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5 Super Simple Ways to Improve at Pickleball (And Have More Fun)

Written by Adam (HV)

December 8, 2021

In the game of pickleball, there are hundreds of techniques and strategies you can use to improve. It is a fascinating sport because virtually anyone can play but very few actually master it.

Today we’re going to break down 5 strategies that are so effective and so simple anyone can use them no matter what your skill level. If you can master these five strategies, not only will you improve, but you will have more confidence in your game and have a ton more fun. 

1. Hit the Ball at Your Opponents’ Feet

This probably sounds overly simple but the reality is, many of the best strategies are effective because they are simple.

If you’re looking for targets, the shoes or the shoelaces are where you should be aiming. It seems simple, but it’s often overlooked. Many people want to aim for the body, but advanced players can return many body shots.

Even if your opponent can return a shot at their feet, there’s a good chance they will pop up the ball and give you more chances for a put away.

So why hit the ball at their feet? 

  • Think about it this way. What is a harder shot to defend? One that is near your body and arm? Or one that you have to bend over to defend? The more you stretch, the less balance you have and the less control you have on your shot. 
  • Also think about rallies in the kitchen where the ball is flying and it’s going from paddle to paddle. In these fast-paced rallies, the first team to hit the ball on the ground will be the person to win the rally.

2. Get to the Kitchen

This one is huge. When I first started playing pickleball, I played it like mini tennis. I just crushed the ball at every chance. This is fun, but the reality is it’s not how you win games in doubles and it will only get you so far in advanced play.

How do you win those advanced games? You get to the net. The team that controls the kitchen can control the game. 

How do you get to the kitchen?

  • You have to utilize dinks, long dinks, or third shot drops.
  • Once you get to the kitchen, your angles increase and your ability to hit down on the ball increases.
  • The reality of getting to the kitchen is accepting the soft game. You have to accept it to play at an advanced level.
  • We’ll cover this more in another video, but for the time being, think about the third shot drop as a long dink.
  • Also, think about your grip pressure. Find the right grip pressure for you. If you are hitting the ball too high, tighten your pressure. If you are hitting balls too soft, tighten. Out of 10, consider a grip pressure of 3-4 for drops and dinks.

3. Plant Your Feet First, Swing Second

It’s important to get to the kitchen. In fact, the most effective place you can be on the pickleball court is at the kitchen line. But if you rush to the kitchen, you risk “running through the ball” or hitting the ball when you’re off balance.

When you run through the ball, a few things happen:

  • You miss the ball completely 
  • You miss-hit the ball and dump it into the net
  • You pop the ball up and it goes out
  • You pop the ball up and your opponent puts it away

One helpful tool to stop running through the ball is to use a split step.

HOW TO SPLIT STEP

Step 1 – Take a small hop splitting your feet about shoulder-width apart to get into an athletic stance. Your weight should be evenly balanced on each of your feet.

Step 2 – Watch the ball come all the way to your paddle.

Step 3 – Step into it with your non-dominant foot and continue moving to the kitchen.

4. Hit Unattackable Shots

When you are playing pickleball, one simple way to know how to improve and what area to improve is by asking the question: when did I give my opponent attackable balls?

Are you hitting attackable shots in the kitchen? Are your opponents hitting attackable shots when you are returning serves?

There are potentially hundreds of reasons why your shot could be attackable, but the point here is to combine the elements of pace and placement to make your shot unattackable. 

Here are a few examples of unattackable shots:

  • A soft dink shot placed out wide
  • A soft dink shot placed closer to the net
  • A hard drive placed at your opponent’s dominant shoulder
  • A third shot drop that forces your opponent to move
  • A hard shot that your opponent has to chase

5. Be Patient

Pickleball is a unique sport because skill and physical ability can only get you so far. Eventually you get to a place where strategy becomes 80% of your game.

One very good team could overpower a beginning team, but when teams are evenly matched, skill can only take you so far. This is where consistency, focus, and control come into play. 

Basically, you want to wait, hit unattackable shots, and keep the ball in the play long enough for your opponent to make a mistake.

The person who makes the first mistake is likely to set up a chain reaction that will give the other team the upper hand.

How to Practice Patience in Pickleball

  • Wait for your opponent to make the mistake. Dink your opponents until they get impatient.
  • Move your opponents around with dinks, forcing them to move their feet until they force a shot.
  • Hit controlled shots that stress your opponent and force him or her to move their feet.

BONUS: CONSISTENCY > INTENSITY

Prioritize CONSISTENCY OVER INTENSITY.

Games are won by consistent players who hit consistent shots, not by players who use 100% intensity.  

When you’re under pressure and maybe you’re down in points, the natural inclination is to think: I need to do something big or intense to force a turnaround, but the reality is, you need to change your strategy and hit consistent shots with better placement or pace.

Conclusion

So that’s it, the 5 ways to improve your pickleball game. What did you think? Are there any tips or strategies I should add to the list? Let me know in the comments.

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