Doubles’ pickleball strategy is extremely simple and fiendishly complex. There are many levels of pickleball players ranging from a complete novice with no prior sports experience (1.0) to whatever the heck Ben Johns is rated (6.86 according to Dupr as of this writing). We have thought long and hard and compiled a list of the top pickleball doubles strategy tips to learn/keep in mind, regardless of skill level.
If you mostly play singles check out: Best Pickleball Strategies for Singles
1. Communicate with your partner
If this list of doubles strategy only contained one item, this would undoubtedly be it. Communication with your partner is paramount to any level of success in doubles pickleball.
Is the ball going out? Who is taking that lob? Who should we return the ball to? Drop shot? Drive? Watch out! Who is taking middle of the court? Great shot! Switch?
The number of ways to communicate with your doubles partner can go on ad naseum, and is at the absolute foundation of good teamwork and success on the pickleball court.
2. Assess the strengths and weaknesses of everyone playing
For this one take an honest look at yourself, your partner, and your doubles opponents throughout the match (as well as information from previous matches) and adjust accordingly.
Does your partner have an awesome third shot drop? Does one of your opponents have a weak backhand? Does your other opponent rip forehand drives on short return of serve? Your partner struggles getting to the non volley zone, should you take the middle and cover?
Depending on what setting/level you are playing in will determine how much of this you utilize/how cut-throat you will play. But regardless, this type of thinking and adjusting will serve you very well as you dink along your pickleball journey to glory.
3. Be patient, but not too patient
Even the best “bangers” (overly aggressive players) who don’t use much pickleball strategy, can usually only get so far in doubles pickleball.
Recognizing when to drop, when to reset, when to block, when to speed up, when to volley, when to take a short hop, when to lob, and when to dink are some of the fundamental tenants of playing better pickleball.
The pros make all this seem intuitive and easy. Unfortunately, it is not. Practice speed ups and slow downs in drills and in games.
Don’t get too caught up with winning when you are not playing in a tournament. Being patient is an excellent way to improve your game and boost a partnership, but make sure you aren’t being too conservative and missing opportunities to score points and gain side outs.
4. Let out balls go
“Shoulder high, let it fly,” is a common pickleball saying, meaning if you are standing at the non volley zone and an opponent hits a drive at you, if the ball is around shoulder height it is probably going out of bounds, so don’t hit it.
This is an often overlooked doubles strategy that can be a huge benefit that doesn’t even involve hitting the ball.
It is often tempting to try and smash a ball whizzing at you, right in your sweet spot. But this isn’t baseball, tennis, or badminton.
This is a small court and a very fast moving ball, so do yourself and your partner a favor, and get out of the way!
The more your play with a partner and/or an opponent the more you will anticipate what type of shot they will hit and how they will handle any given situation.
You can and should use all of this information to your advantage. But even if you have never played with anyone on the court you can still use keen awareness skills to anticipate what is coming next and be ready to take the appropriate counter action.
Is your partner winding up for a drive from the baseline? Maybe a good time to rush in and “shake and bake.” Is your opponent standing open with their head tilted?
Watch the lob! Did your partner pop up a third shot drop or dink? Stay back, paddle in ready position. Anticipating what is coming can feel like a cheat code after a while, can make you feel like you have double the decision time, and can catapult your game to the next level.
6. Hit deep and low
Whether you are hitting serves, returns, volleys, drives, or dinks try to hit the ball as deep as you can while keeping it in bounds, as low as you can without hitting the net.
Keeping players back at the baseline, on their heels in the transition zone, and scrambling to chase low dinks all are designed to make opponents do the opposite, namely to hit shallow balls that pop up high for easy put aways.
This strategy will win you doubles pickleball matches, and keep you and your partner having fun.
7. Use proper body positioning
Knees bent, feet shoulder-width apart, head up, paddle out in front. Here’s a great example showing bother the Johns brothers in ready position at the net.
This is how you and your pickleball doubles partner should be prepared every time your opponent is hitting the ball to your team. In this “ready position,” you can slow down a fastball, speed up a high one, move side to side or front to back, or dodge an errant ball whizzing at you.
Making sure you are stopped, in the right part of the court, and ready to hit the ball will get you well on your way to winning the point.
8. Get up to the nonvolley zone after return of serve
This one can be tricky for singles players and people who are used to tennis. Unlike those other games, in doubles pickleball, this is an absolutely key strategy.
Doubles pickleball is all about controlling the kitchen, and you can’t do that from 22 feet away at the baseline.
The double bounce rule is designed to allow the player returning serve to get up to the non-volley zone without fear of a volley, so that the returning team is given an advantage the serving team must overcome.
Getting up to the kitchen forces the serving team to hit a good drop shot or a superb drive in order to try to get back to neutral or win the point.
Not following a serve return up to the line gives away a fundamental advantage built into the game.
9. Perfect the third shot drop
There is simply no replacement for this in the doubles pickleball game and is right up there with communication as the other key tip that a good team cannot manage without.
Thanks to the double bounce rule, a competent returning team will both be at the non volley zone in ready position waiting to volley, slam, or dodge any ball that is hit at them too high.
Drives can work in some situations, lobs occasionally, but the absolute best shot to hit as the serving team from the baseline is almost always a drop.
People find different ways to hit third shot drop shots and many of them are effective. What all good third shot drops have in common is that they land near the kitchen and are largely un-attackable.
A good third shot drop will allow you and your partner time to get up to the kitchen with feet planted in a position to win points and win matches.
10. Dink Crosscourt
A dink is an (ideally) un-attackable ball hit in or close to the kitchen zone.
The kitchen is a rectangle and therefore the furthest distance a ball can travel and remain in the kitchen or close to it is diagonally.
Hitting across the court gives the greatest margin for error on a dink, and has the added bonus of largely protecting against being the victim of a dreaded Erne.
Hitting low dinks with pace and spin (when possible) are high percentage shots designed to make the other team hit pop ups for easy put aways.
Bonus. Have fun, make friends
Pickleball is a social sport with a lot of opportunity for camaraderie. Being nice and having a good attitude will not only get you better partners, but also get you better opponents to practice against which will in turn make you, well, better.
So get out there, have a good time, follow these tips, and your Dupr rating should be up to a 6.86 in no time (although by then Ben Johns will probably be up to 12.85…)