Take your game to the next level with these powerful pickleball tips. They’re as practical as possible so, you should see a rapid and meaningful improvement after taking them onboard.
1. Get to the kitchen quick
In pickleball the most advantageous position on the court is right at the kitchen line. It puts pressure on your opponents and opens up shot angles. You want to get to the kitchen as soon as possible, but there is a caveat – you want to get there quickly and safely.
We’ve all made the mistake of blindly rushing up to the kitchen only to get a pickleball smashed right at us. Stay aware of where the ball is headed and the position of your opponents as you advance.
If you see your opponent is about to hit the while you’re moving towards the kitchen, stop your forward momentum and prepare to return their shot. It’s much easier to return a shot like this compared to trying to accurately place a shot while on the run. Continue to quickly advance after returning the ball.
This is known as a split step. Here’s a quick video if you’re not familiar with what it looks like:
Likewise, if you have to move off the kitchen line to get a ball or cover your partner, don’t settle into your new position. Move up and reclaim the kitchen as quickly as possible.
2. Keep your opponents back
This is the flip side of the previous tip. If the best position on the court is at the kitchen line, it follows that you should aim keep your opponents at the baseline.
Keeping your opponents back while you’re at the kitchen line puts them at a severe disadvantage. They have much more court area to cover and have the difficult task of trying to hit a delicately placed drop shot in the kitchen to give themselves time to advance.
If one or both of your opponents are not able to make it to the kitchen line, keep them back by placing the ball at their feet. Hitting a ball at your feet is one of the most awkward shots to return and there’s a good chance you’ll force them to make an error.
The one caveat I’ll add is this: If you have a clear overhead opportunity it’s generally a good idea to hit it in the direction of the opponent closest to you. They have less time to react and are less likely to return your overhead.
3. Get your serves in
One of the easiest and most impactful ways to improve your serve is to simply get them in.
It feels great to hit an ace with a screaming power serve to the baseline or a tricky spin serve. But if you’re hitting half your serves into the net or out of bounds as a result, it’s not a winning strategy.
Missing your serve is like forfeiting your opportunity to put points on the board. You can beat players more skilled than you by playing smarter and being a consistent server. Get your serves in – let your opponents make the mistakes.
You goal is not to win the point on the serve. Your goal should be to put just enough pressure on your opponent so they don’t have an easy return shot. Try to place the ball deep in the court or targeting your opponent’s backhand to challenge them – just do it in a controlled manner and keep the ball in play. It doesn’t take much.
4. Practice your third shot drop
If you’ve been playing pickleball for any length of time, you’ve likely heard of the ‘third shot drop’. While it’s not your only option, the third shot drop is one of the fundamental shots in pickleball and should be a part of every serious pickleball player’s arsenal.
If you need a refresher, here’s a great video covering the basics of hitting a drop shot:
The reason this shot is so important is that it limits your opponent’s ability to attack the ball and buys you time to transition to the kitchen line.
While the third shot drop gets talked about a lot – and for good reason – you can really hit a drop shot at any point during a game. It’s a great option if you ever find yourself out of position and need to ‘reset’ the point and get back into position.
Just be prepared to eat a few smashes while you’re working on your drop shot. This is one of the toughest shots in pickleball and it takes time to learn. Keep your eye on the prize and don’t get discouraged – it pays off big when you start getting it down.
5. Know when you’re on the attack or on the defensive
The team with the advantage can change very quickly during a point in pickleball. At one moment you can be on the offensive – in control of the point and putting pressure on your opponents. But at the next moment the roles can reverse and you find yourself scrambling to keep the ball in play and the point alive.
A common mistake players of all skill levels make is to press the attack when they should be playing more defensively or playing easy shots to their opponents when they should be pressing their advantage.
Two classic examples:
- Hitting a soft shot to mid court when your opponent is at the baseline and you’re at the kitchen.
- Trying to hit a hard drive off of a low ball while your opponents are standing at the kitchen line.
In the first scenario, the player is conceding the advantage and allowing their opponents to move up toward the kitchen. In the second, the player is playing into their opponents advantage and setting them up for a perfect smash opportunity.
Learn to recognize which team has the advantage and play accordingly. Because that dynamic can change from shot to shot in pickleball, be ready to adapt quickly.
6. Communication is key
At first glance, communicating with your partner may not seem to have any practical benefits. You want to score more points and win more games – how does communication help with that?
Just think back to all the points where you left a shot because you were sure your partner was going to get it, only watch the ball land between the two of you and realize that your partner had the same thought. Or how about clashing paddles with your partner and sending the ball into the net because you both went for a ball you thought was yours?
We’ve all experienced it. This lack of communication will cost you points and can make the difference in a competitive game.
During a game: get into the habit of calling ‘yours’ or ‘mine’ to make it clear who’s getting the ball. Support your partner by calling ‘no’ if you see a ball is headed out of bounds. Keep your calls short and to the point.
Before a game: talk with your partner about how you’re going to handle lobs and about deferring to the player who has the forehand shot (usually a good default). If you like to poach shots talk to your partner and make sure they’re on board.
7. Dink about it
When playing the soft game around the kitchen don’t just dink for the sake of dinking. There are two main reasons we dink:
- Keeping shots unattackable
- Put your opponents off balance or out of position
The first of the two is more important. You don’t want to give you opponents high balls that are easy to hit down on. If you’re still working on consistently keeping your dinks low and unattackable, that’s fine – it’s an ongoing pursuit. Find a partner that you can drill with and keep practicing.
But once you feel your dinks are fairly consistent, be mindful of where you’re placing them. Make your opponents move with your dink placements. Many players make the mistake of dinking like they’re playing a game of catch and dinking right to their opponents. You’re much more likely to force them to pop up a ball or hit it into the net if you can make them move.
Change it up between dinking it to their backhand and forehand and make note of how strong their dinking is on either side. If there’s a weaker side, put pressure on it.
Getting into a cross court dink rally is a common pattern. It’s so common that some players hang out near the corners of the kitchen in anticipation of this. If you notice your opponents sort of ‘settle into position’ for these dink rallies, throw them off balance by placing your dinks closer to the middle of the kitchen.
8. Stay ready
Pickleball is a fast paced sport – it can go from a slow dink rally to rapidfire volleying at a moments notice. That’s why it’s important to stay engaged in the point and keep your paddle up and ready, especially around the kitchen.
There are several variations on the paddle ready position so you’ll have to experiment and see what works for you. However, the key points are the same:
- Keep your knees bent and back straight
- Hold you paddle at roughly chest height
- Make sure your paddle is out in front of your body rather than tucked in
Here’s an excellent video illustrating my preferred ready position:
Another tip from Sarah Ansboury – one of the best players in the world – is to track the ball with your paddle through the point. While I prefer to angle my paddle slightly toward my backhand, I particularly like this approach because it does wonders for improving reaction time and focus during a point. It’s also super easy to remember.
9. Be Strategic – look for low risk shots
Players wanting to develop their pickleball strategy often wonder where they should be placing their shots.
It’s important to remember that pickleball is a game of errors and more often than not, the team that makes the fewest errors wins. Avoid the mindset of trying to make every shot you hit a ‘winner’. This leads to taking risky shots that cause unforced errors.
Instead, recognize that put-away opportunities arise due to the shots before it.
As play progresses through a point, players move and create large open areas on the court. Aim for these areas and make your opponents move or reach for the ball.
This puts them off balance and increases the likelihood of them making an error or popping up a ball, setting up an easy put-away.
10. Move with your partner
During the course of a point, a smart player will look for opening where they can place the ball. To prevent giving your opponents these opportunities, aim to move together with your partner.
Moving together with your partner creates a solid defensive wall with the fewest possible openings. When you move independently of each other, you’re creating large openings on the court that your opponents will use to their advantage.
This concept is easier to grasp visually so here’s a video you can check out to get the full idea. The whole video is a bit long at roughly 30 minutes but the section on moving with your partner starts at 6:00 minutes in and lasts about 3 minutes. It’s worth watching the whole video if you have time – there are definitely a few good nuggets in there.
Improving your game takes time and effort but, you’ll give yourself a headstart in the right direction by implementing these powerful pickleball tips.