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How to Play Pickleball: The Ultimate Guide for Beginners

Written by Adam (HV)

November 30, 2021

how to play pickleball

Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in the world for a few reasons: it provides great cardio with minimal stress on your body, it’s a fun way to socialize and make new friends, and it has a shorter learning curve compared to other sports.

When you’re first starting out, you want to get out onto the court and smash the ball. I get it. That’s what I did. How to play pickleball was the last thing on my mind. Naturally, you learn the game starting from the outside of the court at the baseline and then you work your way in. You may hit a few ground strokes then you learn to serve.

Unfortunately, this method sets you up for a longer learning curve, a potential plateau, and frustrating days ahead feeling stuck at a level because you didn’t learn the proper way. My goal is to help you avoid this.

In this post, I’m going to provide an alternate solution to the “outside-in” method of learning, but first, let’s talk about the basics.

 

 

To get started, you’ll need a paddle for each player (can be made of wood, aluminum, or polycarbonate material), a few balls (indoor or outdoor depending on your environment), and a net with boundary lines. Other gear includes athletic shoes with good grip, clothing that wicks sweat, and water. If you’re playing outside, be sure to always bring water.

two graphite pickleball paddles and a bucket of pickleballs

How do you serve in pickleball?

Every point in pickleball begins with a serve. A pickleball serve must be hit from behind the baseline. You must hit the ball underhand with your paddle below your wrist. Contact with the ball must not be made above the naval. You cannot bounce the ball before serving it. The ball must be served cross-court into the opposing team’s service court. The serve must clear the net and not land in the kitchen. The ball can land on the two side lines or the baseline, but it is considered out if it lands on the kitchen line.

What is the double bounce rule in pickleball?

 An important rule when you’re learning how to play pickleball is the double bounce rule. The double bounce rule says the ball must bounce once on each side before either team may start volleying the ball in the air.

 This can be a tricky rule, but one memory device to help you remember is SBBP (serve, bounce, bounce, play). After the ball has bounced on both sides, either team may hit the ball out of the air or let the ball bounce once before hitting it.

 Your rally will continue until one team either hits the ball into the net, hits the ball out of bounds, or lets the ball bounce two times on their side of the court.

graphic of pickleball court with baseline, sideline, centerline, non-volley zone and measurements of court and net

What is the kitchen in pickleball?

Every pickleball court has two sidelines, two base lines, and a non-volley zone affectionately called “the kitchen.” In pickleball, when you volley the ball, that means you hit it out of the air.

Players can stand in the kitchen at any time, but you CANNOT hit the ball while standing in the kitchen UNLESS the ball has already bounced on your side. All volleys must be initiated outside of the non-volley zone.

If you hit the ball out of the air while standing outside the kitchen, and momentum causes you to touch the kitchen, it is a fault.

How to Set Yourself Up for Success in the Beginning

Like I mentioned in the beginning, the majority of people learn how to play pickleball by the “outside-in” method. They hit ground strokes, serve, and then work their way in. Throughout their time, they start hitting hard balls, and get better at driving the ball. Eventually, they play better players who can block these drives or worse, counter the drive at their feet. Sound familiar?

This is a perfect setup for disappointment and frustration. Why? Generally speaking, it’s more difficult to retrain your muscle memory and your brain to go from hard to soft — from hard drives to drops.

This was my experience. I was constantly losing to better players because I was driving the ball instead of dropping it. I had to figure out a way to neutralize my opponents and get to the net as quickly as possible because team that can control the net — get to the net faster and make fewer errors — will win against teams that don’t.

How to play pickleball: Begin with the Inside-Out Method

When you’re starting out, learn how to play pickleball from the inside-out. Start SOFT. Train your brain and build your muscle memory around the soft shots or drops, then add drives to your repertoire. This is the road to least resistance if you’re planning to compete with better players and grow at pickleball.

Start at the kitchen, learn how to dink and hit soft shots first, then work on your ground strokes or serves.

What is a dink shot in pickleball?

A dink shot is a soft shot that is intended to arc over the net and land within the non-volley zone. The soft shots in pickleball are the hardest shots to master. The sooner you apply your muscle memory to these shots, the better you will be.

The sooner you can successfully execute a dink, the sooner you can hit a drop shot or a “long dink.” When you can hit a third shot drop, then you can neutralize your opponent and get to the net faster. Learn how to master the drop shot from the free guide below.

How to Hit a Dink Shot in Pickleball

  • Fix your grip — When you’re dinking, your grip strength should be a 3-4 on a scale from 1-10 (10 being white knuckles and a tense arm). Imagine holding a baby bird in your hand. You want it to be tight enough to keep it from flying away, but loose enough that you don’t hurt the bird.
  • Contact point — Hit the ball out in front in the sweet spot of your paddle – the very center of your paddle
  • Eyes on the ball — Follow the ball all the way to your paddle
  • Arm motion — When connecting with the ball, move your arm upward in a smooth, pendulum swing motion. This motion is coming from your shoulder and your arm is straight. This is a compact motion and there isn’t a lot of follow through or backswing.
  • Use your legs — Your feet should be shoulder width apart and your knees should be bent. When you connect with the ball, use your legs to lift the ball.
  • Keep your shots down — When you’re dinking, make sure that you hit the ball into the kitchen and you’re not popping it up for an easy put away.
  • Return to ready position — After the ball successfully crosses the net, return to a ready position with your paddle out front of your chest.

Conclusion

I hope you’ve enjoyed this guide on how to play pickleball. Is there anything that I missed? What was the most important thing for you when you were learning how to play pickleball? Let me know in the comments and I’ll consider including it.

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