How to Hit a Pickleball Backhand Drive: The Ultimate Guide

Third Shot Blog

By Third Shot Blog

If you’re a pickleball player looking to improve your game, you need to learn the basics of every shot. In addition dinks, drops, and serve, it’s important to add the backhand drive to your toolkit. Read on to learn how to hit a pickleball backhand, advanced strategies, and other tips to take your game to the next level!

What is a backhand drive in pickleball?

A backhand drive in pickleball is a powerful and aggressive stroke executed on the backhand side of a player, intended to apply pressure on the opponent by hitting the ball with force and speed low over the net. This shot is typically used when the ball is approaching the player’s non-dominant side and is best utilized to maintain offensive momentum, counteract an opponent’s attack, or strategically place the ball in difficult positions for the opponent to return. The technique involves turning the body to align the paddle’s backside with the incoming ball, using a compact swing, and following through towards the target, aiming for consistency and precision to challenge the opponent’s defense effectively.

One-handed backhand drive vs two-handed backhand drive

The pickleball backhand drive can be hit with one or two hands. In the modern game, and especially at the professional level, the two-handed backhand is more popular due to the extra stability and control. The extra hand can also help you generate topspin to control the depth of the shot. Ultimately, though, it’s up to the player whether to use one or two hands. Both can and do work extremely well.

The player’s background in different racquet and paddle sports may also play a part in this decision. For example, many tennis players that try pickleball use a two-handed backhand, as it is the more popular option in tennis. But for table tennis players, the one-handed backhand may be more natural to bring to the pickleball court.

The importance of a strong backhand drive in pickleball

The importance of a strong backhand drive in pickleball cannot be overstated, as it serves as a critical component of a player’s offensive arsenal and strategic versatility. A proficient backhand drive not only enables a player to confidently respond to shots on their non-dominant side but also allows for the execution of aggressive, powerful returns that can keep opponents on the defensive and open up the court for strategic play. It enhances a player’s ability to maintain rally momentum, apply pressure without switching paddle hands, and exploit weaknesses in the opponent’s positioning.

Furthermore, mastering the backhand drive can significantly broaden a player’s range of shots, making their game unpredictable and challenging for opponents to counter. This skill is essential for competitive play, where the ability to seamlessly deliver strong, accurate shots from both sides of the body can be the difference between winning and losing points during critical moments of a match.

When should you hit a backhand drive in pickleball?

Knowing when to hit certain shots is half the battle in pickleball. Here are some scenarios when hitting a strong backhand drive can work to your advantage:

  • Opponent Struggles with Power Shots: When you notice that your opponents have difficulty handling fast, aggressive returns, making them prone to errors or weak returns.
  • Opponent in Transition: If your opponent is caught in the transition area (between the baseline and the non-volley zone), a powerful backhand drive can prevent them from setting up in a favorable position.
  • Opponents Rushing Forward: When opponents aggressively move forward without proper positioning, they can be caught off guard by a well-placed backhand drive, especially to their sides.
  • Short Serve Returns: A short return of serve presents an opportunity to hit a backhand drive, exploiting the gap before the opponent or their partner can properly position themselves in the non-volley zone.
  • To Add Variety and Unpredictability: Mixing in backhand drives with your usual play can keep opponents guessing and disrupt their rhythm, making your game more versatile.
  • Strategy Shift: If your primary game plan, particularly a soft game, isn’t working, switching to more aggressive backhand drives can help regain momentum and confidence.
  • Executing a Passing Shot in Singles: In singles play, a strong backhand drive can be particularly effective when your opponent is moving towards the non-volley line, exploiting the larger area they must cover.

Where should you hit a backhand drive in pickleball?

Given that the backhand drive is typically executed from a deeper position on the court, it affords the player additional time and space to adjust their grip and stance. Consequently, transitioning from the continental grip, often employed for strokes near the non-volley line for both forehands and backhands, to a grip more suited for backhand drives can enhance performance. Specifically, adopting the eastern backhand grip or a two-handed backhand grip can significantly improve control and power. The eastern backhand grip facilitates better hand positioning behind the paddle, thereby increasing power and the ability to impart topspin on the ball. For players who favor a two-handed approach, this grip can offer greater stability and control, making it easier to handle powerful returns and generate forceful backhand drives.

What grip should you use for a backhand drive?

How you grip the pickleball paddle depends on whether you use one or two hands. However, a continental grip (also known as the handshake grip) with your dominant hand can work for both options. The continental grip creates a more neutral angle of the paddle face that can be used for forehands and backhands without changing grips.

Grip for a two-handed backhand

For a two-handed backhand, start by holding the paddle with your dominant hand using a continental grip. Place your non-dominant hand above your dominant hand using an eastern or semi-western forehand grip.

Due to the short length of the paddle handle, many pros place one or two fingers of their non-dominant hand on the paddle face. Anna-Leigh Waters is a perfect example of this technique. Whether you take the same or a similar approach is completely up to you.

Grip for a one-handed backhand

Sticking with a continental grip can 100% work for a one-handed backhand. Especially if you’re not trying to hit with too much topspin, a continental grip can be a familiar option to drive the ball.

But if you’re trying to hit with slightly more power and spin, an eastern backhand grip may be a better option. An eastern backhand grip is achieved by placing the knuckle of your pointer finger on the top of the handle when the paddle face is perpendicular to the ground.

Pickleball backhand drive fundamentals

Early preparation

To improve your backhand shot in pickleball, it’s important to ready your body and paddle as soon as you see the ball heading towards your backhand side. Instead of a large backswing like in tennis, a twisting motion will generate enough power for the shot. This wind-up motion, similar to winding a spring, allows you to prepare and hit the ball with the back of the paddle without requiring a big swing. So, remember to wind up and let it fly when executing your pickleball backhand.

Non-dominant hand for support (two-handed backhand)

When executing a backhand shot in pickleball, it is common for players to employ a wrist flick, which can lead to various issues, such as insufficient power in the shot. An alternative approach is to utilize the non-dominant hand for added support during the backhand stroke. Even when using a one-handed backhand, the non-dominant hand can assist in body rotation and paddle support. Opting for a two-handed shot is also a valid option, with no definitive right or wrong choice. Nevertheless, it is important for the non-dominant hand to play a role regardless of the chosen technique.

Step into the shot

The next crucial move is to enter into the shot. If you’re right-handed, this involves stepping with your right foot, while left-handed players should use their left foot. Failing to take this step can result in a feeble shot and may lead to an unsteady, off-balance position, requiring you to lunge your body.

Make contact out in front

For anyone who has experience in pickleball, the following advice is likely familiar. It pertains to every type of shot in the game. However, many players tend to retreat as they strike the ball or let it pass them before making contact. When executing a strong backhand shot, it is crucial to make contact with the ball while it is in front of you. By allowing yourself enough time to position yourself, coil your body, and then step into the shot, this issue should not arise.

Follow through

Too many times, a player assumes the perfect position, executes a strong shot, but fails to complete the follow-through with their paddle. The result? A disappointing doink as the ball hits the net, abruptly ending the rally and any hope of scoring a point. The follow-through represents a critical component of your pickleball shot, yet many players fall short by neglecting it, missing out on numerous potential successful shots. To achieve an effective follow-through in your pickleball shots, it’s crucial to elevate the paddle and guide it through the ball. This action generates topspin and facilitates sending the ball over and down onto the opposing side of the court. If you notice yourself haphazardly swinging the paddle around your body during a follow-through, then you’re not executing it correctly.

Common mistakes with the backhand drive

Over-swinging

Over-swinging on a backhand drive can lead to diminished control and reduced precision, often happening when players fail to execute a proper follow-through. Instead of correcting the issue, over-swinging exacerbates it, compromising the shot’s effectiveness.

Poor ball contact

Making solid contact with the ball using the center of the paddle face is critical for maximizing both power and accuracy on a backhand drive. Utilizing the paddle’s sweet spot optimally ensures a powerful and precise shot. Misalignment of the body, mistimed swings, or unfamiliarity with the paddle’s sweet spot can result in suboptimal contact.

Lack of follow-through

The significance of a complete follow-through cannot be overstated, especially since some players tend to stop their swing too soon on backhand drives, which undermines both the shot’s power and control. Full extension and a high, across-the-body paddle finish are essential for preserving the shot’s intended path and enhancing its force.

Rushing through the shot

Rushing the backhand drive is a common mistake that compromises shot quality. Attempting to boost shot power without proper preparation leads to hurried strokes, sacrificing technique for speed. A deliberate approach, focusing on correct foot placement, weight transfer, and paddle positioning, is crucial. Power generation is not solely reliant on arm strength but involves the whole body, especially trunk rotation.

Inconsistent stance

An inconsistent stance makes it difficult to develop muscle memory and achieve shot consistency. To improve, maintain a stable and balanced stance with feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent, providing a solid foundation for powerful and controlled backhand drives. This stability is key to effectively executing backhand drives with reliability and force.

Tips for hitting with more power on your backhand drive

Some helpful tips and tricks for hitting with more power on your pickleball backhand drive include:

  • Swing with your entire arm (or arms, for a two-handed backhand), not just your elbow or wrist.
  • Contact the ball in front of your body.
  • Rotate and uncork your body during the forward swing.
  • Extend your arm (or arms) through the shot; don’t keep the paddle too close to your body.
  • Step through the shot, moving your body weight forward.
  • Follow through with the shot.

Tips for hitting with more topspin on your backhand drive

Some helpful tips and tricks for hitting with more topspin on your pickleball backhand drive include:

  • Swing with a low-to-high motion, with the paddle finishing high and across your body.
  • Brush up on the ball with the paddle face when making contact.
  • Keep your arm(s) loose to generate swing speed. Higher swing speed helps generate more topspin.
  • Keep your legs bent to help get the paddle below the ball for the low-to-high swing path.

Frequently asked questions

Do you change your grip for a backhand in pickleball?

If you exclusively use a continental grip while playing pickleball, there’s no need to adjust your grip. However, stronger players usually employ an eastern or semi-western grip for forehands. In such cases, it’s advisable to switch to a continental or eastern backhand grip for backhand shots. This adjustment ensures the paddle face is optimally positioned for a strong backhand drive.

Is a one-handed or two-handed backhand better in pickleball?

Although the two-handed backhand is more common among professional players, the one-handed backhand drive can be equally effective. The choice between the two depends on the player’s prior experience with racquet and paddle sports, as well as what feels instinctive to them. It’s important to note that the technique varies slightly depending on whether you use one hand or two, so pay attention to these differences to ensure proper execution.

Why use a two-handed backhand in pickleball?

The two-handed backhand typically offers greater stability and control compared to the one-handed backhand. Adding a second hand on the grip can also aid in generating additional power and topspin, enhancing the shot’s effectiveness and making it more challenging for opponents to return.

What is a disadvantage of using a two-handed backhand?

Although the two-handed backhand is widely favored, it has its drawbacks. The most notable disadvantage is its limited reach compared to the one-handed backhand. Furthermore, it is arguably less versatile. For instance, a one-handed backhand allows for greater shot variety, such as the ability to disguise your play and execute slice shots or delicate drop shots.

Do any pros use a one-handed backhand?

Yes! Some top pros including Tyson McGuffin and Jay Devilliers use a one-handed backhand with great success. These players are highly ranked in both singles and doubles on the PPA Tour.

How do you improve your backhand in pickleball?

Improving your backhand in pickleball involves a combination of technique refinement, strategic practice, and muscle memory development. One key aspect is to ensure proper grip and stance, focusing on a comfortable and effective position that allows for power and control. Practicing your swing path and point of contact is also crucial. Aim to hit the ball squarely with the paddle face perpendicular to the ground at impact, ensuring a smooth follow-through.

A few drills that can significantly enhance your backhand drive include:

  1. Wall Rally Drill: Stand a comfortable distance from a wall and continuously hit the ball against it using only your backhand. This drill helps improve your timing, accuracy, and consistency. Start with slow, controlled shots and gradually increase your pace as you become more comfortable.
  2. Target Practice: Set up targets on the court, such as cones or markers, at various distances and angles. Practice hitting these targets with your backhand drive to work on precision and control. This drill not only improves your backhand accuracy but also your ability to judge distance and angle.
  3. Cross-Court Drills: Practice hitting cross-court backhands with a partner, focusing on depth and placement. This drill simulates real game scenarios and helps you develop a more strategic and effective backhand drive. Try to maintain consistency in your shots, aiming to keep the ball low and close to the sidelines.

Can you backhand a serve in pickleball?

In pickleball, while it is technically possible to use a backhand stroke to serve, it is relatively uncommon and may not be the most effective choice for most players. The serve in pickleball is required to be an underhand strike, where the paddle must contact the ball below waist level, and the paddle head must not be above the highest part of the wrist at the point of contact. Players typically opt for a forehand serve to maximize power, control, and the ability to place the ball accurately across the net. However, for players who feel more comfortable or have a stronger backhand, executing a backhand serve following these rules is allowed and can be developed into a strategic component of their game.