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15 pickleball tips to help you rack up more wins

picture of Betsy Kenniston
Betsy Kenniston

Updated on: Dec 29, 2022

A pickleball player keeping his eye on the ball

Remember when you first started playing pickleball? Your goal was to hit the ball, and hope it went over the net! As you played more, you began to get the feel of the ball on the paddle.

You learned key pickleball rules, improved your reaction time, reduced unforced errors, and saw your skill level jump from new player to advanced.

You were learning how to play pickleball and play became easier. Soon you were having a blast and winning games! Now, your competitive juices are flowing and you’re playing against better players.

But suddenly, you’ve gone from winning all the time to struggling against more experienced pickleball players. It’s time to get serious and come up with solid pickleball strategies so you can compete at a higher level, and start winning again.

But how can you take your game to the next level? Don't worry – we're here to help! Read on to discover our top 15 pickleball tips to help you rack up more wins.

A graphic showing 15 pickleball tips for you to try

1. Talk, talk, talk!

Pickleball is most often played in pairs, which means you and your partner need to decide things like, who is going to serve first and whether you prefer your forehand or backhand. The best way to do this is through talking and clear communication.

Pickleball tips for communicating with your teammate:

  • Before a game, talk to your teammate about your playing style and ask about theirs.
    • Do you tend to rush to the Non-Volley Zone line, or work your way up based on the shots hit to you?
    • Do you prefer to start on the right or left? Do you have a strong backhand? How will your playing styles complement one another?
    • Come up with a doubles pickleball strategy that will highlight both of your strengths and cover your weaknesses.
  • Say 'mine!' when you're going to hit the ball, especially when the shot is hit up the middle, between the two of you. This will erase any doubts your teammate has about who should hit it.
  • When your team scores a point, make sure to celebrate with a 'good job!' Encourage one another after every rally, whether you win the point or not. Stay positive and keep good energy flowing between you.
A pickleball duo tap paddles

Verbal communication and encouragement are key to ensuring that both you and your teammate are on the same page. This will help you win more points.

Tip: why not try out a few pickleball lessons? They're a great opportunity to put these lessons into practice.

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2. Get up to the kitchen line

A majority of points scored in pickleball rallies are earned by players whose toes are close to the kitchen line. Therefore, it’s important to move up as soon as you can and get yourself in the best position to score.

Remember, now that you’re closer to your opponent, rallies will speed up. You need to always be ready! When both of you are at the kitchen line, you will create a visual wall to your opponents. This might put them on the defense and allow you to set up offensive opportunities.

If you are in the position to return the serve, your partner is already at the kitchen line. Put pressure on your opponents by immediately moving forward as soon as you have returned the serve. The sooner you both are at the kitchen line, the more offensive you can be.

Remember, though, that the kitchen can also be dangerous. The ball comes back faster, and no one wants to take a ball in the face! Keep your paddle up, and ready for every shot.

And of course, don’t step into the kitchen, or even on the kitchen line, when you’re hitting (you will lose the point on a fault).

3. Practice your dink

Dinking is a great way to warm up at the start of a game, but it's a great shot to use during the game. A dink in pickleball is a shot used to slow the game down and begin to set up a strategy.

It’s executed from near the kitchen line, and hit with a low arc over the net into your opponent's kitchen. Hit properly, the ball will bounce in the kitchen so that your opponent won’t be able to attack it without letting it bounce first.

It’s important to keep your dinks low to the net, so that you don’t risk having it go too high, allowing your opponent to smashed it back at you.

A dink shot makes your opponent have to work for their next shot since there is very little power in them, unlike hard hit shots which often rely on reflexes.

Try dinking diagonally/cross-court instead of directly to the opponent in front of you. These are a few of the advantages:

A graphic displaying the advantages of dinking
  1. Length advantage - hitting cross-court gives you more court to work with, and a lesser margin of error
  2. Height advantage - The lowest point of the net is in the middle. Dinking cross-court will allow the ball to travel over the net at its lowest point.
    1. It will also allow you to hit the ball a little higher, as there will be more room for it to drop into the kitchen.
    2. Dinking directly across the net to the opponent in front of you requires a softer touch, but a higher arc to clear the net.
    3. You still want it to drop down into the kitchen so your opponent can’t attack it before it bounces.
    4. This can be difficult, especially for beginners. Hitting diagonally will give you another 8 inches of height to work with, and increase your odds of success.
  3. A series of well-placed shots can be used to move your opponent wide on the court, and perhaps opening a hole in the middle for a put away.

4. Mix up your shots

One of the best pickleball tips is to vary your shots. To win, you need to be unpredictable.

If you hit the same shot repeatedly, or to the same spot every time, your game will be predictable and your opponent will be able to block or return the shot easily. Mix up your shots. Use different angles, pace, and spin.

Ideas for mixing up your game in pickleball

Here are a few pickleball tips to help you out:

  • Vary the height of your shots – throw in a high lob every now and then.
  • Use both soft and hard shots.
  • Alternate using topspin and backspin.
  • Use angles your shots, but always remember the middle is the safest.
  • Vary the pace and height of your serves

The key to winning more points is to keep your opponent guessing!

Two pickleball players playing a game of singles pickleball

It's no secret that the best pickleball balls are very light. If you play outdoors, wind can be a major factor. Be sure you are using an outdoor pickleball! The holes are smaller than those of indoor balls to help with wind control.

Take note during warm-up of the wind direction and velocity. You will need to adjust your serve, shots, and positioning accordingly.

As a tip, let the wind move you into position. In other words, if you feel the wind on your chest, move back.

The ball will be coming towards you faster as it rides on the wind, and will land deeper in the court, or even beyond the baseline.

If you feel the wind on your back, move forward into the court. Your opponent will be hitting into the wind, and the balls will stall and drop shorter.

If the wind is blowing across the pickleball court, keep your shots to the middle, or to the side the wind is coming from so they have room to move sideways with the wind, but still stay inbounds.

Learn to adjust to the wind and you’ll win more points.

6. Hit to your opponent’s backhand

As you progress and start to improve your shot placement, start to target your opponent’s backhand, especially low toward their feet.

Many players favor their forehand, and will position themselves accordingly. Make them have to turn their bodies to get to the ball. This could pull out of position and allow you to put the return away.

Hitting a shot to the middle, but toward one player's backhand can cause confusion and result in neither of them hitting the ball properly.

This tip is especially useful for singles, where there’s more opportunity to hit the backhand.

7. Improve your footwork

Your footwork is essential to your pickleball game. If you're shuffling all over the place, it'll be difficult to hit a good shot. Not moving your feet, and simply reaching for balls is just as bad.

A hotly-contested pickleball doubles game

You need good footwork to navigate the court and be in the proper position for your shots. Here are a few pickleball drills you can do to improve your footwork:

  • Practice at home by hitting balls against a wall, while keeping your feet moving. This will help to learn to move with the direction of the ball instead of only reaching.
  • Try and keep your feet parallel to each other when you hit the ball, so your center of balance is solid.
  • Land on the balls of your feet, not your heels. The balls of your feet are more flexible and aligned with your center of gravity. This will help you move quickly in any direction.
  • When you're not hitting the ball, keep your feet apart with one foot slightly in front of the other. This stance will give you stability and balance when you need to move quickly.
  • Don’t stand with your feet too far apart. You won’t be able to move easily.

Proper footwork will put you in a much better position to win.

8. Master the third shot drop

The 3rd shot drop is a very important part of your arsenal.

You have 1- the serve, 2- the return and 3 - the third shot which is hit by the serving team. It’s this shot that players are encouraged to hit as a drop shot, thus the name. Third shot drop.

Third shot drops are used to help the serving team get up to the kitchen line. You’ll remember that at the start of a rally, the receiving team already has one player at the kitchen line, and the receiver will be moving up after the return of serve.

A 3rd shot drop, is simply a softer, arcing shot that is hit over the net and into the kitchen, forcing the receiving team to have to wait until it bounces to be able to hit it. This provides time for the serving team to move forward to the non-volley zone line.

Here are a few more tips to execute the third shot drop perfectly:

  • Remember this shot is taken on the third hit of the play. Serve, return, then drop!
  • Get your pickleball paddle under the ball and lift, using your knees too. This will propel the ball in a forward and upward motion, with minimal pace allowing it to fall just over the net and into your opponent's kitchen.
  • Watch your angle – hit it too deep and you’ll set your opponents up for a smash.
  • Timing is key – you need to hit the ball while it’s low. If you hit it when it’s too high, it will not provide the arc or pace you’re looking for, possibly allowing your opponent to attack it when it crosses the net. Immediately move up to the kitchen line after you have struck the ball.

The key is to keep your opponents on the defensive while you buy time to get to the net.

9. Use your partner to your advantage

You and your partner are a team. You can’t win without each other. Utilize each of your skills to set up opportunities for success.

Make sure to communicate with your partner and use them to your advantage. If they're hitting the ball well, stay back and give them some space; if they're struggling, consider poaching a net shot to help your team out.

Always move together and coordinate your attack. You don't want to leave gaps wide open for your opponent to hit the ball through.

A pickleball player prepares to serve to her opponent

10. Get your serves in

Tennis players make the fast-paced, rocket-fire serve look like the gold standard for winning a point. But in pickleball, things are a little different.

A correctly delivered pickleball serve can be your ticket to securing the upper hand as you put the ball into play. Getting your serve IN is your only objective for these two reasons:

  1. You only get one serve. Miss the serve and you don’t get a second chance.
  2. You only score points when you serve.

Practice different types of serves. Alternate between an average-paced serve, a faster-paced serve, ones with high arcs and to different targets. Variety is always good, but getting that serve in is paramount.

If you feel the need to try to hit a risky serve, perhaps with lots of spin or angle, NEVER try it if you are the team’s 2nd server. You’ll only be handing the ball over to your opponent and giving them the scoring opportunity.

Get the ball in play, and let the rest of the rally determine the outcome.

11. Keep your opponents back

Just as your goal is to get to the kitchen as quickly as possible, you should try to keep your opponents back toward their baseline for as long as possible. This will force them to hit shots that are more difficult and out of their comfort zone.

Here are a few ways to do this:

  • Hit your serves deep and as close to the baseline as possible
  • Return serves with arc and as deep as possible so your opponent has to wait longer for the bounce before they can return it. This will also give you time to get to the kitchen line and go on the offensive sooner. Continue to hit the player who is further back in the pickleball court, aiming at their feet.
  • Occasionally try a faster-paced serve, maybe with spin to catch your opponent off guard. Be sure you’ve practiced this before trying it in a pickleball match.

If you can successfully keep or force your opponents back, you'll be in a much better position to win the rally.

12. Be strategic with your shots

Pickleball is just as much a game of strategy as it is of skill. Strategy can often overcome a more advanced player. Court awareness is key to building your strategy and winning points.

As you improve, you’ll be able to do this while you are in the rally, altering your strategy as your opponents change theirs.

For instance, if you see that your opponent is positioned at the net, you may want to hit a soft drop shot instead of trying to drive through them.

Or, if you have forced them back to the baseline, you might hit a drop shot in their kitchen. If you’re playing against a banger, being good at blocking volleys and having a better soft game will give you an advantage.

Be aware of your opponent's weaknesses and use them to your advantage. If you’re able to force your opponents to one side of the court, try a well-placed shot into the open court. But don’t rush those shots, as adrenaline often takes over and you can easily overhit them, causing them to go out.

Pickleball player Brandon Mackie runs towards the ball

13. Know if you’re on offense or defense

At any given time during a rally, you could be on the offense or defense. In one rally, you could go from being on the offense to the defense and vice versa multiple times.

Be aware of which mode you are in, so you can make the most of your opportunities.

For example, if you have control of the kitchen line and your opponent is in mid-court, you’re probably in attack mode and your opponents are defending themselves and trying to block your harder shots.

Keep up the attack until you are caught with an awkward shot, and immediately be prepared to go on the defense.

Watch for weak shots from your opponent. Your improved court awareness will allow you to use that opportunity to place the ball where they will struggle to get to it, or try a surprise shot such as a lob or an unexpected drive.

14. Be prepared at all times

Pickleball isn't like chess – there's little time for thinking between moves. The game is fast-paced and you need to be prepared for anything.

That means you need to have a plan of attack, but you also need to be flexible enough to change your plans, if needed. Be aware of your opponent's strengths and weaknesses along with the current situation on the court.

Stay in a ready position with your pickleball paddle in front of your body. Bend your knees slightly and keep your weight on the balls of your feet so you can move quickly in any direction.

A pickleball player watches the ball closely as he prepares to return it

Photo by Stephen Rahn on Flickr, marked as Public Domain (CC0 1.0)

Keeping your knees bent pre-engages the leg muscles and will allow you to move more quickly. If you’re standing with straight legs, you will have to bend the knees first to engage the muscles before you can actually take a step. This takes extra time, and you will find yourself out of the play.

Most importantly, be ready for EVERY ball. If you have the mindset that every ball is yours, you will be ready for anything. Even when your partner has hit the last three shots, be ready!

The next one could come your way and you don’t want to watch it go by, or get hit with a body shot.

Physically, brace yourself for a fast-paced game by keeping your energy up and your movements light. Work on your footwork so that you stay in balance and are ready to hit a winning shot!

15. Don't overthink it!

Pickleball requires you to make snap decisions. It’s easy to overthink things and make a more difficult shot than necessary. Try to keep a calm head. (Easier said than done, right?)

When you start to overthink, you'll likely end up making the wrong decisions and poor shots. Relax and take a deep breath; then trust your instincts and abilities.

Two pickleball players scramble to get to the ball

Try to keep to the plan, whether it be your team's strategy or the shot you are about to take. Trust your decisions. When you have doubt at the last minute before hitting the ball, or you change your mind on what shot you will hit mid swing, you’re destined for failure.

Stay calm, relaxed, and confident, and you’ll hit better shots. Lastly, commit to the shot you’re executing. Just be ready for the return shot.

Pickleball tips for serving

Looking for pickleball tips specific to honing your serving skills? Here are a couple to get you started:

Avoid the hard serve. No matter how tempting it is to serve the ball hard and fast, prioritize accuracy over power. Aim your serves deep, and to the middle of the service box where there is more room for error.

Try some spin. Spin will make the serve a little more difficult for your opponent to return. But be sure to practice this first!

Pickleball tips for beginners

Three must-know pickleball tips for beginners

It helps to have some guidance when starting out in a new sport. Here are a few basic pickleball tips to help beginners get their pickle on:

  1. Take advice and feedback when it is given, but don’t get discouraged. Pickleball is a sport that takes practice to perfect, so don’t be hard on yourself if things don’t go perfectly at first. Watch pickleball videos and tutorials of some of the best players and pickleball coaches online, you’d be surprised at the value you can get by watching the pros.
  2. Keep the ball in play. 75 percent of rallies are lost to silly mistakes, so prioritize good placement over fancy tricks and power shots.
  3. Use a continental grip on your paddle. This is one of the most popular pickleball grips will give you more control over the ball and make it easier to hit those soft, angled shots that can be so frustrating for your opponent (see below). This grip can also be used for your forehand and backhand without having to adjust between the two.
A Prince pickleball paddle

Pickleball tips for intermediate players

Three pickleball tips for intermediate players
  1. Master the dink shot. This is one of the most effective shots in pickleball, as it allows you to move your opponent and set up opportunities to score. To execute a dink shot, hit the ball softly, using your knees to help lift it over the net and into your opponent’s kitchen.
  2. Own the non-volley zone line. Train yourself to play within inches of the kitchen line. If you have to step backwards for a shot, get back to the line as soon as you’ve hit the shot. This is where you will score the most points.
  3. When the ball is low, hit it slow. When the ball is high, hit it hard. Low balls need to hit softly, like a dink. Hard shots from a low position are destined to go into the net or high and out or attacked by your opponent. High balls are prime for a put away with an overhead slam. Take advantage of these opportunities!

How to get better at pickleball

If you've been practicing and practicing but just can't seem to win more points, it may be time to change your approach. Reading this article is a great place to start – nice job!

In the meantime, why not find a court nearby and start practicing with better players? It's a surefire way to learn new techniques and strategies, and you may just surprise yourself with how well you can play.

Just don’t try to jump into a game with players several levels above you.

Our Pickleheads Court Finder is a quick and convenient way to find courts near you. What are you waiting for? Get out there and learn to play better pickleball!

An empty pickleball court in the sun

Where to find pickleball lessons

You might not be confident enough to play in a tournament yet, and that's okay. This is where lessons come in. You can take group or private lessons from a pickleball pro, or even a knowledgeable and experienced player. This is the best way to learn and to start winning more points.

Three pickleball players practice on a court

If you can’t find an instructor, don't worry – there are plenty of online resources that can help you improve your game.

Bottom line

So, there you have it – 15 top pickleball tips for scoring more wins in pickleball (plus extras for beginners and intermediates.) If you can master these techniques, you'll be well on your way to becoming one of pickleball's greats!

Looking for support and community as you start out on your pickleball journey? Stick around and read more from our blog, or join a local club to meet new people and test your skills. Happy dinking!


About the author
Betsy Kenniston
I’m Betsy, the founder of Crazy Pickleball Lady, a blog I created to share my love of pickleball with the world! I discovered pickleball when I finished working in 2012, and the sport has defined and thoroughly enriched my retirement. I spend the warmer months in Toledo, Ohio and the winters in SW Florida, and I’m a member of four pickleball clubs in total, serving on the board of directors for one. In my time off the court, I write my blog as a way to reach others who want to learn to play pickleball, and to give tips to players looking to improve their game.
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