If you’ve been playing pickleball for a while you probably have a pretty good grasp of the fundamentals, scoring, and where to position yourself on the court. If you’re still having issues with control and consistency, though, you’re likely playing at a 3.0 level.
Also Check Out: Critical Intermediate Pickleball Tips
So how do you improve your game and get to 3.5? And what exactly does that mean anyway?
In this article, we’ll go over some of the differences between skill levels and what areas you should focus on to help level up your game.
USA Pickleball Skill Levels
USA Pickleball has developed these definitions of player skill ratings, which are ranked from 1.0 to 6.0. The skill levels are based on a player’s ability to hit various types of important shots and their overall understanding of strategy.
Check out this complete Guide to Pickleball Skill Levels and Ratings.
Assess Your Current Pickleball Skill Level
If you want to improve your skills, it helps to know where you’re starting from, so it’s a good idea to read through the USAPA definitions and ask yourself some honest questions about your pickleball game.
For example, do you avoid hitting backhand shots because you’re not confident in your stroke?
Do you hit shots with varying speed and power or do you hit most of your shots with a medium pace?
Do you actively look for opportunities to make your way up to the NVZ line or do you just react to whatever shots your opponent hits to you?
These are the kinds of skills that differentiate a 3.5 player from a 3.0 player. You’ll find that the differences come down to three main things:
- Control over your shot, which means your ability to hit with the ball with varying pace and depth;
- Directional intent, which is your ability to purposefully and strategically hit the ball to specific places on the court; and
- Consistency, which comes from playing lots of games and having confidence that your next shot will be as good as your last one.
While there is no magic formula to follow which will level up your game, here are some things that you can work on which will help you go from a 3.0 to a 3.5 player.
6 Tips To Go From A 3.0 to a 3.5 Pickleball Player
Tip 1: Get To The Net Quickly
Always keep in mind that your number one goal should be to get up to the NVZ, which is where most points are won or lost on the pickleball court.
Third or fifth shot drops and resets are some of the most important shots in the game and are often the best way to gain yourself valuable time to make your way up to the kitchen line.
You can drill by practicing hitting the ball into the opposing NVZ from different spots on the court until you can consistently get it to drop low over the net from just about anywhere.
Tip 2: Aim For The Middle
Part of developing more advanced strategy is having a better awareness of where your opponents are and where they expect the ball to go.
Many players are able to successfully exploit the middle of the court simply because their opponents position themselves toward the sidelines in an attempt to cut off angles, and they end up leaving their entire mid-court wide open.
Recognizing the opportunity to put a well-placed shot down the centerline is essential, so keep a sharp eye out for openings in the middle as you play more games.
Soon this awareness will become more instinctual, and you will even find yourself trying to intentionally pull your opponents away from the middle, thus creating your own opportunities instead of waiting for them to appear.
Tip 3: Avoid Hitting Lobs
Sometimes a lob can seem like a good way to fend off an opponent’s attack or gain some time to get to the net.
However, they can be risky. If a lob doesn’t go over your opponents’ head AND stay in bounds, you could quickly end up with a rally-ending (and confidence-killing) smash right at your feet.
A better strategy is to work on hitting resets and drops, which better help you control the tempo of the game.
Tip 3: Keep Your Eye On The Ball
I know this sounds cliche, but it’s one of the simplest things you can do to improve your accuracy.
When you are about to hit the ball, literally look the ball into your paddle as it approaches. This will increase your hitting consistency and avoid those annoying whiffs and off-center mis-hits.
Even when your opponent is hitting, you should still be actively watching the ball. Keeping your focus on where the ball is at all times will dramatically improve your confidence and awareness as well as your on-court decision making.
Tip 4: Switch Up Your Grip
Learning about different grips and how to switch between them during games is a big part of developing confidence and strategic thinking on the court.
Varying your grip will be especially helpful if you are one of those players who avoids hitting backhands. Once you realize how much more effective different shots can be by changing up your grip your confidence will soar and you will be well on your way from 3.0 to 3.5.
For more on this topic be sure to check out our article about the three main pickleball grips and how to use them!
Tip 5: Stay Low
Keeping your center of gravity low to the ground will give you a better chance of defending against your opponents’ attacks. Make sure that you always keep your knees slightly bent and keep your paddle in front of you in the ready position.
This is especially true when it comes to dinking at the NVZ line. Standing up straight makes you an easy target for a speed-up, as your opponent knows it will take you longer to bend low and return their dink.
Tip 6: Avoid Unforced Errors
An unforced error in pickleball is a returnable shot that is flubbed due to poor execution. Avoiding these kinds of errors is not so much a skill as it is an attitude.
All too often we psych ourselves out by trying to do too much, hitting the ball too hard, or choosing the wrong shot for a given situation.
The best way to reduce unforced errors is to be patient, try not to over-hit the ball, and stay in the ready position with your knees bent and your paddle in front of your body as much as possible.
There is no one thing you can do to go from a 3.0 to a 3.5 in pickleball, but the areas outlined above will give you a good starting point as you work on improving various aspects of your game.
Pickleball players at all levels are continually looking to improve their skills and strategies, and the best way to do this is to drill, practice, and above all keep playing more games.