How to Hit a Forehand Drive in Pickleball: The Ultimate Guide

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As pickleball has gotten faster, the forehand drive has taken center stage.

This fast-paced shot puts pressure on your opponents and creates scoring opportunities in singles and doubles matches.

In this guide, we’ll break down the pickleball forehand drive. We’ll explain what it is, when to use it, and the technique behind it.

Ready to add a blistering forehand drive to your arsenal? Let’s dive in.

What is a pickleball forehand drive?

The forehand drive is a groundstroke in pickleball that involves forcefully swinging forward with your dominant hand (or the hand holding the pickleball paddle). It’s a powerful shot designed to overwhelm opponents or put the ball out of reach.

The pickleball forehand drive combines power, technique, and footwork to produce a shot that’s difficult to return. Whether your goal is a clean winner or forcing a weak return, the forehand drive creates many scoring opportunities in pickleball.

This technique is useful in both singles and doubles. In singles, the forehand drive can move your opponent around the court. In doubles, a powerful drive (with either a forehand or backhand shot) can put pressure on your opponents at the net.

Female pickleball player wearing a black top hitting a forehand drive from behind the baseline. Her paddle is high and across her body as she follows through with the shot.

The importance of a strong forehand in pickleball

In the game of pickleball, it’s important to develop shots that you can hit confidently and consistently.

For many pickleball players, the forehand drive is a shot they rely on. It’s one of the more natural strokes to learn as a beginner, especially if you have a tennis or racquet sports background.

Additionally, pickleball is getting faster, especially at the professional level. Gone are the days where you would only use softer shots like drops and dinks to achieve victory.

Players are hitting powerful drives to win points quickly and gain offensive advantages. Developing a powerful drive shot can help you stay at the forefront of the game and, in a way, fight fire with fire.

Usefulness in singles

The forehand drive is a key component of pickleball singles. Once your opponent is at the net (which typically happens after they return serve), they have a strategic advantage. A passing shot in the form of a strong forehand drive is the perfect countermeasure.

However, this technique is not limited to only being a passing shot in singles.

If you and your opponent are at the baseline, a battle of groundstrokes may ensue. If you have a powerful forehand drive, you can use it to dictate the point and move your opponent around the court.

Usefulness in doubles

The forehand drive is highly useful in pickleball doubles. In the modern game, many players hit a third shot drive to put pressure on their opponents at the net. When hit effectively, a powerful drive opens up advanced doubles strategies like “Shake and Bake.”

The trick is knowing when to hit a drive in doubles. If your opponent hits a weak return of serve that sits up in the transition zone, this is the perfect opportunity for a forehand drive. If your opponent hits a lob and you have to retreat, forcing a drive when your foe is at the net probably isn’t the best option.

When should you hit a forehand drive in pickleball?

Pickleball players most commonly hit the forehand drive as their third shot. This is referred to as a “third shot drive.” The sequence goes like this:

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

This strategy is effective because the serve returner typically runs to the kitchen immediately after returning serve. It’s difficult to return a powerful shot while moving forward, when your feet are not set.

Directing your third shot drive toward the serve returner can give you a quick offensive advantage in the point.

Other scenarios for a pickleball forehand drive

There are several situations other than the third shot where the forehand drive can help you gain control of the point:

  • Your opponent struggles with powerful shots. Observe whether your opponent is overwhelmed by fast-paced shots, or if they pop the ball up into the air.
  • Your opponent stays in the transition zone after returning serve. If your opponent lingers in the middle of the court (a.k.a. the “transition zone”) after returning serve, a strong drive is an effective option.
  • Change up your sequence of shots. If you typically hit drops on your third or fifth shots, a forehand drive may catch your opponent off-guard.
  • Your initial strategy is not effective. When your initial game plan falters, a forehand drive can give your opponent a different look and possibly disrupt their rhythm.
  • Attempting a passing shot in singles play. It’s difficult to cover the entire court in singles, especially when you’re at the net. When your opponent is at the kitchen, hit a passing shot in the form of a forehand drive to put the ball out of reach.

Where should you hit a forehand drive in pickleball?

On a third shot drive, the best place to aim your shot is at the serve returner as they rush to the net. It’s difficult to volley a fast-paced shot while you’re moving forward.

This approach may cause the serve returner to commit an error or pop the ball up for an overhead smash from you or your partner.

Alternatively, if the returning player handles your drive shot with ease, consider testing their partner at the net. Observe how they manage the fast-paced shot. If they commit a few errors, continue hitting your forehand drive toward them.

If they volley the shot effectively, revert to hitting toward the serve returner, or hit more drops to get to the kitchen.

If your opponents are already at the net, an effective spot to hit the pickleball forehand drive is in between them.

There’s little time for your opponents to communicate when defending a drive. Aiming toward the middle may lead to confusion, mis-hits, and unforced errors on your opponents’ end.

Forehand Drive TargetBenefits
Serve ReturnerIt is difficult for the returning player to defend a fast-paced shot while running to the net.
Net PlayerThis approach may catch the opposing team off-guard, resulting in potential unforced errors.
In Between Opponents (Both At Net)Defending a shot in the middle is difficult when there is little time to communicate.

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

Many pickleball beginners use a continental grip when hitting a forehand drive. It’s a versatile grip that opens the paddle face.

The continental grip is a beginner-friendly grip technique that can be used for both forehands and backhands. It can also be used for softer shots like drops and dinks.

More advanced pickleball players utilize the eastern grip or western grip for forehand drive shots. These grips techniques are typically better for power and spin, but the more extreme paddle face angles can make them difficult for beginners to wield.

At the professional level, the eastern and semi-western grips are the most popular options.

Forehand drive grip techniques

Grip TechniqueBenefits
ContinentalHighly versatile and beginner-friendly grip that opens the paddle face.
Eastern ForehandPlaces the hand behind the paddle handle at contact, making it easier to generate power.
Western ForehandProvides superior access to topspin, creating a tricky bounce for your opponent.

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

  1. Start in the ready position: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, with your knees slightly bent. Hold the paddle upright with both hands.
  2. Move to the ball: Take small, controlled steps to receive the ball, maintaining your balance. Position yourself so you have plenty of room to swing. Ideally, you want to position your body to contact the ball around waist-level.
  3. Rotate your body (unit turn): Rotate your body so that your non-dominant foot and shoulder are closer to the net. Adopt a semi-closed stance, also known as a “square stance.” Your non-dominant foot is one corner of the square, and the contact point with the ball is the other corner.
  4. Bend your knees: Keep your knees slightly bent in preparation of the shot, generating power from your lower body. This helps you drive your body weight through the ball, resulting in greater power and stability.
  5. Start your backswing: Create a compact loop or “C” motion with your paddle, ending with the paddle head slightly below the ball. When executing drive shots, compact paddle motions and succinct backswing are sufficient.
  6. Use your off-hand for balance: Use your non-dominant hand as a counterbalance for optimal control during your backswing. Some players point at the ball with their off-hand to improve hand-eye coordination, timing, and control.
  7. Begin your forward swing: Begin your forward swing, aiming for a low to high motion. As you swing, maintain your balance and transfer your body weight to your front foot.
  8. Uncoil your stance: Rotate your body (legs, hips, and shoulders) through the forward swing, pivoting on your non-dominant foot. This is also called “uncoiling the stance.”
  9. Swing from your shoulder: Utilize your entire arm, not just your elbow or wrist, to swing through the ball. Swinging from your shoulder results in greater power and control
  10. Swing from low to high: Aim for a low to high swing path when executing a forehand drive. This technique generates net clearance and topspin.
  11. Keep your wrist loose: Relax your wrist and allow it to “snap” through the ball, essentially turning your arm into a whip. This technique generates pace and topspin.
  12. Contact the ball out front: Contact the ball in front and to the side of your body, with your wrist slightly bent. Adjust your body positioning so your arm has plenty of space to swing through the ball.
  13. Brush up on the ball: When making contact, brush up on the back of the ball with the pickleball paddle. This technique generates topspin for more aggressive swings.
  14. Extend your arm: After making contact, extend your arm through the shot in the direction where you want the ball to land. Where the hand goes, the ball goes.
  15. Follow through: Follow through with the paddle high and across your body or over your non-dominant shoulder. Maintain your balance and get ready for the next shot.

Check out our other pickleball guides!

Key strategies and tactics

Targeting weaknesses

In pickleball, targeting weaknesses is a strategic approach that can give you a competitive edge over your opponent.

By identifying and exploiting their vulnerabilities, such as their weaker backhand, you can increase the chances of forcing errors or creating opportunities for aggressive shots. By strategically aiming for their weak side, you can disrupt their game plan and gain control of the match.

This tactical approach, similar to a chess match, allows you to strategically outmaneuver your opponent and dictate the flow of the game.

Depth and placement

Depth and placement are key components of an effective forehand drive.

By consistently hitting deep shots close to the baseline, you can force your opponent to play further from the net, limiting their options for a strong return.

This strategic placement not only puts pressure on your opponent but also creates opportunities for additional aggressive shots from your team.

By mastering the skill of placing your shots with precision, you can gain better control over the game and keep your opponent on their toes.

Ball control

When it comes to ball control in pickleball, it is essential to focus on three key aspects: grip, spin, and height.

Maintaining a consistent grip on your paddle will ensure maximum power and accuracy in your shots. Additionally, adding a touch of topspin to your strokes can help control the direction and depth of the ball.

Keeping the ball low by adjusting the trajectory can limit your opponent’s options for a return, ultimately putting you in control of the game.

By incorporating these techniques into your gameplay, you can improve your overall ball control and dominate on the pickleball court.

Variety and disguise

In the realm of pickleball, mastering the art of variety and disguise can be a game-changer.

By incorporating a diverse range of shots, spins, and speeds into your forehand shot, you can keep your opponent on their toes and disrupt their rhythm.

Whether it’s a sudden change in angle, a well-disguised drop shot, or a powerful drive down the line, mixing up your shots will make it difficult for your opponent to anticipate your next move.

By staying unpredictable and adaptable, you can gain the upper hand in the game and keep your opponent guessing.

Patience and timing

Patience and timing are essential components of a successful forehand drive in pickleball.

It is crucial to wait for the right moment to strike, taking into account your opponent’s position and the trajectory of the ball.

By exercising patience and waiting for the opportune moment, you can ensure that your shot is both powerful and accurate. Timing is key in executing a powerful drive shot, as rushing the shot can lead to errors and missed opportunities.

By staying composed and waiting for the perfect timing, you can increase your chances of gaining control and winning the point.

Ball height

When driving the ball with your forehand, it is crucial to pay attention to the height of the ball.

You don’t want your shot to be too low, as it may result in hitting the net.

Conversely, hitting the ball too high can lead to shots going out of bounds or setting up easy counters for your opponents.

Finding that sweet spot in terms of ball height will help you maintain control and accuracy in your drives, ultimately giving you the upper hand in the game.

Common mistakes with the forehand drive

Over-swinging

Over-swinging is a common mistake that many pickleball players make when attempting a forehand drive.

This error can lead to a loss of control and reduced accuracy in your shots. To avoid over-swinging, focus on executing controlled, fluid motions that generate power while maintaining precision.

Think of your arm as a whip, snapping through the shot with a smooth, relaxed motion.

By correcting your follow-through and adopting a more relaxed approach, you can improve your drive and increase your chances of hitting powerful and accurate shots.

Poor ball contact

Poor ball contact can greatly impact the power and accuracy of your forehand drive in pickleball.

To ensure optimal performance, it is crucial to strike the ball with the center of the paddle face, maximizing the “sweet spot” for maximum pop on your shot.

Misaligned body position, incorrect timing, or simply not knowing the sweet spot on your paddle can lead to poor ball contact.

Focus on practicing your footwork and timing to ensure you are in the right position to hit the ball squarely, while also keeping your eye on the ball until the moment of impact with your paddle.

By making a conscious effort to improve your ball contact, you can enhance the overall effectiveness of your forehand drive.

Lack of follow-through

Lack of follow-through is a common mistake that can greatly impact the effectiveness of your forehand drive. Failing to fully extend your arm during the follow-through can result in a weaker, less-controlled shot.

To avoid this, focus on maintaining a fluid motion throughout your swing, ensuring that your arm extends fully and the paddle finishes high and across your body.

By emphasizing the importance of follow-through, you can improve the power and accuracy of your forehand drive.

Rushing the shot

To avoid rushing your shot, focus on setting up the shot properly by having good footwork, adopting a “square stance,” transferring your weight effectively, and preparing your paddle in the correct position.

Take your time to ensure that you are in the right position to execute a powerful shot, rather than sacrificing technique for speed.

Remember that generating power in your shot involves utilizing your entire body in a coordinated manner, not just relying on arm strength.

By taking your time and focusing on the fundamentals, you can improve the quality of your shots and avoid rushing your strokes.

Inconsistent stance

Inconsistent stance is a common mistake that can greatly affect a player’s ability to hit powerful and accurate shots on the pickleball court.

By maintaining a balanced and stable stance with feet shoulder-width apart and knees slightly bent, players can develop muscle memory and ensure they have a solid foundation for generating power and control during their swings.

Consistency in ready position and footwork for the forward swing is key to improving shot accuracy and overall performance on the court.

Female pickleball player wearing a blue top hitting a forehand drive from the transition zone during a game of doubles. Her male partner stands to her right.

Tips for hitting with more power on your forehand drive

Many pickleball players strive to hit their shots with more power. Generating power in pickleball requires solid technique, timing, and body control.

Here are some helpful tips and tricks for hitting with maximum power on your pickleball forehand drive:

  • Keep your paddle arm loose and relaxed. A loose arm is a powerful arm.
  • Bend your legs, generating power from your lower body.
  • Swing with your entire arm, not just your elbow or wrist.
  • Allow your wrist to snap through contact with the ball.
  • Rotate and uncoil your body through the shot.
  • Move your body weight forward through the shot.
  • Follow through, with the paddle high and across your body.

Tips for hitting with more topspin on your forehand drive

Topspin can be a game-changer in the game of pickleball. Beyond controlling the depth of your shot with a dipping trajectory, topspin creates tricky bounces for your opponent to handle.

Here are 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 high and across your body (e.g., above your non-dominant shoulder).
  • Utilize an eastern grip or a semi-western grip for easier access to topspin.
  • Have your wrist slightly bent at contact, allowing it to “snap” through the ball.
  • Brush up on the back of the ball with the pickleball paddle face during contact.
  • Keep your arm loose, whipping it through the shot to generate swing speed. Higher swing speed equals more topspin.
  • Bend your legs to get below the ball for the optimal contact point and low to high swing path.

Frequently Asked Questions

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

When hitting a forehand in pickleball, step forward with your non-dominant foot.

For right-handed players, this means stepping forward with your left foot. Left-handed players do the opposite.

Stepping forward with your non-dominant foot creates a semi-closed stance that is ideal for the forehand drive.

Is power or spin more important for a forehand drive?

When it comes to executing a successful forehand drive in pickleball, a combination of power and spin is essential.

While power can help you hit the ball harder and faster, adding spin to your shot can increase its difficulty for your opponent to return.

By incorporating both power and spin into your forehand drive, you can keep your opponent guessing and maintain control over the game.

Remember, it’s about finding the right balance between power and spin to execute a well-rounded and effective shot.

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

Drilling and practice are important for enhancing your pickleball skills.

By practicing the right shots and techniques, you can dominate the court in no time. Here are some helpful drills to improve your forehand drive 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 do soft underhand feeds for similar practices.
  • Third shot drive drill: This drill requires a training partner. Follow this sequence: you serve the ball, then your partner returns serve and runs to the net. As they’re moving 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. A ball machine is beneficial in that it provides consistent feeds to practice your shots. Set the machine to feed you balls that land in the transition zone. Hit forehand drives to either corner of the opposite court. For an added touch, add targets in the corners of the court 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.

The sweet spot is where the response off the pickleball paddle face is the most crisp and consistent. It’s also where you’ll get the most “pop,” allowing you to hit with more pace.

Making contact outside of the sweet spot may result in less control and consistency.

Hitting the sweet spot on forehand and backhand drives requires solid form and hand-eye coordination. Keep your eye on 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?

A drive is one of the harder shots to defend. If you’re on the receiving end of a hard drive in pickleball, how you respond depends on your position on the court.

If you’re at the net, a block volley with minimal backswing is your best option. Focus on resetting the ball and dropping it short to prevent your opponent from hitting another drive.

If you’re at the baseline, hit a drive in return or drop it into your opponent’s kitchen (depending on their position).

Keep your knees bent to meet the low-bouncing ball and lift it with your paddle for the proper arc and net clearance.

What is the difference between a serve and a groundstroke in pickleball?

In pickleball, the difference between a serve and a groundstroke lies in the timing and purpose of each shot.

A serve is the first shot of the point by any play, putting the ball in play. The serve can be hit in the air below the waist (volley serve) or after it bounces (drop serve).

On the other hand, a groundstroke is any shot that’s executed after the ball has bounced during a rally. While many groundstrokes are forceful shots, they can also be used to drop the ball into the kitchen, maintaining strategic positioning during dink rallies, and other purposes.

Both shots require different techniques and strategies.

Key takeaways

  • The pickleball forehand drive is a fast-paced shot that puts pressure on opponents and creates scoring opportunities in singles and doubles matches.
  • The forehand drive involves forcefully swinging forward with your dominant hand while holding the pickleball paddle.
  • It’s a powerful shot designed to overwhelm opponents or put the ball out of reach.
  • The forehand drive combines power, technique, and footwork to produce a difficult-to-return shot.
  • Practicing the forehand drive will improve your accuracy, timing, and consistency.
  • Key elements of the forehand drive include a proper grip, a smooth swing, good balance, and using your whole body to generate power.
  • It’s important to keep your eye on the ball and maintain a relaxed grip throughout the shot.
  • Proactively positioning yourself on the court and anticipating the ball’s trajectory will help you set up for an effective forehand drive.
  • Learning when to use the forehand drive is crucial for strategic play and taking advantage of scoring opportunities.
  • By mastering the pickleball forehand drive, you can become a stronger and more versatile player on the court.
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