If you’re searching for “How to Get Better At Pickleball,” I know what you’re going through. I had a streak where I lost EVERY SINGLE GAME. I couldn’t hit a good shot to save my life.
This lull in my game forced me to take a step back to reassess everything. I was surprised with what helped and how big of an impact it made.
This is assuming that you have a firm grasp of the game. If you are at a high (3.0+) skill level and have a good knowledge of the basic rules and fundamentals, this article is for you.
For an intermediate or advanced pickleball player like I am, you may benefit from what I learned. However, If you’re a beginner or low intermediate we have a beginner’s guide to improvement as well as Tips for the Intermediate Player
Here are my processes to reset and get better at pickleball.
Table of Contents
Tips For Improving Your Pickleball Game
One of my favorite quotes by Bobby Jones is
“Every game in life is actually played on a 6 inch ground – the space between your two ears. We don’t live in bungalows, duplexes or flats. We live in our mind which is an unlimited area. Life is great when things are sorted and uncluttered there”
You could have your shots dialed in, but if your head gets in the way, it can all fall apart.
This is a great starting point before getting into technique, because it doesn’t require hours of practice.
Here are my top mental tips.
Stay In The Game
One of the biggest revelations for improving at pickleball was that I was taking myself out of the game once the other team had a commanding lead.
GUESS WHAT you still have some pickleball left to be played. So turn it on and focus. Just because you’re down by 5 points doesn’t mean you can’t come back and win.
Those victories are the best! Stay in the game and battle until the last point. If you lose then you can take a minute and see what you were doing wrong. This brings me to my next tip.
“Whatever is measured will improve” If you really want to improve at anything you have to measure the progress. Now, this can be hard if you’re playing pickleball competitively, so give yourself some casual games to take mental notes.
Are your long shots or short shots hurting more? Do you miss forehands or backhands more? Are you missing to the left or right? Long or short?
If your backhand is suffering then grab a pickleball machine or a partner and dial in your weaknesses to make whatever shot was hurting you more consistent.
I would always give up shots that were hit at my body so I made it strength by
- Getting my partner to hit those shots at me repetitively.
- Got creative and figured out how to get out of the way to give myself a proper swing.
- Repeated that motion until I could so I could do it in a game.
Play Casually More Often
It’s hard to make any real improvement at pickleball for an intermediate/advanced player if you play in tournaments or competitive games. You can’t challenge your creativity or try new shots.
I was playing competitively about 4-5 times a week and now I only really play competitively twice a week. The other three days, me and 1-3 of my friends go down and just practice shots.
It’s like watching a comedian BOMB in a small comedy venue, then they go on tour and kill it.
You have to know what works and what doesn’t, what you can get away with, and what you absolutely cannot.
Playing in a relaxed, fun setting can have enormous gains. It allows you to build confidence and muscle memory.
It’s a way to practice while letting your mind take a break.
Play YOUR game
When you get better at pickleball and think you can pull off incredible shots to the corners, you stop playing the strengths that got you to that intermediate or advanced level in the first place.
It’s like if you’re a pitcher and you have this amazing curveball that got you all the way to the MLB, and then you decide to work on your fastball, change-up, slider, sinker, etc. you lose that amazing curveball.
You have to just keep practicing what you can do and be one of the best at it. If you have incredible touch at dinking, improve that and see how tight you can get to the corners or how you can place where no one can get to it.
Do you have a hard topspin shot that pinpoints the opponent’s feet? Focus on that and be able to hit it exactly where you intend to every time. Once you master that shot, you have that to fall back on if all else fails.
Physically Warm up
In order to get better at pickleball, or any sport for that matter, sometimes it’s all about how you prepare before you play.
Everyone knows the first game is a “Warm-up game,” but why lose the first game when you could come in winning and with a spark of confidence.
Having a warm-up in place is important for any athlete. As a beginner, you can stretch out a little and you’re good to go. For advanced and intermediate players, it’s far more important to get in the zone FAST.
I’ve found the best way to warm up is by imitating what you’re going to see on the court.
Just stretching or going for a light jog is not going to do it.
I personally like lateral movement drills that are just as intense or more intense than the movements you make on the court.
Amp up the intensity, because in the actual game it seems like nothing. It’s like a sprinter running uphill for practice so level ground feels easy.
Here are some of my favorite drills shown by The Pickleball Doctor
NOTE: stretch afterward. Warm muscles are loose muscles so stretching it will increase recovery.
Mentally Warm Up
Just like having a physical warm-up, having a mental warm-up in place is vital to getting good at pickleball.
Think about it, you can play a different team on a different court, in different conditions on a different day. Everything is different so having a mental warm-up keeps some similarities.
The Recommended warm-up
I like just a little short game practice. When I do this I’m focusing on the timing of the paddle hitting the ball and the feeling of the court or the conditions.
At this point, I’m already stretched and loose so I’m only worried about getting my mind in the zone to play. I’m thinking about when I took inventory of my game and maybe hitting a few last-minute shots I’ve been working on. Now I’m ready to play my game.
Pre Shot Routine
Every elite-level athlete has a pre-shot routine. Even if you’re not a pro (yet), you still want to play well right?
Especially in pickleball where you don’t have much time to let go and forget about the bad cross-court shot you had, or the game-winner that you hit long.
You need a routine in place to cancel out those thoughts.
Like Ted Lasso says, “be a goldfish” and have a short memory.
Recommended Pre-Shot routine
I like the routine on the serve and once I serve, my mind is cleared. It’s really simple.
- Bounce once
- Announce the score
- Bounce again
- Breathe in
- Breathe out
6 steps and the last rally is out of my mind. I’m focused on this one.
Practicing the wrong technique can be a detriment to your game. You spend hours upon hours practicing only to realize you were practicing wrong.
Intermediate and advanced players need to know how to PRACTICE THE RIGHT WAY.
Focused and efficient practice is the best path to quickly improve.
Master the Basic Shots
The primary difference between a 2.0 level player and a 3.5-5.0 level is the mastery and control over the basic shots.
The Deep Serve
One of the basic strategies for a serve is to serve deep. You’ve heard this many times by now. The team that controls the net, controls the game.
Constantly hitting that deep serve ensures that you (singles) and your teammate (doubles)can get up to the non volley zone (kitchen line) fast and have that advantage.
The serve is the only shot that occurs in every single game. Mastering this puts you at a high percentage of winning more games.
Return Of Serve
Mastering the return of serve is another essential you need in your arsenal.
The deep return of serve, like the deep serve gives you the opportunity to control the rally and get up front.
Advanced players should never blow the return of serve by hitting it out, or feeding it to the serving team to put away.
If you want to learn more about it, check out this article on how to return a serve.
Having some sort of third-shot strategy in place is so vital to be a consistent, high-level pickleball player.
Obviously the most common is the third shot drop strategy. It’s a hard one to master, but it is absolutely essential to control the rally.
The third shot drop is not the only way to have the upper hand during the rally. Another great third shot is just a drive at your opponent’s feet if you get the opportunity. It really comes down to assessing your opponent’s skillset.
Do you have a better chance of winning with soft game like a drop shot or long drives?
Anytime you see an opportunity to win points, you take it.
Most people prefer a forehand shot. You have more control and more power, but having a deadly backhand can armor your game.
If your opponent can see that your backhand is not up to par, what do you think they’re going to do?
DING, you’re right, they’re going to fire at your backhand. Build up a bulletproof backhand and you will play better pickleball.
This goes without saying, you absolutely have to have confidence with your dink shot. Crosscourt, normal dinks, long, dinks, forehand dinks, backhand dinks. Get consistent at all of these.
Not working on dinks is like playing golf but not working on your putting. It is the single fastest way to improve your game.
If you’re having trouble, try to focus on your grip pressure. If you’re running up to the non volley zone and you’re panicking, you’re going to white knuckle the paddle, DON’T. Relax, assess, and react.
Avoid unforced errors and get the ball back over to your opponent’s side with a dink so you can reset and get back into a ready position for that next shot.
Remember to dink early, and stay up at that non volley line where more points are scored than anywhere else on the court.
Being an experienced player takes practice. There’s no way around that, but practicing correctly is how you improve fast. Practice and be aware of what your risky shots are and try to work on consistency to minimize that risk.
Have a set goal for each practice session, like “I want to improve my drop shots,” and perform the drills to get you there.
For more pickleball tips, check out this article with some good drills. Your Go-To Guide For The Third Shot Drop In Pickleball.
Once you step foot on that pickleball court it’s all fun, but to be a great player takes focus and dialing in your winning shot.
When you get out and play pickleball in a competitive setting you’ll find you’re hitting the ball better and have higher percentage shots, as opposed to hitting and praying it lands where you wanted it to.
These were some of the top pickleball tips I’ve learned and I hope they make as big of an impact on your game as they have on mine in the past.
It gets easy to overthink this sport or any sport and think that there’s something physical you’re doing wrong, or you don’t have the right equipment. I can assure you that most of the time the reason you’re not playing your best can be because of what you’re doing before you even announce a 0-0 2.
Try these tips if you’re in a rut or just want to try something new and from all of us here at ThePickleSports, we hope we can help.