By: CJ Johnson | August 29, 2020 |

Hitting the OUT Ball-How To Eliminate YOUR Biggest Pickleball Mistake

Don’t you hate it when you hit a ball that you know was going out? We’ve all done it before. You allow your opponents to stay in the point, and inadvertently help them build confidence.

Identifying and not hitting an out ball as it flies through the air is a learned skill. Here are eight key points to help you identify a ball that’s going out.

The Elements

Have you ever played a game with a new partner only to realize halfway through they’re a lefty? Whenever you step on the court, be aware of the outside factors that will influence the game. That includes the elements, the sun, and specifically, the wind. What direction and how hard is it blowing? If the wind’s at your opponent’s back, it makes a regular shot travel further.

One of the things I like to do is confirm my observations with my partner; “it looks like the wind is behind the other team.” That way, they’re aware of it as well.

Is Your Opponent a Consistent Player?

If they’re incredibly consistent, you probably can’t take as many chances. If they’re not very consistent, it’s a great time to let a questionable shot go past you. The results may be surprising!.

If you don’t know the answer to that question, let a few marginal shots go and see what happens. If they can keep the ball in, you need to change your tactics.

Does That Player Use Topspin?

Topspin is created when the paddle moves from a low to a high position. The motion makes the paddle brush up on the ball at contact, and the resulting spin is top to bottom, moving the ball in a downward direction. Since the ball is traveling downward, a shot with topspin can travel higher across the net. (If you need a more in-depth explanation of topspin, check out this video from Tony at In2pickle)

What’s the Height of the Ball in relationship to the Net?

If the apex of the shot is below the net, your opponent must hit up on the ball to get it over. If the apex of the ball is above the net, they can hit flat or downward. All things being equal, a ball hit with an upward trajectory has less chance of staying in.

Where is Your Opponent On the Court?

Are they at the baseline, in the transition zone, or at the non-volley zone? The closer they get to the NVZ, the shorter the distance to the baseline, and the more difficult it becomes to keep a hard-hit shot in play.

What’s the Player’s Body and Paddle position?

When someone turns their body, drops the paddle head, and uses their core muscles, they’re going to make a longer stroke, and that adds speed and power to a shot.

When a person sets up for a drop shot, typically, the paddle is more in front of them, and they’re using their body less. Body and paddle positions are indicators of how hard the shot will be traveling.

Is the Player on the Run?

Any time that we are scrambling to get a shot, we’re building momentum, and it’s easy to transfer that speed to the ball and hit the shot out.

Shoulder High, Let It Fly

Obviously, it’s different for someone who is 6’4″ versus 5’4,” and you’ll need to learn to gauge this for yourself, but shoulder high is a starting point.

I’m 5’8,” and when I’m at the NVZ, and there’s a fast shot at or above my shoulders, there’s a good chance it’s out. Again it depends on some of the previously mentioned factors. However, it’s pretty safe to say that if I have to bring the paddle above my shoulders or if I have to jump when I’m at the non-volley zone, I’ve saved my opponents from losing the rally.

Don’t Be Afraid to Let the Ball Go

Most people hit more balls that are out than let a ball that’s in go past them. Letting shots go is the only way you’re going to learn to identify a shot that’s out.

Now that you know the concepts, and what to look for, how do you learn to let the ball go out?

When we first started playing pickleball, we had to learn to position our paddles and our bodies to accommodate the bounce of the pickleball. It was foreign to us. We didn’t know how much it was or wasn’t going to bounce. The same thing happens with the out ball, but here’s an exercise that will help.

Have one partner stand at the non-volley zone and the other at the baseline. The person at the NVZ puts the ball in play, and the person at the baseline responds. Instead of trying to hit the ball, the player at the non-volley zone lets the ball go past them and, based on their observation, yells in or out. The player at the baseline can usually confirm whether the shot was in or out, but if you’re learning, it may be beneficial to have some else stand at the baseline and provide feedback.


Pay attention to all of the factors mentioned above, and you’ll start to gauge where that ball is in relationship to your body as well as how fast that ball is traveling. When you combine these factors, you’ll be able to stop hitting the dreaded out ball.

CJ Johnson

Hey there — I’m a professional three-sport athlete and coach who has spent my entire adult life earning a living from playing and coaching sports. Since I started coaching more than three decades ago, one thing has remained the same: My commitment to see students not as they are but as what they can become and to move heaven and earth to help them realize their untapped potential. You should know that when it comes to helping pickleball players over 50 live their best lives on and off the courts, I'm an expert. Good pickleball is not just technique; it's the mind and body working holistically. That's why I'm also a personal trainer and weight management specialist. When I’m chillin', you'll find me watching Star Trek with my husband John and our two fur babies, Shirley and Ralph. (Yes, Happy Days)