One of the really fun aspects of pickleball is the pickleball strategy. Whether you’re just starting out or you’re advanced, anyone can craft a pickleball strategy because it comes down to the choices you make on the court — what you choose to do or not do with each new rally.
Today we’re going to look at a few practical ways you can improve using smart pickleball strategy. By using these tips, not only will you make better decisions on the court but by doing so, you’ll take your game to the next level.
Watch the full video here.
Why Pickleball Strategy Is Important
When you’re playing pickleball, it’s smart to have a plan of action before stepping on the court. A simple pickleball strategy of what to do and what not to do can make you stand out on the court because it will help you stay focused and make smart decisions in the heat of the rally. Your strategy will likely change based on your opponent, but there are a few things to always keep in mind from point to point.
Pickleball Strategy 1: Understand the 3rd Shot Drop
If you want to have smart pickleball strategy, it’s good to understand the third shot drop and know how to maximize it. When you’re hitting your third shot, whether it’s a drive or a drop, you are at a slight disadvantage because you are further away from the net than your opponents. This means your opponents have better opportunities to hit down on the ball and more choices of where to place the ball.
If you’re hitting a third shot drop, you should be looking to do 3 things:
- Hit an unattackable shot (this is a shot that bounces, your opponents can’t hit it out of the air or hit down on it with pace)
- Neutralize your opponents – because your shot is unattackable, they return a neutral shot to you or even better, they return a pop up that you can poach
- Lastly, you want to get to the nvz – by getting to the nvz you improve your chances of taking control of the net and winning the rally.
- Remember: It may take your 5th, 7th, or 9th shot to get to the net, but the important point here is to neutralize your opponent and get to the non volley zone.
Pickleball Strategy 2: Reset in the Transition Zone
A smart pickleball strategy is to know when to attack and when not to attack.
One common mistake for players of all skill levels happens in the transition zone. Let’s say you hit a third shot that doesn’t neutralize your opponent and they return the ball back at your feet or knees.
The mistake comes when players attack this 5th, 7th, or 9th shot. This is a mistake because you’re oftentimes in motion or off balance, the ball is at your feet which you don’t want to attack, and you’re hitting up on the ball to an opponent who is at the net with good position to counter attack.
Instead, it’s better to reset the ball, neutralize your opponent, and get to the non volley zone.
Pickleball Strategy 3: Leave Margin for Error & Keep the Rally Alive
One evergreen pickleball strategy is to leave margin for error and to always keep the rally alive if you find yourself in a defensive situation. One good example for this would be for third shot drops or any of the subsequent shots when you’re trying to get from the baseline to the non volley zone.a
Earlier this year, I got a chance to talk with Jim Ramsey, a broadcast statistician for the PPA tour. He also created a facebook group called Pro Pickleball Stats. If you haven’t joined it yet, you can check it out with the link in the description. He recently analyzed 9 pro matches and counted 563 total third shot drops. From that count:
- 54.3% were returned with a volley (these third shot drops were slightly overhit)
- 41.5% bounced (resulting in success)
- 4% went into the net (resulting in failure)
Out of 563 third shot drops, 541 were kept in play.
This means that the majority of third shots hit by professionals were overhit but kept in play.
The strategy takeaway here is when you’re hitting your thirds, you may try and hit the perfect shot, but it’s better to keep the rally alive and leave margin for error. If you’re under pressure and know you’re going to miss, miss high, keep the rally alive, and get ready for the next shot.
Pickleball Strategy 4: Apply Pressure
One great pickleball strategy is to look for ways to apply physical and mental pressure on your opponents.
A few ways you can do this:
- One great way to apply pressure is to hit the ball at your opponent’s feet. This forces mental pressure on your opponents to decide to volley the ball or let it bounce.
- Another way to apply pressure is on your return of serve. Apply pressure by hitting the ball deep at their feet, keeping your opponents back on the baseline.
- You can apply pressure at the net by taking away reaction time from your opponents – you can do this by volleying dinks or hitting dinks out of the air.
- You can apply mental pressure on your opponents and hit the ball to the middle or between your opponents – this forces your opponents to communicate and force a decision.
- You can also apply physical pressure on your opponents by making them move. To do this, never dink the ball in the same spot twice. Keep your opponents moving.
Pickleball Strategy 5: Be Patient
Being patient is a smart pickleball strategy because if you’re patient, you won’t force unnecessary attacks (oftentimes forced shots end up in the net or they go out), and secondly patience will help you outlast your opponent.
Patience may sound subjective, but there are a few ways you can practice it:
- Don’t hit the ball on the run or run through the ball
- Wait on the ball to bounce at its apex
- Keep the ball out front
- Lastly, a great way to practice patience is to only attack shots that are in the green zone. Or if you’re going to attack balls in the yellow zone, you know you can get it over the net 80% of the time.
- Attack balls that you can hit down on in the green zone or if it’s in the yellow zone, you know you can successfully hit the shot 8 out of 10 times
Which Pickleball Strategy Was Most Helpful?
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