Foundations of Pickleball Strategy

Foundations of Pickleball Strategy

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May 28, 2024
Pickleball is all the rage. It can be as silly or as serious as you’d like to make it. If you’re an over-competitive jerk like me, and want to speed run the Pickleball skill curve, here are 5 fundamental strategies that will lead to more wins immediately:

1. Take every opportunity to get up to the kitchen

If you’re playing doubles and your partner is receiving the serve, you can start at the kitchen line for free! If you’re receiving, you can run up to the kitchen after returning. This is an advantage designed into the game for the receiving team, failing to take advantage of it holds you back. If you’re on the serving team (or aren’t at the kitchen yet for some reason), your whole goal is to get to the kitchen. Do this by forcing your opponents back, dropping a soft shot in front of them (that they can’t attack), or making them hit a short shot that invites you to run up.

2. If you’re at the kitchen and your opponent isn’t, keep them back

Wherever they are on the court, hit at their feet. You already have a huge advantage while being up while they’re back, so don’t be too aggressive in going for the back line, but by hitting at their feet, they’ll struggle to advance. A common mistake is to hit a short shot. This invites them up to the kitchen line, and should only be done if you can angle it in a way that it’s a winner.

3. Serve deep and return deep

When you’re serving, your opponent is trying to return and then immediately run up to the kitchen. The deeper your serve is, the harder time they’ll have getting to the kitchen and being in a set position. Similarly, when you’re returning, you’re immediately running up to the kitchen, and know that your opponent will be trying to hit a perfect shot that lets them come up too. The deeper you hit your return, the harder if will be for them to hit an aggressive shot, and the easier time you’ll have keeping the advantage. It’s worth noting that in Pickleball, it’s not worth being so aggressive with your serves or returns that your serve out or return out.

4. When you’re at the kitchen line, keep your paddle up and shade slightly towards your backhand

The kitchen is only 7 feet deep, which means that balls come at you FAST when you’re at the line. An easy way to win more points is to keep your paddle up and in front of you, which minimizes the required movement to return a hard driven ball. As you play stronger opponents, your body becomes a target. It’s best to defend your body with a backhand rather than a forehand (try it out for yourself if that doesn’t immediately make sense). By shading your raised paddle slightly towards your backhand, you set yourself up to react to every type of shot as quickly as possible.

5. Your opponents are going to hit the ball out often when you’re at the kitchen

A skill that’s more crucial in Pickleball than any other sport is letting your opponents shots go out of bounds. This happens so often when you get up to the kitchen and your opponents is trying to attack. If a ball is hit above your shoulders with pace, it’s probably going out. Don’t bail your opponent out by playing it!
What fundamental things did I miss?