How to Hit a Pickleball Forehand Drive: The Ultimate Guide

Third Shot Blog

By Third Shot Blog

As pickleball has evolved, one shot that has taken center stage is the forehand drive. Useful in both singles and doubles, a strong pickleball forehand drive plays a key part in advanced strategies and setting up scoring opportunities. In this guide, we’ll break down the forehand drive in pickleball. We’ll explain what it is, when to use it, and the technique behind it. Ready to add this powerful shot to your arsenal? Let’s dive in.

What is a pickleball forehand drive?

The pickleball forehand drive involves forcefully swinging forward with your dominant hand, or the hand holding the paddle. It is an offensive shot in pickleball that can be used for a variety of purposes in both singles and doubles games.

The forehand drive combines power, technique, and footwork to create a shot that is difficult to return. Whether your goal is a clean winner or forcing your opponent to commit an error, the pickleball forehand drive can create many scoring opportunities.

The importance of a strong forehand in pickleball

In pickleball, it’s important to develop strokes that you can hit confidently and consistently. For many players, the forehand drive is a shot they rely on. It’s one of the more natural techniques to learn as a beginner, especially if you have a tennis or racquet sports background.

Developing a strong forehand drive can lead to other techniques and on-court strategies. For example, your partner can crash the net, poach, and hit a put-away volley after your opponent defends your drive. This technique is known as “shake and bake.”

When should you hit a forehand drive in pickleball?

Pickleball players most commonly hit a forehand drive on the third shot of the point, also known as a “third shot drive.” The sequence goes like this:

  1. You or your partner serves
  2. Your opponent returns serve
  3. You hit a forehand drive

This strategy is popular because the serve returner typically runs to the kitchen line after returning serve. It is difficult to return a powerful groundstroke while moving forward, or when your feet are not set. Aiming your third shot drive toward the serve returner may give you a quick offensive advantage in the point, or win the point outright.

Other scenarios for a pickleball forehand drive

Other than the third shot, there are several other situations where you can hit a forehand drive with great effect:

  • Your opponent struggles with powerful shots. Pay attention to whether your opponent seems overwhelmed by fast-paced shots, or if they tend to pop the ball up into the air.
  • Your opponent lingers in the transition area after returning serve. If your opponent stays in the middle of the court, or the “transition zone,” after returning serve, this is the perfect opportunity for a strong drive that’s tough to volley from mid-court.
  • Change up the sequence of your shots. If you typically hit drops on your third or fifth shots, an unexpected forehand drive can catch your opponent off-guard and cause them to commit errors.
  • Your initial strategy is not effective. Most players start each point with a plan. When that initial plan falters, or your opponent counters, a forehand drive can give them a different look and possibly disrupt their rhythm.
  • Attempting a passing shot in singles play. It is much harder to cover the court in singles, especially when you’re at the net. Use the forehand drive as a passing shot to put the ball out of reach of your opponent.

Where should you hit a forehand drive in pickleball?

If you’re hitting a third shot drive, the best place to aim your forehand drive is at the serve returner as they rush to the net. It is difficult to volley a powerful shot when you’re running forward. Hitting at the serve returner may cause them to commit an error or pop the ball up for another aggressive shot from your team.

If both of your opponents are already at the kitchen, a great position to hit the forehand drive is in between them. There’s little time for your opponents to communicate when defending a drive. This may lead to confusion, mis-hits, and unforced errors.

Ultimately, because of the power and pace of the shot, you should aim your forehand drive toward the back of the pickleball court. Doing so will help you achieve the proper arc and net clearance for the stroke.

What grip should you use for a forehand drive in pickleball?

Many beginners use a continental forehand grip when hitting a forehand drive. It’s a highly versatile grip that opens the paddle face. The continental grip can be used for both forehands and backhands.

More advanced pickleball players typically use the eastern or semi-western forehand grip when hitting a forehand drive shot. These grip techniques place your hand more behind the handle than the continental grip, resulting in more power and topspin.

How to hit a pickleball forehand drive: step-by-step

  1. Start in the ready position. In preparation for the shot, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with your knees slightly bent. Hold the paddle upright in both hands.
  2. Move to the ball. Take small, controlled steps to the ball, maintaining your balance.
  3. Rotate your body (unit turn). Rotate your body so that when your feet are set, your non-dominant foot and shoulder are closer to the net.
  4. Bend your knees. Keep your knees bent throughout the stroke, storing power in your lower body.
  5. Start your backswing. Create a compact loop or “C” with your paddle, ending with the paddle slightly below the contact point with the ball. The backswing does not need to be pronounced, like in tennis.
  6. Use your off-hand for balance. Keep your non-dominant hand up as a counterbalance for your backswing and forward swing. Some players point at the ball to improve hand-eye coordination and balance.
  7. Move your body weight forward. As you begin your forward swing, move your body weight forward.
  8. Uncoil your stance. Rotate your body through the shot (legs, hips, and shoulders), pivoting on your non-dominant foot.
  9. Swing from your shoulder. Utilize your entire arm during the forehand stroke, not just your elbow or wrist.
  10. Swing from low to high. The path of the swing should be a slight low-to-high motion. This helps generate net clearance and topspin.
  11. Keep your wrist loose. Keep your wrist relaxed and allow it to “snap” through the ball, turning your arm into a whip. This technique generates additional power and pace.
  12. Contact the ball out front. Make contact with the ball in front of your body, with your wrist slightly bent at contact. The contact point should also be off to your side, giving your arm plenty of space to swing.
  13. Brush up on the ball. During contact, brush up on the back of the ball for topspin. Applying topspin makes your shot more difficult to return and more likely to land in bounds.
  14. Extend your arm. After contact, extend your arm through the shot in the direction where you want your shot to go. In pickleball, where the hand goes, the ball goes.
  15. Follow through. Finish the stroke with the paddle near or over your non-dominant shoulder, having completed the low-to-high swing path.

Key strategies and tactics

Targeting weaknesses

Similar to chess, pickleball is about identifying and capitalizing on your opponent’s weaknesses. For many players, their backhand is weaker or less reliable than their forehand. Try aiming your forehand drive shot to this side early on to possibly win a few quick points.

Depth and placement

In most cases, you want to aim your forehand drive to land deep in your opponent’s court, near the baseline. This will ensure that your shot has the proper arc and net clearance. Additionally, if your opponent decides to stay back after returning serve, a deep drive will make it difficult to hit an effective drop.

Ball control

Make sure you utilize plenty of topspin on your forehand drive. Topspin helps you control the depth of your shot and the added spin creates a tricky bounce for your opponent to return. Learning how to hit with topspin can improve several other shots as well.

Variety and disguise

You don’t want your shot to be predictable. Otherwise, your opponent will predict and counter your technique. Vary where and how hard you hit your forehand drive. Mix in a few third shot drops to keep your opponents on their toes.

Patience and timing

Like any shot in pickleball, it’s important to hit the forehand drive when it will be most effective. Watch your opponents carefully and try to identify weak points and tendencies. Target those weaknesses with your forehand drive for maximum impact.

Common mistakes with the forehand drive

Over-swinging

This is the most common issue with the pickleball forehand drive. Over-swinging results in a lack of control and decreased accuracy. Oftentimes, the cause is poor technique and lack of follow-through.

Poor ball contact

For best results, you want to hit the ball with the center of the paddle face, also known as the “sweet spot.” This is where the response off the paddle face is the strongest and most consistent, giving you the best pop on your shot. Hitting the ball with the sweet spot requires strong hand-eye coordination and forward swing technique.

Lack of follow-through

The follow-through is just as important as the forward swing. Make sure that your arm extends fully during the follow-through, and that the paddle finishes high and across your body. This technique will help maintain the intended trajectory and add more power. Remember: where the hand goes, the ball goes.

Rushing the shot

During a fast-paced point, it’s easy to get sucked into the moment and hurry your shots. The problem is that rushing a shot sacrifices form and technique. This typically results in less consistency and more unforced errors. Try to focus on proper form on your forehand drive. You have more time than you think you do.

Inconsistent stance

Your stance is an important component of your stroke. It stabilizes you, allowing your arm to freely swing through the ball. If your stance changes from shot to shot, it will be difficult to achieve consistent results. Whenever possible, set your feet in a stable, closed stance that allows you to rotate your body.

Tips for hitting with more power on your forehand drive

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

  • Keep your paddle arm loose and relaxed. A loose arm is a powerful arm.
  • Bend your legs in preparation for the shot, storing power from your lower body.
  • Swing with your entire arm; don’t just bend your elbow or wrist.
  • Allow your wrist to snap through contact with the ball.
  • Rotate and uncork your body during the forward swing
  • Step through the shot, moving your body weight forward.
  • Follow through with the shot.

Tips for hitting with more topspin on your forehand drive

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

  • Swing with a low-to-high motion, with the paddle finishing the follow-through near or above your shoulder.
  • Keep your wrist slightly bent during your backswing, before you make contact.
  • Brush up on the ball with the paddle face when making contact.
  • Keep your arm loose to generate swing speed. Higher swing speed helps generate more topspin.
  • Keep your legs bent throughout the shot to get below the ball for an optimal swing path.

Frequently Asked Questions

What foot do you step with when hitting a forehand in pickleball?

When setting your stance for a forehand in pickleball, you should step forward with your non-dominant foot. For right-handed players, this means stepping forward with your left foot, while left-handed players do the opposite. This helps you achieve a closed stance that allows you to rotate your body through the shot.

What drills can I practice to improve my forehand drive in pickleball?

Many drills can help you improve your forehand shot in pickleball:

  • Static drop feed drill: This drill involves standing at the baseline, standing in your forehand drive stance while holding the pickleball. Drop the ball, then hit your forehand stroke after it bounces. Focus on consistent form and follow-through, aiming toward the back of the opposite court. If you have a training partner or coach, they can also do soft underhand feeds for similar practices.
  • Third shot drive drill: This drill requires a training partner. Hit a serve and have your training partner return serve and move to the net. As they move forward, hit a forehand drive toward them. This drill allows both of you to practice realistic game scenarios.
  • Ball machine drill: This drill requires a ball machine. The benefit of a ball machine is consistent feeds to practice your shots. Have the ball machine feed you balls in the transition zone. Hit multiple forehand drives to either corner of the opposite court. For an added touch, add targets to direct your aim.

How do you hit the sweet spot in pickleball?

The “sweet spot” in pickleball refers to the center of the paddle face. This is where the response off the pickleball paddle face will be the most crisp and consistent. It is also where you’ll get the most pop, allowing you to hit with more pace. Hitting outside of the sweet spot may result in less control over your shots.

Hitting the sweet spot on forehand and backhand strokes requires solid form and hand-eye coordination. If you’re able to, watch the ball through contact with your pickleball paddle. Practice and training will also help you achieve consistent contact with the sweet spot.

How do you handle a hard drive in pickleball?

If you’re on the receiving end of a powerful drive, how you respond depends on your position on the pickleball court. If you’re at the net, a block volley with minimal backswing is your best option. Try resetting the ball and dropping it short to prevent your opponent from hitting another drive. If you’re at the baseline, try dropping the ball into your opponent’s kitchen. Keep your knees bent to meet the low-bouncing ball and lift it with your paddle for the proper arc. This will prevent your opponent from attacking the next ball and allow you to get to the net.