Some pickleball players view the serve as a mere formality, with the real game taking place around the kitchen. However, having an effective serve can start the point off in your favor and give you an advantage. Here are our essential tips for being an effective server and winning more points.
1. Get your serves in… most of the time
I know, I can already picture you rolling your eyes with that heading… This one sounds like a no-brainer, but hear me out – there’s a bit of subtlety to it.
Getting too fancy with the serve and regularly hitting balls out or into the net is one of the biggest mistakes players make. Of course, you’re going to miss from time to time and that’s fine (getting 100% of your serves in is actually a common pickleball myth). The mistake is regularly missing your serves.
To be clear, it’s a good thing to hit a serve that makes the return challenging for your opponents. It makes it harder for them to hit their shot and sets up an easier third shot for you and your partner.
Where players get into trouble is when they try to do too much or win the point on the serve. It’s rare to win the point on the serve in pickleball and you’ll lose more points than you gain trying to do so. It doesn’t take much – do just enough so your opponent doesn’t have an ideal return opportunity.
At first glance missing your serves might not seem like a big deal. Here’s why it matters:
The only time you can score points is when you’re serving.
Think about it – you can win 75% of the rallies in a game, but can still end up losing if you regularly miss your serves. Similarly, you can beat players more skilled than yourself by being a more consistent server.
Bottom Line:Don’t forfeit your chance to put points on the board by getting too fancy. Make sure to get most of your serves in.
2. Be consistent
If you want to rapidly improve your pickleball serve, start by being consistent.
Start your serve from the same position on the court – I personally like to serve right next to the center line and a couple inches back from the baseline. This will help you build your muscle memory and allow you to improve much faster than if you’re serving from a different spot on every serve.
Set your feet and make sure you’re balanced before you start. Being off balance adds another variable into the mix and will make your serves less accurate.
Consider developing a pre-serve routine like bouncing the ball a few times. It’ll help snap you into the right mindset before hitting the ball – most pro players have their own individual pre-serve routine.
Bottom Line:Start your serve the same way every time to eliminate variables and quickly develop your muscle memory.
3. Serve to a specific target
It can be easy to slip into the habit of ‘just serving’ without any plan for where you want the ball to go. Aiming for a specific spot on the court will not only help tighten up your serves immediately, but will also help improve your shot accuracy in the long run.
The key here is to make sure you’re actually targeting a specific location (think a 1 foot by 1 foot square or smaller) rather than a general area on the court. Even if you miss your small target, your shot will be more accurate than if you’re just aiming for a general area on the court.
Bottom Line:Avoid ‘just serving’. Improve your accuracy by targeting a small area on the court.
4. Give yourself some margin for error
Even the pros don’t have perfect accuracy with their shots. If you watch how they serve, you’ll notice that most of their serves land about 2-5 feet in from the baseline and travel well above the net.
These are the best pickleball players in the world and can hit within a foot of the baseline with a high level of consistency. However, they know how important it is to keep their serves in and give themselves a generous margin for error.
For newer players I generally recommend aiming for a spot that’s about 5 feet in from the baseline – this allows plenty of room for imperfect shots to still make it into play. Do some experimenting and figure out what sort of margin to give yourself. As you improve, reduce your margin for error.
Bottom Line:None of us have perfect accuracy. Understand your limits and give yourself some margin for error.
5. Hit it deep
Once you start getting your serves dialed in and are hitting most of them successfully, you can start to push your limits and continue to improve your accuracy and placement.
Deep serves are more difficult for your opponents to return accurately. But on top of being harder to handle, they also have the more important advantage of keeping your opponent back towards the baseline.
The most advantageous position in pickleball is right at the kitchen line. If you can keep your opponents back, you’ll have an advantage over them. A short serve, on the other hand, offers your opponent an easy path to the kitchen and will make your third shot much harder to execute.
Bottom Line:Start the point off right by making life hard for your opponents and serve it deep.
6. Aim for their weak side
Most players have a more powerful and accurate forehand compared to their backhand. As your accuracy improves, try to target your opponent’s backhand to limit their ability to execute a good return. If you’re lucky they may even hit it into the net or out of play.
Just be aware that there are players out there who prefer hitting with their backhand and are just waiting for their chance to hit a devastating backhand slice. Take note of how your opponents handle these serves and be ready to adapt and revert to a less risky serve if you feel you’re not gaining an advantage.
Bottom Line:Learn to identify your opponent’s weaknesses and capitalize on them. This often means targeting their backhand during the serve.
7. When in doubt keep it simple
We all have periods when our game just feels off. Our serves start going into the net or sailing out of bounds and our play starts falling to pieces. This can be incredibly frustrating, especially when you’re actively working on improving your game.
If you feel like you’re missing more serves than you normally do, take a step back and realize that we all have our good days and bad days. The road to improving your pickleball serve isn’t a straight line and you should expect to regress from time to time – two steps forward, one step back.
The best thing you can do during these periods is to reset and take some pressure off yourself. Slow down your serves and give yourself some extra margin for error. As you start to feel like you’re getting your groove back, you can gradually start adding some pace back and trying for more accurate placement.
Bottom Line:Be willing to ease up and serve more conservatively if things aren’t going your way. You’re better off keeping the point alive rather than throwing away the serve.
Keeping these tips in mind will not only give you a solid foundation for your pickleball serve, but will also help you win more points. Have some additional tips that have helped you improve your serve? Share them in the comments below!