Top 9 Basic Pickleball Strategy Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Edward Shapiro ·

Winning at pickleball is about strategy as much as it is about physical ability. It's one of the reasons the game is so great, and so many people have discovered the sport over the last couple of years.

This article discusses some common strategy mistakes and how to correct them if you notice them creeping into your game.

Strategy Mistake #1 - "Wandering" Server

The "wandering server" is when a player drifts forward after serving the ball. There's no real purpose behind the movement; instead, it's just a mindless few steps taken toward the net.

Why It's a Mistake

The reason it's a mistake is that your opponent can capitalize on your movement forward by hitting a ball deep and at your feet. If they notice you coming forward, they can drive the ball on their third shot, and since you have to let it bounce, you're now in a terrible position to return it. You will either have to catch it on a very short hop or retreat backward. Both are recipes for poor shots.

How to Fix It

If you notice this, try to practice taking a step backward after you serve. This should give you enough room to recover whether your opponent hits the second shot short or deep.

Strategy Mistake #2 - Waiting for the Serve in Front of the Baseline

When waiting for a serve, a player may stand in front of the baseline. But, this could be a huge mistake.

Why It's a Mistake

Similar to the previous mistake, the main problem with this one is that you've given yourself no room if your opponent serves the ball deep and at your feet. It's always easier to run forward in sports than running backward.

How to Fix It

Stand behind the baseline instead of in front of it when waiting for your opponent to serve. If your opponent tries to serve short, you should still be able to get to the ball quick enough on the return of serve.

Strategy Mistake #3 - Hitting Dead Dinks

Dink shots are when players hit the ball so that it barely crosses over the net, landing just inside the non-volley zone. A dead dink is when you hit a dink, but you hit it to your opponent's strong side, and/or you hit the same spot again and again.

Why It's a Mistake

Hitting the dink to the same side consistently doesn't cause your opponent to change anything up or react differently to the ball. Instead, they stay in a good position, and your lack of moving the ball becomes easier to respond to.

How to Fix It

Move the ball around when dinking or volleying. Try to spin it, increase or decrease the power, hit it to the left and the right. The goal is to be unpredictable and keep your opponent guessing.

Strategy Mistake #4 - Easing Off the NVZ Line

Sometimes when you're standing at the NVZ line (the kitchen), you might find yourself being pushed back toward the baseline after each shot. Eventually, you'll be too far back to recover from a short shot or dink.

Why It's a Mistake

Allowing yourself to be pushed back puts you in a bad position and forces you to play more defensively.

How to Fix It

Practice court awareness by paying attention to where the NVZ line is at all times. Get into the habit of stepping forward and being on the offensive when up at the net. If you find yourself drifting backward, take a step forward and try volleying the ball instead of letting it bounce.

Strategy Mistake #5 - Trying to Win From The Back

Pickleball rules dictate that most points are scored while players are up at the net, not back at the baseline. When players stay back for too long, this is called trying to "win from the back."

Why It's a Mistake

Staying too far back allows too much room for players to sneak in a soft shot or catch an angle that you can't get to.

How to Fix It

This is a mental change to work on. You must work yourself forward as the play progresses and continuously put yourself in a better position throughout the match. Also, be sure to put some practice in and work on transitions.

Strategy Mistake #6 - The Drive & Rush

The "Drive and rush" is the opposite of trying to win from the back. Instead of staying in the back, they rush forward immediately after hitting their shot.

Why It's a Mistake

Your opponent can take advantage by hitting the ball into a gap or hitting it deep, forcing you to backpedal.

How to Fix It

Instead of "Drive and rush," think "Drive and assess." This change in mindset will help you transition forward strategically instead of just hurrying to get to the line.

Strategy Mistake #7 - Being a Spectator

Some players have a tendency to stand around and watch the action before making their move.

Why It's a Mistake

Pickleball, and other sports, require anticipation. After you've hit the ball, your opponent is looking to hit it back to you in a spot where you can't get to it. If you stand still or just watch this play out, then you'll find yourself out of position far too often.

How to Fix It

Hit the ball, then immediately get back into a good neutral position or work yourself back to where you think your opponent will hit it next. Standing around and waiting until contact is made will force you to consistently reach and make poor shots.

Strategy Mistake #8 - Avoiding Your Backhand Shot

Inevitably, balls will be hit to your weakside throughout the match. Players who are uncomfortable with their backhand might try to run around the ball to reposition themselves to use their forehand.

Why It's a Mistake

Avoiding your backhand is a mistake in two ways. First, you won't always have time to get into a forehand position, especially when up at the net. Secondly, if you never work on your backhand, it's never going to get better.

How to Fix It

Don't be afraid to use your backhand. Sure, you may struggle for a bit, but you'll get better the more you try. You can also practice some drills to work on it between matches. Sometimes the best way to get better at pickleball isn't by playing pickleball.

Strategy Mistake #9 - Playing Marginal Shots

A marginal shot is when you aim at a small area just inside the play lines.

Why It's a Mistake

Sometimes we need to hug a line or put it just over the net, but other times, we have a lot more room than we think we do. Aiming at a small area just inside the lines and missing is an unforced error. Those errors can cost you a match just as much as your opponent's play can.

How to Fix It

As you become a stronger player, you'll learn to minimize bad strikes with the paddle. Until then, we have to give ourselves a bigger margin for error. The ball might come off faster than expected or take a weird spin. Perhaps our paddle was turned slightly. It's difficult to consistently hit the ball exactly where you are aiming. Instead, focus on hitting your shots inside a bigger area.

As much as the game is about strategy, pickleball is also about limiting your own mistakes. If one (or several) of these errors have made it into your game, be sure to fix them right away, and you'll see how quickly it leads to more victories.

This article is courtesy of PBU Pickleball University and can be found at

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