Whether you're just learning the game or are trying to reach the next level, there are plenty of ways to improve your skills at pickleball. From perfecting your dink shot to fine-tuning your grip, there are a few simple pickleball strategies that you can follow to get better at pickleball.
Perfect Your Dink Shot
The dink shot is one of the best shots to have in your arsenal. It’s instrumental in setting your team up to make big plays. Dinks are drop shots that place the ball just over the net and into your opponent’s non-volley zone (NVZ).
Most of the time, your dinks should be crosscourt, focusing on rallying back and forth between you and your opponent in the kitchen. Crosscourt dinks allow you to hit the ball further, giving you more wiggle room for how hard you can hit the ball.
Once you catch your opponent off guard during dinking rallies, you can make your move with more aggressive shots like the Erne. Consistency with your dinks will set you and your team up for victory game after game.
Stick to the Kitchen Line
All high-skill-level and professional pickleball players will tell you that sticking to the kitchen line is essential for winning pickleball games. If you’re staying near the serving line or are worried about entering the non-volley zone, you’ll open yourself up to being beaten by better players with more finesse. As previously mentioned, dink shots are all about keeping yourself in the best possible scoring position, which also happens to be as close to the kitchen line as possible.
If you find that you aren’t quite fast enough to get to the kitchen in time after a serve, work on returning the ball with a lob shot to bring your opponents off the kitchen line.
Play It Safe
You don’t always have to try and make the big overhead smash or drive shot to try and make a fast point. Being able to keep up a rally is arguably more valuable for your game than being able to play aggressively.
While explosive shots can undoubtedly reward you with points, they can just as easily lead you to miss the point or cause a fault. This is why sticking to the kitchen line and focusing on your short dink shots is so valuable. You’ll be able to grow into a more consistent, focused player who can better see opportunities for making a big play.
Work On Your Third Shot
The third shot in a rally is a crucial moment for how the rest of your game will play out. A strong drive could give you a fast point, but a well-placed drop shot could also give you the upper hand.
In the third shot drop, you hit the ball softly to bounce the ball in your opponent’s non-volley zone. More often than not, this will prevent your opponent from responding with a strong attacking shot. You’ll be in a better position to start a rally with your opponent.
The third shot drive is a hard, low shot directly toward your opponent. A good drive will catch your opponent off guard, forcing them to make a bad shot. However, the third shot drive requires a great deal of control, as it’s easy to drive the ball out of bounds accidentally.
Pick A Grip
There are three popular pickleball grips: Eastern, Western, and Continental. Each of these grips offers different advantages and disadvantages.
The Eastern pickleball grip is widely accepted as the best grip for pickleball newcomers. It is a natural grip involving grabbing the paddle so that the paddle faces look evenly to both the left and right when you hold it. The Eastern grip allows the perfect balance for you to make both forehand and backhand shots.
The Western pickleball shot is popular for those looking to make many forehand shots with topspin. In this grip, the paddle is at nearly a 90° angle facing away from your body—similar to how you might hold a frying pan. The most significant disadvantage of this grip is that it makes it harder to hit good backhand shots.
The Continental grip looks similar to the Eastern grip but with the paddle oriented slightly inward. This opens up the backside of the paddle for better backhand volleys, which can be a tremendous asset at the kitchen line. Unfortunately, it’s also a disadvantage to your forehand shots, as they’ll likely be shot in a downward direction.
Be Ready At All Times
Always remain aware of what’s happening during a pickleball game so you can be prepared to make your next shot. Pickleball is just as much a mental game as it is physical. You’ll be much more prone to making mistakes and missing shots if your mind is elsewhere.
A good way of staying focused while playing pickleball is to always bring yourself to a ready position: Feet shoulder width apart, knees bent, and with your paddle forward. In this position, you’ll be ready for anything that comes your way.
Being intentional with your body’s positioning and movement, even when you’re not in the middle of making a shot, will keep you focused on the game at all times.
Stay Out of “No Man’s Land”
“No-Man’s Land” is part of the court between the baseline and the non-volley zone and should be avoided at all costs.
Getting stuck in No-Man’s Land will put you at a disadvantage, as your opponents will have more time to react to your shots. They’ll be able to dink shots into your kitchen easily, forcing you off-balance and opening you up to big plays.
Instead, stay on the kitchen line for offensive play or at the baseline to play on the defensive.
Communicate with Your Partner
In doubles, communication is critical. If you aren’t talking to your partner about what’s happening during a game, then neither of you will know what your position should be.
Don’t be afraid to say “mine” to call your shot. Make line calls by yelling “in” or “out,” and call out directions if you see a big play coming.
Developing simple hand signals and learning to read your partner’s body language will play a big part in building chemistry for your team.
The only way you’ll get better at pickleball is by playing it. Even if you can’t find a partner to play a proper game, get onto the court regularly anyway. You’ll be able to create good pickleball habits simply by running through shot routines, running through your footwork, and getting a better feel for the court.
A good way of practicing on the court yourself is to set up targets for your shots. Set up an extra paddle or ball on the other side of the court right where you want your serve to land, and take some time trying to hit the target. This same theory can be applied to your dinks, serves, volleys, lobs, and drives. Create your pickleball drills that will improve each shot type.
Need some practice with keeping a rally going? Find a wall and play a mock game with yourself. Get creative and find ways to work on all aspects of your game when you have free time.
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