Are you looking for the best pickleball tips to improve your game? The Internet is full of great tips, drills and detailed tutorials for every level, from very beginner to advanced pickleball skills and strategy. Youtube and other platforms have given us the amazing ability to watch a huge variety of videos and even see recordings of full tournament play – watching 5.0 games is a great way to learn from the pros by seeing how they move on the court and analyzing their shot selection. In addition, there are lots of good books on pickleball to supplement your training and take your mental game to the next level.
So while we’ve written many other more in-depth guides to pickleball on specific topics, this list of tips is specifically written to be easy to digest with small changes you can make to quickly improve your skill, rid you of bad habits and take your play to the next level.
It’s a huge list – they’re small but valuable nuggets of info that you can read in a few minutes. We’ve talked to coaches and interviewed lots of pickleball players -from newbies to 5.0s to come up with this list. Regardless of you’re level, we hope you find at least a few tips on our list that you find useful to improve your game.
Before you step on the pickleball court:
Warm Up: it’s not uncommon to see pickleball players drive to the court, get out on the court and get straight into their game. Do your body a favor and take at least 10 minutes to warm up before games, it’s a small investment in time that can prevent injury. You’ll play better and recover quicker after. Here is a playlist on Youtube of some of our favorite stretching videos for pickleball.
Dynamic stretching: While you are warming up, use dynamic stretching, get your body moving and limber up at the same time.
Wear Proper Footwear: I’ve seen advanced players on the court with running shoes and even hiking boots! If you are going to buy just one piece of good pickleball equipment, the first thing to invest in is a good pair of pickleball shoes (click here for our complete buyer’s guide) Look for natural gum rubber soles for indoor courts and tennis shoes for outdoor pickleball.
Pickleball Serving Tips:
Hit the serve deep
Hit to weak side: whenever possible hit to their backhand.
Against strong backhand returner– hit to their forehand.
If you are a beginner, see our #1 Tip to Improve Your Pickleball Serve.
Return of serve:
Get set! don’t move through the shot. It’s easy to get ahead of yourself (since right after the return you’re running to the kitchen) but get set and hit a solid return before moving.
Run to the kitchen! Now, get to the NVZ as quick as you can.
Return serve deep: keep them back to give you and your partner time to get up to the NVZ.
Down the middle: returning the serve down the middle of the court is an underused strategy. If possible, hit down the middle or to the weak side, never to opponent strong forehand.
When your partner is returning serve:
Take one step back: move back one step from NVZ, you can move back into position after they hit the return.
Turn your body slightly towards partner– and watch the ball during flight. Be ready to call it out for your partner so they can concentrate on the return.
Cover the middle while your partner is moving up.
Recreational/Open Play Pickleball Tips
Have Fun! Remember, other players are here to have fun. If you want to obliterate your opponent- sign up for more tournaments. If you are all on the same page and all 4 players have a competitive attitude that’s fine but for “open play” where people get randomly matched up, assume they are there to learn and enjoy it for recreation.
Involve all players: if you have a noticeable difference in skill levels try to balance out the play (hit to the better player about 50%) to keep it fair and more fun for everyone. You can learn a lot from better players but if you avoid hitting to them they’ll get bored and may pass next time you ask them to play. Weaker players need the practice to hit to them also but don’t abuse it by trying to win every point on them.
Support partner: be supportive, no need to remind partner they messed up -they know that. Don’t stop play to correct, if needed give tips in between or after games.
Benefit of the doubt: if a call is close, possible NVZ violation or foot fault on serve- give your opponent the benefit of the doubt. What’s the point of arguing over a point during recreational play? Keep the game flowing and create a positive environment.
Match UP: Try to pair up with more skilled partners than you and play against harder teams: it’s a great way to improve your skills.
Yell “Ball On Court”: it’s normal for balls to go off into adjacent courts, especially in indoor facilities that don’t have barriers between courts. Out of courtesy yell out to the other court as soon as you realize your ball is going to interfere with their game.
Team Work in Pickleball
Communication is key: call “Good” or “Out” (or “N0”) for your partner to let them know if the ball should be hit or is going out.
3rd shot down the middle: so many points on lost on this shot- call it early and say it loud and clear: “Mine” or “Yours”. Too many partners stand like deer in the headlights waiting for the other to decide.
Move in sync: keep an even distance between you to cover gaps on the court and move together – back and forth, left and right.
Watch your partner– to see if they start to move to the ball, use body language and visual cues to anticipate their moves.
General Beginner Pickleball Tips
If they hit to your feet: open the paddle face to lift it over the net, use your wrist.
Try to make the other team hit up: it’s to your advantage if you can force them to hit it up high.
Avoid the high lob: the lob is overused, a strong player can easily smash a lob and win the point. In general, keeping the ball low is better. The lob is a good shot at specific times but use it strategically.
Time management – take your time on your side but rush the opponent. Example- let it bounce if needed on your side instead of a rushed volley. Hit back at their feet- you’re trying to take your time while putting pressure on them and giving them less time to react.
Watch the opponents paddle– indicates where the shot will go.
Avoid hitting the while you are back peddling: run back, STOP, get set and hit. Easier said than done, but you need to practice getting back quicker and getting set- not hitting the ball while in motion.
Hit to openings: “court vision” is a learned skill, if you learn to see the openings and gaps between opposing players you can capitalize on those holes.
Don’t “run around” your backhand: if you feel your backhand is weak, don’t take more steps around the ball to get your forehand! Take the backhand shot. Practice, practice, practice your backhand. Do drills, work it until you get confident to hit a backhand. You can’t avoid it forever so bit the bullet.
If you are a slow mover: if you take extra time to get to the NVZ due to age, injury or fitness level- hit a soft, deep, diagonal shot crosscourt- more time in the air gives you extra time to get to the pickleball net.
If you poach – get back and into position immediately after the poach -to cover the open gap you left.
Against spin: if you’re playing against a player who uses the paddle to put a lot of spin on the return of serve: serve high deep and soft.
If your shots are coming up short: Aim your shot higher- the pickleball ball will automatically go deeper.
To crush ball– if you get an overhead lob you are trying to smash- use the paddle face to hit straight ahead, most people aim too far down and hit it into the net.
Overhead slam– hit it deep, aim higher to get the ball to go deeper. The most common mistake is too low.
Tennis players- don’t stay back at the baseline, if you are new to pickleball you need to get used to coming up to the kitchen.
Against righty and lefty: when you’re playing against a team made up of one right-handed and one left-handed opponent– Hit it down the middle of the court when both their backhands are too the middle.
Quick footwork – learn to shuffle laterally, make this part of your dynamic warm-up, you’ll get quicker.
Square your shoulders to where the ball is coming from -face it.
Avoid cross stepping – avoid stepping across and turning your body away from the play as this opens up a weakness on one side.
Less wrist is better– stiff wrist whenever possible, if they hit right at your feet you may need to twist your wrist more to scoop it up.
Flatten your paddle when you dink – think more of a line-drive, not an easy lob
Dink to their feet.
Change it up and dink down the middle sometimes. A lot of time dinking patterns end up going cross court but you can catch them both off guard by dinking straight down the middle.
Once the dink game starts– stay as close to the NVZ as possible.
Dink shot out of the air– standing toes to the line, reaching in and dink as it drops over the net (before the bounce). This gives them less time and gives you more angles.
Click here for more tips on Dinking including a video on improving your cross-court dink.
Playing against bangers
Against a “Banger”– take one big step back, the extra space gives you a split second more time, you still have to watch the gap at your feet! If play slows down then get your toes back to the line!
Against a pair of “Bangers”: When playing to two power hitters, pick weaker of the two. You need to disarm them with the slow game, picking on the weaker player can help diffuse the situation.
Don’t hit a short return of serve: don’t let it come up short. The best option is a soft, deep return to their backhand.
Time Management: time is on your side, slow it down and let them commit the error.
Win at the net with the slow game: disarm the aggressive players with the dink. If you are going to try to hit hard back at a banger you better be sure you have a winning opportunity.
Playing against opponents who are split (one at NVZ, other is back deep)
Returning a low shot- return it deep to the player at the back.
Returning a hard shot- hit to closer person, they’ll have little time to react and the hard shot will come hard off your paddle at them.
Aim for the gap: if they are split there should be an easier gap to hit.
Competitive Pickleball | Tips for Tournament Play
Talk Strategy: Before you start the game, take a couple of minutes to assess the opposite team and court conditions with your partner. Is the sun going to be in your eyes once you switch sides, is there a strong wind at your back? What about your opponents: Does she have a great backhand, does the guy put wicked spin on his serve? Come up with a plan.
“Pick on” one of your opponents: if you need to shake things up. Pick on one of your opponents and take advantage of their weakness. You might say to your partner something like “Guy in blue- hit to his backhand” if you see he is weak on his backhand. You may not want to abuse this but it can be a good strategy to turn the tides and pick up a few points.
Play to their weakness – What is their weak spot? Weak lob, weak backhand, slow mover?
Take strategic time out– If you lose a few consecutive points, short huddle to regroup with your partner, adjust and try something new.
If you are definitely a weaker pickleball player than your partner:
Keep ball low & in play: You’re not here to make the pretty game winners…keep level-headed, don’t pop up an easy lob to the other side- just keep the ball low and get it over the net.
Let your partner lead: if you are the weaker player, accept it and follow your partner’s lead.
Let your partner poach: give your partner some extra leeway to poach your shots more than usual – they’ve got the skill to cover more of those shots where they see opportunity.
When you are the stronger pickleball player:
Don’t be afraid to take the lead.
Poach more often if you need to cover your partner’s weakness
Be supportive of your partner. If it’s clear they are weaker, your partner is already putting themselves under pressure. Try to make them feel comfortable playing. Rolling your eyes or scoffing at mistakes will just raise their stress level.
Intermediate/Advanced Pickleball Skills
Learn the fake poach – used in moderation this can really psych out the player and keep them guessing. You start to side step cross court and raise paddle like you are going to poach but then let it go long to your partner.
Off the court:
Work on your backhand: you can do this against a wall, garage, etc.
Watch recorded videos of 5.0 players: Here is a playlist on Youtube of some of our favorite matches to watch.
If you made it to the end of our epic list, thanks for reading through to the end. Hopefully, you’ll leave with a few more ideas with ways to improve your game. But no need to leave so soon…stay around, hang out and read our other guides. If you’re looking for more specific tips, check out our other guides here. And come back often to get the latest pickleball info on our blog as we are always updating our site with new information.