By: CJ Johnson | November 3, 2018 |

Do You Know How Many Unforced Errors You Make?

The difference between good pickleball players and great pickleball players are mistakes. In fact, unforced errors are the most common differentiator in pickleball ratings.


Unfortunately, most of us have a small blind spot when it comes to our unforced errors on the pickleball court. An inability to see our mistakes as well as our strengths and weaknesses is a major stumbling block for most of us, on and off the court.

If you asked me for a physical description when I was in my late 30’s I would have said, I’m on the larger side of athletic but in good shape for my size. Take a look at this picture and tell me if you think that was an accurate description.

I weighed over 250 pounds, wore a size 20 and couldn’t get up a small flight of stairs without huffing and puffing. The truth is I was obese. My self-perception was inaccurate.


What does this have to do with unforced errors in pickleball? Plenty.

Just look around the pickleball courts. Do most players think they are better or worse than they really are?

If you want to improve your pickleball play you need to have a realistic starting point. Once you know what you do well, you should do more of it. If there’s something you do poorly, you should avoid it if possible and work to make it better.

This summer, my friend Carol introduced me to a warm-up game they play at her club that helps players to start identifying unforced errors. Let’s get on the same page, what is an unforced error?


Simply defined an unforced error is a mistake made on an easy shot in a nonpressure situation.

Now it may be easy to define, but it’s not necessarily easy to pinpoint an unforced error. It doesn’t mean that it’s the shot that ends the rally.

An example is when your partner hits a dink that’s too high, and it’s attackable, your opponent goes in for a kill shot that ends up at your feet, and you’re unable to get the ball back. That’s not an unforced error on your part. The unforced error came from your partner hitting the ball too high and making it attackable for your opponents.



Another example is when your opponent hits a really great shot for a winner. In this point, everybody is in the right place doing the right things. I just hit a good shot behind James to win the point.



Carol’s club calls this “unforced error game” Negative Pickleball.


Here’s how to play:

Each player gets one serve.

At the end of the rally identify the unforced error and who made it.

Instead of having the server call the score at the start of the point, each player simply holds their hand up in the air indicating the number of unforced errors they have to that point.

Rotate the serve clockwise around the pickleball court until all four players have had a chance to serve.

Once all four of you have served, rotate one position on the court clockwise. That way you’ll be playing with a different partner.


There are a couple of points to keep in mind.


1. Not every rally ends with an unforced error

Here’s an example of a point that ends with a perfectly placed backhand winner, right down the center. No unforced errors.




2. You may need to dig deeper to discover the mistakes

Here’s a point with an example of a less apparent unforced error. Lori’s going to take away easy overhead from Cheri. She realizes it after the point is over and charges herself with the unforced error.




We are always going to make errors on the pickleball court, so it’s important to remember the definition of an unforced error.  It’s a mistake made on an easy shot in a nonpressure situation. Players able to reduce the number of unforced errors will win more games. That means it’s essential to understand the mistakes that you make to create a plan for improvement and this warm-up game is a great place to start.

Now if you’d like to dig a little bit deeper and find out more about your strengths and weaknesses, you’ll find this post and FREE inventory sheet useful.


Comment below if you’ve found a helpful tool to reduce the number of unforced errors.

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)