If you haven't tried doubles pickleball, you're missing out. Doubles pickleball adds an entirely new element to the game, opening up a new world of strategies and tactics. It's also a great way to meet new friends and allows for more players on the court at one time.
So, how do you play pickleball doubles? What are the most important pickleball doubles strategies? How can you become the best pickleball teammate possible?
Rules for pickleball doubles
The rules for doubles pickleball aren't very different from the rules of singles pickleball. In fact, it’s easy enough for anyone to learn how to play.
One of the most important differences between singles pickleball and doubles pickleball is the way you call the score. In singles, the score consists of only two numbers: the serving team's score and the receiving team's score.
Meanwhile, the score in doubles consists of three numbers, which the server announces before serving the ball:
- Their score
- The receiving team's score
- Which server number they are in that rally
Throughout the game, both teammates have a chance to serve the ball between side outs. That's why it's important to identify server #1 and #2 when calling the score.
The exception to this is with the team that wins the opening toss and elects to serve first. Only one player serves in this case and a side out occurs when the starting serving team commits their first fault.
Basic vs advanced doubles strategies
When you first start playing doubles pickleball, focus on the fundamentals. You can't master pickleball overnight, but there are plenty of pickleball doubles strategies to help you improve.
Make sure your serves are accurate, that you're not hitting balls out of bounds, and that you keep your shots low.
Get a feel for the different rhythm of doubles. More importantly, get a feel for your partner—their strengths and weaknesses, how you best communicate, etc.
Once you're feeling comfortable, start practicing some of the more advanced pickleball doubles strategies, like stacking and poaching, which we'll discuss below.
1. Get to the kitchen line after the return-of-serve
Arguably the most essential pickleball doubles strategy is to move up to the non-volley line after returning a serve. Usually, you'll want both teammates positioned near the kitchen as quickly as possible.
2. Learn to hit drop shots
A drop shot is a soft, gentle shot meant to drop just over the net and into your opponent's non-volley zone, stopping their chance to attack the ball. A drop shot can be effective when your team is in the back court but your opponent is at the non-volley zone (NVZ) line.
When hit successfully, a good drop shot gives your team the chance to get to the NVZ line. Drop shots have other tactical advantages as well, like causing your opponents to hit the ball on an upward trajectory to clear the net, which can set you up for an aggressive return shot.
3. Keep your opponents pinned to the baseline
If the most advantageous position is near the NVZ line, the opposite is also true. If you can drive your opponents back to the baseline while you and your partner are perched to attack at the NVZ line, the advantage is yours.
Keep them pinned to the baseline, and you'll stay in control of the point.
4. Aim at your opponent's feet
A basic but excellent pickleball doubles strategy is to aim your shots at your opponents' feet. It'll be hard for them to return a shot near their feet without popping the ball up, which is good for you and bad for them.
5. Serve with more depth
When you're serving, hit the ball deep. Remember: your opponents want to advance to the NVZ line, so don't give them an excuse to dash forward to return a short serve.
6. Don't stand too close to the baseline when returning serves
For many new players, it seems natural to await the serve right at the baseline. By standing a few feet behind the baseline, you'll give yourself more time to react to the serve.
This allows you space to move forward toward the ball, giving you momentum and power to return the shot.
Also, remember the two-bounce rule. You have to let the ball bounce before you return the serve, so you don't want to be too far forward. Positioning yourself behind the baseline keeps you from having to back-pedal to let a deep serve bounce.
Learn more about the double bounce rule:
7. Return the serve as deep as possible
Hit your return of serve deep into your opponent's court. Thanks to the double bounce rule, this forces them to stay back near the baseline longer, allowing you more time to advance to the NVZ line.
With this strategy, your opponent has to hit a longer, more difficult shot, possibly creating an offensive opportunity for you.
8. Experiment with positioning
Ideally, you and your partner should have a sense of each other's strengths and weaknesses, and your strategies should be built with those in mind.
Your court position will be based on the area you and your partner will cover, as well as where your strongest and most accurate shots can be accomplished.
9. Get to the NVZ line
Getting to the NVZ line is one of the most important pickleball doubles strategies. When both players are at the line, you have a better chance of going on the offense and scoring more points.
10. 3rd shot strategies
The 3rd shot is the serving team's first chance to return the ball after the second bounce.
One strategy is to hit a drop shot into the NVZ. This softer, lofting shot allows the serving team to advance. Aiming for your opponent's feet or weak backhand side might give you an advantage.
Another strategy is to drive the ball from the baseline—again to the weak side of your opponent—and low to the net. This keeps your opponent on their toes and can cause errors on their part. Just be ready for the ball to come back hard to you as well.
11. Attack on your fourth shot
If your opponent isn't at the NVZ, it may be the perfect time to score. As always, aim for their weak side or their feet. Keep your shots low to avoid giving them a high shot that they can attack.
12. Use spin
Learn to put some spin on the ball, and it'll become second nature. There are many types of spin, including backspin, topspin, and side spin. Spin is created by the paddle hitting the ball with an upward, downward, or sideways stroke rather than straight on.
Think of it as the paddle 'gripping' the ball momentarily through friction, then rotating it. Spin affects the ball's trajectory as it travels through the air, and can cause an unpredictable bounce when it lands in your opponent's court.
13. Attack the middle of the court
A classic strategy is to hit a deep shot right down the middle of the court, between your opponents. Hitting the middle also provides the most room for error on both sides and can be a safer shot than trying to hit angles.
Once your opponents move to the center of the court to protect the middle, you'll have created an opening to direct a shot down the sideline. Shots in the middle can cause confusion, miscommunication, and hesitation about who will cover those shots, helping to create errors.
Poaching is an aggressive, offensive strategy in doubles pickleball. A poach occurs when one teammate anticipates the direction of a returned shot intended for their partner, and quickly moves to attack it themselves.
Remember: poaching means you're taking your partner's shot. Good teamwork is key—especially if your poach shot doesn't end the rally.
Many players use signals to set up a poach, but good doubles teams also get a natural sense of when their partner is likely to go for a poach shot.
Stacking allows teammates to play the side of the court that maximizes their strengths. Pickleball rules require players to serve and receive the serve from the correct court. However, after that, they can move to whichever side they prefer.
This strategy can enhance strengths and help weaknesses. For example, a team might put a left-handed player on the right to keep the forehands in the middle. Also, if a player has a weaker backhand, they might be put on the forehand side of their partner.
A dink is a shot hit with an upward trajectory, traveling over the net and dropping into the opponent's NVZ.
It's difficult (but not impossible) to attack a proper dink. The ball usually bounces low, causing you to scoop the ball up to get it over the net. Be patient and wait for a high return that you can attack downward with a kill shot.
17. Keep the ball low
Keeping the ball low consistently is a fundamental doubles pickleball strategy. It's difficult for your opponents to respond aggressively to these shots.
Firstly, to master the technique, make sure you don't angle your paddle upwards too much. Secondly, practice keeping a lighter grip on your paddle. This allows the paddle to absorb some of the force from your opponent's shot and results in a softer, lower return.
More pro tips for playing better doubles pickleball
1. Make better decisions
Pickleball is a mental game as much as a physical one. It's not enough to practice mechanical skills like shot accuracy and placement—you also have to make good decisions. That means making smart shots and forcing your opponents to make mistakes.
2. Better shot accuracy
Focus on accuracy over power. Strategic shot placement is key to forcing your opponents to make errors.
3. Strategize better
Having a plan is always an advantage. Strong doubles teams communicate throughout the match, both verbally and through hand signals.
4. Placement over power
Pickleball is not a brute force-style sport. As you improve and play at higher levels, your opponents will make fewer mistakes or fail to return a powerful shot. Instead, think about shot placement and strategy.
5. Communication is key
In doubles pickleball, poor communication costs points. Often, shots aimed between you and your teammate can cause confusion as to whose ball it is.
This hesitation can lead to a side out or a point for your opponent. Practice saying "mine" or "yours," and you'll make fewer errors as a team.
6. Let the out balls go
Learn to recognize the angle and speed of shots that are headed out of bounds. Phrases like "shoulder high, let it fly!" might help you remember that high balls with pace likely go long.
Teammates can help each other by calling "no" when they have a better viewpoint to recognize a ball that might be going out.
7. Move together
Always keep a consistent distance between you and your partner, moving together in unison. When they move left, you move left with them. This prevents gaps in your court coverage that the other team can exploit.
8. Be patient
One of the most important tips for any pickleball player is to be patient. Sticking to the fundamentals of the game helps you avoid creating opportunities for your opponents to attack. Patience will help you learn to wait for your perfect moment to strike.
Does player positioning matter in pickleball doubles?
Yes, player positioning is key for being successful in pickleball doubles. One of the most fundamental aspects of doubles strategy is to get to the NVZ.
The spacing between you and your teammate matters, too. You don't want to be too far away from each other or you'll create a gap that your opponents can target.
When to drive or drop the 3rd shot
When considering whether to use a drive or drop shot for your 3rd shot in pickleball doubles, first keep in mind which of your shots is stronger, and which will be more effective against your opponents.
If your opponent hits a low or short return of serve, you'll need to get under the ball to lift it over the net. In that case, a drop shot might be best. If the return of serve is hit deep into your back court, a drive shot might be the best strategy.
How to become the best pickleball doubles partner
Practice, practice, practice—together. The more you play doubles pickleball together, the better you'll be as partners. Learn to anticipate your partner's moves. Focus on communicating clearly.
Keep a good attitude, especially when you're losing. Be aware of what your body language is conveying—it can often be louder than words. Stay positive and be encouraging. Your job is to help your partner play at their peak.
Playing pickleball doubles adds an exciting dimension to the game, working with a teammate to your advantage. If you haven't tried it, what are you waiting for?
Do you prefer playing singles or doubles pickleball? What do you think the most important pickleball doubles strategy is? Let us know on our social media.