In the game of pickleball and in all other racquet/paddle sports unforced errors are the bane of a player's existence. Unforced errors occur when one player without the direct intervention of an opponent makes a bad shot, hence unforced.
We have skills exercises to build up the ability to play any type of shot that is used in pickleball, but prevention of unforced errors is a correlative and all encompassing skill that we don't typically practice for.
Unforced errors fall into two categories. There are the unforced errors that end a rally on their own, such as a missed serve, or return of serve, or other shot, that is mishit and goes into the net or out of the court. These are easy to spot.
What can sometimes be more difficult to pick out are shots that are precipitating, and invite the opposition to put away the next shot to win a point or to cause the error prone to lose a serve. During a dinking rally, for example, when one person puts a ball a little too high or a little too deep, the opposition has an opportunity to win the rally with a hard shot down the middle.
A harder unforced error to get a handle on occurs when one player coughs up a ball that gives the opposition a chance, but good fortune or sheer luck permits the team making the unforced error to stay in the rally for a while longer, though probably on the defensive. The shot that ends the rally might not itself be off an unforced error, but might be able to be traced back to the original shot that got the ball rolling badly, as it were.
Recently, Peter Singleton, who manufactures the Singleton Pickleball Paddles, which many players are now using due to their durability and quality, was practicing with me and a couple of others recently. He suggested a drill for detecting unforced errors, and which allowed us to see them as they occurred and gave us ideas on how to rectify them.
The drill is actually a game played by 4 players as in normal doubles. In the game, each player serves one time in rotation clockwise. So, after 4 rallies each player has served one time, and the rotation continues for the game.
After the serve, the rally is played as a normal point rally. If an unforced error occurs prior to the completion of the rally, and which causes the team making the unforced error to lose the rally, then the opposition team gets one point, regardless of who served to begin the rally.
So, you can only win a point on an opponent's unforced error. If a rally just ends with good play resulting from ball placement or skill, there is no point awarded. There must be a discernible unforced error.
The game is played to 11 as usual, win by two.
When we played this game, we found that we became more aware of what were unforced errors, and were quick to acknowledge our own errors. The idea is to do a drill, not fight for, or over, points. It is also to try and learn from having made unforced errors to remove them from our repertoire.
The 4 of us played several games this way, and saw to an extent that we became a little more conservative in our playing during this drill. So, we became more prudently aggressive, and looked to reduce low percentage shots.
After we had played several games this way, we concluded our training session with a series of games among the 4 of us. During those games, some of the prudent aggression of the earlier exercise had rubbed off, and our games were somewhat different than they had been previously.
Give it a try.