Pickleball has gone from a fun game invented by a few friends to a massive phenomenon taking the country by storm.
The hit Netflix show, The Golden Bachelor, recently had an entire episode dedicated to pickleball, attracting even more new players.
While pickleball has one of the most social and accepting communities, it can still feel overwhelming for new players to join it.
In this guide, you’ll gain the insights and knowledge to approach pickleball, meet others, and play your first match (of many) with confidence!
Section 1: What is Pickleball?
History of Pickleball
Pickleball was created in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington, by three friends.
The story goes that the friends were on vacation and attempted to set up a game of badminton only to find they lacked all the necessary equipment.
Undeterred, they improvised with a ping pong ball, a wiffle ball, and lowered the badminton net.
This new game was an instant hit, and they named it after one of the family’s dog, Pickles.
The group enjoyed the game immensely and shared it with others. It quickly spread beyond Bainbridge Island and across the United States.
The retirement community particularly embraced Pickleball due to its accessibility and low physical impact.
As the years passed, Pickleball evolved with standardized rules and equipment, which helped spread the game even more. In 1984, the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) was founded, playing a critical role in making pickleball what it is today.
The game’s simplicity and accessibility to people of all ages and skill levels, along with its social aspect, have made pickleball the fastest-growing sport in the USA for several years.
The Appeal of Pickleball for Adults
Pickleball has gained significant popularity among older adults for myriad reasons, and its appeal goes beyond just the enjoyment of the game.
Low Impact on Joints:
Joint health is something we all struggle with as we get older. Pickleball provides a dynamic and fun game while having a lower impact on the joints than other activities. The game’s smaller court size and approachable pace help reduce the risk of injuries, making it an attractive option for adults with joint pains or physical health concerns.
Easy to Learn:
Pickleball is easy to learn, even for individuals without much sports experience. The rules are straightforward, equipment and resources are affordable, and the community is really engaged and encouraging of newcomers.
Pickleball is a very social game, even if you’re playing singles. Most games are played as doubles, of course, and the game fosters a social and communal atmosphere. The older we get, the harder it is to find opportunities to meet new people, but pickleball, both on the court and online, has a lively and welcoming community.
Pickleball provides a good cardiovascular workout without being too physically demanding, compared to some other popular spots. Regular physical exercise is paramount to overall health and well-being in adults, including enhanced mobility, reduced risk for chronic conditions, and improved cardiovascular health.
Pickleball is more than just physical and requires strategy, quick thinking, and deliberate coordination. Mental engagement is just as important as physical exercise, and studies suggest that pickleball may contribute to improved cognitive performance and a lower risk of cognitive decline in older adults.
Section 2: Getting Started
Getting started in any new endeavor can feel challenging. Pickleball is very easy to start, requiring minimal equipment. Even though you can start playing with just a ball, paddle, and a court, the right gear can make the game even more enjoyable.
Pickleball Paddle Selection
When picking the right pickleball paddle, there are a few things to consider. Comfort comes first. Playing with a paddle you like to hold is better than using a popular option you don’t like.
When you’re just starting, these things matter less, but the more you play, the more critical these qualities become.
In general, there are three things to consider when choosing a paddle.
- Power VS Accuracy
- Sweet Spot Size
- Spin Capability
Power VS Accuracy
In pickleball, power and accuracy are at opposing odds. The more power you have, the less accurate you’ll be.
The shape of the pickleball paddle will help give you more power or accuracy. An elongated paddle face will help you create more power but at the cost of precision. A shorter paddle shape will help you be more accurate but limit your power.
Your paddle’s core thickness will dramatically affect your accuracy and power. The thicker your paddle’s core, the more control you’ll have. If you want to add power, look for a paddle with a thinner core.
Most surfaces will be either carbon fiber, fiberglass or a mix between the two. Carbon fiber is great for adding more control to your shots, whereas fiberglass is better for adding more pop and power.
A longer handle is key for hitting with more power. Shorter handles will sap you of your power but will increase accuracy.
Sweet Spot Size
Every paddle face has a sweet spot, but not every paddle has a sweet spot of the same size. The bigger your sweet spot, the more room for error you have.
Elongated paddle shapes might give you a bigger area to make contact with the ball but at the price of a smaller sweet spot. A shorter paddle face has the benefit of boasting a bigger sweet spot.
A paddle with a thicker core will boast a more robust sweet spot. A thinner core will have a much smaller sweet spot.
Carbon fiber offers paddles with a bigger sweet spot than either hybrid or fiberglass surfaces.
A shorter handle will offer you a bigger sweet spot. The longer the handle becomes, the smaller your sweet spot will be.
Spin is much harder to use in pickleball than tennis, but it can be even more important, as only some players are ready for it.
An elongated paddle shape will do wonders for adding more spin to your shots. The shorter the face of your paddle is, the less capability you’ll have for putting spin on the ball.
Thicker cores help players put more spin on their shots. The thinner the core, the harder it is to put spin on the ball consistently.
Carbon fiber is great for players who want to increase the amount of spin they can put on their shots. Hybrid materials can make spin harder. Fiberglass is the worst material for putting spin on shots.
A longer paddle handle will make spin easier to generate. The shorter the handle length, the harder it will be to hit shots with spin.
Opt for clothing made from moisture-wicking fabrics. These materials draw sweat away from the body, keeping you dry and comfortable during intense rallies.
Pick lightweight and breathable clothing to ensure proper ventilation. This is particularly crucial during fast-paced matches or when playing in warmer weather.
Choose clothing that allows for a full range of motion. Flexibility is essential for executing various shots without feeling restricted by your attire.
Choose comfortable clothing. Avoid garments that are too tight or loose, as they can hinder your movement on the court.
While this might seem trivial, choosing lighter colors can help reflect sunlight and keep you cooler during outdoor play.
Protection from the Sun:
If playing outdoors, consider clothing with built-in UV protection to shield your skin from the sun’s harmful rays.
Invest in shoes explicitly designed for court sports. These shoes provide the necessary lateral support and traction required for quick movements on the pickleball court.
Ensure your shoes have non-marking soles to prevent scuffing or damaging the playing surface, especially in indoor facilities.
Look for shoes with adequate cushioning to absorb impact during sudden stops and starts. This feature helps reduce the strain on your joints during the game.
Just like with clothing, breathable materials in your footwear are crucial to keep your feet cool and comfortable.
You may choose between low-cut and high-cut shoes depending on your preference and previous injuries. High-cut shoes provide additional ankle support, which can benefit some players.
Ensure your shoes fit well with enough room for your toes. Ill-fitting shoes can lead to discomfort and increase the risk of injuries.
Wearing sweatbands on your wrists can help keep sweat from dripping onto your hands, ensuring a secure grip on the paddle.
Hat or Visor:
Protect your face and eyes from the sun by wearing a hat or visor. This is especially important during outdoor play on sunny days.
Consider wearing sunglasses with UV protection to shield your eyes from the sun’s glare.
By choosing appropriate clothing and footwear, you’ll enhance your playing experience and reduce the risk of discomfort or injuries, allowing you to focus on mastering your pickleball skills.
Section 3: The Basics of Pickleball
Court Layout and Dimensions
A pickleball court is 20 feet wide (baseline) and 44 feet long (sideline). The net in the middle has the non-volley zone (or kitchen) seven feet in each direction.
The court is divided into three main areas. The NVZ has two opposing service areas on each side, split by the centerline.
The net is 36” at the sidelines and 34” tall at the center.
Getting to know the court’s size and shape, as well as all the lines, will help you feel comfortable on it.
Basic Scoring System
Understanding the basic scoring system is vital to playing the game in a meaningful and enjoyable way.
Luckily, it’s easy to understand this and remember it as you play.
- Only the serving team can score points; the receiving side cannot score points
- Games are normally played to 11 points, win by 2
- Tournament games might be 15 or 21, but still win by 2
- Usually, matches are played as a best two out of three
- When the serving team’s score is an even number, the player who was the first server in the game for that team will be in the right/even court when serving or receiving. When that score is odd, that player will be in the left/odd court when serving or receiving
- The score should be called as three numbers in a proper sequence: Server Score, Receiver Score, and Server Number (either 1 or 2)
How to Determine the Serving Team
Players use a few random methods for choosing which team will serve first.
- Toss a coin
- Holding a hand up behind the paddle with 1 or 2 fingers up. Have your opponent choose 1 or 2.
- Write a 1 or 2 on a piece of paper and have your opponent choose 1 or 2.
- Rock, paper, scissors
- Rolling a die – evens for one side, odds for the other
- Put two different coins in your pocket. Take one out and keep it in your closed fist, out of your pocket. Have your opponent pick which of the two coins they think it is.
- Or any other agreed-upon random output method
The winner of the random output gets to choose the side or to serve or receive.
- At the start of the game, the player on the right side (even court) serves to the diagonally opposite court
- If a point is scored, the serve moves to the left side (odd court) and serves diagonally to the opposite court.
- Serving side players keep moving right to left each time a point is scored. They do not move unless a point has been scored.
- The receiving side never alternates sides.
- The first server continues serving until the serving team loses a rally by committing a fault. Then the serve passes to the second server on the team. There is an exception to this rule for the first service sequence of each new game, which starts with the second server. This is called the First Server Exception.
- The second server continues to serve until their team commits two faults. Then the other team becomes the serving team
Key Rules and Regulations
Pickleball has a straightforward set of rules, making it accessible for players of all skill levels. Some key rules include:
For the most part, pickleball has a straightforward set of rules that makes it accessible to most new players. However, if you don’t have a lot of experience with games and paddlesports, it might take a little bit to understand the finer points of the rules.
Faults are any actions that stop play because of a rule violation. When the receiving team commits a fault, the serving team gets a point. When the serving team commits the fault, this results in a loss of serve or a side out. Faults can get pretty technical, but they are important to know. Most of them feel pretty intuitive.
- A serve does not land within the area of the receiving court, sideline, or baseline
- The ball hits the net on the serve and does not land in the serving zone
- The ball is volleyed before a bounce has occurred for each side
- The ball is hit out of bounds
- A ball bounces twice (or more) before being struck
- A player, their clothes, or their paddle touches the net or either post when the ball is in play
- Any service rule violation
- A ball in play strikes a player or their clothes
- A ball in play strikes any permanent object before bouncing on the court
Line calls tell us what is in-bounds and what is out-bounds. The line calls are slightly different for the serve, but the same for all other shots.
- The ball must land in the correct playing area to be considered in. During a serve, this is the opposite service court.
- During a serve, the pickleball must land in the opposite service court. All of the lines except for the non-volley zone line are considered in, so the baseline, sideline, and centerline.
- The NVZ line and any space outside the service area are out.
The Rest of Play
- The ball is in-bounds as long as it lands anywhere on the pickleball court and any lines. So, the baseline, sideline, centerline, AND NVZ line are all in-bounds. Anything outside of that is considered out.
- The rally continues as long as the ball is continually put into play without any faults. The team that commits the fault will lose the rally.
Double Bounce Rule:
When the ball is served, the receiving team must let the ball bounce once before hitting their return. This is often called the Return of Serve. The serving team also has to let this shot bounce once before hitting a return.
Two bounces must occur before a rally can begin. At this point, each team can use a volley (hitting the ball without letting it bounce first) or a groundstroke (hitting the ball after one bounce).
This rule is easier to understand when you know why it’s there in the first place. The double bounce rule removes the serve and volley’s natural advantage and helps extend the rally.
Kitchen/ Non-volley Zone Rule:
Many players know about this rule well before they know anything else about pickleball. A common scene in matches is when a player accidentally steps into the kitchen before the ball bounces when everyone on the court, in unison, calls out “Kitchen!”.
People all overhear this, and it is sometimes all people know about pickleball.
The kitchen is not a technical term, but what most players call the Non-volley Zone.
No part of you, including your paddle, can touch or pass into the kitchen. Even if your momentum after hitting a volley pulls you into the kitchen, it’s a fault.
Once the ball bounces, the kitchen is fair game.
Terms to Know
When a player puts in exceptional effort in retrieving a seemingly unreachable ball, someone will call out their feat with “Nice Get”. This acknowledgment can also be before for an entire point, during a particularly skillful rally.
Not every shot in pickleball scores a point. Most shots are more strategic, skillfully placing the ball in the perfect spot to create a more advantageous position. When a player can control the pace of the game, that gets someone telling them, “Nice Setup.” It’s also used for any supportive type of play.
A series of deft plays and the continuous exchange of shots between opposing teams is a nice rally. It calls out the precision and fluidity of both sides, adding a quality of sportsmanship to the compliment.
Parts of Play and the Court
Whenever a ball is considered out of play, it’s a dead ball. Around each dead ball is a temporary halt in the action as each side returns to the correct position before resuming play.
A usually decisive and forceful shot that wins the shooter the point as the opponent cannot return the ball. Usually, a put away is the player executing a skillful shot capitalizing on the opponent’s weak or vulnerable position.
When the serving team loses its serve to opponents, it’s a side out, allowing the receiving team to serve and score points for themselves.
There are two baselines on the pickleball court, parallel to the net, marking in- and out-of-bounds. Each measures 20 feet across. Players usually position themselves near the baseline during baseline rallies.
Like the baseline, two boundary lines run perpendicular to the net. The sideline is 44 feet long and marks in- and out-of-bounds for the court.
The centerline is halfway between the baselines and divides the pickleball court into two halves. These areas mark where players must serve, stand, and position themselves throughout the game.
The non-volley zone is seven feet on each side, closest to the net and extending to each sideline. In this area, the players cannot volley the ball, giving pickleball a strategic and dynamic element between playing offensively and defensively.
The colloquial term for the non-volley zone, located near the net. Players and audience members often yell “kitchen” during an infraction, as stated earlier in the guide.
No Man’s Land:
No man’s land is a transitional area between the NVZ and the baseline on the pickleball court. It is incredibly hard to play in this area because the opposing team can easily hit shots at your feet, sticking you in place where it’s difficult to make returns which are easily returned.
Shots and Techniques
When the ball is struck after it has bounced, it’s a groundstroke. Groundstrokes are one of the most foundational shots in pickleball, used primarily during baseline rallies. Groundstrokes are the shots players use to control the game and dictate the pace of play. The groundstroke can be a forehand or a backhand shot, utilizing a follow-through to generate power.
A volley is the opposite of a groundstroke. When a ball is hit out of the air without allowing it to bounce, that’s a volley. Volleys can be either forehands or backhands and have no backswing. They are often hit with a blocking motion, with the face of the paddle square to the shot.
A sequence of consecutive shots between both teams. Often, both teams will use strategy, positioning, and timing to try and gain an advantage, helping them win the point. Great rallies will see both sides gain and lose advantages only to pull it back.
The serve is the first shot that sets the rally in motion. Specific rules exist for the serve, serving, and receiving teams. The server has a limited area for a legal serve, having to put the ball in the service court diagonally across from them.
A finesse shot typically used near the net. Dinks are performed with a soft touch, hoping to catch the opponents off-guard. The opponent must move into an undesirable position to return the ball, meaning the more unexpected it is, the more an advantage the dink can generate.
This shot is a dink aimed explicitly at the opponent’s NVZ diagonally across from the shooter. This adds even more surprise and unpredictability to the dink. It’s hard to execute well, but it does force the opponent to cover even more ground.
A high, arching shot aimed deep in the opponent’s backcourt. This shot goes over your opponent’s head and is used to push opponents back and reposition.
The poach is a subtle and surprising move where one player intercedes a shot their partner is ready to return. This can catch opponents completely off-guard, reducing how much time they have to act and giving them a different angle than they expected.
A shot like a volley or a groundstroke from the side of the body the player is holding their paddle—one of the most fundamental strokes in pickleball.
A shot like a volley or a groundstroke from the opposite side of the body the player is holding their paddle. The backhand is used less frequently than the forehand but provides a complementary element players must respect, often making the forehand better in return.
A serve that scores an immediate point, untouched by the receiving team. Aces are challenging to achieve and showcase the server’s skills and abilities.
Third Shot Drop:
A strategic sequence of shots, intended to softly and safely put the ball into the NVZ and allow the serving team to approach the kitchen, which can be difficult to do without the shirt shot drop.
Putting a spin on the ball that causes it to rotate backward is called backspin. Shots with backspin alter their trajectory and bounce unexpectedly, making them difficult to return. Backspin is harder to put on a pickleball than in tennis but is very effective when used well.
The split step is a unique but fundamental movement on the court where the player lands on the balls of their feet and slightly bends their knees as their opponent makes contact with the ball. The split step is done with both feet a little more than shoulder-width apart and is a preparatory move to position quickly, making difficult shots easier to return, like shots at your feet.
When done correctly, the move looks like a player is stepping forward on the court and then quickly blinks into that ready-to-go stance.
Understanding the basics sets the stage for an enjoyable pickleball experience. In the next section, we’ll delve into some advanced techniques to help you elevate your game. Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned player, mastering these fundamentals will enhance your confidence on the pickleball court. Stay tuned for more insights!
Section 4: Mastering the Fundamentals
With a solid understanding of pickleball basics, it’s time to hone your skills and master the core elements of the game. Whether you’re a beginner or looking to refine your technique, these fundamental aspects will contribute to a more strategic and enjoyable play.
Grip and Stance
Your grip is the only point of contact between you and the paddle. Its importance cannot be understated. Everything you want to do with the ball – hit it harder, more accurately, put spin on it – all have to go through the grip.
There are three main grips in pickleball. When you’re learning, stick to one grip. As you get more comfortable with the game, you can add the other two and start tailoring your game to suit your needs.
Each grip comes with different strengths and weaknesses, but when you’re just starting out, finding a comfortable grip and sticking to it is better than trying other grips that derail your game. At the highest levels of the game, perfecting the different grips is crucial for controlling your shots and adapting to various match situations.
Eastern Pickleball Grip
The “Handshake” Grip. The eastern grip is the most versatile grip in pickleball, making it a solid choice for the first grip you learn.
How to do the Eastern Pickleball Grip:
Hold the paddle with your non-dominant hand. Then, place your dominant hand flat on the paddle face. Slide your hand down until the base knuckle of your index finger is on the third bevel on the handle. Grip the handle here like you’re shaking hands with it. For this reason, the eastern grip is also known as the handshake grip.
Strengths of the Eastern Pickleball Grip:
- Versatile grip that works for a variety of shots and situations
- Easy way to generate power for groundstrokes and volleys
- Easy to learn for those transitioning from tennis
- Works well for the underhand serve
Weaknesses of the Eastern Pickleball Grip:
- Not great for finesse shots
- Harder to put spin on the ball
- Can be exploited by better players
How to check if you’re doing the Eastern Pickleball Grip correctly:
- Make sure your index finger’s base knuckle rests on the third bevel of the paddle handle
- If you’re right-handed, the V shape formed between your thumb and index finger will sit
on the right edge of the top bevel of the handle
- For left-handed players, that V shape will be on the left edge of the top bevel of the handle
Tips for learning the Eastern Pickleball Grip:
- Practice shots that naturally shine with the eastern grip, like groundstrokes and volleys
- Focus on hitting those shots with power
- As you get more comfortable, experiment with wrist movements to control the placement
of your shots
- Try not to do fancy trick shots with the grip, including shots with lots of spin
Western Pickleball Grip
The “Frying Pan” Grip. The western grip is less common than either the eastern or continental grips. The western grip is best used for forehand shots, helping players hit with more spin.
How to do the Western Pickleball Grip:
To find the western grip, you need to actually start with the eastern grip. Once you have your grip, you’re going to rotate your wrist. If you’re right-handed, turn your wrist 90 degrees clockwise. For lefties, 90 degrees counterclockwise. Your hand should look like how you would grip a frying pan.
Strengths of the Western Pickleball Grip:
- Produces a lot of spin that many players have trouble with
- Enhanced control for specialty shots, like lobs
- Helps with power, control, and spin for forehands
Weaknesses of the Western Pickleball Grip:
- Pretty bad for backhands
- Easy for players to exploit
- Limited versatility for certain shots
How to check if you’re doing the Western Pickleball Grip correctly:
- Check the V your hand forms on the handle by starting with an eastern grip and rotating between 1 and 2 bevels. Clockwise for rights, counterclockwise for lefties.
Tips for learning the Western Pickleball Grip:
- Focus on topspin shots and lobs to leverage the grip’s advantages
- Because backhands are so difficult with this grip, players will often hit a backward forehand shot on the backhand
side instead of a traditional backhand
- Another way to counter this weakness is to use a two-handed backhand, which can help get enough power on the shot so it’s not easily exploitable
The “Hammer” Grip. The continental grip is one of the most popular grips used, considered by many as the universal grip in pickleball. For most players, learning the continental grip is the one thing that would have the most impact on their game.
How to do the Continental Pickleball Grip:
Hold your paddle like you would a hammer. The handle should rest on top of your palm, and your index finger and thumb should wrap around it. The V formed by your thumb and index finger should be on the top bevel.
Strengths of the Continental Pickleball Grip:
- The universal grip – works with the most variety of shots
- Really shines for dinks, volleys, and serves
- Great for backhands, especially for powerful backhands
Weaknesses of the Continental Pickleball Grip:
- The biggest weakness of the continental grip are forehands
- Instead of hitting with a forehand, most players simply rotate the grip into an eastern grip
- When not shooting a backhand, this grip may lack the power for baseline shots
- Easy to exploit by forcing you into hitting more forehands
How to check if you’re doing the continental pickleball grip correctly:
- Check the V on your index finger and thumb
- The point of the V should be on the left edge of the top bevel for righties
- The right edge of the top bevel for lefties
Tips for learning the Continental Pickleball Grip:
- Focus on perfecting dinks and volleys
- Work on adding power to your backhand that is hard to return (so your forehand can’t be exploited)
- Instead of trying to muster better forehands with the grip, work on changing the grip in
action to an eastern grip and taking forehands with it
The stance is the starting point for every shot you face. A proper stance is vital to playing well, having fun, and staying uninjured.
Keep your knees slightly bent with your body forward. Your weight should be on the balls of your feet.
In every sport, there’s a “ready” stance that players adopt. All of them have a sort of ‘bounce’ to them, letting us move and react faster.
The more you play, the more you’ll develop your unique stance. The most important thing is to be consistent with your stance. Find what’s comfortable, find what works for you, and be really consistent with your stance, and the rest of your game can flourish.
Where you keep your paddle matters. Pickleball happens in such a small space that you often don’t have much time to react. Keeping your paddle up and a little out in front of you will do a lot to improve your reaction time.
The Serve and Return
The serve is the only shot that’s guaranteed to happen at each point. While being imperative to the game, the serve can feel a little bit intimidating for new players.
But understanding the fundamentals of the serve and the return is something every player can do. Let’s dive in.
When playing your first few times, the only thing you should care about when serving is getting the ball over the net so you can get into the flow of the game and get some reps in.
In tennis, the serve is a weapon. In pickleball, it’s much less important.
Accuracy is so much more important than power. If you can get the ball over the net every single time, you’re doing a great job, no matter where it lands.
Rules of the Serve
The serve has a few technical rules that are fairly easy to understand. Don’t let these rules overwhelm you, the serve has the most rules when compared to other parts of the game.
- The serve must be hit with an underhand stroke
- The paddle must make contact with the ball at or below waist level
- The head of the paddle cannot be above the highest part of the wrist at contact
These rules do not apply to the drop serve, which we’ll discuss a bit more later in the guide. The rest of these rules apply to both the traditional serve and the drop serve.
- When the ball is struck, the server’s feet may not touch the court or outside the sideline or centerline (this includes the imaginary lines of both if they continued past where they intersect each other on the court)
- At least one foot must be on the ground behind the baseline.
- The serve must land diagonally crosscourt within the confines of the court
- Balls must be dropped from the non-serving hand (during Covid, you were allowed to do a serve by hitting it off the paddle itself)
- Only one serve attempt is allowed per server
The Drop Serve:
The drop serve was introduced into pickleball to help players struggling to get the ball over the net.
Many players were unsure if they should practice or adopt the drop serve, but its inclusion has been widely accepted, and the drop serve is likely here to stay.
The drop serve is a way for players to use the shots they hit the most, forehands, and use it for the serve as well.
Most serves are hit straight from the air, you drop the ball and strike it with the paddle before it hits the ground. The drop serve is just what it sounds like – the server lets the ball bounce once before hitting a forehand as the serve.
Who might use the drop serve:
- New Players (especially for those that don’t have experience with paddlesports in general)
- Players with a solid forehand who want to use it more
- Players wanting to add more tools to their pickleball toolbox
- Players that falter on their volley serve or can get into trouble with it against better players
Why use the Drop Serve:
You get to use your most practiced shot as part of the serve.
It’s easier to time the drop serve than a traditional serve which can make your follow-up shots better timed, too.
The drop serve makes it easier to hit the serve deeper. For players without a lot of power, or during play in high winds, the drop serve can help them hit serves deeper into the court
Rules of the Drop Serve
- You cannot push the ball down – must be dropped
- You can hold the ball as high as you want
- The ball can bounce anywhere on the court for the drop serve, but you must strike the ball without stepping over the centerline or sideline (and their imaginary extensions)
Tips for the Drop Serve
The higher you hold the ball, the closer it will get to your body, as your arm angle changes. Holding your arm up and out at a 45-degree angle will give you enough height for the bounce and enough for the swing.
You might choose the drop serve when the wind is too strong, as it saps of your power. But you need to be mindful because the wind will also move around your drop serve, both on the way down and the way back up.
For even more power, take an extra step from the baseline on your drop serve. This will let you take a step forward into the serve, putting more power into the shot without stepping across the baseline, which would be a fault.
The Return of Serve:
The main goal of the return of serve is to keep the serving team right where they are. When the serving team serves, they are closer to the baseline. Good. The team that’s closer to the net is probably in a better position. The return of serve is your tool to do just that.
The deeper your return, without going out, the better. Power is not that important here, precision and accuracy are.
The serve has to bounce once before you can return the serve (the two bounce rule). Using your momentum is key – try and wait behind the baseline for the serve so you can strike it while in movement.
Most often, you’ll use a big forehand with a backswing to hit a soft return.
A soft return, also known as a lob, hit toward your opponent’s backhand will give you ample time to reach the NVZ while keeping your opponent back.
If your return is short, you won’t have the time to reach the NVZ, and you need to pause your option, and get ready for the shot (a split step is usually used here) so you can reach the NVZ on the next shot.
Tips for the Return of Serve
If you’re having trouble with hard and fast serves, think about minimizing your backswing. Shortening your backswing will help you get the paddle to these shots in time to make your return.
Cover more room by giving yourself space on your forehand. Instead of standing in the direct middle, where you have equal space to cover on each side, give yourself more space on your forehand (which is easier to cover) and less space where someone can sneak by a serve on your backhand (where it can be harder to cover).
The higher your return, the more time you will have. The opposing team must let the ball bounce before they can hit it, use that to your advantage.
Be ready to move after you hit the ball, you have very limited time to reach the NVZ, and every (nano) second counts.
Use strategy! A lot of players will aim their return toward their opponent’s backhand because it’s a hard shot to make. Consider where your opponent’s weaknesses are and put the ball there often.
Dinks and Volleys
Dinks and volleys are integral to pickleball. Serves and returns make the game more distant and open, but dinks and volleys involve close-range play, where success requires finesse and cunning.
The dink is a subtle yet important aspect of the game. Dinks are short, soft shots close to the net aimed to just get over the net, forcing opponents to charge forward, removing their chances to hit the ball back with power.
The dink’s purest purpose is to remove power from your opponents. Dinks can also be used to control the pace of the game and add an unexpected element.
Technique of the Dink
The continental grip often works best for dinking due to its versatility, but playing with what’s most comfortable is important, too. Try keeping a relatively loose grip without fear of dropping the paddle. This will help you have the control needed for these short, well-placed shots.
Life happens fast at the NVZ line. You need your paddle ready and in the right position if you’re going to dink with any consistency.
Before the shot comes, keep your paddle out in front of your body. You want to hold it vertically, at the center of your body, out in front of you. This will let you reach to either side of you with enough time to hit the ball with an open paddle with a gentle lifting motion, like you’re pushing the ball.
Stand in a slightly crouched position with your weight forward, knees bent, and paddle ready. You want to be on the balls of your feet and keep your arms out in front of you.
Dinking involves shorter, controlled swings. Power is much less important, you’re just trying to guide the ball over the net.
Strategic Tips for Dinking
Vary the height of your dinks to keep opponents on their toes. Alternate between low, mid, and high shots to disrupt their rhythm and increase the likelihood of a mistake.
Work the Angles:
Experiment with cross-court and straight-line dinks to exploit openings in your opponent’s positioning.
Patience is Key:
Dinking is all about patience. Keep dinking and wait for your opponent to make a mistake. When you get a return that’s nice and high, you can go for a put away shot. But you can’t force it!
Lean or Step:
When dinking, most of the time, you’ll be leaning to your left or right and hitting your dink. When the ball is hit short, you won’t be able to just lean and keep the ball in your wheelhouse. For those shots, a short but deliberate step will keep the ball close enough to your body for an accurate dink.
Volleys involve hitting the ball before it bounces on your side of the court, providing an opportunity to take control of the point. Effective volleying requires a combination of quick reflexes, strategic positioning, and controlled power.
Technique of the Volley
The eastern grip or continental grip is suitable for volleys. Experiment to find which grip allows you to maintain control and power at the net.
Hold the paddle in front of you, ready to intercept the ball as it comes over the net. Keep the face of the paddle slightly angled forward for better control.
Anticipate your opponent’s shot and move to intercept the ball early. Being proactive at the net is crucial for successful volleys.
Transfer your weight forward into the shot. This adds power to your volleys while maintaining control over the placement.
Strategic Tips for Volleys
Close the Gap:
Position yourself near the net to minimize your opponents’ reaction time. This strategic positioning allows for more aggressive and impactful volleys.
Target the Feet:
Aim your volleys at your opponent’s feet to limit their ability to return with power. This strategy increases the likelihood of forcing errors.
In doubles play, coordinate with your partner to cover the net effectively. A well-coordinated team can dominate the NVZ, making it challenging for opponents to find openings.
By mastering the art of dinking and volleys, you elevate your close-range game, making it difficult for opponents to counter your strategic plays at the net.
Section 5: Strategies for Playing Smart
Playing smart is something that every player can do – even if you’re just starting out, you can employ a well-thought-out strategy out on the court. Here are a few tips for playing pickleball strategically.
Doubles Pickleball is all about communication before, during, and after the point. Take the time to communicate with your partner, develop a system of signals or calls, and work on being a communicative player.
Get Comfortable with the Serve:
In pickleball, you only get one chance to serve, so you want to be comfortable doing it. You don’t need to learn to serve with power to be good at it. Work on hitting your serve deep in the service box and aim for whichever side is your opponent’s weak side (normally, that’s the backhand).
Knowing where to put the return of serve is a critical step in playing pickleball well. Both teams are trying to reach the NVZ by the third shot, and the return of serve is your tool for making that as easy as possible for you and as hard as possible for your opponents.
Much like the serve, the deeper your return is, the better off you’ll be. Just make sure you keep it inbounds.
An athletic stance can be very helpful on the court. Footwork is a big part of pickleball, and an athletic stance allows your footwork skills to shine.
In general, you want a stance with your knees slightly bent so you can stand on the balls of your feet.
A low stance is key to generating power and keeping the ball low, which makes your shots more effective.
Having your racket out in front of you and ready to go is a big part of the right pickleball stance, too.
Keep the Play in Front:
Keeping the play in front of you can be a hard thing to do amidst pickleball action.
When you let the ball get too close, you’ll be lucky if you make contact with it at all, let alone make a halfway decent shot.
Keeping your arms extended in front of you lets you strike the ball when it’s in your wheelhouse and will help you watch the ball throughout play.
Keep the Ball Low:
One of the hardest things to do in pickleball is also one of the most important: keeping the ball low. When you keep the ball low on your shots, your opponents will struggle to get power on their shots.
Play the Percentages:
Pickleball is a game of percentages. Shot selection in different situations is all about playing to the percentages.
There’s a reason most points have the same flow to them: it’s both sides playing the percentages. While that may sound like something that could make pickleball boring, in truth, it really opens up the game, letting you find creative solutions while also playing to your strengths.
The middle of the court is one of the biggest keys to winning in pickleball.
In the middle of the court, the net is at its lowest, giving you a greater margin of error while still keeping the ball in play.
Down the middle is also the spot that is furthest from both your opponents. The middle is where a lot of miscommunication and confusion occurs, making it an ideal place to put most of your shots.
Though, that’s not always the case. Dinks, for example, are almost always better hit crosscourt.
Whether you play for recreation or competition, a solid grasp of these elements will enhance your overall enjoyment of pickleball.
Section 6: Pickleball Etiquette
Pickleball is a social game at its heart, and there is a focus on everyone having a harmonious and enjoyable experience. Pickleball is for everyone.
Knowing pickleball etiquette is important when heading to the court for the first time or the 1,000th time.
Good Sportsmanship :
No matter how much you love the game, no matter how badly you want to win, you need to respect others first and foremost. It is just a game. This goes for celebrations, too. Be mindful of others.
See it, Call it:
If you see a fault, even if you or your partner committed it, call it. The same goes for if you see a ball is out or in, even if it goes against you, call it truthfully.
Safely Return Balls:
The court has many people on it at a time, all playing their own matches or practicing. Eventually, a ball or two will come your way. While it might be fun to just hit the ball back, that’s a recipe for disaster – someone is going to get hit eventually. Take your time and roll it back to them when it’s safe to do so and they’re expecting it.
Not all balls are the same. When you are returning a ball, return the right one, not just any ball you might have lying around.
Use the Paddle Holder:
The paddle holder is a way for pickleball players to keep track of whose turn it is next to play on the court. Check the paddle holder when you get to a new court and book your spot on the court with your paddles and the ‘next on court’ indicators.
Play with Everyone:
Early on, when you’re new to the game, you’ll be playing with players a lot better than you. As you get better, you’ll find yourself on the other side of things, with you being the more skilled player. Pickleball is all about playing with everyone, regardless of skill, age, gender, or anything else. We’re all just players.
If you mess up, it’s okay. Own up to it and move on. If someone else messes up, accept it, and move on. Even if you barely break a rule, if you see it, call it. If someone calls you out on it, accept it.
Share the Court:
Sometimes, there are more players than there playing courts available. No matter how much you’re in love with the game, you need to remember and share the court with others.
Be Aware on the Court:
There is a lot going on around the court at any given time. Be mindful when crossing the court and walking around. Pay close attention to the tempo or rhythm of the court. After a match, don’t lag behind, stopping other players from taking their deserved place on the court.
Section 7: Where to Find Places to Play
Discovering suitable places to play pickleball is essential for honing your skills and enjoying the game to the fullest. Here are some tips on finding pickleball courts in your area:
Local Recreation Centers:
Many community recreation centers have designated pickleball courts, either part-time or full-time. Most centers will post this information on their website, social media accounts, or on the premises. And if your local center doesn’t have one, maybe it’s time you started one!
Some parks have embraced the growing popularity of pickleball and have installed courts for public use.
If your public park has tennis courts or any open space available, you can transform it to a pickleball court with just a few temporary lines and a portable net.
Certain private clubs and sports facilities may have pickleball courts. While some might require a membership, others could have certain times when anyone can rent the court.
And with most private clubs, only one person needs to be a member to reserve the court, not all four players.
There are lots of online platforms and apps dedicated to pickleball enthusiasts. Websites like Places2Play can help you locate local courts, playtimes, tournament information, and ways to connect with other local players.
Join local pickleball groups on social media platforms. Members often share information about popular playing spots, organize meet-ups, and discuss the local scene.
Attend local sports and community events. Pickleball demonstrations or tournaments are a great way to get your foot in the proverbial door.
Remember, the pickleball community is diverse and welcoming, so don’t hesitate to ask fellow players for recommendations or guidance on finding suitable courts.
Section 8: Connect with the Pickleball Community
Pickleball is such a popular game because of how social and supportive the pickleball community is. Even if you’ve never played a game before, you’ll find yourself accepted in this active and vibrant community.
Local Clubs and Leagues:
Look for local pickleball clubs or leagues in your area. Joining a club or league is a fantastic way to meet like-minded players, participate in organized events, and enjoy the camaraderie of the sport.
Attend pickleball social events, mixers, or tournaments. These gatherings provide opportunities to meet new players, learn from experienced ones, and build lasting connections within the community.
Join online forums and discussion groups dedicated to pickleball. Websites like Pickleball Forum and Reddit’s pickleball community are excellent platforms for asking questions, sharing experiences, and getting advice from players worldwide.
Contribute to the pickleball community by volunteering at local events or helping to organize tournaments. This not only fosters a sense of belonging but also allows you to actively participate in the growth of the sport.
Clinics and Workshops:
Attend clinics or workshops hosted by experienced players or coaches. These sessions not only improve your skills but also provide networking opportunities with fellow enthusiasts.
Social Media Groups:
Engage with pickleball communities on social media platforms. Facebook groups, Instagram accounts, and Twitter feeds dedicated to pickleball offer spaces for sharing stories, tips, and connecting with players globally.
Joining the pickleball community is just another way to enjoy pickleball. Obviously, if you’re just interested in the game, you don’t need to seek the community out. But for those who want to connect with others over their appreciation of the game, these are valuable resources.
Section 9: Pickleball Gift Guide
Whether you’re shopping for a fellow pickleball enthusiast or looking to treat yourself, finding the perfect gift can add an extra layer of enjoyment to the game. From practical equipment to stylish accessories, this gift guide is curated to cater to the needs and preferences of pickleball players at every level.
A high-quality paddle can make a world of difference on the pickleball court. Paddles come with a bevy of different options, including materials, handle size, and weight.
Here you’ll find several different types, brands, and prices so you can find the perfect match for your player in mind.
Pickleball Indoor and Outdoor Balls:
Pickleball is nothing without the ball. Not all balls are made the same. Not only do you have to choose between indoor and outdoor balls, but there are several other options you need to consider, too.
We have a variety of trusted brands and money-saving bundles that are great for pickleball players and coaches.
Portable Net Systems:
One of the best aspects of pickleball is how easy it is to get a game going… if you have a net. A portable net system lets you play and practice just about anywhere you can find a flat surface.
Portable pickleball nets make for a great gift, not just for pickleball players but for pickleball coaches, too.
Pickleball machines make for a surprising and thoughtful gift that most pickleball players and coaches would love.
Ball machines come in different sizes with various price points, many of which are more affordable than you’d initially think.
Pickleball Training Aids:
Pickleball training aids come in all shapes and sizes. Some are designed to help great players improve just a little. Some of them are perfect for new players looking to learn basics or expedite how quickly they learn.
Whether you’re looking to master the pickleball serve, need to learn the continental grip, or just about anything else – you’ll find several pickleball training aids that will speed up how quickly you learn.
Amazing for pickleball coaches looking to give their students the kind of experience that keeps them coming back for more.
A great way to get more bang for your buck is through pickleball packages that pack a lot of value in one deal. Packages can have everything you need to master aspects of your game, like footwork or groundstrokes. Other packages make it easy to get what you need for your first day on the court.
Check out these pickleball packages that you’ll love.
Whether it’s a practical upgrade, a stylish accessory, or a fun addition to their pickleball collection, these gift ideas are sure to bring joy to any pickleball player. Happy gifting, and may your next pickleball match be filled with excitement and success!
Kalindi Dinoffer is trained in multiple aspects of mindfulness in life and in sports, sharing on her blog MindfulKalindi.com. She is also certified to teach yoga, fitness, reiki, and MFR. Kalindi also serves as VP marketing at OnCourtOffCourt.com, a leading supplier of tennis, pickleball, fitness and yoga training aids and equipment and has been published in Tennis industry Magazine and Pickleball Magazine, and has conducted workshops at conferences around the world. In her spare time, Kalindi plays tennis, pickleball and table tennis and enjoys outdoor activities such as hiking and biking and cross country skiing in the winter.