Upgrading Your Pickleball Footwork: The Split Step
Footwork Doesn’t Have to Be Hard
Footwork is one of the most hated parts of any sport. From the agility ladders in soccer to the boxer’s jump-rope, footwork practice usually is boring, grueling, and tiring. Pickleball footwork could be improved using all these things, however, due to the speed of the game and the smaller playing area, the simple split step movement can drastically improve your game so you never get in a bad court position.
The split step must be practiced and is an advanced maneuver. In fact, beginner pickleball players should not worry about including this skill in your arsenal until you become a more advanced player.
The Movement of the Split Step
The split step is a simple footwork movement that can give you a noticeable advantage without the sweaty hours of boring cardio. The movement is simple: with your feet shoulder-width apart (or wider), bend your knees slightly. This position allows you to move side to side much quicker and return lower shots without using only your back.
It is also important to keep the weight on the balls of your feet, and not to be flat-footed. The best example of this is tennis champion Roger Federer. It is standard in professional tennis to use the same split step, but if you watch Federer closely, he will start in the split step to receive the opponent’s serve, and shift his weight to the balls of his feet as the opponent begins to serve. By using the balls of the feet, he can transition out of the split step to cover ground quickly,
Using the Split Step in Pickleball Correctly
The split step is especially useful because it provides a wide variety of ways for you to move, even more than just standing normally.
- Use a side-shuffle to move side-to-side from the split step. Let’s say you want to go left: while keeping your knees in that slight bend, push off your left leg and step quickly with your right leg to keep up. You can also drag your right leg (which would make it a lunge), which comes in useful if you need to cover more distance.
- Use a pivot to get to a normal stance. Imagine you are in your split step and a shot is hit close to your torso on the right side. Often players will bring the racket forward and hit the shot in front of their body, but this is a weak shot and hard to control. In the same scenario, keep your left foot planted, and rotate yourself 90 degrees using your right foot. You should end up fully facing sideways. This will allow you to control the power and placement of your shot, since you are hitting it from a normal stance with full control. This can be hard to do quickly, so make sure to get some practice with a partner or in a game.
For both these movements, you can watch professional pickleball or even tennis to see these movements done quickly and properly. The simple starting point of the split step is very easy, however the next movements we mentioned (shuffle, lunge and pivot) are more challenging, so make sure to practice them on and off the court to unlock your best game.