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Improving Your On-Court Skills: How to Get Better at Pickleball

Male pickleball player wearing a gray tank top hitting a forehand volley while positioned behind the kitchen line.

Improving your pickleball skills don't have to be a chore. Discover tips and drills to help you get better at pickleball.

At one point or another, every pickleball player has asked, “how can I get better at pickleball?”

It’s a completely normal question. Pickleball is fun, and improving your skills only adds to the fun! It’s all part of the pickleball journey.

The problem is, when people think about improving their pickleball skills, they often associate that with long practice sessions or costly private lessons. The truth is, getting better at pickleball can be fun AND affordable.

In this post, I’ll break down some effective ways to improve your pickleball skills. Once you’ve finished reading, you’ll be equipped with ideas that will help you gain a competitive edge!

Let’s dive in.

Play plenty of recreational games of pickleball

As you continue to learn the basics of pickleball and improve your skills, one of the best ways to practice and hone your technique is by playing plenty of recreational games. Recreational games provide a low-pressure environment where you can try out new strategies, work on your footwork, and practice different pickleball shots.

Recreational games are great for tennis players learning how to play the sport. Friendly games expose you to a wide range of shots and situations to help you acclimate to the different pace and angles of pickleball.

During recreational games, focus on implementing the pickleball techniques you’ve been learning, such as proper grip, body positioning, and shot selection. Pay attention to your opponents’ movements and adjust your game accordingly. Take the opportunity to experiment with different serves and returns to see what works best for you.

Playing recreational games also allows you to work on your communication and teamwork with your partner. Develop a strategy, communicate effectively, and support each other on the court. Playing with different partners can also help you adapt to different playing styles and improve your overall game.

Remember to have fun and enjoy the game during recreational pickleball matches. Take the opportunity to relax, socialize, and appreciate the camaraderie of the pickleball community. As you play more recreational games, you’ll build confidence, improve your skills, and become a more well-rounded pickleball player.

Play against pickleball players who are better than you

Playing against pickleball players who are better than you can be a challenging yet rewarding experience. While it may be intimidating at first, facing off against more experienced players is a great way to improve your skills and take your game to the next level.

Here are some tips to help you compete against advanced players:

  1. Stay focused: When playing against more experienced players, it’s important to stay focused and maintain a positive mindset. Don’t get discouraged if you make mistakes or if your opponents are playing at a higher level. Instead, stay focused on your own game and look for opportunities to learn and improve.
  2. Watch and learn: One of the best ways to improve your skills is by watching how better players approach the game. Pay attention to their strategies, shot selection, and movement on the court. Observe how they anticipate shots and position themselves to cover the court effectively. By watching and learning from better players, you can pick up valuable tips and techniques to incorporate into your own game.
  3. Adapt and adjust: Playing against better players can help you identify areas where you need to improve. Pay attention to how your opponents exploit your weaknesses and look for ways to adapt and adjust your game accordingly. Focus on improving your footwork, shot selection, and court positioning to become a more well-rounded player.
  4. Stay aggressive: While it’s important to respect your opponents’ skills, don’t be afraid to stay aggressive and take risks on the court. Look for opportunities to attack and put pressure on your opponents, even if they are more experienced than you. By staying aggressive and playing with confidence, you can disrupt your opponents’ rhythm and create scoring opportunities for yourself.
  5. Practice, practice, practice: The key to improving your game and competing against better players is to practice consistently. Work on your shot technique, footwork, and strategy to become a more well-rounded player. Consider taking lessons from a pickleball coach or practicing with players of varying skill levels to challenge yourself and get expert pickleball tips.
Female pickleball player wearing a dark, long-sleeve top hitting a two-handed backhand drive or counter while positioned near the net during a game of doubles.

Focus on the most important shots

When it comes to improving your pickleball game, focusing on the most important shots is key. While flashy, difficult shots and complex strategies may be exciting to watch, mastering the basics is essential for success on the court. In many cases, high-percentage shots are the best path to success.

Some crucial pickleball shots to master include:

With each of these important shots, always remember your form and technique. Start with a strong ready position, and don’t neglect unit rotation, footwork, and utilizing your whole arm. Practice with good form and fluid movement to develop muscle memory and reduce unforced errors.

Don’t overlook the impact of drilling and practice

Drilling and practice are essential components of improving your pickleball game. While it may seem tedious or time-consuming, dedicating time to drilling can have a significant impact on your skills and overall performance on the court.

Professional players spend a significant amount of time drilling, with the majority of their court time dedicated to practice rather than playing games. This is because drilling allows for more repetitions and focused practice on specific skills, leading to faster improvement.

When drilling, it is important to be intentional about your shots and target areas of your game that need improvement. Whether it be volleys, footwork, or shot selection, focusing on high-percentage shots and specific areas will help you see progress more quickly.

Additionally, using downtime as an opportunity to practice can be highly beneficial. By incorporating short, frequent practice sessions into your daily routine, you can build a habit of drilling that will ultimately lead to meaningful mechanical improvement.

Drills to improve your pickleball game

There’s virtually no limit to the number and types of drills that can help you improve your pickleball skills. If there’s a shot or technique that you want to improve, there’s likely a targeted drill for it. There are even several drills to help you practice pickleball on your own.

Here are some good pickleball drills to get you started:

  • Dinking drills: Dinks are an integral part of pickleball. With a partner, practice dinking straight ahead and cross-court. Focus on keeping your dink shot placement low and in the Kitchen. Practice good footwork to avoid awkward shots.
  • Third shot drop drill: The third shot drop is another finesse shot that can greatly benefit your game. Hit a serve and have your practice partner return serve. Then, with the third shot, hit a controlled drop into the opposing Non-Volley Zone with some margin of error.
  • Forehand and backhand rolls: Stand at the net while your practice partner positions themself at the baseline. Have them hit drives and drops to you at the net where you return the ball with forehand and backhand roll shots toward the baseline.
  • Wall drills: Hitting walls are great practice partners. You can work on slow shots like dinks, footwork drills, drives and resets, improving your reaction time, and more.
  • Footwork drills: Even without swinging a paddle, you can practice key pickleball skills. Work on your lateral movement (especially at the Kitchen), as well as forward and backward movement to the NVZ line and baseline.

Acquire the right pickleball equipment

When it comes to enhancing your pickleball game, having the right equipment is essential. From footwear to clothing to pickleball paddles, selecting the right gear can make a significant difference in your performance on the court.

Here is the essential pickleball gear that you need:

  • Pickleball paddle: A high-quality pickleball paddle can have a significant impact in getting better at the sport. Invest in a paddle that fits your playing style and feels comfortable in your hand. This does not mean, however, that you have to splurge on a paddle that is $300 or more. There are several affordable paddle options on the market.
  • Pickleballs: The type and quality of pickleball you play with can affect on-court performance. Keep in mind that there are indoor pickleballs and outdoor pickleballs, designed for performance in different environments.
  • Pickleball shoes: Pickleball shoes are specifically designed for stability and on-court movement, such as lateral movement. Not only can proper footwork help you get better at pickleball, it can help you avoid common injuries.
  • Athletic clothing: Wearing sporting apparel, such as moisture-wicking clothing, can help you stay cool and focused on the pickleball court. Instead of worrying about changing out your shirt or socks, you can focus on your shots and techniques.
  • Accessories: Various pickleball accessories can enhance your enjoyment and performance on the court. Having a water bottle on-hand is always important. Other items like a hat, eye protection, wrist bands, and knee wraps can also help (depending on your needs).

Improving your skills is achievable and enjoyable

In conclusion, getting better at pickleball requires a combination of skill development, proper equipment, and a commitment to practice. By focusing on improving your technique through drills and exercises, honing your footwork, and investing in the right gear, you can enhance your performance on the court.

Remember, the journey to becoming a better pickleball player is both achievable and enjoyable. So grab your paddle, lace up your shoes, and get ready to take your game to the next level!

Key takeaways

  • Engage in low-pressure pickleball games to practice techniques, footwork, and strategies.
  • Focus on grip, body positioning, and shot selection during recreational play.
  • Try different serves and returns to discover what works best for you.
  • Communicate and strategize with your partner to improve coordination.
  • Play with various partners to become versatile and adaptable.
  • Have fun, socialize, and appreciate the pickleball community while playing.
  • Play against better players to learn and improve your skills.
  • Watch experienced players to pick up strategies, shot selection, and court positioning.
  • Master essential shots like serves, returns, drives, third shot drops, dinks, and volleys.
  • Dedicate time to drilling and targeted practice to improve specific skills.
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