Top 13 Tips to Improve Your Pickleball Technique & Strategy
Pickleball has become all the rage, which makes finetuning your pickleball strategy an absolute must! In fact, over the last three years alone, pickleball has seen a 158.6% rate of growth. When you combine this with an estimated 36.5 million players—most of whom are between the ages of 18 and 34—it becomes clear that pickleball has earned the title of ‘fastest-growing sport in America.’
Top 13 Tips to Boost Your Pickleball Strategy
Even if you haven’t personally tried pickleball yet, the odds are high that someone you know has. Therefore, if you’re interested in learning how to devise the very best pickleball technique, you’ve come to the right place!
1. Always be in a ‘Pickleball Ready’ Position
If you’re asking, “What in the world is pickleball ready,” you’re probably a new player. But even if you’re well aware of what this phrase means, it’s still important to actually put it into action.
The pickleball-ready position is basically the neutral position you should hold whenever you’re waiting for a serve and/or enter the Non-Volley Zone Line or Transition Space (also known as ‘no man’s land’). To enter the pickleball-ready position, you’ll want to do the following:
- Hold your paddle head up and forward.
- Stand with your feet approximately shoulder-width apart.
- Compress your body and bend your knees. Place your weight on the balls of your feet.
- To hold your paddle forward, envision a big clock. If you’re a righty, hold it at 10 or 11. If you’re a lefty, hold it at 2 or 1.
Why is the position so important? Because pickleball moves at lightning-fast speed! If you’re not in the pickleball-ready position, it’ll be much harder to respond to the ball. Instead, speed up your reaction time and be prepared to win!
Another benefit to being in the pickleball-ready position is that you’ll be able to hit better dinks! In simple terms, dinking is when Another benefit to being in the pickleball-ready position is that you’ll be able to hit better dinks! In simple terms, drinking is when a player softly hits the ball just over the net, aiming to land it in the opponent's non-volley zone or the "kitchen."
This strategy is a fundamental aspect of pickleball, designed to make it difficult for the opponent to hit an aggressive shot in response. By being in the ready position, you have the agility and balance to quickly adjust your stance and stroke to execute an effective dink, keeping your opponent off balance and creating opportunities for winning shots.
To dink, you use an open-face paddle, contact the ball from in front of your body, and use a gentle pushing motion. Your shot should be controlled and soft, and there will be no wrist break. Instead, the movement comes from your shoulder.
2. Serve the Ball Deep and to Backhands
When you get the honor of the initial serve in the game, be sure to set yourself up with the best serve possible. Fortunately, there are two fantastic tricks to ensure that you keep the advantage!
The first trick is to force your opponent to the back of the service box. This will make it much more difficult for your opponent to return your shot. However, make sure you don’t hit it so deep that your serve goes out of bounds. As long as you aim your shot correctly, though, the burden of dealing with it will fall to your opponent.
Secondly, be sure to target your opponent’s weak side. For most people, this will be their backhand side. You see, the majority of pickleball players have a stronger forehand than backhand, so use this to your advantage.
Serving the ball using both of these techniques is the best way to trip your opponent up. Therefore, always commit to starting the game off on the right foot with these two strategic moves. You should also continue to use these methods any other time you get to serve during a game, too.
3. Bend Your Knees and Move Your Feet
You may think that you do this naturally, but the odds are high that you’re not actually bending your knees and moving your feet as often as you think. In fact, this is one of the most neglected things you can do to improve your game immediately. Additionally, there are two tips you’ll want to combine with bending your knees and moving your feet.
Keeping your knees bent will engage your leg muscles, which happen to be the most powerful muscles in your body. It will also allow you to hit low balls more effectively, which is one of the prime goals of playing pickleball. As to moving your feet, doing this will put you in the best position to execute a shot.
The next time you enter a pickleball court, be sure to keep these tips in mind. They’re very simple adjustments, and they’ll help you out a lot!
4. Return Deep and to Backhands
Much as the person serving needs to hit the ball deep and to backhands, you should do the same thing whenever you return someone’s serve. If you’re playing doubles, it’s also important to aim the ball toward your weaker opponent. Also, don’t forget to line up your shot so that it doesn’t go out of bounds. If you have difficulty with this, it’s better to hit the ball to the middle of the service box than to miss the service box altogether.
Here is a simple step-by-step way to execute this move:
- Return the serve by hitting it deep into the court.
- Target your weaker opponent.
- Target their weaker side.
Also, don’t forget to move to the Non-Volley Zone Line (also known as the Kitchen Line) as soon as possible. You should have time to move to the kitchen line immediately after returning the initial serve. Doing this makes a fantastic doubles and singles pickleball strategy.
5. Keep Your Eyes on the Pickleball and Your Paddle
One of the first things you should learn as a pickleball beginner is to always watch the pickleball hit your paddle. Again, this is something that should seem relatively easy, but it’s often forgotten once a game gets going. By always paying close attention to the pickleball—and by making sure you watch the pickleball hit your paddle—you can execute a better shot.
One vital tip is to hit the pickleball while it’s out in front of your body. In fact, doing this one simple thing can dramatically improve your results. Here’s why:
- It’ll keep your swing compact and ensure you don’t overswing.
- Your shots will have fewer errors.
- Put yourself in the ideal position to be able to stay at the Non-Volley Line or move forward.
Hitting the ball when it’s out in front of your body and you’ve got your eyes on it is akin to following through with your swing in baseball. If you’d like to see why, try hitting the ball the correct way and then the incorrect way. This will instantly show you the power of watching the ball hit your racket.
6. Make Your Decision and Stick to It
Have you ever had a great shot lined up but then failed to hit it because you hesitated? This is the result of not committing to your planned shot. Rather than letting your mind run wild, pick one particular shot, commit to it, and the odds are high that you’ll receive better results. It doesn’t even matter if you pick the wrong shot. What matters is that you go for it!
Of course, if you want to land every shot, you’ll have to position yourself correctly on the court, along with making a solid shot selection. But if you don’t have time to think it through, going with your instincts is so much better than second-guessing yourself.
7. Remain Patient
Did you know that remaining patient is one of the most important pickleball strategies you can have? Unfortunately, many pickleball players are not very good at being patient. This is evidenced by how often a player will decide to speed up the pickleball, only to lose themselves a point. Therefore, a good pickleball strategy doubles can use is to both stay calm and patient.
One thing to remember is that it’s always best to wait for a truly attackable ball position. In other words, you’ll want to go after balls that are at or above the top of the pickleball net. Never go after balls that are aimed below the net. Always allow your patience to pave the way, and don’t try to make a shot when there are none there.
8. Play To Your Strengths (and Your Opponent’s Weaknesses!)
Pickleball 101 says that you should always play to your personal strengths while attacking your opponent’s personal weaknesses. This is easily said, but what does it truly mean?
Well, let’s say that you play a great power game and have a great drive. Meanwhile, your opponent might have a great dinking game* and soft game. How can you defend against this? By driving the pickleball and attempting to speed the ball up. Additionally, by avoiding dinking rallies. You should also make note of other weaknesses in your opponent, including whether they have a weak backhand drive or poor mobility. Exploit whatever weaknesses you can pick up. For instance, hitting their weak backhands or lobbing the ball to your opponent is a great way to pick up a point.
9. Keep the Ball Low, But Make Sure It Clears the Net
Keeping the pickleball low—but also ensuring it has enough height to clear the net—is one of pickleball’s hardest feats. It’s also one of the best ways to give yourself a win, though. If you can become an expert at keeping the ball low, you can force your opponent to make several mistakes, such as:
- They’ll hit up on the ball, which is more likely to cause a pop-up hit.
- Hit it low to the Non-Volley Zone Line, and they’ll only hit a dink.
- Return a serve in the low position to cause a drop side instead of a drive.
When you play a doubles match, it’s vital to ensure you use the correct paddle angle for whatever shot you want to make:
- Hold your paddle parallel to the net to gain less height.
- Hold your paddle flat to gain more height.
The next thing you need to be concerned with is the pacing of your shot. Here are two ways to slow your pace down or speed your pace up:
- Using a closed paddle angle, you can speed up the game by hitting the pickleball down into the court.
- Using an open paddle angle, you can slow the game down by keeping the ball low and in court.
Using this is an example of an advanced pickleball strategy!
10. Communication is Key
Winning a doubles match will require you and your partner to communicate with each other. You don’t have to use a lot of words to ensure you communicate your way to a victory, either. Simply call out who is responsible for running down a lob, taking a pickleball that lands in the middle, whether to let a ball go out of bounds, etc. Between points, you can also communicate about any weaknesses you see in your opponents.
It's also a good idea to be supportive of each other. Shouting out things such as “Nice shot!” or “Let’s go!” can help keep the weaker player on your team feeling good and doing their best.
11. Use Crosscourt Dinking (Usually)
To keep the ball low is to have an advantage. To pull this off, though, you have to be able to strongly dink. One of the best ways to dink is crosscourt. This will provide you with the biggest margin for error by being hit at a natural angle, traveling over the middle of the net, and giving you a bigger space to land your dink. In fact, crosscourt dinking provides some forgiveness rather than making you land a perfect shot.
Of course, it’s impossible to use a crosscourt dinking every single time. Not only is it not physically possible, but it would also make your moves way too easy for your opponent to predict. Also, when an aggressive dink comes your way, it can be better to reply with a straightforward dink instead.
12. Allow the Balls to Go Out
Some players—particularly if they’re newer to pickleball—can get themselves tied up in knots to return every single ball. This isn’t the best strategy, however. Regardless of whether you’re in a singles or doubles match, you must learn the art of letting a ball go out of the court.
How can you know if a ball is going to go out? There are several different ways, including:
- Patterns of Play – Have you determined that your opponent always drives the pickleball? Do they always hit their drives too high from a certain area of the court? Pay attention and use what you find out to your advantage.
- Communication – Whenever you play doubles, help each other out. When you yell “BOUNCE,” for instance, this helps your partner know not to try to hit the ball.
- Shoulder Height Drives Should be Left Alone – Is a ball coming toward you at your shoulder or chest level? It’s most likely going to be out. This tends to be even more true if your opponent fired the ball back at you from the Non-Volley Zone Line.
- Body Language – Pay attention to the subtle—and not subtle—clues that your opponent’s body language can tell you. Are they preparing to hit the ball with a closed paddle face and a big backswing? That means they’re going to drive the ball at you. Now that you know this, you can anticipate their moves.
- Height Contact – Anytime your opponent goes to drive a ball that’s below the height of the net, you should carefully consider letting it go. That’s because it will most likely end up going out of bounds.
13. Down the Middle, Between the Lines, and Over the Net
Unless you’re going to dink the ball crosscourt, your shots should almost always stay down the middle. You’ll also want them to make it over the net and to fall between the lines. Using this method will give you the widest margin for error. It’s also effective because it can cause doubles to argue about who will get the ball.
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What is the best way to get better at pickleball?
There are multiple techniques to get better at pickleball. Among them are:
- Know the rules.
- Always be in the ready position.
- Keep your opponent’s back.
- Be in sync with your partner.
- Avoid no-man’s land.
What is the basic pickleball strategy for beginners?
Controlled shot placement and consistency are the two primary keys to winning a match. Focus on trying to make your shots near the sidelines and deep in the box. It’s also important to wear the right footwear, including pickleball socks. Doing this will allow you to stay on your feet and ready to go!
Is there a strategy in pickleball?
Of course! When you’re not playing, practice your hitting and serving. When you are playing, go to the back third of the court, and try to ensure your returns are deep and near the corners of the court.
How do you dominate pickleball?
Use the following 13 strategies if you truly want to dominate your opponents at pickleball:
- Dink between your opponents.
- Lob less.
- Aim for your opponent’s feet.
- Hit a third shop drop.
- Serve deep.
- Hit dinks when they’re in the air.
- Keep your opponent’s back.
- Learn to move with your partner.
- Return serves deeply.
- Play low.
- Develop a compact stroke.
- Be patient.
- Aim the ball behind your opponent.