An Erne is a pickleball shot you hit while stepping out of bounds to the side of the non-volley zone. Because of a quirk in pickleball rules, stepping out of bounds allows you to get closer to the net when hitting the shot. However, it takes expertise to execute the Erne. If you choose the wrong moment for it, you'll leave your side of the court wide open for your opponent's return.
Explaining A Pickleball “Erne”
An Erne (pronounced Ernie like the name) is when the player receiving the next shot steps off the court to the right or left of the sideline and situates themself adjacent to the kitchen or non-volley zone.
They are then free to volley the ball back over the net (if they can reach it). The rules of pickleball dictate this shot is legal even though the player is standing in an out-of-bounds position off the pickleball court. A successful Erne is almost impossible to return.
You can watch Erne Perry show you how to execute the Erne in this full video, “Erne Perry Shows Us How To Do The Erne.”
Why Is It Called An Erne?
Erne himself explains the origin of the shot in the video. In the 2010 National Championships in Arizona, Tim Hazenbeller and Erne played against “Coach Mo” (Richard Movsessian) from Florida and his partner Phil Bagley.
Coach Mo had been a long-time player at the Villages resort in Florida. He had a set way of playing where he stood in the same place on one side of the net and hit the ball back and forth, waiting to take advantage of an error from his opponent.
Erne noticed this and saw that Mo always returned the ball to the same place. Perry realized that if he were quick enough, he could disguise a sudden move to one side and volley the ball back at Mo at high speed and an unreturnable angle.
Perry made that shot five times in one game and led Mo’s partner to scream, “Stop”! Go cross court!” at Mo to make him mix up his game a little and prevent Perry from executing the Erne!
A videographer called Jeff Shank was filming the game and decided to call the shot “The Erne” in recognition of the player who had apparently first used it in competitive play and brought it to national recognition.
Erne admits that he’d been playing that shot for a while before the tournament after an opponent called George Democolis used the same tactic against him in 1993!
How Do You Hit An Erne?
You use an Erne shot when your opponent is close to the net or just behind the kitchen line (or NVZ line). You set the shot up by continually dinking the ball closer and closer to the sideline, so the ball is bouncing almost on it.
It may take a few shots, but when you sense the time is right, and the opponent is concentrating on returning the ball rather than your court position, you suddenly jump sideways off the court, outside of the kitchen, and strike the ball viciously on the volley.
You can hit the ball down the line or cross-court across the opponent.
Timing is essential to execute this advanced shot correctly. You also have to be subtle with your movement and not allow your body language or position to telegraph your intention of sudden sideways movement.
What Makes An Erne Legal?
The “kitchen rule” in pickleball is a rule that determines where a player can stand on the court when hitting a shot. In pickleball, the area near the net is referred to as the “kitchen.”
According to official pickleball rules, a player cannot enter the kitchen (the 7-foot non-volley zone on each side of the net) until the ball has bounced on their side of the court. If a player steps into the kitchen before the ball has bounced, they will lose the point.
The kitchen rule is in place to prevent players from hitting volleys (shots hit before the ball bounces) and to encourage a more strategic, groundstroke-based game. It also helps to reduce the risk of injury since hitting volleys can be more physically demanding than hitting groundstrokes.
However, once you step outside of the court, the kitchen rule no longer applies, and it is a legal shot to return the ball with a volley.
Erne Perry also used to lean over the net and return a volley without the ball crossing the net line and entering his half of the court.
He made this shot until he played against someone who knew a member of the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) ruling committee. His opponent promptly reported the action to his friend. A rule change was swiftly introduced, which meant you had to let the ball cross the net line before striking it.
How To Defend Against The Erne
Defending the Erne can be difficult, especially if you haven’t mastered being aware of your opponent’s body language and position while concentrating on the flight of the ball being struck toward you.
Try to return the ball exactly where your opponent hits the ball from or even at their body. This strategy will keep your return pinpointed on an area your opponent will find uncomfortable to reach.
Don’t allow your opponent to pin you to the sideline. Hit some returns cross-court and force them to move away from the court edge and into the middle.
Hit the ball low over the net, and dink it if possible to make the shot drop as close as possible to the opponent’s side of the net.
A lob is another way to force your adversary out of their comfort zone and toward the baseline.
If your opponent does manage to execute the Erne, step back over the kitchen line to give yourself room for a return. If you don’t have time to retreat, stay put, bend your knees, and parry, ensuring you at least put paddle to ball.
Pros And Cons Of The Erne
Here are some pros and cons of hitting an off-court volley like the Erne shot:
- An off-court volley can be an effective shot as it uses the element of surprise. You can catch your opponent off-guard by hitting the ball from an unexpected position.
- Erne shots are difficult to return due to the force and angle of the ball.
- An off-court volley can be used to change the direction of play. By hitting the ball from the side of the court, you can redirect the ball into a different part of the court and potentially open up new angles for your next shot.
- The Erne is safer when playing in a doubles match because your partner can cover the space you leave when you exit the court to the side.
- A successful Erne can be difficult to execute consistently. Hitting the ball accurately from an off-court position requires good hand-eye coordination and timing, and getting the ball to land in the right spot on the court can be challenging.
- The Erne volley can be less effective against opponents who get to the ball quickly. If your opponent can cover a lot of ground to reach the ball, they may be able to return your off-court volley, leaving you out of position.
- Ernes can be less effective against opponents who are comfortable coming to the net. If your opponent can get to the net quickly, they may be able to put pressure on you by hitting a shot that you are not expecting.
Putting the Erne Into Action
The Erne shot is probably something only more advanced pickleball players should attempt. It takes subtlety, a deep understanding of gameplay, nifty footwork, and great timing to execute properly.
However, just because you may not have reached a standard that allows you to use it correctly and effectively should not mean you are unaware of it and do not spot the signs your opponent is setting you up to use it against you.
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