Navigating Pickleball Doubles and Reducing Errors
Doubles or singles – which one do you play? If it is singles, stop reading. If your focus as a pickleball player is on doubles pickleball, forge on – this is for you.
We are going to teach you to combine optimized partner play with less errors to equal your best performance. (At the end of the post you’ll find a special Black Friday Pickleball Deal to help you improve your partner play AND reduce those errors)
Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: pickleball is a team sport. Sure, each player needs to play well (more on that in a minute), but there is more to it. The two players need to play as a cohesive unit.
Think of it like this, 4 players head out to play. Each one a copy of the other – in other words, same levels and abilities. The 2 players on Team A play in a coordinated manner. Their movement, shot taking and communication are governed by sound pickleball doubles team strategy.
The players on Team B play as two separate individuals. There is no coordination between them.
Which team are you putting your money on? I know who I would.
Team A for sure. The reason should be apparent: a cohesive team working in unison to achieve a goal is superior to two same level individuals acting wholly independent of each other.
Playing optimal pickleball doubles
To play doubles pickleball optimally, you will want to transition from playing as two individuals who happen to be on the same side (end) of the court to playing like a cohesive team.
To do this:
- You and your partner should have an understanding of the court you are seeking to cover and, in particular, the angles and positions that will most benefit your team.
- You and your partner should be on the same page as much as possible. Who takes a certain shot. How you are going to move. There is so much that requires partner coordination. The better synced you go into the game, the better your pickleball experience. The good news is that there are overriding principles that you can both apply to play your best. No more guessing out there.
- You and your partner need to think and communicate as a unit. Each of you needs to be aware of not just what you are doing, but also what your partner is doing. You also need to communicate with each other. Let the other know what you are doing.
There is one shot that clearly illustrates the need for coordination: the middle third shot drive.
Let’s lay it out. You are at the baseline getting ready to return serve. Your return of serve is a bit shorter than you wanted and you know your opponent is going to whack their next shot towards you. As you are moving up to the Non-Volley Zone, you will now have to deal with an attack shot, probably at your knee or lower. That is a tough spot to be in.
But wait a minute. Your partner knows what to do here (after all, you both came to our Black Friday Pickleball series). So your partner works with you to prevent the attack on you. By sliding over, your partner can intercept the middle attack ball, allowing you the time and space you need to get up to the Non-Volley Zone.
The reality, however, is that most middle attacks are not intercepted. Instead, the ball continues past the non-returner (often right next to them) towards the returner – the player who is under stress as they do their best to move forward. This result happens because the players do not have a clear plan to deal with middle third shot attacks by their opponents. Instead, players play the game as two separate entities.
This is but one example of how our games break down when we do not play as a team. I assure you that this one partner strategy error costs most teams 1-2 points per game (often more). Stating the obvious: that is a lot of free points that could be easily corrected by the players both using the approach that the non-returner will hit the fourth shot whenever possible.
No questions – no confusion. Strategic clarity leading to less errors and more productive play.
The easiest way to prevent uncontested middle third shot attacks from succeeding is for the non-returner (the player on the return side who is already up at the NVZ) to hit any fourth shots (third shots coming towards their team) that the non-returner can reasonably hit.
(a) ensures that no third shot attacks can just travel through the middle of the court unimpeded. (this is a common problem)
(b) protects the returner who is moving through the transition zone up to the NVZ
(c) eliminates confusion as to who is going to hit the fourth shot.
We will be going into more depth on this common weakness in partner play – as well as covering numerous other principles for partner play – during our Unbeatable Partner Strategies class on Wednesday November 29th.
For those of you looking for a Black Friday pickleball deal, this one is hard to beat. You get the Unbeatable Partner Strategies class PLUS the Reducing Unforced Errors class. That’s right Two Classes for the Price of one. Doesn’t get much better than that. Click here to grab your Black Friday Bundle.
Here are some of the topics we will be covering:
- Breaking down court angles – helps you cover the angles and exploit weaknesses in your opponent’s angle coverage
- Islands of despair – this formational breakdown costs many a point
- Who covers the middle ball – beyond the fourth shot
- How to apply these principles in rec play games
Playing Error “Free” Pickleball
Speaking of unforced errors, let’s turn the lens inward. Even if you are using the best partner play strategies, you still need to perform as an individual. And the key to your individual play is error reduction.
So how do we do that?
There are several specific principles you can apply to reduce errors in your pickleball game. The key is to focus on actionable items – things you can actually do to improve your results.
To provide context, unforced errors, standing alone, are not helpful. Knowing that you had 8 unforced errors in a game does not provide any information that you can work with. It is just a number.
By contrast, knowing that you missed 3 block volleys wide right is something you can work with. That information allows you to explore the trajectory of your shots and figure out what to correct in future volleys.
Here is one actionable item you can start with right now: give yourself more latitude with your third shot drops.
Most amateur players try to hit the perfect third shot drop every time. This leads to lots of third shot drops “dropping” into the net.
Pivot from trying to hit the perfect third shot drop to hitting a third shot drop that – no matter what else it does – clears the net. As long as you are not giving your opponents easy high balls at their shoulder, they will not be able to hurt you even if your third shot is higher and deeper than you may want it to be (Extra tip: the reason these are hurting you now is because you are in the wrong place – not because of the shot you hit).
We will be exploring this more in detail during our Reducing Unforced Errors class on December 6th, 2023. For now, just notice how many times your third shot lands in the net. Imagine a world in which you could avoid the net with your third shot. It’s nice right?
We will also be covering several other tips and techniques to reduce errors and keep our focus in those close games, including:
- Avoiding the silent “killer” on the court – you will be shocked at how many points you are losing to it
- This one strategy will prevent most problems you are facing – wouldn’t it be nice to sidestep the difficulties we face during a rally by heading them off at the pass?
- Asking the right questions when you are in a close game – no more losing a close game because we lost focus.
I hope you can join us for the Black Friday Pickleball Bundle we put together for you. It’s the best of the holiday pickleball gifts you can give to yourself.
Increase your partner play IQ and reduce your errors. Who can beat you then?
Let’s make 2024 your best pickleball year yet.
See you in class.
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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