots, so check in with them before the game starts.
When used correctly, poaching is an effective way to:
- Take advantage of poor shots from your opponents
- Relieve pressure on a weaker partner
- Prevents your opponent from deciding who gets to take the shot
- Surprise your opponents with a quicker return than they expected
A good example of poaching your opponents poor shots is when your partner is deep in the court and you’re at the net. Your opponents target your partner with a high arcing shot, but you step to the side and smash the ball while it’s still close to the net.
A more subtle scenario when poaching can make sense is when there is a large skill difference between you and your partner and your opponents are targeting the weaker player.
Poaching in these situations can help relieve pressure on the weaker partner. But more importantly, it prevents your opponents from deciding whether you or your partner will take the shot. This helps you regain control of the point.
Stronger players generally do a better job of placing shots that cause their opponents trouble. Keeping the stronger player involved in the rally will put pressure on your opponents and improve your odds of success.
Where this can cause frustration is when players wonder why their partner poached a shot that was on ‘their side of the court’. Try to tactfully explain what you’re trying to accomplish and be prepared to dial it back if your partner still isn’t on board.
6. Get 100% of your serves in
This is a controversial one. For some players, the serve is just a formality – the real game starts when players advance to the kitchen and start dinking. If that’s true, why would you risk hitting your serve out? Just hit a nice easy serve into the center of the court and focus on the soft game – or so the advice goes.
Now, if you struggle with your serve and regularly hit them out, fair enough. Just keep it simple and get them in.
But, if you’re fairly consistent try giving your opponent something a little more challenging to deal with by hitting your serve deep, to their backhand, or with some power or spin.
Why? Because it gives your opponent less control over where they place their return, thereby making your third shot easier. It also makes your serves less predictable.
If you want to be an effective server, you should still be getting the vast majority of your serves in. But, if you’re hitting 100% of your serves, there’s a good chance you’re making life easy for your opponent.
7. Forehand takes the middle
Forehand takes the middle is a common approach on deciding who gets balls down the middle of the court. The partner that has the forehand shot takes it.
While this is generally a good default, it may not be the best option.
The rationale for having the forehand takes the middle is because people generally have a stronger forehand shot compared to their backhand.
But what happens if you’re an intermediate player and your partner is an advanced player? Chances are their backhand is probably just as good, if not better, than your forehand.
The spirit behind the forehand takes the middle approach is that the player with the stronger shot should take the ball. Consider whether forehand takes the middle is the best approach for your team or whether an alternate strategy makes more sense.
8. The first team to attack the ball usually loses
This is a statistic that gets quoted from time to time that I’ve yet to find a source for – and I’ve looked long and hard.
It’s usually brought up as a reminder to a player who has just hit hard on a ball only to have it come flying back at them.
We’ve all had the experience of eating a pickleball sandwich because we’ve attacked a ball at the wrong time. The key here is to recognize that when you do hit hard on the ball, you need to choose the right ball to attack.
It takes time and experience to learn which balls are attackable and which ones are probably going to lead to your opponent smashing the ball back at you.
Being patient and learning to identify a quality opportunity is an important skill in pickleball. But don’t be too afraid to attack the ball aggressively. You will never build the experience to know which balls to attack and which to handle more conservatively if you don’t take some risks.
There you have it, some of the most prevalent myths in the game of pickleball. Now, next time you hear one of these myths perpetuated you can step in and provide an alternative perspective.