Pickleball techniques, strategies, and tricks all rely on one very important qualification: pickleball control. The ability to direct the ball into the opposite court and land it where you want it to land is the magic of the game.
I’m going to layout three techniques and three game strategies to go with them so you can play like a pro. Using these tips will teach you to drop the ball in the kitchen to pickle your opponent for the flashy finish.
I can’t promise you’ll completely up your game from this article alone. To get better, you must practice. I’ve covered 8 Pickleball Drills To Increase Your Game Now to complement the strategies I’m going to give you below. I’ve written all about pickleball balls and pickleball bags if you’re searching for help about equipment to play the game.
Pickleball Techniques for Ace Players
Technique One: Choosing Your Grip
Gripping the Pickleball Paddle – Type of Paddle Grips
You can’t hit the ball if you have a flimsy hold on the pickleball paddle or aren’t holding it in a way that allows you to react quickly.
The game of pickleball moves very fast. That is one reason you want to consider good shoes for Pickleball. Because of that, most players use what is called the ‘continental grip.’ This is an old tennis term from the 19 30s if you care about that sort of thing.
Pickleball and tennis share many common terms and techniques because of the similarity of the two games. Continental grip is a beginner technique. For most players, it’s the first type of grip you learned. It’s great for a quick volleys and drop shot.
How to do it: Hold the pickleball paddle handle grip like a hammer, where the thin side of the paddle would be the head. If you’re holding the paddle so that the flat side is your hammerhead, rotate your wrist so that it faces the floor.
If that doesn’t quite explain it, think of the handle grip of the pickleball paddle as the hand at the end of the arm. Grip the paddle handle as if you were going to shake that hand. Either way should get you to the correct continental grip. In some places, these are two different grips (Eastern Grip, I’m looking at you). Other sources describe them a little differently, but I’ve simplified it here.
If you grab a pickleball paddle and hold it naturally in your hand, you are going to revert to one of these two grips. As an alternative to the standard continental grip, there is also the western grip. The grip is great for topspin.
How to do it: This one is fun and easy to explain. Grab the pickleball paddle like it’s a flyswatter, and you’re about to go on a bug murder spree. That’s the western grip in a nutshell.
Technique Two: Master Your Stance
You’re holding your pickleball paddle in your chosen grip, but you can’t do anything with it until you are in a ‘ready stance’ or ready position. Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, bend your knees, and rest your weight on the balls of your feet.
Here is where technique comes in: one stance does not fit all situations on the court. You can’t pickleball serve from the kitchen or dink from the baseline. Those are two different swings, not to mention stances, but I’m going to cover that next.
Ready Stance – Baseline
When you’re covering the rear of the pickleball court, your stance is a driving factor for your speed. You must adapt to every volley, which means moving fast. If you are positioned at the baseline of the court, here are a few techniques for your stance to improve your ability to meet with and hit the ball.
You’re still going to hold your body is ready stance – feet shoulder-width apart, bend your knees and rest your weight on the balls of your feet – but the trick here is how you hold your pickleball paddle.
At the baseline, you want to hold your paddle in a neutral position. This means both your hands are on the grip of the paddle, allowing you quick access to swing at whatever type of volley that comes your way. Since you’re on the balls of your feet, you can push off quickly in the direction of the ball. You can see why the way you stand is important now, right?
Ready Stance – Kitchen (No Volley Zone)
Being ready when you’re standing closer to the net involves a similar technique as the rear of the court, with some slight modifications. Since you can’t volley the ball if it is in the kitchen when you stand at the non-volley line, you have to be prepared to allow the ball to bounce inside the kitchen, or, if you’re lucky, be volleyed to you on the proper side of the line. This affects your stance as well as grip and paddle position. You can approach proper stance in this area in a few ways, but I think these two stances are the most versatile.
Neutral Stance and Paddle Position allows a wide variety of actions from the non-volley line and into the kitchen. This position is essentially the same as the stance at the baseline with one major difference. In this stance, only your dominant hand holds the racket, expecting for all the various types of one-arm swings.
Neutral Stance with Backhand Paddle Position is more limited, but also useful. If your opponent is lobbing balls right at you, this stance is great because you can return the volleys without much effort. In this stance, your body is the same stance I’ve described above.
Your pickleball paddle is the difference here. Holding the paddle in front of your core, you can return volleys directed right at you, as well as when the ball enters your backhand zone. Very useful.
Technique Three: King of the Swing
Alright, you know how to stand, you know how to hold your pickleball paddle at the baseline and the non-volley line. If you plan to return volleys, you can’t stand there in the ready position and wait for them to hit you. Here is where it all comes together: consistent swing.
The best way to get good, of course, is to drill. Here are two techniques for consistent backhand and underhand swings you can practice when you get to the court.
Mastering underhand swing means consistently applying the same motion while being able to connect with the ball in whatever way you need to direct it where you want to go. That, of course, is oversimplified; if it were that easy to carry out, no one would need me to write about it and tell them what’s important in pickleball. So, thanks for being here and wanting to be a better pickler, friend. Back to swing.
There’s some debate about the best underhand swing. Personally, I prefer what is called the pendulum swing. A pendulum is the long swinging thing, most commonly seen in old clocks. If you think about that movement, you are copying that with your arm, imitating the pendulum in the clock, using the smooth swinging motion to connect with the ball.
I think this works in most cases. Tennis players often revert to the lateral swing, as do many professional pickleball players. A lateral swing is different from the pendulum swing in that, instead of swinging completely underhand, you hold the pickleball paddle more to the side so that your paddle and the court would make a 90-degree angle.
In pickleball, being able to swing underhand consistently will improve your serve and give you much better ball control, in my opinion. Also, I’ve never played tennis and can’t run fast enough to position myself for the best lateral swings. You will have to decide, depending on what kind of player you are.
Stable backhand swing comes into play when you’re ready to add some underspin or slice to your return volley. For a right-handed person, this means you have (most likely) a continental grip on your pickleball paddle, and are holding your right arm in an “L” shape across your body, so that the paddle is near your left hip, swinging away from you. This is more advanced play if you are new to racket sports.
If you have any kind of background playing tennis or racquetball, you likely have a backhand swing in your repertoire already. The strategy of a dependable backhand relies on when your paddle contacts the ball. It should hit in the middle of your paddle in the low part of the swing, rapping the ball in the center of your paddle so that the force of your swing carries the ball.
You should step into the swing, contact the ball, extend the swing. If you consistently repeat this motion, your body should finish in something like an “X” or starfish pose. This will give you great form, stable backswing, and open you up to be able to use the strategies in the game I have for you just ahead.
Pickleball Game Strategies for Pickled Opponents
Now that you’ve upped your game and have some ball control, it helps to have some game strategies in your back pocket to improve your chances of winning on the court. Reading is important, but I’m going to stress the importance of practice, so hit the drill page.
If you want to pick the best pickleball paddle, or pick the best for spin, or the lightest, or compare the top pickleball balls on the market, or the best bags to put your gear in, I’ve got you covered. Don’t leave before you digest these strategies for winning, though.
Strategy One: Avoid the Middle
This strategy is straight out mean, friends, but you must decide if you want to win games or make friends. Essentially, Mark Renneson gives us a winning idea for approaching weak or slow players in either a doubles or singles game.
In a doubles match, he suggests targeting the weaker opponent on the court, driving balls to them as often as possible. This makes sense because if you’re slow, it’s simply more likely that you’ll miss. Score.
In a singles match, avoiding the middle means using ball control to drop volleys in the part of the court where your opponent isn’t. When I write it all out like that, it doesn’t sound as mean. It sounds like the perfect way to finally win against my teenager. I should keep losing, though.
Hard to say. If she keeps winning, which she does every single time, I think it makes her more excited to play. If she starts losing, she might not want to go.
Back to pickleball, not my lived version of Cat In The Cradle. If I’m being real, no amount of strategy is going to make me faster, or my knees creak less, so my kid’s winning streak is probably safe. This tip is effective against weak/slow rivals, but it works well with strong players, too, with a slight modification (and using some help from strategy number two).
If you lob balls down the centerline, you make it easy for the person opposite you to return every volley… and use some of their own techniques and strategies on you. That’s no good. If you avoid the middle, you make your challenger work harder to get the ball back to you.
That’s playing smarter, not harder. You want them to have to fight you for the win, not get it handed to them with nice little lobs. Use some of your new ball control techniques to land it as far as possible from where it can be returned easily.
Strategy Two: Have a Strong Dink
I have been waiting for most of this article to write that heading. Worth it. Now, double entendres aside, the word dink, in this case, refers to a specific type of shot in pickleball. A dink or dink shot is a gentle hit that drops the ball into the opposing team’s non-volley zone. This hit is effective because it limits the way your challenger can connect with the ball.
When a good dink shot lands where it’s supposed to, it’s forced to bounce before it can be returned. With a gentle shot, the ball won’t bounce very high, and your challenger will have to connect with the ball low, driving the ball into the air for an easy slam return for you.
Having a strong dink shot is important when you are playing a defensive game. Ball control people – don’t dink the ball directly into someone’s backhand swing, or you’re going to have a bad time. To use the dink shot effectively, you must know when to go on offense, and use it to attack, or when to go on defense and dink for your life.
Strategy Three: Assess Your Foes
If you want to win games, you should understand who you’re playing against. This isn’t just a pickleball strategy, folks; this is all around life hacks brought to you by Swing it Big. If you have the chance, be a spectator at games, the person or people you will be playing against are playing. Using these game strategies depends a lot on being able to assess your opponent.
If you can’t watch them before your game, you need to figure it out fast during the match. That’s harder but possible. Watch where they stand on the court – do they stay in the middle, favor one side, come too close to the net?
Even if you’re as slow as I am, if you can figure out how to put the ball in the empty part of the court, you will have to time to get in better position yourself. This isn’t an easy thing to learn, despite the short paragraph. It takes practice, for sure, but it’s fun practice, at least. Watch, learn, use knowledge to shred your opponent. Easy peasy.
Final Thoughts: Put It All Together
Some people skip right to the end for that summary of everything that came before this all in one nice tidbit. Even if you read the whole article, I’m going to sum up everything we talked about in this section as a reminder. Repetition is important for memory, so good on you for cementing this information into your brain.
- Pick a paddleball paddle grip type or learn them both to make your paddle handling more dynamic. Continental grip is like holding the paddle like a hammer. Western grip is where you hold your paddle like a flyswatter.
- Your stance on the court directly affects your speed. Being in ready stance means standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, knees bent at the hips, and weight resting on the balls of your feet. You can push off in the direction you need quickly from here. When you are at the baseline of the court, your ready stance is neutral, and both hands are on your paddle. At the non-volley line, try following a one-handed version of the baseline neutral stance or change it up with a backhand paddle position.
- Consistent swing gives you the edge in landing the ball where you want it to go. Two vital types of swing to a good pickleball player’s toolbox are underhanded and backhand swings. If you swing underhanded, try the pendulum or lateral swing. To improve your backhand, hit in the middle of your paddle in the low part of the swing, rapping the ball in the center of your paddle so that the force of your swing carries the ball.
- Avoid volleying to the middle of the court, where reaching the ball is easy for your opponent, giving them a chance to hit you with their techniques and strategies. You want to avoid this scenario and make hitting the ball back to you as hard as possible. Make them run! Knock that ball as far away from them as you can. Make your challenger work for it, wear them out, head to victory.
- The dink shot is a specific type of shot in pickleball, where you hit the ball softly so that it drops into the opposing team’s non-volley zone. If you can land a dink shot on the regular, you limit your opponent’s options for a return volley. You can use a good dink shot offensively or defensively, depending on the situation.
- Watching your opponent play versus other players is the best option, but if you can’t do that, you can still watch them on the court during your match to see where they are weakest. Watch where they favor standing on the court and the way they prefer to return shots. Use this information for domination.
Pickleball is the kind of game that gets better as you play it. You may start out favoring one or another strategy or technique. Still, the synergy comes when you mix them together and use different combinations depending on the skill level of your competitors.
Improving your own skills at pickleball comes from playing the game, challenging people who can teach you things. You don’t have to be a professional player to enjoy the satisfaction of slapping the ball around the court.
If you are a recreational player like I am, don’t take yourself too seriously. When you swing your paddle and totally miss the ball, laugh. When you try to dink and drop the ball right where you don’t want to, try again. It’s fun to improve. I’m proud of getting better at the game, but there’d be a lot less laughing on the court if I got too good.