The pickleball serve is probably the most under-practiced shot in the sport. And although it may not be the most glamorous shot to practice, it’s certainly one of the most important.
Unlike the unpredictable and fast-paced action with a live ball on the court, the serve is a unique time when you can strike the ball on your own terms. Other shots may require you to make a split-second decision and adjust to pace, spin, and where the ball lands, but with a serve, you can hit the ball when and how you want.
Pickleball serving drills are an important part of developing your game because they help improve your routine, technique, variation, consistency, and overall confidence when it’s time to serve the ball. There are many different drills that you can do to help improve your serve, but over the years I have narrowed them down to the very best five that I’ll go over below!
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1. Walk-Through Shadow Swinging
Whenever I work on improving my pickleball serve, I always like to warm up by going back to the basics. This shadow swinging drill helps with just that.
The idea is to walk through the motions of your serve without a paddle in your hand. Instead of a paddle, hold a ball in your swinging hand and toss it toward your target.
This may seem like a bit of a basic drill, but it can really help you to be more intentional with your serving mechanics. This is as much a mental drill as it is physical and the visualization can truly pay surprising dividends.
Pay attention to your footwork and body coil as you walk through your serving motions. The rotation in your body should be consistently the same and should allow you to generate power from your legs. Remember to keep a proper spacing between your arm and hip.
Another key mechanic that this drill should help you hone in, is where your body faces at the ball contact position. Ideally, your chest, core, and hips should all be squared toward your target when striking the ball.
After working on the walk-through shadow serves, grab your paddle and progress into the next drill. Your muscle memory and mental preparedness gained from this exercise will help you attain better serving consistency and fundamentals.
2. Target Serves
In this pickleball drill, you will be targeting cones to hit with your serves. (If you don’t have cones, use whatever you have at hand, but as you progress in pickleball, you’ll eventually want a set of cones to practice with).
Start by setting up a group of cones on one side of the court; each cone should be in a spot that you’d like to hit more consistently in games. You can move the cones around as you work through the drill, but try starting with a cone in each corner.
From the other side of the court, hit your serves and aim for the cones. The goal is to actually hit the cones with the ball.
Take time to reset between each serve so you can get into a routine serving rhythm. The more consistency you have in practice, the more consistency you’ll have in your gameplay too.
This drill can be done solo or with multiple people. If playing solo, keep track of how many balls hit the target so you can see your improvement as you progress through the drill.
If running this drill with more than one person, try playing HORSE (or PICKLE) to make it fun. To play HORSE, take turns serving the ball at a cone; if a player hits a cone, the other players then have to target that same cone, and if they miss, they get a letter. Once a player has enough letters to spell “horse,” they are out. The last remaining player wins.
This drill will help improve your serving accuracy at a variety of depths.
3. Change-Up Serves to a Partner
In this drill, you’ll need a partner to serve to. Set up a divider on the receiver’s side that splits the front and back of the court – cones, chalk, or tape are good options.
Begin the drill by serving to your partner, aiming for either the far side of the dividing line or the near side. With each serve, alternate which side of the divider you serve to. Your partner will return your shots.
Change up your power, loft, spin, and variety of serve throughout this drill – the only consistency should be the alternating zones you’re targeting. Your partner that you’re serving to will know if you’re going short or long, but they will still have to stay on their toes.
This drill helps you work on your change-up and variety within your serving game. You are forced to be somewhat predictable due to the divider rule, so you’ll have to be creative in implementing some different shots and maintaining unpredictability. Notice any weaknesses your partner may have (backhand, short balls, low fast paced balls, etc.) and try to exploit them.
This drill is helpful for both participants as they can both get a touch on the ball every serve and will get practice with the mental battle that happens between a server and receiver.
4. Dramatic Spin Serves
Although generating spin from a player’s hand will be outlawed in the beginning of 2023, you can still achieve dramatic spin from your paddle. Spinning a pickleball can be a lot of fun, but many players seem to lack confidence in their ability to hit spin shots. This drill is aimed at building up a player’s confidence with their spin shot serves.
If you want to learn how to do something like getting a killer spin from your pickleball paddle, then you should start by amplifying the process so you can better understand the motions and limitations. That’s why this drill is all about getting maximum spin on the pickleball.
Have a partner set up opposite you, then start hitting your spin serves back and forth, allowing the other to return the serve. Take the time to hit every direction of spin and get a feel for what kinds of spin serves work best for you.
When hitting a spin serve, you don’t want the paddle to follow through the ball. Instead, it should brush the ball, making contact with about 20% of the area where the ball was.
Watch how your partner reacts and moves to receive your serves, and take note of how each shot bounces off the ground. Once you begin to become familiar with how each spin serve behaves, you can start dialing it back a little to find that sweet spot between spin and control.
This drill is all about building your confidence and mastery of the spin serve. It’s a lot of fun to practice and could very well become a crucial tool in your serving toolbox going forward.
5. Deep Serves
The most effective pickleball serves are the ones that land deep into your opponent’s baseline. In singles pickleball a good deep serve is absolutely vital, and in doubles it is quite helpful as well. Deep serves make it difficult for players to return the ball with authority and increase the time required for them to get to the net. A good deep serve will open up a lot of great third-shot drop/drive opportunities for you.
This drill will help you improve your deep serving.
To begin, set up a dividing line across the backcourt with some cones. The line should be about two to three feet from the baseline. From the other side, begin serving shots that go beyond the dividing line. This will require quite a bit of accuracy and will help prepare you for hitting consistent baseline shots in games.
As you progress through the drill, try moving the dividing line closer to the baseline, making the target area smaller as your serve gets deeper and deeper.
Pickleball is a fun, fast-paced game that requires quick reflexes, good hand-eye coordination, and a lot of repetitive motion mechanics. The great thing about serving in pickleball is that you can remove the fast pace and quick reflex elements and focus on your mechanics. There is no reason why anyone of any age or skill level cannot learn to be a consistently strong server. Practicing these pickleball serve drills will help you to be more confident and well-equipped for any serving scenario. So, grab some cones and a buddy if available, or just go out to the court for half an hour by yourself before or after play, and you’ll be serving like Dekel Bar in no time!