If you want to become a better pickleball player and make the competition tremble with fear, you've come to the right place. This blog post will cover 10 tips on how to improve your pickleball game and dominate your next match. We'll cover things like getting close to the non-volley line after returns, learning how a drop shot works, keeping opponents pinned against the backline, hitting at their feet at critical moments, and bringing more depth with your serves.
1. Get To The Non-Volley Zone Line After The Return-of-Serve
If you want to improve your pickleball game, one of the best things you can do is focus on getting to the non-volley line after the return of serve. Most pickleball matches, especially doubles, are won at the non-volley zone (NVZ) line. So, learning how to get up to the line quickly will go a long way to helping you get more points.
2. Learn to Hit Drop Shots
A drop shot in pickleball is a soft shot with a high arc that drops down quickly into or around your opponent's kitchen. The drop shot is more of a defensive shot because it can help you buy time to get to the NVZ line, reset the rally or help you mix up the rhythm of the match. But, against a less mobile opponent, it can also be an offensive weapon.
Here are some tips for hitting an effective drop shot:
- Use a light grip on your paddle. This will help you generate more spin and make the ball drop more quickly.
- Don't swing too hard. Just a light tap is all you need to get the ball over the net.
- Aim for a spot just over the net. This will give the ball time to drop before your opponent can reach it.
- Follow through with your shot. This will help ensure that the ball has enough spin to drop quickly.
3. Keep Your Opponents Pinned To The Baseline
While your goal is to get to the NVZ line quickly, you should also focus on keeping your opponent as far back at the baseline as possible. When you have aggressive opponents who like to play up at the line, hit shots at their feet, or deep into their zone, that forces them to stay back longer than they're comfortable. This can cause a lot of trouble for your opponents, including frustration and poor shot-taking.
4. Hit The Ball At Your Opponent’s Feet
Improve your pickleball game by hitting the ball at your opponent’s feet. This forces them to get low with their paddles and can cause them to mishit the ball because of how quickly it gets past their body. Many players make the mistake of hitting the ball at the player, but the better players learn that hitting at their feet (or in a gap) is the best way to force errant shots.
5. Serve With More Depth
It's essential to mix up your serve when playing pickleball. Sometimes it should be soft, sometimes fast, sometimes with spin, etc. But, one thing about serving is almost always true. You want to serve the ball as close to their baseline as possible. Forcing a player to back up while taking their shot gives you an immediate advantage in the game. If you notice a player likes to stand inside the baseline or just outside of it, serve the ball with more depth and force them to move their feet when returning. Once they catch onto you and start standing farther off the line, then you can mix in some shorter serves and force them to come running up.
6. Don’t Stand Too Close To The Baseline When Returning Serves
Likewise, when your opponent is serving, you want to put yourself in a great position to handle a deep serve. Remember, it's always easier to run forward and make good contact than it is to backpedal. Stand at least a foot off the baseline until your opponent shows you that they prefer to serve the ball more shallowly. This will give you ample time to react and get into a good return position.
7. Return The Serve As Deep As Possible
On the serve, the non-serving team has an advantage. This is because the two-bounce rule states that each team must let the ball bounce once before hitting it. After the serve, the return of serve is most often best hit as deep as possible. This forces your opponent to stay back to wait for the ball while your team can advance to the NVZ line and be in a more aggressive position to win the serve back.
This is especially helpful if you have opponents who like to float (take a few steps forward) after they serve the ball. This is a massive error that you should exploit as often as possible. You're forcing them to backpedal and make an off-balance strike by hitting the return of serve deep. Many of these shots will end up hitting the net or providing you with an easy putaway on the fifth shot.
8. Communicate When Returning Shots Hit Down The Middle
Playing doubles pickleball is all about communicating with your partner. One area where many teams fail to communicate is when shots are hit down the middle. A well-placed shot between you and your partner can often cause you both to think that the other person is responsible for it and, in turn, neither of you commit to taking the shot. Instead, communicate ahead of time who is going to be responsible for middle shots.
Oftentimes, the best person to take this shot is the one whose dominate hand is closest to the middle. If you're both right-handed picklers, then the person on the left side of the court should most likely be responsible for middle shots. If you're both left-handed, then the person on the right side should control the middle. If one of you is left and one of you is right, then you will have to work that out a bit more.
A general rule of thumb is that whoever has their dominate hand closest to the middle is actually responsible for a little more than half of the court. Typically, this is because players' forehands are stronger than their backhands. But a quick convo before the game starts should clear that up pretty quickly.
9. Move Together When Playing Doubles
Another way that teammates communicate is through their bodies. When you or your partner are forced off to the sideline, it can leave a large gap between you. However, if you or your partner quickly fill that gap, then it takes that advantage away from your opponents.
When you and your partner move, pretend that you are attached by a big rubber band. When one of you moves to one side, the other should move to that side along with them. This helps you both cover more of the court and prevents your team from giving up an easy putaway shot.
10. Be Patient
One of the best ways to improve your pickleball game is to be patient. It can be tempting to rush your shots or try for putaways too early in a rally. Dinking is a perfectly sound strategy when playing a patient game. It may look like players are out there just playing a friendly game when dinks are happening back and forth. But, the game within the game will show you that they are simply waiting for the right opportunity to strike!
Pickleball, when played at high levels, is more of a finesse than a power game. Those that win are those that make fewer mistakes and force their opponents to make more. Patience is the key to winning at pickleball.
These 10 tips should help you play better doubles pickleball. By communicating with your partner, being patient, and moving together as one unit, you'll be able to improve your game and win more matches. And winning is always more fun than losing.
Good luck out there!