Unlock Your Best Pickleball Serve | Plus 3 more MUST HAVE Shots to Play 3.5
Are you ready to play your best pickleball but not sure what shots you need to know? Here are three shots you need to play really solid 3.5 pickleball. And one you think you might need that, you don’t.
The first shot you want to unlock to become a solid 3.5 player is your best pickleball serve. This is not about knowing how to serve. It’s about knowing how to hit an effective serve.
An effective pickleball serve has two components. Number one, it’s consistent, meaning you can get it in more often than not. And secondly, it’s a deep serve.
What you don’t want is to miss or hit short serves consistently. Regularly hitting short serves will inhibit your ability to grow and win games. The beautiful thing about this is you can accomplish both of those objectives at the same time.
If you hit your pickleball serves higher over the net than you’re used to, you will be more consistent because you won’t hit the net. The bonus is that your serves will automatically hit deep serves.
My friend and senior pro mixed doubles partner, Sarah Mitten, refers to it as the length of the serve. So, think of your best pickleball serves as longer. Not out, but longer.
Let me show you a couple of different options.
A nice deep, consistent serve looks like the green line. That serve is high over the net and is also deep. You don’t need the serve to land on the line. Somewhere 3-4 feet from the baseline is perfectly fine. A nice deep, consistent serve is effective and is YOUR best pickleball serve.
The next shot you need to master to improve is the return of serve.
The reason we separate these two shots and discuss them separately is that players don’t see them as the same shot. But at the end of the day, the mechanics of the serve and return of serve are virtually identical.
You want to target and clear the net in the same manner as your pickleball serve. An effective return of serve is consistent and deep, the same as the serve. The only difference between the two shots is that in the traditional serve, there is no bounce. The apex over the net and thinking about the length of the shot is identical. That will give you the depth needed on your return.
Forget about the low to the net return. The “sexy” hard-hit low return may look good, but it isn’t easy to return deep consistently. Plus, it doesn’t usually give most players enough time to get to the net. Not to mention a weak return is a problematic strategy. Need more on that? Here’s a video that will help. (If you are a System Member there are multiple detailed footwork videos in the Mechanical Pillar of your course hub)
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An effective block volley is the third shot you need to move up a level.
The block volley is used to diffuse energy. If you’re under attack, say from a hard volley, or more likely, a hard banger, someone who drives balls at you really hard. You need to learn how to block the ball. What you’re doing is you’re changing the tempo of the game. You’re taking control of the game.
What you’re telling the bangers out there is, listen, you can bang all you want; I’m bringing you into my world. I’m bringing you to a soft world. Think of it like a boa constrictor. You are just going to lull them into the soft game slowly. Slowly wrap around them and win the rally that way.
If you learn to hit an effective block volley, you will frustrate your opponents because they won’t know what to do if you have that shot. In addition, it would help if you also learned how to let out balls go, but that’s for another video. The most important thing to learn is to diffuse the energy they are sending toward you. The key to the effective block volley is to keep a nice, calm body, not a lot of movement of shoulders or body as you’re executing the block.
If you need more help with the Block Volley, here’s a link to some resources to help you develop a shot to frustrate your opponents. (If you are a System Member there is a more complete block volley video in the Mechanical Pillar of your course hub)
The one shot you don’t need?
Pickleball players LOVE to talk about the third shot drop, but it isn’t a necessary shot to move up to the 3.5 level.
Now, I’m going to caveat this because I know folks will come into the comments, and they’re going to say, what are you talking about? You need a third shot drop to play 3.5 Pickleball.
No. You do not.
I’ll explain in a second. But before I do, the caveat is this. I’m not saying that the third-shot drop isn’t a great shot to learn. What I’m saying are two things. One, regarding priority, it’s behind the shots we’ve discussed already. And number two, the reason you don’t need it to play good 3.5 pickleball is that, no offense intended, your opponents usually aren’t doing what they need to do on the return side.
Remember, you’re hitting third-shot drops when you’re on the serve side. When your opponents on the return side are about the same level, those players are not particularly good on the return side.
That means players don’t need to have a particularly good third-shot drop in order to accomplish their objectives on the serve side. For now, the serve side objective is just to keep the ball in play, and most likely, you will win some points. You do not need a good third-shot drop in order to accomplish that.
If you want to improve your game and play at a 3.5 level or beyond, focus on the first three shots mentioned, your best pickleball serve, a consistent deep return, and the block volley. Leave the third shot drop up on the shelf. It’ll be there for you as you keep on working on your game.
Let’s keep working at it.
And if you’re ready for more, join us in THE Pickleball System
Hola. Hello. Konichiwa. After 40 years playing tennis, I am now a full-time pickleball player and professional. As a 5.0 rated Senior Pro Pickleball Player and an IPTPA-certified Master Teaching Professional, my focus is on helping players like you learn to play their best pickleball. In 2016, shortly after starting to play pickleball, my friend Tom and I jumped into the highest division at the first US Open in Naples, Florida. That morning it became clear just how much there is to learn in this seemingly simple sport – a lifetime of learning if you so choose. Since 2018, I have been on a mission to share my knowledge of pickleball so other players can enjoy the game at a higher level and attain their pickleball objectives. When not studying or playing pickleball, I like to travel with my other half, Jill.
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