5 Critical Pickleball Tips for Intermediate Players

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When I was a child, the last thing my mother said to me when I left the house was always, “Remember your manners.” It wasn’t, “I love you.” It certainly wasn’t “Behave,” (No need! I knew the repercussions of misbehaving!). It wasn’t, “Be home for dinner.” It was always, every single time, unfailingly, ”Remember your manners.”

By the end of this brief article, these five intermediate pickleball tips will hopefully ring in your ears like my mother’s voice in my head some 40 years later.

If you play pickleball at the intermediate or advanced level these tips are for you!

Let’s dive right into the 5 tips for intermediate players.

TOP 5 Pickleball Intermediate Tips

Pickleball tips for intermediate players overlay with pickleball on court.

1. DINK WITH PURPOSE

If you’re going to play at the 3.5-4.0 level, you’ll need to be able to dink early and dink effectively. Additionally, it will benefit you to understand what a purposeful dink is, and why you are dinking in the first place.

This is one of my top intermediate pickleball tips if you’re trying to get to a 3.5 or higher. Having controlled dinks in your arsenal is what separates the good players from the beginner players.

Here are some things to consider to take your dink to the next level.

  • Are you pushing your opponent out wide because you have noticed her partner doesn’t go with her, thus opening the middle for an attack?
  • Is this a good opportunity to isolate the weakest link on your opposing team?
  • How well does your opponent respond after being forced to dink?
  • Can your opponent track two dinks to his outside foot, then one to his inside foot without getting frustrated?
  • What happens when you lull both opponents into leaning forward at the kitchen and you pop a nice lob into the far corner?

Cross Court Dink Shot

Another great tip for their dink shot is to practice the cross-court dink.

Why cross court? “dink” about it. From one corner of the non-volley zone to the other is about 20 feet. Whereas a straight dink is only about 14 feet from your non-volley line the non-volley line of the other team.

Furthermore, the center of the net is the lowest point.

All this equates to a greater margin of error and higher odds of pulling the dink shot off more consistently. Advanced players don’t just hit better shots, they hit higher percentage shots.

When you get that shot dialed in you can move the other team around by focusing on shot placement.

Dink Tips

When dinking a forehand shot you want to keep your wrist cocked at almost a 90-degree angle. This KEEPS YOUR WIRST OUT OF THE SHOT. It allows you to impart more of a swiping motion rather than a shot motion.

When hitting a dink shot consistency is key. By keeping your wrists locked and using your shoulder to hit the shot, you add consistency.

Furthermore, that wrist cock lets you put backspin on the dink shot easier. Backspin allows you to hit the ball a litter higher knowing it will bounce low.

For a backhand dink, you’ll want to lock your wrist but more at a neutral position. The rest is the same as the forehand shot. You want to feel like you’re using your shoulder to engage the movement.

2. GET YOUR PADDLE UP

If you haven’t heard this a million times already, I’m honored to be the one to drill this into your head. 

Is your paddle head above your wrist? If not, why not?

GET YOUR PADDLE UP

Do you like those pickleball bruises? No?

GET YOUR PADDLE UP

Getting your paddle up is the “ready position” for a rally. Forgetting this tip could lead to getting a hard-hit shot right at your body, and let’s face it, it’s kind of an awkward moment when that happens. 

Getting your paddle up and your feet back to a neutral position lets you reset. If you’re in an athletic, ready position you’re much more likely to hit a well-placed shot back instead of just hoping it gets over.

3. UNDERSTAND THE ATTACK

I think the attack at the non-volley zone (the kitchen) is the least understood and most mismanaged shot in all of pickleball.

Contrary to what my regular opponent Steve (yes, his real name-I’m not protecting his identity!!) believes, not every ball is attackable.

My mixed doubles partner is a better pickleball player than I am. However, she is too patient. I can feel my opponents flinch before they do it, as they know their dink is sitting too high. Here it comes! Watch out!!! But nope.

Erin (no, not her real name-I’m not letting her know I realize she is better!) is remarkably and rightfully confident in her dinks, and so she simply dinks it back. Let them make the mistake, right? Well, not always.

My favorite shot in pickleball is my opponent’s unforced error. I literally had to do nothing to win that rally. It is always a winning strategy. However, as you move up in level, you cannot rely on waiting for your opponents to make errors and need to occasionally (and smartly) initiate an attack. If the ball is higher than the net, and you are in a position to attack it, don’t hesitate.

So, what is the answer? Attack? Wait for an unforced error? The answer is, don’t be a Steve, and don’t be an Erin. If you pay attention to any tips for pickleball today, pay attention to this one – 90% of pickleball points are won at the net. Be ready to attack and be ready to be attacked.

Intermediate players know how to be patient. This means not always looking for the winning shot. Sometimes a well-placed soft shot can be just as lethal as a hard drive.

4. KNOW YOUR ROLL (Shots) & ALL THE OTHER ONES TOO

You don’t have to execute every shot perfectly. Knowing what shots are available to you, and focusing on the ones you do well (pickleball is a strength-based sport) will allow you to be competitive at an intermediate level. 

Focusing on trick shots and excessive spin is not a good strategy for low intermediate pickleball players. 

Do the basics, do them well, and do them consistently and you will win a large majority of the time. However, as you move up in level, increasing the tools in your toolbox will allow you to be a less predictable player.

Take a look at how Ben Johns hits his backhand roll volley?

Key Takeaways Of the Backhand Roll

In this video, Ben goes over some very important parts of the backhand roll,

  1. The backhand roll is always a volley, its never played off a bounce.
  2. Placement is everything with the backhand roll. You don’t want to hit it at their bodies. Instead try for the “chicken wing” position straight down the line.
  3. You want a top spin shot on the backhand roll, you getting low in vital. bending your knees and getting low lets you go from low to high easily.

These shots take a lot of quick thinking, but the intermediate player has practiced enough to the point they can react.

When is the best time to invite your opponent to the net?

 (Trick question: the answer is never unless you can hit the same dink that Jay Devilliers hits in place of an overhead)

Points are won at the net. That doesn’t mean that both teams are at the net. If you or your team can control the net and keep your opponents back, you can hit your opponent’s feet.

Keeping your opponent back lets you have more court to play with. You can switch up shot selection and make them run.

Shots Worth Practicing

Intermediate players have an arsenal of shots that they are ready to hit when needed. This comes with practice from both recreational play, and playing pickleball competitively.

Here are the shots the intermediate player has to know and practice.

  1. Dinks
  2. Roll volley
  3. deep return
  4. drives
  5. Enre
  6. ATP’s
  7. Lobs

Where do I learn how to hit all the different shots the pros hit?

Get to a clinic, subscribe to an online course, and watch free videos on YouTube. No matter where you obtain the information, take the time to add resets, roll volleys, deep return of serve, overheads, topspin dinks, drop shot, drives, half-volleys, the Erne, ATPs and lobs to your arsenal.

You mean we should be able to pull off all those shots at the intermediate level?

No. But you need to understand that some opponents at your level will have a well-developed intermediate pickleball strategy and the skillset to match, and by knowing what YOUR best shot is in a given situation, you can also often predict what to expect from your opponent.

5. DRILL, BABY, DRILL

What did you expect? A magic bean, maybe? The Fountain of Youth? An overnight ability to hit a Lucy Kovalova backhand counter-attack?

For most people, without much practice, it is very possible to move from beginner to intermediate pickleball fairly quickly and by only playing games. If you have a background in tennis, racquetball, table tennis, or badminton, your odds of advancing are very good.

But to improve as an intermediate player or to move to an advanced pickleball player, you will need to drill.

Find someone to repeatedly feed you pickleballs to drive and drop, drive and drop, drive and drop repeatedly, or my least-favorite drill – practice resets in what everyone now so gently calls the “land of opportunity” (it will always be “no man’s land” to me) while your teammate cranks 65-75% effort overheads at your feet over and over and over again. Turning drills into games (e.g., dingles) can also be fun.

Try to end your drill session with at least one game of skinny singles. It is an excellent opportunity to put together what you practiced earlier in the day.

Finally, take the opportunity during rec/pick-up play to practice a particular skill (e.g., I’m going to work on a 3rd-shot drive this game). When winning isn’t important, focusing on one aspect of your game can allow you to move the skill you have practiced into a game-like environment.

Recap

Pickleball tips for intermediate players are focused more on taking control of your game and gaining consistency rather than just improving.

Intermediate pickleball players don’t have to guess. They can analyze, and execute the shot they need to win the rally. They are not just trying to keep points alive, they are hitting and placing the shots they MEAN TO HIT. That means they are hitting third shot drops, keeping the other players back, and hitting at their opponent’s feet.

Someone who just started playing pickleball is getting a feel for the movements. As you improve you start to hit shots with intention.

It takes time to improve your pickleball game to be an intermediate or an advanced player.

If you do these five things regularly, over the course of three or four months, I guarantee you will see improvement in your intermediate pickleball skills. Perhaps even more importantly, you are likely to find further enjoyment in this sport that has us all so excited to play.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is ATP in pickleball?

ATP stands for around the post. If your opponent hits a cross-court shot and it takes a sharp bounce to the side, instead of going across the net, you can hit the ball around the post.

The ball does not have to go over the net, just as long as it lands on the other side of the court in bounds.

What is Erne in Pickleball?

An Erne is when the player returns the shot from the side of the non-volley zone. Essentially, the player is standing out of bounds on the pickleball court. This shot usually occurs when the opponent hits a dink shot right up the line.

What is the purpose of an Erne in pickleball?

And erne allows the player to volley while right up on the net. Volleying in the kitchen is illegal while playing pickleball, but as long as your feet are outside of the kitchen it is legal to volley.

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