Pickleball Split Step: Why, How and When

Though many pickleball players have heard the term split step, they may not fully understand it or use it properly.  A split step is extremely important for your footwork at any level of play and is the focus of today’s post.

Split Step Why?

Let’s begin with understanding why the split step is important.  The purpose of a split step is to establish a balanced position from which you can move to a ball purposefully and efficiently.  By definition, a split step is a little hop to get on the balls of your feet so that you can accelerate in any direction for the next ball.


Split Step How?

I can’t emphasize enough that this is a little hop…just an inch or two off the ground.  The landing is soft.  Often players exaggerate the movement.  This takes too much time and becomes more of a jump.  We don’t have time in pickleball for this sort of movement.  So gear it back.

What I see among many pickleball players is more of a jump…stop. I see people jumping and jarring their body essentially throwing their weight down into the ground making it actually more difficult to accelerate to the ball and resulting in increased incidence of injury.

If you find the landing to be jarring to your legs or knees, reduce the hop and focus on a soft landing. A soft landing is essential to engaging your muscles which gives you that explosiveness that you want.  When you create a proper split stop you should feel like your body is lighter.

Split Step When?

You want to split step when your opponent makes contact with the ball.  By hopping just a bit, you engage your muscles so that you can move in any direction. Watch the high-level players and you will see a very quick, light movement that sets up their next move to get to the ball much more quickly than just running. If they had just stopped it would be more difficult to start again.

Ideally, when changing direction at any point in time you are using your legs to enhance your acceleration. As an example, if I want to move towards the left I am pushing off of my right leg to enable a more explosive movement. If I had fully stopped or planted myself in the ground, it would be more difficult to move properly from my lower body. This causes the player to lead with their upper body (or reach)…which is slow and inefficient.

You can practice the split step movement when you are not on the court.  Again, the keys are a small, soft hop.  Feel lighter as you land softly.  Check to see if you can easily move in any direction.  That is how you will know you have mastered this important, little movement.

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