How To Play Pickleball
As the rise of pickleball has been so rapid in recent years, more and more amateur players have started the sport from scratch. Not only is this great for the participation levels of the sport, but it helps grow the pickleball industry and gets more courts built.
But, if you are beyond the stage of a beginner and want to take your pickleball more seriously, you'll want to learn not only how to win points, but how to gain a competitive advantage over your opponents.
If that is what you’re looking for, you’ve come to the right place!
How to Win Points in Pickleball
First and foremost, before we get into the details of how to play better pickleball, we must first understand how you actually win points in pickleball.
This is a fundamental element of the game that will help you understand some of the tactics and patterns of play we will explore later in this article.
These rules may seem quite familiar to tennis and badminton players, but there are a few unique ways you can win a point in pickleball too.
First of all, if your opponent hits the ball outside of the court space or into the net, you win the point. This goes for the serve (of which each player only gets one) and any shot during the rally.
You can also win a point if your opponent lets the ball bounce twice on their side of the court or if they hit a volley with either of their feet inside the no volley zone.
What’s more, if the ball touches any part of your opponent’s body, they scoop the ball with their paddle rather than hit it (known as a carry), or foot fault (step inside the baseline before striking the serve or hit a volley inside the no volley zone), this also causes a fault and loses them the point.
It is also worth mentioning that points can only be won when a player is serving, so a point as it would be referred to in more traditional racket sports is actually called a rally in pickleball.
This is an important distinction to understand, as rallies can be won back and forth between players with no actual points being scored if the two players keep breaking each other’s serves!
Top Pickleball Tips!
So, we understand how points and rallies are technically won in pickleball, but how can we win these exchanges more effectively?
Margin for Error
Playing with margin for error is a fundamental part of developing your pickleball game.
It can be very tempting to watch more advanced pickleball players and be tempted to copy their shots, but the reality is as a beginner or even an intermediate player, you may not possess the skills to pull off deft touch shots as consistently as you like.
Therefore, building some margin for error into your first few shots in the rally in particular is a great way to up your consistency and put pressure on your opponent.
Even if your serve or return are not the more aggressive to begin with, if you (and your opponent’s) know that no matter what you are going to get those first few shots into play, that gives you a mental advantage.
To play with more margin for error, think about hitting the ball a bit higher over the net and adding some more topspin if you can.
Both of these are great ways to ensure you push your opponents back behind the baseline whilst making sure the ball dips down inside the court.
Also, a more generic point but an equally important one is to not aim for the lines. It can be very tempting to go for acute angles or flashy shots that hit the lines, but this is a risky tactic that will more often than not see you miss.
If you aim for a foot or two or margin inside the lines you are much more likely to make the ball and put pressure on your opponents.
Attack Balls Above your Knees
Another thing you can do that avoids a common pickleball mistake is to attack balls above your knees. Too often players will be bending down to hit a low volley and try to play an aggressive shot, thinking this will put their opponent under pressure.
However, this is a high risk low reward strategy, as you will be off balance and unlikely to hit an effective hard shot from this position.
The better choice would be to either go for a high lob shot or a low dink, although the lob probably has the greater chance of going in since playing a dink from that position requires a high level of control.
Therefore, you should aim to attack high balls that are above your knee height, as you will be able to hit down on the ball and add pace to your shot. You can then also aim your shots at your opponent’s feet, making a difficult next shot for them.
Dink the Ball Low
This is a common pickleball tactic that is not used enough by improving beginners and intermediates, usually because they don’t have the confidence in their skill level.
Dinking the ball low into the no volley zone is a great way to stop your opponents from hitting aggressive smashes, as they must let the ball bounce before hitting it if it lands in this part of the court.
Therefore, aiming the ball low over the net and perhap with a bit of an angle towards their weaker wing gives you the chance to regain position on the court and even move in to be more aggressive yourself.
What you have to remember is that if your opponent is playing a ball below their knees, they will have to hit up on the ball. This makes it very difficult to be aggressive and gives you the chance to move in and kill the highball they will be forced to hit!
Hit Angled Dink Shots
This tip requires a bit more skill but is definitely something that even beginner players can try out. Working the angles is a particularly effective tactic in doubles if you are playing with a partner that is active enough to cover the middle of the court.
If you can pull your opponents out of their comfort zone with angled dink shots, you can open up the court for an easy put away.
Beware with this one though, if you aim too close to the lines you may reduce your chances of getting the ball in, plus there can be a temptation to step inside the no volley zone, which leaves you exposed to higher shots that you will have to let bounce and back peddle to retrieve!
Target Your Opponent’s Feet
This is a very fundamental tactic that a lot of pickleball players forget to implement. Targeting your opponent’s feet is a great way to put pressure on them with every shot you play.
Think about it, the last place you will want to hit a shot from is right down at your feet, particularly if the ball is coming quickly!
Bending down to defend this position is an unnatural movement for a low to players and can stop your opponents in their tracks as they look to close into the net.
Whether you are hitting a hard, high shot or a low dink, aiming for your opponent’s feet makes things awkward for them to return the ball.
Play Down the Middle in Doubles
Doubles is a very popular form of playing pickleball, but some players fail to adjust their playing style to the unique demands of the doubles court. One tactic that is easy to implement and highly effective is playing down the middle of the court.
Aiming in the middle and hitting a low ball that just clears the net will get both of your opponents bending down to retrieve the ball, allowing you or your partner the opportunity to sneak in and put away the resulting high ball.
This tactic can also cause your opponents to break rank as they may both be going for the ball at the same time!
Attack the NVZ After the Return
It is important to stay aggressive with your mentality and your footwork in pickleball. One easy way to make sure you are always doing this is to attack the no volley zone after your return.
Unlike in tennis, you cannot serve and volley in pickleball, but what you can do is move forward and attack the no volley zone after you have hit your return. This puts pressure on your opponent and negates the advantage of a strong server.
Even if you choose to float a return a bit higher and deeper in the court to give yourself more time to move in, this is still a viable tactic that will keep you in the most favourable position in the court, up at the no volley line.
Be Aggressive with your Serve
When you are first starting out in pickleball, it can be tempting to be passive with your serve.
If you are more used to playing tennis and have become accustomed to hitting two serves, the once chance you get at a serve in pickleball, using an unfamiliar service motion can feel quite uncomfortable.
However, work on your serve and add a bit of spin for more control as this creates another weapon in your arsenal.
Developing a strong and reliable serve is another element of becoming a better pickleball player, so don’t be afraid to miss in the pursuit of hitting a more aggressive serve!
Develop your 3rd Shot Drop
This is an area of the game that is often overlooked by intermediate players that are looking to get that next edge in their game. A 3rd shot drop is a great way to gain control of the point early, as you are putting the ball right at your opponent’s feet straight after their return.
Some players find this difficult as they struggle to adjust their inputs from hitting a hard serve to immediately hitting a soft drop shot straight away, but if you practice this pattern of play and get used to the feel of the ball, it is a great tactic to use when you’re next on the pickleball court!
Keep your Paddle Up
Finally, another key tip that will help you volley more effectively when you are closing down the no volley zone is simply to keep your paddle up!
This helps maintain a strong position with your wrist and keeps the paddle out in front of your body, so you can react quickly to shots in close quarters with your opponents.
While this may sound like a no brainer, it is very easy to forget to keep your paddle up in the heat of battle!
With so many new people joining the pickleball community, there are now a lot of beginner level players attempting to improve their level of play. It is therefore not only important to understand the fundamental rules of the game, but also how to win rallies and points more effectively.
We hope this guide on how to play pickleball has helped you understand the tactical side of the game a bit better and you enjoy your next time playing on the court!
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