By: CJ Johnson | November 10, 2018 |

The Elusive Pickleball Split Step-What, When and Why


When you’re playing pickleball, do you find yourself off balance and unable to change directions? Perhaps somebody has told you that you’re running through the ball? Maybe people are hitting the ball behind you as you move to the non-volley zone? If so, you might be having trouble with the pickleball split step.

I recently received an email from John W. asking me to clarify tip number 23 on my list of 31 quick tips to play better pickleball.  Tip #23 says, use a pickleball split step or stop moving when you see your opponents paddle, ready to contact the ball. He asked C.J., do you mean to start or stop? (Click here if you don’t already have a copy of 31 quick tips).

Not all new pickleball players have a sports background. In fact, half of you tell me that you’ve never played other sports.  If you don’t have a sports background it’s likely that you don’t know what a split step is, why you need it, or when to use it.

A split step is a light hop onto the balls of your feet, creating a balanced position from which you can change directions easily and quickly.

Split steps are essential for a variety of reasons.

    1. You’re in a balanced position, and since you’ve stopped your momentum you’re more easily able to change directions to the right or left.
    2. You’ve lessened the chance of having a ball hit behind you.
    3. You’ll be less likely to be running when you hit the shot, which often creates an unforced error.

One of the Better Pickleball Community members, Scott F, made this comment on a previous footwork video and I couldn’t have said it better myself;

“Excellent point on being sure to stop before you hit the ball. Otherwise, you have two forces moving the ball, your normal stroke, and your forward momentum. Imagine the number of variables if you try to adjust the stroke as you’re moving forward. Doable but not likely as consistent if you can stop before hitting the ball.”

Now that you know what it is and why it’s important, when do you initiate a pickleball split-step?

The best time to split step is when you see your opponents paddle about to contact the ball.

Now it’s time to practice your pickleball split step. The good news is you can practice with or without a partner, and it’s a fantastic way to get your body warmed up and ready to play.

Start behind the baseline, then move forward, split step and stop, a couple more steps, split step, and stop. You’ll notice it’s a very light bounce, not deep squatting motion. It’s a light bounce so that you can move from side to side.

Start by working your way to the non-volley zone from the baseline and initiate at least two split steps before you get there. Once you’ve done that a couple of times, split step and practice moving in either direction.

With a partner, have them stand at the non-volley zone, and you work your way from the baseline to the NVZ. Watch the ball and their paddle carefully. Start your split step when you see them make contact with the ball.


One of the fastest ways to play better pickleball is to improve your footwork. It may seem tedious at first, but you can use it as a warm-up. It kills two birds with one stone. You get your heart beating faster and your muscles ready to play while you are improving your game and lessen your chance of injury. If you need some ideas on how to improve your pickleball footwork, click on this playlist for some suggestions.

Tell me about your favorite footwork drill you never know it might end up in my next video.

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)