Tips and Drills to Improve Your Reaction Time in Pickleball

Est. Reading: 6 minutes

Pickleball is much slower than tennis, but it doesn't mean you can be slow during play. In fact, your reaction speed must be fast, especially if you and your opponent are at the non-volley zone line. Otherwise, you'll lose the rally, or the ball will hit you.

If you feel the need for speed in pickleball, you don't have to be as fast as Tom Cruise. In today's blog, you will learn how to improve your reaction time and do some speed drills. If you're ready to take your game to the next level, let's get started.

How Speed Can Help You Win Rallies

Before we continue, let's discuss how speed affects your winning goal. If you move slowly to the kitchen line and your opponent gets there first, you will not have enough time to return the ball. If you don't move sideward quickly, your opponent can beat you with a cross-court shot. More importantly, if your paddle speed is too slow, you cannot hit the ball correctly and on time. So yes, speed is critical in pickleball.

How Fast is a Pickleball Ball?

Indoor pickleball balls are lighter than outdoor balls and have fewer and larger holes, which makes them slower to travel. However, the wind while playing outdoors can also affect the ball's speed. We also know that balls slow down as they reach the other side of the court. But most of all, it depends on the kind of shot and the players' positions.

According to some USA Pickleball Ambassadors, most volleys at the non-volley zone (NVZ) line can be 30-40 mph, while other areas can be 25-30 mph. If all players are at the kitchen line, the ball travels faster because of the shorter distance between them. Hence, serves are slow, which gives you a longer reaction time.

How to React Fast in Pickleball

Improving your reaction time in pickleball has no shortcuts. It depends on several factors, including being physically prepared and mentally alert. These will be your assets if you want to get faster than your opponent. Allow me to elaborate further. 

Be in a Solid Ready Position

Being faster starts with a good ready position. This includes compressing your body, holding your paddle up, and taking an athletic stance. Bend your knees a little, and do the split step before your opponent hits the ball. Make sure you land on the balls of your feet. With this posture, you can move quickly in any direction and react faster. If some older opponents move faster than you, it probably means they are more prepared.

Study Your Opponent

Sometimes, you might think your opponent is so fast because you're too slow. But the truth is they are studying your movements. So, instead of trying to be faster, observe your opponent closely and watch their body language to anticipate their next moves. In doing so, you can also imagine how the ball is coming and react faster. If this doesn't work well, reset the ball and position yourself where you can move faster.

Have a Loose Grip

A loose paddle grip (3 or 4 out of 10 in tightness) allows you to relax and move your hands faster. Beware, though, as being too loose gives less power and control. It can make your paddle wobble, bringing the ball in a different and unintended direction. Therefore, only use a paddle that's comfortable for your hands. To help you know if a paddle fits right to your grip, read our Pickleball Paddle Grip Size Guide.

Swing Short and Timely

Swinging short means the distance of your back-and-forth swings is short, which increases your paddle speed and reaction time. Compact swings also help you in hitting consistent shots. On the other hand, bigger backswings also increase your chances of committing errors because they require over-rotating your body. Hitting the ball once in front of your body is the best timing since it offers a comfortable space to react fast.

Have Your Eyes Checked

If you think you're fast enough but still can't follow the ball, you might have an eyesight problem, but you don't know it. According to WebMD, although common to people above 50, people aged 30-40 can also have age-related macular degeneration (AMD). This eye disease affects our central vision, meaning you might no longer see fine details, especially moving objects. So make sure you have your eyes checked regularly.

Be Mentally Prepared

Like chess, pickleball can also be mentally exhausting. You need a relaxed mind to analyze the game and prepare for your next move. If you're always worried that the ball might hit you, instead of thinking about how you can block it, you're not building a winning mindset. So, while preparing for a game, don't just focus on the physical aspect. To help you be mentally prepared, check out these Pickleball Mental Exercises.

Pickleball Drills to Increase Reaction Time

Getting faster takes a lot of practice and patience. So, if you have no eyesight problems and follow the tips above, the best next move is to do some speed drills. Choose the drills that will help improve your hand-eye coordination and lateral movements. Here are some of them:

#1 Fast Volley Drills

Look for a partner and hit fast volleys at each other on the pickleball court. You may start at the transition zone, the area between the non-volley zone and the baseline. As you progress, move closer to the NVZ line to speed up. Once you feel like getting faster, you can also try volleying, about a foot inside the non-volley zone. This drill is against the kitchen rules in actual plays but can help you control your speed.

#2 Wall Bounce Drills

If you don't have a partner to join you, you can practice by yourself using a wall. Draw a straight line on the wall 34 inches above the ground to represent the lowest net height. Then, draw a line on the ground 7 feet from the wall and mark it as the kitchen line. Hit the ball toward the wall at different speeds, from slow to fast. Try different angles and contact points on the wall, but remember to work on your footwork.

#3 Tennis Balls Juggling

The main objective of juggling tennis balls is to improve your hand-eye coordination. However, it can also help boost your peripheral vision, visual reaction time, and brain. You may start by throwing a tennis ball upward and catching it with the other hand. Then, use two balls and toss them simultaneously with a ball on each hand. Later, you might also want to try different variations and more advanced patterns.

#4 Backhand Switch Drills

In pickleball, forehand strokes are great for dinking, volleying, and groundstrokes. On the other hand, backhands can cover a larger area. If you're a beginner, start practicing forehand strokes. Once you feel comfortable doing them, switch to backhands and practice doing both alternately. This way, you can react faster regardless of where the ball will land. Later, you will also know which slice you are more comfortable to use.

#5 Side-to-Side Drills

Side-to-side drills help increase your speed in lateral movements and are ideal for maintaining balance while moving sideways. Here, you stand at the right end of the baseline or any straight line on the ground. Hop your left foot towards your left, followed by your right foot. Then, do the opposites once you reach the left end of the line. You can also do it faster as long as you don't cross your feet over each other.

#6 Figure 8 Drills

Here, you need at least two cones or markers as patterns to follow while doing Figure 8 movements around them. Instead of side-stepping in a straight line, move your feet toward the front of the first cone and then toward the back of the second cone. You must also start slowly, then gradually go faster. However, don't forget to bend your knees a little, have your shoulders back, and use your core muscles to keep your balance.

Final Thoughts

Without a doubt, increasing your reaction speed can elevate your gameplay. Faster hands and footwork are your most significant assets inside the court. Any delay in your reactions matters greatly in every rally, no matter how powerful your shots are. Again, getting faster cannot be achieved overnight. You have to practice a lot until your body gets used to it. After all, being able to move quickly also applies to your daily activities.

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