CJ Johnson Headshot
CJ Johnson
Tony Roig
Tony Roig

Pickleball Power Game: Use LESS POWER and WIN MORE Points????

You may be thinking, CJ, what’s up with the title of this post? How are you going to win more points by using less power?

There’s a trend toward the pickleball power game, and while I agree power has its place, it isn’t everything.

Most players would win more points if they were more concerned about the placement of the ball versus how hard they hit the shot.

How many times have you been in a position to put the ball away, and your opponent keeps returning it? Every time the ball comes back, you hit it harder and harder, and you either hit it out or they finally reset the ball, and you end up not winning the point.

I think we’ve all been in the position where we keep reacting and use power as a default to try to win a point.

In many cases, power isn’t the answer; it’s placement.

Here’s a general rule of thumb I like to teach about the pickleball power game; hit the ball as hard as you can without sacrificing placement.

Let’s talk about the use of power vs. placement on a few typical pickleball shots.

True or False-A powerful serve is the BEST serve


The best serve is one that causes a weak return. Once you’ve mastered getting the serve in a well-placed serve can cause more problems than a power serve. Even new pickleball players get used to the power pickleball game very quickly.

How well do you place your serve?

Can you make a player use their weakest shot for the return? Say their backhand.

Are you able to make a player move to get the ball, especially someone who might not be very mobile?

Are you able to hit a higher, softer serve to the back of the court? Something that your opponents may not be used to seeing.

There aren’t many ACEs in pickleball, and your serve doesn’t need to create a fault, but if you can position your serve to create a weak return or perhaps to pull the receiving team out of position, then it’s a good serve.

True or False? A powerful return is the best return

If you said false, you’re right.

A good return is one that creates a problematic third shot for the serving team or makes it harder for them to get to the non-volley zone. If you choose to hit a hard return to the serving team, you may cause them trouble on that third shot, but it also lessens the time you have to get to the net. You might get a more significant advantage and win more points by hitting the ball soft and deep so your team can take advantage of its position at the net.

Have you ever thought about an angled return that pulls your opponents off the court and opens up the next shot for your team? Since you have less court to work with, when using an angle, placement is the premium, not power.

What if you happen to see your opponents standing far behind the baseline, a short, soft return to their weak side may create the fault you’re looking for?

True or False? A powerful overhead is the best overhead


I’d say false for this one as well.

A well-placed overhead out of the reach of an opponent in between opponents or directly at their feet is the best overhead.

By nature, this is one of the most powerful shots in pickleball. I also see a tendency to miss easy overheads. We focus on hitting it hard, instead of placing it, so an opponent has a more difficult time returning it.

A well placed overhead out of the reach of an opponent, in between your opponents, or directly at their feet is the best overhead. After all your opponents have made a mistake and give you a high ball, now is your opportunity to finish the rally.


A power pickleball game is an option, but I hope you see by the examples above that power rarely trumps location.

Remember, only hit it as hard as you can without sacrificing placement.

If you’re ready to explore some options to enhance your power pickleball game, check out this playlist.


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)


  1. Avatar photo Jerry Donini on February 15, 2020 at 6:47 pm

    I get more satisfaction out of a well placed angle shot than a hard hit overhead even if my opponent gets to it they usually are out of position for the next easy put away

    • Avatar photo Cathy Jo Johnson on February 15, 2020 at 7:41 pm

      Jerry, that’s a great observation. Not every shot is a winner but it may set up a shot that can be put away.

  2. Avatar photo Robby on February 16, 2020 at 4:05 am

    Definitely placement as is my tennis 🙂

  3. Avatar photo Lynn Mattei on February 16, 2020 at 6:03 am

    Love your videos CJ, very informative

  4. Avatar photo David Martin on February 16, 2020 at 6:03 am

    I would love some comments about how t o get back in shape for pickle ball after a health problem. I had an throat diverticulum that was treated endoscopically and I am still recovering at home. I have a nasal-jejunal feeding tube and have gone from 155 pounds down to 138. Obviously, I am not ready to play yet but need to have some sort of idea of how to get myself ready again after I recover. Any thoughts? Currently, I am walking around my house about 4 times (ranch style) 3 times a day. I will begin to do stairs twice a day (basement and back up). I realize you are not a professional PT but thought you might have some ideas of how to approach getting back in shape. I was playing 4 times a week. I was probably a 3.0/ 3.5 player.

    • Avatar photo Cathy Jo Johnson on February 16, 2020 at 6:27 am

      Hi David. First let me say Get Well Soon! It stinks to be off the pickleball courts. Your right, I’m a personal trainer not a PT, I would recommend working with a PT or personal trainer in your area to create a plan to get back in shape. It’s likely that your weight loss has resulted in muscle loss, which in turn can impact your balance and flexibility. A program that includes cardio, muscle strength/endurance, balance/flexibility, stability/mobility are important to everyone over 50. You can read more about those in this post. https://cjjohnsonglobal.com/selffitnesstest/
      If it’s Ok with your Dr you might be able to start adding a few balance moves into your walks. Whatever you do start slowly and be patient. The human body is amazing and I’m sure you’ll be on the courts in no time!

  5. Avatar photo Barb on February 16, 2020 at 11:49 am

    I try to employ both.

  6. Avatar photo Oiki on February 16, 2020 at 4:28 pm

    I really like the written explanation of the videos. I am using your videos in my teaching to the over 65 group. I also tell them to go to your site as my homework assignment. I am IPTPA and PPR certified. Your video really help and let the older people know they can play. Oh by the way I am 76.


    • Avatar photo Cathy Jo Johnson on February 18, 2020 at 5:56 am

      Thank You Oiki. I love when people tell me their age. Pickleball is an amazing sport and I hope you and I are both playing well into our 90’s.

  7. Avatar photo James R Crane on February 16, 2020 at 7:53 pm

    This is one of the big draws to the game itself. The fact that you do not have to be a power player, just keep your opponent off guard. This gives many more people a chance to compete,

  8. Avatar photo Graham Hall on February 17, 2020 at 5:18 am

    You are spot on re placement vs power. One drill I have my clients perform is a placement drill. I put 3 hula hoops about 4 feet from the base line (one in the centre and one near each side line ,but not on the sideline) and have the client try to hit the return of serve at the hula hoops. At first I tell them to hit at 100% power then at 75 % power. The light goes on in the brain when they slow the shot down and start to come close to hitting the target at 75% power. Placement drills are essential for a less powerful shot.

    • Avatar photo Cathy Jo Johnson on February 18, 2020 at 5:54 am

      Graham, I’m a big fan of Hula Hoops too! I use them all over the court.

  9. Avatar photo Emily Hoffmann on February 27, 2020 at 7:02 am

    Love the article. Many times I practice with men younger than myself. The younger ones typically like to hit the ball very hard often missing the shot. I’ve been there myself, where I think that the harder the shot is hit, the harder it is to return. That’s not good thinking. I’d much rather hit a return serve or return with pace. Easier for me. I played in a tourney last week and my opponent returned the ball every time in a high slow loop that kept me back on the baseline. I had the realization, that I hate those returns. Too slow, too much time to think, and hard to return. Great tactic from my opponent. Gave her plenty of time to position herself at the net. I decided to practice that return this week, and it paid off. I’m going to start working on placement. Good reminder for us hard hitters.

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