When to speed up the ball in pickleball vs. playing it safe? 3 balls to look for

The pickleball speed-up shot is an important skill to take you from beginner to intermediate pickleball player.

Danea Bass & Barrett Bass

pickleball drills


March 20, 2024



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If you are looking at how to get better at pickleball, the speed-up shot is an important skill to take you from beginner to intermediate pickleball player. When should you speed the ball up off the bounce in pickleball versus playing it safe? And how do you properly execute this shot without getting burned by a counter or hitting it deep?

There are three different types of balls to look for. Learn how you should react to each one (ESPECIALLY during a dink rally), three tips on where to place your pickleball speed-up, and a drill to help you master this important pickleball shot.

The pickleball speed-up

The pickleball speed-up is perfect for when there are four players at the kitchen line during a longer dink rally. When this happens, there are different shots you should look to speed up versus playing it safe.

What ball you should look to speed up

The first thing to look at are types of balls to speed up, because the reality of this shot is you can't and you really shouldn't hit it on every single dink at the kitchen line. So there are primarily three different balls to look for when you're considering hitting this shot: 

Ball #1: Passive dink vs. aggressive dink

The first type of ball to look for is a passive dink versus an aggressive dink. An aggressive dink is a dink that has a lot of action on it: maybe it's pushing your around the kitchen line, it's pushing your back, or it's pulling you off balance. That's not going to be a type of dink that you’re going to want to respond with a speed-up because there are a lot of variables — meaning that the chances of you hitting an unforced error are pretty high.

A passive dink is a dink that is a little bit slower and there's not much spin on it. It's a much easier shot to speed up because there are fewer variables that you will have to respond to.

Ball #2: Shallow dink vs. deep dink

The next type of ball has to do with the depth of where it lands: in the kitchen or transition zone. Shallow dinks that are pulling you close to the net are going to be be very hard balls to speed up, because often you’re going to end up hitting it in the net or hitting it out completely.

Deep dinks that are going to push you back are easier to speed up since you're not too close to the kitchen and the net.

Ball #3: Height of the bounce

The third shot to look for when attempting a speed-up has to do with the height of the bounce.

It's going to be difficult to speed up a ball that doesn’t bounce very high. There is a good chance you are going to hit that ball out of bounds because you will have to pull your paddle down low. It's very hard to hit a speed up from your shoelaces.

Instead, look for dinks or balls that bounce high because it is easier to hit a good speed-up.

How to execute the speed-up

The first thing to think about when executing your pickleball speed-up shot is your paddle positioning.

Because you're at the kitchen line, it's important that you hit top spin on the ball, which means that you apply a rotation that will cause the ball starts spinning toward your opponent. That will help keep the ball in because this is coming from your kitchen line. To do this, you will hit this ball with your tip down.

As you hit through the shot, your paddle tip is going to rotate down from that 5 o’clock area on the clock to about a 1 or 2 o’clock. Along with that, it's important to know that this is going to be a compact swing.

Tip #1: Back swing

A mistake people make when attempting a speed-up is taking a big back swing, which many times causes them to hit the ball out of bounds. As you're hitting the ball in front of your body, you should keep it very short and compact. Even though it's short and compact, you have to put a little less on the ball: around 60 percent. When you put it together, you'll have your speed-up.

Tip #2: Where to aim the ball

There are a lot of people out there who have great speed-ups but they don't know where to aim the ball.

Once you’ve decided that you have a good ball to speed up, and you know that you’re going to make short and compact with a nice 60 percent swing, where do your want to aim?

  • Zone 1: Your opponent’s backhand side.

  • Zone 2: In front of your opponent’s body.

  • Zone 3: On the right side of your opponent’s body, still defending with their backhand.

  • Zone 4: Your opponent’s forehand hand.

When you're aiming the ball, a great place to aim is right in between zones 3 and 4. If you can make people guess whether they're hitting a backhand or a forehand, you're going to create a lot of pop-ups.

Hitting the ball close to their right hip area is a great spot to aim when speeding the ball up, forcing their paddle arm to form a chicken wing.

Tip #3: Placing Your Speed-Up

The next tip for placing your speed-up will frustrate a lot of your opponents and you're going to win a lot more points. In this tip you're going to put a little bit more on the ball.

When we were aiming for that right hip it was just a 60 percent speed-up and we were trying to create a pop-up for the next ball. But for this tip you will want to aim right at their body. 

Instead of 60 percent, you're going to speed it up to 80 percent. If they don't get out of the way the ball is probably going out, so it's a high risk/high reward play. You’re not trying to injure anyone, but trying to hit through somebody.

Speed-Up Drill #1: Half-Court Game

For the speed-up drill, you will be playing a half-court pickleball game. 

  • You will start on the kitchen line.

  • Your partner will be across the net from you.

  • You will serve, and the serve has to bounce in the kitchen.

  • The serve return has to also bounce in the kitchen.

  • You will play a short game, dinking back and forth until one of you has the opportunity to speed up the ball.

  • Practice your speed ups by aiming at once of the four zones.