Tips from Pickleball Pro Player KaSandra Gehrke

We’ve enlisted the help of Team ONIX professional pickleball player KaSandra Gehrke to share some pickleball strategy tips. KaSandra travels around the country, both competing in pickleball tournaments and hosting clinics and teaching new players the game of pickleball. “To be a champion, you have to see the big picture,” she says. “It’s not about winning and losing; it’s about everyday hard work and about thriving on a challenge. It’s about embracing the pain that you’ll experience at the end of a race and not being afraid.” She takes the same great attitude in her pickleball instruction. Read her pickleball tips below:

When is a good time to take a timeout during pickleball?

Here are four reasons why you could take a timeout during pickleball play.

  1. To stop momentum of other teams and from the crowd
  2. To change your game strategy
  3. To give yourself some time to rest
  4. To fire up and reenergize your teammate

How do you improve your transition zone game in pickleball?

Here are three tips for improving your transition zone game in pickleball. The transition zone is a tough one, especially for beginners. Take these quick tips to you practice!

First, practice transitioning from defense to offense quickly when returning the ball to your opponent. Place yourself closer to the kitchen line, so that you may be in a better position to attack volleys or smashes when they are aimed at your feet or lower body.

Second, always be improving your footwork to stay balanced, especially in the transition zone. Practice control, balance, and not rushing to the ball (you have more time than you think). This will help keep your opponent off their game and give you more control while in the transition zone.

Lastly, work on your mental mindset, always. Stay focused on each shot instead of being so focused on future and past points or shots taken. This will help your confidence which helps with composure if/when things take a turn in the opponents’ favor.

How do you master the Erne in pickleball?

This is a fun question! It’s a joke on tour that when you play against me, you don’t want to get “Gehrke’d.” I turn my paddle grip so that my backhand is actually flat and comes with more of a punch when I’m blocking or doing an Erne. Very unorthodox, but very effective. Adding the Erne to your shot skillset is a huge benefit, especially if many times you tend to be the weaker player who may be getting picked on.

When you go for an Erne, there are four things that can happen and all are effective: You get the Erne and hulk smash the other team while everyone cheers for you, your opponent dumps the ball in the net while trying to avoid giving you an Erne, your opponent gives the ball to your partner to avoid giving you the Erne (and in mixed doubles for sure, I am always trying to get my male partner the ball so this is perfect), or they lob over you, which also gets your partner the ball. Many people ask me why I do it so much, because most of the time I don’t get the ball. I hope these points are helpful in explaining a few other reasons why this is a great tool for your pickleball arsenal!

How do you make a successful drop shot?

Are you struggling with your drop shot? This shot can be such a pain. Here are some quick tips that can help you be successful!

  1. After your serve, it’s very easy to creep into the court. I actually end up in the court after my serve, as I step into mine. I don’t want you to change your serve, I just want you to make sure that before you contact your third shot, that your weight is behind the ball. For the most part, to do this, you need to be a couple feet behind the baseline on contact with your third. If your weight is moving forward on contact, instead of backwards, it makes this shot a lot easier to execute.
  2. You can admire your amazing serve and move back behind the baseline at the same time.
  3. Use a light grip. Think about a baby bird in your hand. You don’t want the bird to go anywhere, but you also don’t want to hurt it.
  4. No back swing. A back swing is anytime you bring the paddle back behind the waist. When you do that, you generate unnecessary pace, which will typically make your ball travel further or higher than you wanted it to. Try and drop your paddle and get completely underneath the ball, instead of swinging and striking the ball from behind. This will help you generate that “rainbow” type of ball flight that you want from your drop shot.
  5. Watch the ball hit your paddle. So many times, when trying to execute this shot, we tend to look at the target instead of focusing on the process of getting the ball to that target. Watch the ball all the way into your paddle. Wherever your follow through goes is where the ball will end up, you don’t need to even look!
  6. Make sure your feet are stopped on contact. Too many times I see people running through their third in order to get to the net faster. This actually backfires because we end up hitting the ball too hard/high/long. Stop and hit, and then continue to approach the net.

How to be a Better Pickleball Partner?

Ever had a partner that wasn’t fun to play with? Or maybe there’s someone you just LOVE to play with because they have a lot of these aspects. Either way, here’s how you can make doubles pickleball more enjoyable.

  1. Tap paddles between each point. Yes, even when you mess up. It’s a nice way to ensure your partner that you are still there, even if they did just shank the ball into the stands.
  2. “I statements” are a great way to communicate an issue, without placing blame. Instead of saying “you keep speeding the ball up after we just said not to!” Try “I think the team we are playing right now loves pace, and it would be better if we slowed it down. It seems we win the points we play patient.”
  3. Offer strategy, but limit skill correction. At this point, in the middle of a match, we aren’t going to get any better skill wise. We have to put in our drilling time and now it’s time to execute. Most of the time, we know that we didn’t lift the ball enough or that our feet weren’t stopped on contact. We aren’t trying to suck; we are just nervous and not executing. Another option would be to offer a strategic tip such as, let’s target the girl in the pink’s backhand for a bit. We seem to get pop ups off of that and then you always win the point in hands battles with her! This can be a lot easier to execute, rather than “how” to actually perform the shot better under pressure.
  4. Use your time outs! You can’t take them with you! Even if you don’t have much to say, it can freeze your opponent or help cool them down.
  5. Some days you or your partner is just a hot mess on the court, but it never helps to roll your eyes, stop communicating, or give body gestures that could make them feel worse. Even if things aren’t going your way, remember you are both human and the last thing you want to do is make mistakes. No one makes mistakes on purpose. So, stick by them, try to pump them up however you can, and never give up on your partner. And most of all, HAVE FUN!

Why pickleball should be part of your next team building event?

  1. Pickleball is very social and a great way for employees to interact.
  2. It has many physical and mental benefits.
  3. It’s low impact which makes it a lifelong sport.
  4. You can learn it in half an hour.

How Should you Prepare for a Pickleball Tournament Day?

Everyone is different when it comes to tournament day. Here are the things that have helped me time and time again to not only play great but help mentally. Because competitive sport is also a mental game. First make sure to get there with some time to warm up. Again, everyone is different, but I like to get there an hour or so early. Second, jam out to your favorite music or an inspiring podcast; whatever gets your gears turning. Third, try to lower your caffeine intake prior to playing. I have found that with the natural adrenaline, this can add anxiety. Lastly, remember to go into thinking confidently and always remember to have fun.

Three Reasons to Erne in Pickleball:

1. If you are being picked on, it's a great way to show them who is boss

2. The surprise of the Erne may cause your opponent to make a mistake

3. Your partner gets the ball, because it's redirected from your opponent

In all three situations, you win. So even if I don't get the Erne each time I go for it, our team still benefits.

The Goal with the Fourth Ball

On the 4th ball, you should aim for your opponents' feet (think fourth ball, find a foot). The goal is to have the transitioning team lift the ball on their way to the net from low to high. Always remember, the fourth ball is a set up shot, so you want to use placement over power.

Tips for Beginner Pickleball Players

Cues for beginners…because we all start somewhere! Return and run, serve and stay! As a beginner player, Pickleball can be confusing, especially when to come to the net. As the serving team, serve and stay is a great reminder that the return has to bounce so we aren’t able to come rushing to the net. As the returning team, return and run is a great reminder that once ball bounces and we make contact, we should be heading to the net to join our partner.

Pickleball Drilling Checklist

  • Slowing the game down
  • Paddle up and out front
  • Anticipating shots from the paddle
  • Drilling to develop muscle memory
  • Setting your feet before the shot

Four Keys to a Successful Third Shot Drop

  • After you serve, make sure you take a couple steps back behind the baseline so that you can receive a nice deep return.
  • Have a nice light grip around your paddle handle, like you’re holding a baby bird. This grip is just like the grip you use while you’re dinking.
  • No backswing! Keep your arm at your side and don’t allow your paddle to go behind your hip.
  • Lastly, watch the ball hit your paddle every time.

Tip for Attempting to Go Pro in Pickleball

Make sure you are entering your local 5.0 tournaments, because in all honesty, if you aren’t able to medal at your local tournaments…spending a pile of money in pro-division might not be the best move! Enter a bunch of your local tournaments and win some money, then invest in some pro-division tournaments once you have placed in some locals!

Tips for Calming Anxiety Before a Pickleball Tournament

Everyone is different when it comes to the tournament day! Here are the things that have helped me time and time again, not only play great… but, help me mentally. Because, competitive sport is also a mental game! First, try to lower your caffeine intake prior to playing. I have found that with the natural adrenaline, this can add anxiety… which doesn’t serve us right before play. Second, make sure to get there with some time to warm up. Again, everyone is different, but I like to get there an hour or so early. Third, jam out to your favorite music or an inspiring podcast; whatever gets your grears turning… that’s the most important! Lastly, tell yourself that you’re a badass… because you are. ALWAYS remember to have fun. I know it’s easier said than done sometimes… but it’s OH SO important.

You can follow KaSandra Gehrke on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, or visit her website here.