Pickleball is a super fun game (kinda addictive to be honest – ha). I decided to title this article, “Pickleball Strategy – 4 Ways to Improve Your Game” because I’ve been using these four basic strategies for about 6 months and they work. Now I’m recommending them to others and am enjoying their success!
One point I’m not including in this list of 4 is, REDUCE YOUR UNFORCED ERRORS. This is a given. Keep the ball in play.
Before every point, mentally prepare yourself on how to set up the point:
- Make a mental note if your opponents are right or left-handed (the key is to know your opponent’s backhand side).
- If serving, focus on hitting a deep serve. If returning, focus on hitting a deep return.
- Prepare yourself to hit your shots to your opponents backhand foot.
- Is your opponent a banger, do they prefer the soft game or are they a hybrid player?
Pickleball Strategy #1
I find this strategy the easiest one to implement, but it’s often one of the most forgotten too. Many of us are focused on the ball, the score or on starting the point. Instead, pause for a second, and create a habit of making a mental note of your opponent’s dominant hand position. 95% of the time you will play right-handed players. It might seem obvious, but during the point how many times do you hit a shot where your opponent slams it back on their forehand? Lots.
Instead, make a mental note on your opponent’s backhand. This will prep you for focusing on your next shot to be targeted at their backhand. Try this every point for the next couple weeks. You’ll see a major difference in your success since the backhand shot is typically a lower percentage shot. Let’s go!
Pickleball Strategy #2
It’s always good to mix up your pickleball serve so your opponent doesn’t anticipate their return of serve. Hit serves around the service area if you have that ability and confidence. If you don’t, the default I’d recommend is to hit your serve as deep as possible. This automatically causes your opponent to make a decision on how to return the serve and causes them to take more steps to get to the kitchen. If you can catch your opponent in the transition zone with your 3rd shot, you’ve put yourself in an advantageous position for the rally / point.
Pickleball Return of Serve
Deep returns are critical. This may sound like nothing, but it’s important. Next time you play an opponent who is 3.5 skill level or higher, notice how that player attacks short returns. If a return is short (e.g., mid point of the transition zone) and also the ball bounces knee level or higher – prepare yourself for a drive. This is a very attackable ball for your opponent and you may be putting your partner (who’s already at the net) into a very tough position.
A deep return of serve forces your opponent to think about whether they will drive their 3rd shot or play a 3rd shot drop. Both are harder shots to make the farther off the net they are. For a deep 3rd shot drive, you have more time to prepare for a block or a super soft dink, forcing your opponent to sprint to the ball in hopes of having a chance for a 4th shot. For a deep 3rd shot drop, you increase the likelihood of a shot into the net by your opponent or a pop-up 3rd shot which you or your partner can put away.
Pickleball Strategy #3
This is my absolute favorite strategy! One that has transformed my game tremendously. This pickleball strategy will cause your opponent to hit more pop-ups, thus setting you up for fun, smash put-aways.
Before the point starts, understand Pickleball Strategy #1 above (right or left handed player). If your opponents are staying at the baseline, focus your shots down the middle of the court, closer to the opponent who has a backhand down the middle. If your opponent is stacking due to keeping both of their forehands down the middle, then focus your shots toward the sidelines – the backhand foot.
If your opponent is slow to get to the kitchen after they return a shot to you, focus at hitting the ball to the backhand foot, landing in the middle or back of transition zone. When you first start this strategy, to give you a higher likelihood of success, take some pace off your shot and place the ball in a strategic area to force your opponent to bend down and hit a backhand return off the top of their shoe.
If you are in a dinking match, stay patient. Push the dink towards their backhand foot. I make a mental note to try and land the ball right on their foot or push them a bit further out to the side, making the return shot even harder. A skilled dinker will return many, however once you move your opponent around a bit, stay true to the backhand foot. I promise you, they will eventually hit the ball into the net, or give you a juicy pop up!
Pickleball Strategy #4
Pickleball bangers drive the ball and can actually scare some people. The key here is to slow down the game. Don’t try to overpower a banger. Block the shot and focus on disarming the banger. How? Whenever possible make the banger’s next shot harder for them to execute. This is done by keeping the ball low (e.g., reducing the soft, high bounce) and pulling them into the net area. The closer a banger gets to the net the higher likelihood they will hit the ball out the back of the court or into the net.
If your opponent is dinker, they will also want to slow down the game. Feel free to rip a 3rd or 5th shot drive to keep them honest. Hit down the line hard a few times too, as well as right down the middle. If your opponent is a dinker, you need to have patience. Try to take the ball out of the air vs letting it bounce, with you backing up. Move your opponent around, even while dinking and practice strategy #3 above – dink the ball to their backhand foot.
Also, once in a while, use a lob shot and speed the ball up with an attack to their dominate hand’s hit / shoulder area. Force them into hitting a “chicken wing” shot to stay in the game. Think about and set up your shots with dinkers and again have patience.
Pickleball Hybrid Player
As you improve in skill level, you’ll run into hybrid players. They can drive a shot like a banger and slow the game down like a dinker. They are typically pretty skilled and cerebral players. They know how to hit shots and are many times setting up their next shot. For purposes of this blog article, and for your improvement, stay to the backhand foot and notice how many times you end up winning the rally / point. Have fun!
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