My Top Pickleball Strategy-How to Play Better FAST
How do you know what improvement path is going to get you the fastest results?
Having played pickleball for about 5 years now, I have had the pleasure of meeting and playing with a variety of players from varied backgrounds each possessing different skill sets. We are all able to get on the court and play pickleball, but with different approaches to the game.
A case in point is my friend Cliff. He is a little taller than I am, athletic, and has fast hands. Unlike me, however, Cliff does not come from a tennis background.
How do our differences affect Cliff and my essential strategy approaches to the game?
My approach includes driving the ball (hard groundstrokes) pretty regularly when I play competitively. My driving the ball comes completely from my background as a tennis player. It is something that I knew how to do well before I had ever even heard of pickleball.
Cliff, on the other hand, does not drive the ball often. Rather, Cliff leans on his strengths – a long reach and quick hands – to construct his strategy. He is at his best when he hits a third shot drop and moves up the NVZ line. From there he can then take control of the game.
Cliff and I had a chance to play a tournament a couple of years ago. Our different styles were clear to see. If there was a short ball in the middle, I would call for it and run up to drive it. Cliff, on the other hand, would generally hit a third shot drop and then assert himself up at the NVZ line.
Every once in a while, Cliff would drive a ball. He would then look at me with a smile, knowing full well I was going to roll my eyes (in a friendly manner as between brothers). Driving the ball is just not his game. This is not to say that Cliff cannot learn to drive the ball. Just that the path that makes sense for him does not include drives as a regular shot.
How does this pickleball strategy apply more generally?
A pickleball path is the intersection of two things:
- Pickleball fundamentals – understanding the framework of a pickleball game, and
- You – more specifically, the skills and characteristics you bring to the table. Are you 25? Or 55? Are you crazy fast? Or do you need a few extra seconds to get to the Non-Volley Zone line? Have you played tennis or racquetball before? Or is this your first racket/paddle sport?
The latter – you – is something that you already know. You know what comes easily to you. Maybe volleys are easier for you than groundstrokes. Or you really like your backhand.
The former – understanding the framework of the game – is something that you can learn. You can learn it, as I did, with time and study. Watching tons of videos on YouTube, reading what you can get your hands on, and hours and hours of time on court (but only if these hours include reflection about what happened and why).
If you choose self-study, you have to know what resources will help you understand the game. And what resources will not. For instance, some YouTube videos teach you about the game and its framework. These videos show you the why and explain the way the game is being played.
But other YouTube videos, in fact, the majority of the videos out there, are about specific shots and how to hit them. How many third-shot videos have you seen on YouTube? Or how to serve?
Lessons and clinics are also generally focused on the mechanics of how to hit the ball properly. Weight transfer. Paddle out in front. Follow through.
In my experience, the best way to learn the framework of the game is through off-court study. When we are learning on-court in a clinic or lesson, there are a million things going on in our heads. “What did the instructor say again? I cannot believe I missed that shot. It’s hot out here.” The list is endless.
This is why CJ Johnson and I started VIPickleball. We had already seen the benefits of this sort of off-court study in our online work and knew that if we provided it through an online community, we could help countless players improve. The key was to provide focused content with online coaching and a supportive community to allow players to maximize their potential.
Pickleball improvement, like anything worthwhile, takes time and dedication. Through studying the game, we can start to see pieces of the puzzle. As we gain knowledge, we see more of the whole picture.
As the pickleball picture comes into focus, we can then match it to ourselves so that we can build our path to improvement; our path to becoming the pickleball player we want to become.
Pickleball is not a one-size-fits-all game. While there are some core fundamentals that we need to bear in mind (the fundamental framework of the game), the approach we take to the game can be as varied as the differences in the players who play this sport. Use your knowledge of the game and of yourself to find the path that is right for you.
We’d love to know what has been your top pickleball strategy? Put it in the comments below.
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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My core strategy is patience. Rather than attempting to be the hero on every shot, I simply keep the ball in play with safe shots while trying to move my opponents around to force them into a bad shot. When the winner appears, I will be ready!
Sounds like a good strategy.
My core strategy is to evaluate the court scene in front of me (and beside me in doubles), and then apply the best shot for the situation.
Usually making the opponent as uncomfortable and off balanced as possible knowing points are more often lost than won.
Move forward to be in the best offensive position. when you can. Use drop shot as necessary to get forward safely. Keep your opponents back for the most part. Back up to give yourself more time when balls are elevated. Soften and reset fast balls that are hit down at you. Attack balls you can hit down on. Read ball trajectory early off the paddle face and let out balls sail out.
Part two is to keep balls low giving enough margin to clear the net. The exception is the lob. Use dink shots to move your opponent around varying the depth and side angles. Fill any created gaps made with with the ball. Use a margin for error when hitting the ball towards out lines. Increase or decrease that margin according to how you are playing.