Many of the most important skills in pickleball are difficult to master during a game. Without a controlled approach for learning how to get better at dinking, serving, or volleying, for instance, you might find your game struggling to get to the next level.
This is why pickleball drills are such an invaluable way to improve your game.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the importance of drilling, how to prepare for successful practice sessions, and specific drills for pickleball players of all skill levels.
Why You Should Drill Regularly
Few sports are easier to learn and start playing than pickleball. Many novice players therefore see significant progress after only a few weeks of playing.
But it’s through drilling and practicing specific skills in isolation that you can see the most progress in your overall ability to score points, defend against opponents, and ultimately win more matches.
Drilling allows you to dedicate your attention to performing a specific series of movements and develop an improved muscle memory.
With greater muscle memory comes enhanced consistency, control, and confidence, all of which have a tremendous effect on how likely you are to execute well come game time.
Equally important, if you develop key skills so you don’t overthink them during the game, you can better pay attention to your opponents’ movements and play one step ahead of them. Simply catching an opponent out of position or predicting their return is often the key to putting away a point.
How to Get the Most Out of Drilling
Getting the most out of pickleball drills requires creating optimal circumstances while you practice. This means having the right partner, equipment, and drill selection.
Ideally, your drilling partner is about your skill level, or, even better, a player with more experience than you. You also benefit from having a partner who can identify how you might improve your movements, whether footwork, swinging motion, or body positioning.
Depending on the drill, it’s also often smart to have a good number of pickleballs to use so that you spend more time doing the drill and less time chasing after your shots. It might be difficult to establish a rhythm if you’re depending on only one or two balls.
If practicing against a wall, make sure to choose as even a surface as possible. If you’re not drilling on an actual court, a tape measure can help you ensure you’re hitting shots from the correct distance.
When considering which drills to focus on, consider where you make the most mistakes during games. For example, if you’re missing two or three serves a game, then you definitely want to spend some time developing greater consistency on that skill.
Top 10 Pickleball Drills
Check out these 10 drills designed to improve different areas of your game:
1. Serve Placement Drill
The keys to a great serve are consistency and control. You can improve both by drilling serve placement on a regular basis.
You can do this drill with a partner, or by yourself if you have several balls to hit. The drill consists of aiming for each corner of the service area in sequence.
Start with the farthest corner on the opposite baseline (1), then aim for the other baseline corner (2), then the corner formed by the centerline and non-volley zone (3), and finally the corner formed by the sideline and non-volley zone (4).
Practicing serving will help you miss fewer serves during matches, but this drill also enables you to gain confidence in placing a serve where you want, rather than just aiming for the middle of the opponent’s service area.
Often, a player might be out of position or have a weakness a well-placed serve can exploit.
For instance, if the opponent is standing inside the baseline, a deep serve will force them to backpedal and hit the ball with less control. If they’re standing too far back or too far to one side, a low serve into the corner farthest from them can be almost impossible to return.
2. Skinny Singles
If you only have two players and want to practice the skills you’ve drilled in a way that mimics doubles, you can play skinny singles! Serve the ball as you normally would, then have your opponent return it to the side directly opposite them.
You then move to that side and only use that half of the court.
More Resources: Complete Guide To Skinny Singles
If drilling with two other players, a 2-on-1 game can be a great way to improve stamina and decision-making between shots. You can play a full game to 11 and then switch to a different 2-on-1 configuration, or you can have the solo player serve and rotate whenever they lose a point.
When playing against two other players, shot placement and predicting your opponents’ returns become essential. This drill challenges you to think about how you can move your opponents’ bodies with strategic returns and take advantage of them being out of position.
Since you have to cover more court, you’ll also get great practice hitting hard to reach shots while getting in some solid cardio.
4. Dinking Only
A good warm-up drill is to stand behind the non-volley zone boundary facing your partner who’s similarly positioned. Get a rally going where you both stick to dinking, avoiding any volleys or lobs. Rather than trying to hit a winner, focus on keeping the ball alive.
The goal here is to get really comfortable with the angle and force you apply to the ball so that you can then transition to drilling dinking accuracy with a firm foundation.
5. Triangle Dinks
When you feel good about your dinking consistency, you can advance to an accuracy-oriented drill.
Using half the court, stand across from your partner in a ready position in front of the kitchen. Envision three points inside the non-volley zone: one inside the NVZ line and sideline corner, one just inside where the centerline touches the NVZ line, and one directly in front of your partner, halfway between them and the net.
These three points form the imaginary triangle that gives the drill its name. Rally with your partner and aim to hit each point in sequence.
There’s no need to be too exacting with this drill. Just emphasize envisioning your dink’s target and getting as close as possible. Come game time, you’ll be better able to control the flow of a dinking rally and make it harder for your opponent to return the ball well.
6. Third Shot Drop Drill
The third shot drop is one of the most important pickleball skills. It gives you time to get to the net and prevents your opponents from volleying a return for an easy score.
Start at the baseline and have your opponent feed you relatively deep shots to mimic the typical return off of a serve. Hit as many consecutive drop shots as you can so that you really get a feel for how much force is just enough to return the ball into your opponent’s kitchen (Non-Volley Zone.
As you get more comfortable, you can begin by actually serving the ball and then practicing the third shot drop off the return.
7. Lob Placement
Lobs can be a great weapon, but if you hit them too soft, they become easy to volley, and if you hit them too hard, they sail out of bounds. Drilling, therefore, is key for getting lob mechanics right.
You’ll want to drill lobbing from various distances. Starting at the baseline with a few balls on hand, lob a few serves, aiming for the center of the service area. If there’s wind, pay particular attention to how the ball travels differently when it’s blowing.
If you have a partner, you can have them hit balls to you while you stand either in the middle of your service area or at the non-volley zone line.
Since the ideal lob lands deep, by your opponent’s baseline, the difference of a few feet makes a big difference in how hard you’ll have to hit the ball to get it just right.
8. Volley Reaction Drill
Developing your reaction time will you make you a much better defender during rallies. This solo drill can be done simply by hitting against a wall.
Standing seven feet from the wall, hit the ball and return it before it bounces. You can focus on forehand, backhand or use both. As you get warmed up, move closer to the wall so that you have less time to react.
9. Smash Practice
Picklers often see a high ball and get excited for an easy smash only to hit the ball into the net or too hard. Dedicate some time to drilling this shot too! Have a partner lob balls high into the air at different points on the court and focus on the mechanics that allow you to smash consistently.
A key here is to angle your body sideways. Having your chest parallel with the net makes it more likely you’ll drive the ball too low.
10. Blind Man’s Bluff
Blind Man’s Bluff replicates situations where you’ve just returned a lob or deep shot and need to turn around quickly.
Stand at the baseline with your back to the net. Have your partner say “Go!” as they hit the ball toward you. Turn around, locate the ball, and return it to a specified target (a cone might be useful here).
A great feature of this drill is how flexible it is. Your partner can hit the ball harder or softer, closer or farther, depending on how difficult you want the drill to be.
Drilling Is Key
With so many drills to choose from, you can always find a new way to challenge yourself, fine tune your skills, and address any weak points in your game. Those who drill regularly are often the most consistent and the best able to direct the ball where they want it to go in matches.
Check out our other articles that offer additional information on other drills for beginners and veterans alike. Experiment with some of these drills and see how much of a difference it makes in your game!