It comes out of nowhere, leaving you stunned, baffled, and reeling from the shock. Surely that shot is not legal, right? There’s no way they can get away with that, you assure yourself, shaken. But they do…and they can!
Don’t worry! Everyone's first time on the receiving end of a well-executed pickleball Erne has the same reaction. Soon, those feelings of shock give way to acceptance. Next, come thoughts of revenge.
In this article, we’ll tell you exactly how to hit a great Erne, and when to use one.
We’ll also explain why it can be a lethal part of your pickleball skill armory. We’ll also give you some tips to defend against it, so it doesn’t surprise you in the future.
What Is an Erne in Pickleball?
An Erne is an advanced skilled shot used mostly in highly competitive play. This surprise shot in pickleball was coined by videographer, Jeff Shank, after noticing a pro pickleball player, Erne Perry, consistently using this tactic.
The shot uses a simple loophole in the rules to a devastating effect. We all know that it’s against the rules to volley a shot out of the air from inside the kitchen. The rule prevents players from hovering at the net, and then hammering the ball when it comes at them.
But there’s nothing in the rules that says that if you were outside the sideline, right up near the net, that you couldn’t hit the ball on a volley. That’s a pickleball Erne!
It’s a shot by a player who is not in the kitchen, but is next to it, outside the left or right sideline. It allows the player to be near the net, and able to hit a powerful volley. It is nearly impossible to defend against, when executed correctly.
Defending players have little time to react to this shot, which is usually hit downwards towards their feet. And, as long as the hitter doesn’t touch the net or the net post, the shot is legal.
The Erne in the sport of pickleball is named after Erne Perry, a pro player who made the shot famous in a 2010 USAPA tournament. He used the shot to dominate several rallies, and the shot quickly secured its place in pickleball tactics.
How to Hit an Erne
Hitting an Erne is not straightforward. It involves a finely executed setup and can only really be taken at certain times in a game.
It’s also a high-risk shot, as it’s easy to make a mistake and end up losing the rally.
To set up an Erne, you need to lure your opponent into hitting just the right shot. This might be getting your opponent to dink back to you and toward the sideline.
Then you can leap over the corner of the kitchen and attack the ball near the net. This will usually leave them surprised and defenseless.
Setting up an Erne takes patience and planning. Choosing the correct moment for your attack is essential.
Ideally, you should make your move just as your opponent takes their shot, so that they don’t see what you’re planning. Be ready to get back into the correct position on the court if they don't hit the shot you anticipated.
These days, experienced players are more watchful of potential Erne opportunities. Lulling your opponent into a false sense of security is all part of the game.
Once you spot your chance, you need to move fast and be sure to land outside of the kitchen and sideline. Land on the line, and you'll be called for a fault.
To hit an Erne, you can either:
- Jump over the corner of the kitchen.
- Run through the kitchen and stand in the out-of-bounds area.
- Run around the kitchen corner and stand in the out of bounds area.
If you choose option 1, you must make sure your two feet land outside of the kitchen.
If you choose method 2 or 3, make sure both feet have touched the ground outside the kitchen before hitting the Erne. Otherwise, it’s a fault (more on this later).
While executing an Erne, you cannot make contact with any part of the net. And no part of your body, paddle or clothing can cross the plane of the net until after the ball is hit. Do this and it’s a fault.
Check out this video from Primetime Pickleball for more on how to hit an Erne:
How Is an Erne Legal in Pickleball?
The Kitchen/Non-Volley Zone Rules
The kitchen, or non-volley zone rules (Section 9 of the USA Pickleball Official Rule Book) state that you cannot touch the area in the kitchen, including the kitchen line, while hitting a volley.
It is legal for your pickleball paddle to cross the plane of the line in the air. The rule states specifically, “All volleys must be initiated from outside of the non-volley zone or the NVZ line.”
So, what exactly does that mean? Simply put, if your foot touches the kitchen or kitchen line in the process of hitting a volley, or as a result of your momentum from the shot, it’s a fault.
How an Erne Bypasses the Kitchen Rule
To hit a legal pickleball Erne shot, make sure your feet have completely cleared the kitchen sideline, and both are established on the ground outside the sideline, before you strike the ball.
If you have only established one foot on the ground before hitting the volley, the position of your push-off foot during your last step must also be outside of the kitchen. Or it’s a fault.
Does Player Positioning Matter in Doing an Erne?
Pickleball player positioning is essential. Anticipation is also key to hit an effective Erne.
Since you will be jumping or moving to the outside of the court, you want to be positioned behind the kitchen line, as close to the sideline as possible. You don’t want a huge gap between you and your partner.
A common situation is when you’re dinking straight across to the opponent in front of you. Keep an eye open for a higher dink. And be ready to pounce into action to put the ball away with an Erne! At the same time, you can’t make it too obvious what you’re planning!
Your opponent's position doesn’t matter too much. Ideally, they are close to the kitchen, unaware that their minds are about to be blown by your impeccable Erne.
Just be sure they aren’t trying to set you up for their own Erne!
What Is a Bert and Erne in Pickleball?
Bert and Ernie are best buds in the Sesame Street, but what is a “Bert and Erne” on a pickleball court?
Well, now that we know what a pickleball Erne is, it’s easier to describe a Bert. A Bert shot is the same as an Erne, but with an extra level of complexity. It’s an advanced shot.
Basically, it means taking an Erne shot from your teammate’s side of the court rather than your own.
Sounds tough, doesn’t it?!
Think of a Bert as a surprise shot poached by your partner in front of you. Only their momentum causes them to go completely off the court.
Make sure your partner knows you could suddenly move in front of them. You also need the Bert shot to end the rally, or quickly reposition yourselves for a return.
Let’s say you lure your opponents into hitting a high ball close to your partner’s sideline. At that moment, you whizz across the court, either jumping over or running around the kitchen and hit a surprise volley.
As you can imagine, a Bert shot takes even more planning, timing and skill to achieve than an Erne. If you anticipate a high shot and begin to move, but the shot is a perfect dink, you will find yourselves on the defense, and likely out of position.
You might see this type of shot at the professional level, especially in mixed doubles where the male player dominates the court and the female partner knows to yield to his forehand shots, even those that are directly in front of them.
What Are the Benefits of Doing an Erne?
Ernes are a highly valuable shot to have in your arsenal, mainly due to the element of surprise. As long as they haven’t spotted your intent, your opponent will be caught totally off guard and find it nearly impossible to return a slam from so close to the net.
Even if your opponent spots your intent at the last minute, the shorter distance between them and your paddle will give them less time to react, and often cause them to err.
Remember, the Erne is a high-risk strategy that must be executed legally to be successful!
How to Defend Against an Erne Pickleball
You also should learn how to defend against an Erne. This can be as, or more difficult than performing the Erne.
Learn to recognize when you hit a shot that gives your opponent the opportunity to hit an Erne. And immediately set yourself on the defense, just in case.
Try to keep calm. If you spot a potential set up, hit your return straight to where the player is currently standing, or slightly to their midcourt side. That will keep the ball out of their reach as they jump the sideline.
You might also try to hit a low, short shot into the kitchen. This will make it hard for your opponent to reach from the sideline. They’ll also have a tough time clearing the sideline if they hit the ball before it bounces.
Another option is a lob. If you spot an Erne set up, hit a lob as the player starts his move to the sideline. This will force their partner to cover the entire court and allow your team to stay on the offense.
A third method of defense against an Erne is the riskiest but can be the most satisfying if you’re successful.
As you see your opponent start to position themself for an Erne, hit your next shot hard and directly at them. This could force them into making an error or cause them to misstep into the kitchen.
But be ready in case their hands are fast. The return will come back quickly, and you’ll need to be ready!
The More you Learn, the More You Erne!
The Erne is a killer shot in pickleball, and one that takes time to master. Advanced strategies take a lot of patience and training to perfect, but once you crack the Erne, you will become much more dangerous on the court.
Once your opponents know you have the potential to hit an Erne you will have a psychological advantage, as they never know when one will come, and their strategy might change to keep you from being able to hit one.
Have you been burned by a crafty Erne? Or do you have any great tips on exercises to improve your mastery of the shot? Reach out to us on our socials, we’d love to hear from you.
In the meantime, get out there and get practicing your Ernes in earnest!