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Wednesday, April 4, 2018

"Valuing" Unforced Errors

Don't beat yourself...

Unforced errors are the bane of every pickleball player's existence. Statistics show that most rallies end as a result of an unforced error. That is not surprising in itself as it is true in most sports. But pickleball seems to have a culture where the statistics are ignored and players continue to take unwarranted risks in order to end the rally on their terms. Unfortunately, the rally does end on their terms...with an unforced error. This post will feature a couple of games that show players the value of unforced errors to their opponents.

First, let's talk about what constitutes an unforced error. If a player fails to successfully return a ball to an unattackable position that would ordinarily be returned, it is an unforced error. These would include balls hit into the net, out of bounds, or popped up to an opponent.  Hitting a ball that would otherwise obviously go out of bounds is also an unforced error.

By contrast, a forced error is failure to successfully return a ball that would not be expected to be returned as a matter of course. In other words, if your opponent hits a good shot - overhead, angle, ball to the feet, etc. - and you fail to make an extraordinary play to return the ball, it is not an unforced error.

Net Loss

The game is played to 21. It is scored exactly like a regular game except you start the game with the score 10 to 10. You lose a point from your total each shot you hit into the net. So a team could get beat 21 to 4 for instance. It should be done during drill time. Some games make take a while if people are waiting for courts to open. 

Countdown to Zero

The score begins at 10-10. Teams lose a point for every unforced error (i.e., in the net, out of bounds, hitting a ball that was going out of bounds, etc.). Teams gain a point for every winner. No points are awarded on some rallies when there is a forced error. The game is played until one team reaches zero. 

Au Revoir

Another good one is to have 6 players (or more). Four are playing, and the extra 2 are on the sidelines of opposite ends of the court. When a player makes an unforced error, they must leave the court to be replaced by a waiting player. Players who leave must wait until more players make unforced errors for their return. Sometimes they came back on quickly; sometimes it takes several points. There is no greater punishment for a pickleball player than to force them to wait on the sidelines. That really drives home the value of unforced errors.


The value of games like these is to show players that unforced errors are the killers of success. They quickly teach that percentage pickleball strategies - discussed often here - is the better choice than high-risk shots that end up in errors.

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