Pickleball has become a really popular sport over the last few years. Like its other famous cousins such as tennis, badminton, and racquetball, Pickleball is also amazing for having fun and maintaining fitness. While most players are casual and only play during weekends, many desperately try to get better at this sport. This article will provide you with a complete guide on how to become a better pickleball player.
Before we get into the guide on how to improve at Pickleball, let us remind you of one thing. There is no guarantee that you will definitely become a better pickleball player in no time by following our guide. Sure, the tips we share in this guide will likely improve you as a pickleball player over time, but what worked for others might not work for you due to your unique needs and issues. That being said, most players have benefitted from these tips, and you should definitely give this guide a try and consistently work hard over some time.
Table of Contents
Stick to the Pickleball Basics
First things first, the key to becoming better in any sport is to stick to the basics. If your understanding of the basics is not strong enough, you will really struggle to improve your abilities. That’s why it is crucial to develop a very solid understanding of the basics.
While playing Pickleball, your stance needs to make sure you are always ready to take the best position to hit the ball. When your opponent is striking the ball, you need to put your body weight on the balls of your feet. The paddle position has to be aligned with the center part of your body, slightly extended towards the ball. You should also lean forward towards the direction of the net.
Pickleball Paddle Grip
Your grip on the pickleball paddle should be firm but relaxed. You should be able to trigger your index finger while holding the paddle in your hand.
The 3 Best Pickleball Paddle Grips
- The Eastern Pickleball Paddle Grip – Best Pickleball Paddle Grip For Beginners & Intermediate Players
- Method: Use your opposite hand to hold your pickleball paddle out in front of you so that your paddle is in the middle of your body, with each paddle face facing your left side or your right side evenly. Take the hand that you will be holding the paddle with & open it outstretched over the face of the paddle. Then slide your hand down the face & shake hands with the paddle handle.
- The Western Pickleball Paddle Grip – The Forehand Grip
- Method: With this grip, you start in the Eastern pickleball paddle grip and turn your wrist 90 degrees clockwise for right-handed players & 90 degrees counterclockwise for left-handed players. The Western pickleball paddle grip gives you lots of topspin but makes it very difficult to hit a backhand shot.
- The Continental Pickleball Paddle Grip – The Backhand Grip
- Method: This grip is easy to explain because it’s often referred to as the hammer grip. The reason for it being called the hammer grip by many is because you hold the pickleball paddle handle as though you were holding a hammer when hammering a nail. This grip is great for backhands & dinks but not so great for forehands.
You should always make sure that you have good quality grips wrapped on the handle of your paddle to get a firm grip, especially if your hands are sweaty.
Footwork is as important as your stance. Good footwork makes sure you reach the best position when hitting the ball without compromising your balance. With good footwork, you can reach difficult shots. Start with the most basic principle. Put your body weight on your left foot if you are playing a forehand shot and on your right foot if you are playing a backhand shot. This process reverses for left-handed players.
You need a lot of practice to master the art of positioning. Good positioning depends on your ability to read the game and predict your opponent’s next shot. Staying in the right position on the pickleball court to return your opponent’s shot will exponentially increase your chances of winning points.
Identify Your Pickleball Strengths and Weaknesses
You will not be able to properly identify all your strengths and weaknesses in just a couple of matches. After a few matches, you will get a grasp of your strengths and weaknesses while playing Pickleball. It’s important to practice different playing styles to figure out what suits you best and what doesn’t.
Some players are good at forehand strokes, while others win their matches with a few amazing backhand shots. Some players are better at moving around the court, while others only cover certain parts of the court but make the best use of their strokes. Some players are better at serving, while others are better at playing aggressive shots. Don’t be intimidated by failures at first. Keep trying different shots until you understand what playing style suits you best. To get to know your strengths and weaknesses, lots of trial and error is necessary. Once you have a solid understanding of your strengths and weaknesses as a pickleball player, it’s only going to make you a better player in the end.
Practice Your Pickleball Shots
After figuring out your strengths and weaknesses on the pickleball court then you need to keep practicing. Practicing your strongest shots is important because if you can enhance your strengths, your strongest shots can become your lethal weapon against your opponents. Working hard on your weakest shots is important. Suppose you don’t practice improving your weak shots. In that case, your opponent will target your weaknesses to get the better of you on the pickleball court. A game of Pickleball is won by fluid, smooth strokes throughout the whole match. Short, simple strokes throughout the game build consistency. To master Pickleball at a high level requires a lot of practice. You can choose to practice with a partner or alone against a wall. If you have to practice alone, stand in front of a wall with the paddle and ball in your hand and start hitting the ball against the wall. Try different shots against the wall and see if you can counter them. This will improve your reflexes & help your fitness. Just make sure your stance is correct & your footwork is on point, your grip is solid and stable, and then focus on your shots. Try to make them short, simple, and consistent. With all of that practice done, you are likely to become a formidable opponent on the pickleball court.
Here are the types of Pickleball shots you should practice:
Volleys are the shots that you make before your opponent’s return hits the ground. You need to learn how to apply enough power behind your volley to make an impact on the point. Volleys are one of the most crucial pickleball shots players need to master. With strong volleys, you will be able to win more points. Volleys are usually more powerful than regular groundstrokes if played correctly because the ball doesn’t slow down when it bounces. It can be a bit difficult to perfect your volleys, but you can master them with practice.
Like volleys, dinks are crucial for winning points. Dinks are kind of your go-to options when you are taking a shot in the kitchen and your opponent is far from the net. A well-placed dink will reward you by putting your opponent under pressure. However, the margin for error in dinks is very small, as too much power will result in a loose shot for your opponent to smash. At the same time, too little power will result in an unforced error. There needs to be a perfect combination between power and placement.
Serves get the point started and set the tone for the point and are usually an advantage if served well. Serving the ball well will ensure a return from your opponent, which you won’t find too difficult to handle. On the other hand, weak serves will allow your opponent to put you in a difficult position while facing a good return shot. Your service has to be at the right pace to put your opponent under pressure. Professional players practice hundreds of serves a day because it’s such an important shot in the context of the game. This pretty much sums up the importance of being a good server to be a better pickleball player.
It is a must to become good at drive shots. These are the shots that you try to hit as hard as you can. Your chances of winning rallies depend a lot on the strength of your drives. If your drives are not strong enough, your opponent will find it easy to deal with your return. Pickleball is a game of stamina as well, and you won’t be able to keep up with a player who plays good drives if your drives are not strong enough.
Pickleball Backhand Drive
Ideally, you would always want to play every smash or drive with your forehand because you generally have a much more powerful forehand drive. Still, you will not get into positions be able to play a forehand every single time. There will be moments in the match where you will have to play backhand drives to catch your opponent off guard. Putting a substantial amount of power behind a backhand drive is not easy at all. Still, if it’s played to your backhand, you must be able to play it well.
This is one of the advanced shots. If you are a total beginner, there is no need to try fancy shots like this one. If you have a strong topspin serve, then you should definitely try to master the centerline ace. The key is to put as much topspin as possible and aim for the centerline. If you can pull this off, you will be able to win many points just from the serve through aces. If used wisely, your opponent will be blown away.
This is another advanced-level shot you should try only if you are good with the basic shots. While making a dink fake, you make it look like you are going to dink the ball. And when your opponent comes closer to return the dink, you end up driving the ball instead. However, there are specific situations where you can pull this shot off. The ball needs to be high enough to fake the shot and then drive it with power. Otherwise, your opponent will realize your fake and punish you. You might also end up hitting the net if the ball is not high enough to execute the shot.
Specific Fitness Training for Pickleball
When playing Pickleball, you use mostly your legs, glutes, core, and shoulder muscles. Any fitness training for Pickleball has to account for these crucial muscle groups. Fortunately, there are many training drills to help you get in shape for Pickleball.
For starters, you should position yourself in the same way as if you are on the court right near the kitchen area with the paddle in hand. Now practice shadow swings left and right as if you are playing against an opponent. This will warm up & activate all the necessary muscles, and prepare you for the field. Then to increase your hand movement speed, you can get in the plank position and shuffle your hands sideways in a synchronized in and out rhythm. This will strengthen your body’s core balance, but your hand movement speed will increase drastically.
To properly get acquainted with the ball, put the ball on top of your paddle and toss it in the air and then keep hitting it in the air. This will improve your hand movement along with a focus on the ball. You can also do regular running and jumping to increase your stamina and movement speed inside the court. It’s very important to stay fit to win at Pickleball. In a close match, fitness could be the decider who eventually wins.
Use Good Quality Pickleball Gear
Pickleball requires a fair amount of gear to play. Good quality gear will take you quite far in terms of performance. If you are playing indoors, then you should choose gummy soled shoes because you would want a strong foothold on the court. If you are playing outdoors, then a good quality tennis shoe will do the job. Take a look at our List of Pickleball Equipment for the most comprehensive list of Pickleball equipment on the internet.
The most important piece of equipment that you have to choose is the pickleball paddle itself. There are many kinds of paddles in the market ranging in price from roughly $20 to $200. It is wise to choose a paddle that is not too expensive unless you plan on playing regularly as a beginner. A moderately-priced paddle is enough to get you a long way. Two other main factors that you have to worry about when buying a paddle are size and weight. Legally, a paddle cannot exceed 24 inches in length and width. But, within this 24-inch mark, quite a lot of variants are available. Some have a shorter handle with a longer, wider body giving the player the option for extra reach but reduced maneuverability. Some have a longer handle which gives more flexibility at the expense of less reach. You need to pick one that is best suited for you. In terms of weight, lightweight paddles (7.3 oz or less) give more maneuverability but less power in each shot. Heavyweight paddles (above 8.4 oz) work in the exact opposite way. Then comes the compromise between the two extremes, midweight paddles (7.4 to 8.4 oz), which try to give the player a balance between power and maneuverability. The ideal choice works best for you.
There are other important gear that might be crucial. Choosing them carefully is also important like the shorts or shirts you will wear on the court, the protective glasses & gloves. It should fit you and be comfortable; otherwise, you won’t be able to move around the court freely and quickly. You also need to buy a good-quality water bottle to carry your water and electrolytes. If you are playing under the scorching sun, then a good quality sunblock is also needed. Having all the necessary gear will make the game more fun and enjoyable for you, and you will also perform better. Take a look at our article where we recommend the best Pickleball Clothing and Gear.
Study Your Opponent
The best way to win at Pickleball is to force your opponent to make mistakes. To do that, all you have to do is study your opponent and consistently play your shots to exploit their weaknesses. During the game, keep a sharp eye on your opponent’s moves. Find out which shots your opponent favors and try to make sure they never get to play that shot as far as possible. If you face difficulty countering your opponent’s backhand shots, make sure they have to play forehanded shots & vice versa. Focus on which area of the court your opponent finds uncomfortable & try to play your shot there. Force your opponent to play in that area again and again. If your opponent is good at serving, then try to create a surprise with your counter. If your opponent is bad at returning serves, then you can win easy points by serving better yourself. Remember, skills will take you far but holding your nerve will win you the game.
Improve Your In-Game Decision Making
Pickleball is a fast-paced game. You have to keep an eye on the ball at all times while also focusing on your opponents. That makes in-game decision-making all the more difficult. So, it is even more important to improve in-game decision-making if you want to become a better pickleball player. Some of these decisions can be choosing whether to play aggressively or defensively. In a very short space of time, you have to decide where to target your next shot. These are split-second decisions that require a lot of experience and practice. To improve your in-game decision making try to think before your every move. Think about where to send the next shot and why. Think about your opponent’s weaknesses. During the game, use your in-game decision-making to use those weaknesses against them. If you are ahead by enough points, then play defensively. Force your opponent to make mistakes, and you will win the match. If you are behind by a couple of points, be aggressive and plan your strategy to bridge the gap and win the match. In a fast-paced game like Pickleball, quick thinking will be crucial for your chance of winning.
Choose The Right Partner If You Are Playing Doubles Pickleball
Some sports are more fun when it involves more players. Pickleball is no exception. While it can be fulfilling to play one-on-one, adding another player to each team can double the excitement. In these circumstances, you have to choose the right partner. While choosing a partner, the most important factor is chemistry. You need to communicate with your partner effectively so that in the middle of the game, you two can better coordinate as a team. You need to be able to seamlessly create strategies on how to approach the match. Flexibility is needed with your partner when it comes to improvising during the match. For example, if you stay at the back of the court, your teammate should take responsibility for the front and vice versa. You should communicate with your teammate about the opposition team’s weaknesses and how to exploit them. Suppose you and your teammate play with opposite hands. In that case, that might prove beneficial because it can create confusion in the minds of your opponents. They might find it difficult to decide which shots to play. These are the factors that should be on your mind while choosing a partner. Choosing the wrong partner will only create frustration.
Learn To Accept Losses On The Pickleball Court
Perhaps the biggest teaching of sports is how to accept losses. Because in sports, if there are winners, there must also be losers. Nobody can win at all times. All athletes throughout sports, at some point in time, had to face losses. The humility of sports is to accept losses with grace. That makes sports great. Remember, the opponent is not your enemy. If you lose some matches, you can always win another. The key is to learn from your losses and strive to win the next time. That is the essence of sportsmanship. Accepting losses will not make you weak. It is a sign of immense strength if you accept and learn from your losses. Without being intimidated by losses, you are most likely to become a great pickleball player in the long run if you can overcome your shortcomings.
Common Pickleball Mistakes to Avoid
Last but not least, good players are not simply exceptional with their pickleball skills. They also know how to avoid mistakes. The least fewer mistakes you make, the better player you become in the long run. Here are some of the common mistakes to avoid while playing Pickleball.
- Don’t grip the paddle too firmly. This will prevent you from making smooth transitions between your forehand and backhand.
- Don’t keep your body stiff in your stance. You should be in a relaxed position to move your body with utmost flexibility.
- Don’t try to put more power behind your shot than necessary. Trying to put more power might not only ruin the shot but also make you tired sooner than you would like to.
- Don’t aim for sneaky dinks if your opponent is too close to the net. Making dinks in such situations will give your opponent the best opportunity to outsmart you.
- You should learn the basic shots first before aiming for fancy ones. Trying to learn fancy shots too early will hamper your basic shots as well.
You have to remember, getting good at Pickleball will take time, and you should be patient and persistent. There will be times when you will think you reached the saturation point of your performance, and no improvement is possible. With practice and hard work, you can get over these moments and become a much better player over time. Best of luck!