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Pickleball 101: A Speedy Guide to Improve Your Skills Quickly

Whether you’re a former college athlete, or just looking for some fun with friends, pickleball is the perfect sport for players of all backgrounds and skill levels.

Here's how to get better at pickleball fast

If you haven’t heard about pickleball yet, you must be living under a rock. The sport has taken the world by storm and for good reason.

Simply put, pickleball is a fun and exciting sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong.

Whether you’re a complete beginner or an experienced player looking to improve your skills, mastering the fundamentals is essential.

In this article, we’ll provide you with some valuable tips to help you improve your game and become a better pickleball player.

Table of Contents

Tips for Mastering the Fundamentals of Pickleball

A screenshot from Primetime Pickleball showing two views of the Continental Grip of the pickleball paddle
Credit-PrimeTime Pickleball

Perfecting Your Grip

Get a grip! One of the first things to focus on when learning pickleball is your grip. The proper grip can greatly enhance your control and power during shots.

For beginners, the most common grip is the “continental grip,” where you hold the paddle as if you were shaking hands with it. This grip allows for versatility and ease in switching between forehand and backhand shots.

Experiment with different grips to find the one that feels most comfortable and gives you the best control over the paddle.

Getting Consistent With Your Serve

Being consistent with your serve is a vital aspect of mastering pickleball. Since you need to be behind the baseline when serving, a strong and reliable serve not only puts pressure on your opponents but also sets the tone for the entire rally.

To enhance your serve, it’s essential to focus on the nuances of your technique and develop good habits. Here are some tips to help you achieve a more consistent serve:

  • Toss Placement: Pay attention to the placement of your toss. Aim for a consistent toss height, slightly in front of your body, and just high enough to allow you to make contact with the ball at its highest point. A consistent toss will improve your timing and allow you to strike the ball at the optimal moment. Keep in mind, not everyone ‘tosses’ the ball when serving. Use the serving style that works best for you!
  • Body Positioning: Position your body in a way that maximizes your reach and power. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, align your body sideways with the net, and keep your knees slightly bent for better stability. This positioning will help you generate more power and control during your serve.
  • Fluid Swing and Firm Wrist: As you swing your paddle to hit the ball, focus on maintaining a fluid and smooth motion. A rigid or jerky swing can lead to inconsistent contact and accuracy. Additionally, keep your wrist firm throughout the swing, allowing for better control and a cleaner hit.
  • Experiment with Spin: Once you’ve mastered the basics of a consistent serve, consider incorporating spin variations into your repertoire. Experiment with backspin or topspin serves to add complexity to your game and keep your opponents guessing.

Becoming consistent with your serve takes time and patience.

Focus on one aspect at a time, such as toss placement or fluid swing, and gradually incorporate all the elements. With dedication and practice, your serve will become a reliable weapon that sets you up for success in every pickleball match.

Nailing the Return Shot

Nailing the return shot in pickleball requires a combination of technique, positioning, and strategic thinking.

It’s not just about getting the ball back over the net; it’s about setting yourself up for a strong offensive position while putting your opponents on the defensive.

Check out these tips to improve your return:

  • Positioning: Anticipate the serve and position yourself optimally to receive it. The best place to stand will depend on your strength in the forehand or backhand. Typically, standing about a step or two behind the baseline allows yourself enough time to react and move to the ball. Adjust your position slightly depending on your opponent’s serve and your preferred shot selection.
  • Height and Control: Aim to hit the ball at your waist level or slightly higher when returning a serve. Hitting the ball at this height allows for better control, enabling you to direct the ball precisely where you want it to go. Focus on a controlled shot rather than a power shot, as this reduces the chances of the ball going out of bounds.
  • Depth and Placement: When returning the serve, try to land your shot deep in your opponent’s court. A deep return forces your opponents to move back and gives you an advantage by taking control of the net area. Additionally, consider strategically placing your return shot to exploit your opponent’s weaknesses or open up the court for your next shot.
  • Mix Up Your Returns: Vary your return shots to keep your opponents guessing. Sometimes, opt for a soft drop shot to catch your opponents off guard or a deep drive to put them on the defensive. Mixing up your shots will make it harder for your opponents to anticipate your returns and give you an element of surprise.

Consistent practice is key. Spend time specifically focusing on returning serves and implement these nuanced techniques.

With patience, dedication, and a strategic mindset, you’ll develop a strong return game that puts you in a favorable position to win points in pickleball.

More Tips for Improving Your Game

  • Footwork: Good footwork is essential in pickleball. It’s said by some to be the most important skill. Stay light on your feet, move with agility, and maintain a balanced stance to react quickly to shots.
  • Communication: If you’re playing doubles, communication with your partner is key. Establish a system of signals or calls to avoid confusion and ensure efficient teamwork.
  • Dinking: The dink shot is a soft, controlled shot that keeps the ball low and close to the net. Mastering this technique can give you a significant advantage during rallies.
  • Lessons: The best way to advance quickly is with a private lesson. They aren’t as hard to find or expensive as you might think.
  • Patience: Don’t rush your shots. Take your time and wait for the right opportunity to strike. Patience and strategic shot selection can help you outsmart your opponents.
  • Paddle: Don’t let a beginner paddle hold you back. Intermediate pickleball paddles are well worth the price tag when you’re working to improve things like control, spin, and power.

Techniques & Proven Strategies

A pickleball player using the third shot drop strategy during a match

In pickleball, employing the right techniques and strategies can help you gain an edge over your opponents. Here are a few tips to elevate your game:

  • Third Shot Drop: The third shot drop is a popular strategy used in pickleball to regain control of the game. After your opponent’s return, hit a soft shot that lands close to the net, forcing them to hit an upward shot, which you can then attack.
  • Lobs: Lobs are high shots that travel over your opponents and force them to move back, giving you time to regain a favorable position on the court. Use lobs strategically to change the game’s pace and catch your opponents off guard.
  • Playing the Kitchen: The kitchen, also known as the non-volley zone, is a crucial area near the net. Mastering the art of playing in the kitchen can help you dominate rallies, as it restricts your opponents’ shot options. Stay near the kitchen, be ready to volley, and aim for controlled shots that keep the ball low. To return a soft shot from the kitchen, some players recommend loosening your grip on the handle.

Practice Drills & More Ways to Get Better

Drills for Practicing Alone

When you find yourself without a practice partner, there are still plenty of drills you can do alone to enhance your pickleball skills.

These drills not only provide an opportunity for focused practice but also allow you to develop specific aspects of your game. Here are some nuanced and thoughtful drills for practicing alone.

  • Wall Drills: Find a sturdy wall, preferably one with a smooth surface, and practice hitting the ball against it. This drill allows you to work on your control, hand-eye coordination, and shot accuracy. Experiment with different shots and angles, such as forehand drives, backhand volleys, and dinks. Focus on hitting the ball cleanly and consistently, adjusting your technique to generate the desired outcomes. As you improve, challenge yourself by increasing the pace and intensity of your shots.
  • Shadow Drills: Imagine yourself in a game scenario and simulate playing against an imaginary opponent. Move around the court, practicing footwork, positioning, and stroke technique. Visualize different shots and work on executing them with precision. Pay attention to your footwork patterns, ensuring that you’re moving efficiently and getting into the ideal position for each shot. This drill helps develop muscle memory, improves court awareness, and enhances your ability to anticipate and react during real matches.
  • Speed and Agility Drills: Incorporate speed and agility exercises into your solo practice routine. Set up cones or markers in a zigzag pattern and practice moving quickly between them, simulating lateral movements on the court. Focus on maintaining balance, explosiveness, and quick direction changes. These drills improve your agility, footwork, and overall on-court mobility, enabling you to react faster and cover the court more effectively.

Remember to maintain a focused and disciplined mindset during solo practice. Pay attention to the quality of your shots, technique, and form.

Use visualization techniques to imagine yourself in real-game situations and practice with intention. While practicing alone has its limitations, maximizing your effort and concentration will allow you to make significant strides in your skill development. If you need an extra push, find a local coach.

One-on-One Drills

Engaging in one-on-one drills with a partner is an excellent way to refine your pickleball skills and simulate real-game situations. These drills provide an opportunity to focus on specific aspects of your game while receiving immediate feedback.

Here are some nuanced and thoughtful drills you can try:

  • Cross-Court Dinking: Stand on opposite sides of the net and practice exchanging soft shots, aiming to keep the ball low and near the net. Instead of merely trading shots, focus on incorporating strategy into the drill. Aim to place the ball strategically to your opponent’s weaker side or force them into a more difficult position. This drill not only improves your dinking technique and control but also enhances your decision-making skills during rallies.
  • Target Practice: Set up targets on the court using cones or marked areas and challenge each other to hit those targets with your shots. This drill not only improves your shot placement and control but also enhances your court awareness. You’ll develop the ability to identify open spaces and aim for specific areas, which can give you a competitive edge during matches.
  • Rally Progression: Start with a slow-paced rally and gradually increase the intensity and speed as you go along. This drill allows you to work on your shot consistency, footwork, and reaction time. As the rally progresses, focus on maintaining a steady rhythm and adjusting to the pace of the shots. This drill simulates the ebb and flow of a real pickleball match, helping you improve your overall game endurance and adaptability.

Remember to communicate with your partner during these drills to ensure that you’re both getting the most out of the practice session. Give each other constructive feedback and support, creating a positive and growth-oriented practice environment.

Benefits of Pickleball Lessons

Embarking on a pickleball journey with the guidance of a qualified instructor through lessons offers a multitude of benefits that can propel your progress and elevate your game. Here are some nuanced and thoughtful advantages of taking pickleball lessons:

  • Personalized Feedback: A pickleball instructor possesses the expertise to evaluate your skills and provide tailored feedback. They can identify areas of improvement specific to your game, helping you correct flaws in your technique, footwork, and positioning. With personalized feedback, you can make targeted adjustments and refine your gameplay more efficiently.
  • Advanced Strategies and Tactics: Experienced instructors bring a wealth of knowledge regarding advanced strategies and tactics in pickleball. They can introduce you to various shot selections, game plans, and court positioning strategies that can enhance your decision-making on the court. Learning these strategic elements from an expert can give you a competitive edge and help you become a more well-rounded player.
  • Motivation and Accountability: Enrolling in pickleball lessons creates a sense of commitment and accountability. Regularly scheduled lessons provide structure to your practice routine and keep you motivated to improve. The presence of an instructor and fellow players can inspire you to challenge yourself, push beyond your comfort zone, and reach new levels of performance.

Remember, the benefits of pickleball lessons extend beyond the duration of the lesson itself. The knowledge and skills acquired during lessons can be applied and refined during practice sessions and real-game scenarios.

With consistent practice and application of what you’ve learned, you’ll witness significant growth and see your performance on the court soar.

Advice From Expert Pickleball Players

Screenshot of a few TeachMe.To pickleball coaches that reads: "Coaches you can trust.We only accept 5% of coach applicants, so you can trust your lesson will be world-class without the premium price tag."
Credit-TeachMe.To

To wrap up, let’s hear some advice from top pickleball players and coaches on TeachMeTo, the #1 platform for pickleball lessons.

Their wisdom can inspire and guide you on your journey to becoming a better player:

  1. “Focus on consistency and control. It’s better to hit a controlled shot that stays in play than go for a risky winner that might result in an error.” – Sean A.
  2. “Don’t be afraid to mix up your shots. Vary the pace, angle, and height of your shots to keep your opponents off balance and guessing.” – Cora B.
  3. “Stay positive and have fun! Pickleball is a social sport, so enjoy the camaraderie and embrace the learning process. The more you play, the better you’ll become.” – Michael M.

You can learn more about them here.

By mastering the fundamentals, employing effective techniques and strategies, and incorporating regular practice, you can take your pickleball game to new heights.

Remember, progress takes time, so be patient and persistent. Keep these tips in mind, and soon you’ll find yourself enjoying the thrill of pickleball while showcasing your improved skills on the court.

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Written By

CEO at TeachMeTo. Vanderbilt Alum. Co-founded Boxtrot and Alloi. Chicago Inno 25 under 25. Avid golfer.

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