Who is your biggest opponent in 3.0 pickleball play?
Who is your biggest opponent in 3.0 pickleball play? The data shows that You are.
The average number of unforced errors in one pickleball doubles game among 3.0 players is a whopping 29. This means that in a standard pickleball game to 11 points, there are roughly two unforced errors for every point scored by both teams. If this number doesn’t seem right, consider how many times in 3.0 play the servers keeps changing but the score remains roughly the same from side out to side out. What is happening is that the serving team is not scoring, instead they’re hitting unforced errors.
In fact, the average number of winners (a well-hit shot that the opponents can’t get) in a 3.0 game is 10.5, about one-third the number of unforced errors, 29.
I am always suggesting that players of all levels watch pickleball matches on YouTube. It’s a great resource for how-to tips as well as hosting a huge catalog of pickleball matches of all levels. By analyzing both recreational and tournament play posted on YouTube, I have compiled data for different levels of play by player level, for every type of shot, by forehand and backhand of those shots, male and female. The data doesn’t lie. A 3.0 player’s worst opponent is themselves.
Early in 2022 I had the great pleasure of attending a pickleball camp taught by the incredible Engage pros Kevin Beeson and Steve Kennedy. One of the exercises we did was to play matches with each team starting with six points instead of zero. If a team hit an unforced error to end a rally, the team lost a point. If a team hit a winner, the team gained a point. After half an hour of match play all the players were asked how many teams had games that won by 11 points. Nobody raised their hands. Every match that was played on six courts went to zero points before it went to 11 points. That was one of those Ah-Ha moments: games aren’t won, they’re lost.
Shots from the transition zone cause the most unforced errors for 3.0 players - 27.6% of all unforced errors. These are shots players are attempting to make while moving from the baseline to the kitchen, while players are still moving, and the shots go into the net, are hit wide or long. Errors volleying at the kitchen line are almost one quarter of all unforced errors – 24.1%. Serving errors account for 8.6% of all unforced errors in a 3.0 game. On average among 3.0 players there are 2.5 serving errors in a single game.
I’ll post more of this kind of data for different levels of play, but one of the striking differences between unforced errors for 4.0 vs. 3.0 level players is the much lower percentage of errors in the transition area and volleying for 4.0 players. Also, 4.0 players statistically have only about 1% of total unforced errors while serving, roughly 1/10th the unforced errors on serves for 3.0 players.
Most importantly, on average, 4.0-level players hit a much better ratio of winners to unforced errors than 3.0 players, 2.6X more.
After posting this originally, someone looking at this chart about 3.0 play asked me a great question: Since 28% of all unforced errors take place getting to the kitchen and 25% happen volleying at the kitchen line, and 12% happen dinking at the kitchen, a total of 65%, why not stay back on the baseline where only 19% of unforced errors occur?
Here's a statistic to consider that I will get into in future posts: In 3.0-level play, 72.2% of all winners (put away shots) are made by the team that gets both players to the kitchen line first. Hitting from the baseline, 3.0 players on average, have unforced errors on 26.2% of their baseline shots, more than one out of every four, and statistically, they hit almost 0% winners from the baseline. So, if you're not trying to get to the kitchen line, the team that is there is going to have a field day!