5 Important Pickleball Strategies for Outlasting Your Opponent

Written by Adam (HV)

March 10, 2022

pickleball strategies

Pickleball is an incredibly fun sport because it’s easy to start but difficult to master. In fact, skill and physical ability are only half the battle. When your opponents are equal to your skill level, the game becomes more strategic and mental. 

Today we’re going to unpack some smart pickleball strategies that could give you an edge and help you improve the next time you’re on the court. 

Welcome to high five pickleball where we help you improve your game so you can maximize your time on the court. My name is Adam Richards and today we’re covering 5 strategies you can use to outlast your opponent. There are many strategies in pickleball, but for the sake of this video, we’ll focus on a few you can adopt quickly to give your game an edge.

If you’d like to watch the video, you can do that here.

Pickleball Strategy #1 – Attack at the Right Time

Timing is critical in pickleball, especially when you’re at the net. It’s important to not force shots and to attack at the right time. One easy way you can do this is to use the traffic light framework. This is a simple visual framework in relation to your body. In short, you want to respect the net and not attack balls that are at your feet or the red zone, but keep them in play. You’ll also want to be cautious about shots in your yellow zone. 

You can also use the 80% rule and only attack shots that you can normally hit 8 out of 10 times.

If you’d like to dig deeper into timing your attack, check out the video I did on hitting smart shots. I’ll leave a link in the description.

Pickleball Strategy #2 – Hit Unattackable Shots

Whether you’re hitting a third shot drop or a dink, it’s important to focus on hitting shots that can’t be attacked. An unattackable shot is one your opponent can’t hit down on with pace back to your side of the court. For example, when you hit an unattackable third shot drop, your opponent is forced to hit back a neutral shot. They can try and attack your shot, but if it’s unattackable, the ball will go into the net or go out.

Pickleball Strategy #3 – Be Unpredictable

When your opponent can easily anticipate the pace, angle, and height of your shots, they can easily build a strategy to beat you. That’s why you want to be unpredictable and to always keep your opponent guessing.

One way to be unpredictable is to disguise your shots. Focus on compact and efficient body mechanics instead of big inefficient movements that telegraph your shot. In other words, pay attention to what your body language says about your next shot.

You can also try other ideas to be unpredictable. For example:

  • Mix up the angles of your shots at the NVZ
  • Try a few off-speed shots
  • Hit a lob serve every once in a while or try an offensive lob when you’re at the NVZ

Pickleball Strategy #4: Be Patient

Patience is power in pickleball because when you’re patient, you’re anticipating the right shot and you’re less likely to force a shot you shouldn’t take.

Many people will say to wait for your opponent to make a mistake, but this type of passive patience is only part of the equation. Instead consider using active patience, where you construct points by playing smart, consistent shots that put stress on your opponent with the intention that when the window of opportunity opens, you can take advantage.

If you want to practice being patient, here are a few things you can try the next time you play:

  • Only attack balls in the green zone
  • Learn to relax – take a deep breath and notice your perception of each game
  • Identify your triggers – what causes you to lose your patience? – make a list of these things and learn to recognize them – awareness is key
  • And lastly, remember to give yourself grace. Nobody is perfect and it takes time to develop your game so give yourself and other people grace. 

Pickleball Strategy #5 – Avoid Unforced Errors 

An unforced error is the loss of a point or rally due to a player’s own mistake – for example, hitting a routine shot long or into the net. In other words, you caused the loss of the point all on your own, without any help from your opponent. 

The important thing to note here is that the team with the fewest unforced errors almost always has the upper hand in games.  

To avoid unforced errors, you can use the principles in this video like attacking at the right time, playing with patience, and another is choosing consistency over intensity.

Hitting consistent shots is key to avoiding unforced errors, outlasting your opponent, and winning at pickleball.

When we’re under pressure and we get overwhelmed in a game because of the score, it’s normal to feel the need to turn up the intensity, hit the ball harder, and force shots, but this is a risk because this type of unchecked intensity forces you to lose control. Intensity may win you some points, but ultimately, consistency wins games. 

A practical way you can choose consistency is to focus on sound mechanics like, 

  • feet first, swing second 
  • Smart swing motions
  • And using the correct grip pressure

To take a deeper dive into mechanics, check out the video I did on the mechanics every player needs to know – I’ll link to that in the description.

To see how you would do with unforced errors, try playing a doubles game where instead of points, you track unforced errors. The team that gets to 7 first loses.

What pickleball strategies do you use?

What pickleball strategies do you use to outlast your opponent? Let me know in the comments. 

    path to better pickleball

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