Basics of Pickleball

Basics of pickleball

Basics of pickleball with shot #1, #2 and #3. Here’s some pickleball insight from Keith James:

Use it or lose it–your choice.

The rules of pickleball were crafted to limit de facto the options for the first three shots of each point of every game.  The inventors of pickleball chose to maximize fun and to give everybody a reasonable opportunity to compete, no matter what the player’s age or athletic skills.

Shot #1. The serve is delivered underhand to take away the overhead smash serve. The serve is either in or out on the first serve–no second chance as in tennis.  These two rules are designed to take away the advantage of taller, stronger players and to encourage simply getting the ball into play.

Shot #2.  The return of serve must bounce before the serving team can return the ball–the “two bounce” rule.  The effect of this critical feature of pickleball is to give the returning team an inherent advantage.  In practical play, the returning team plays one player at the kitchen line.  The player returning the serve loops a high, deep shot down the middle and runs to the kitchen line.  Thus, after only two shots, the returning team has two players at the no volley zone line, and the serving team has two players at or behind the baseline.  This advantage for the returning team is huge and explains why points are so difficult to score.

Shot #3. Ideally, the third shot should enable the serving team to get both players to the kitchen line ASAP to gain equal court position with the receiving team.  To achieve this goal, the serving team can lob the ball over the opponents at the kitchen line (risky), blast a hard ground stroke down the middle or down either sideline gaps (the speed of a hard drive gives the serving team less time to achieve position at the kitchen line), or drop the ball softly into the no volley zone to allow the serving team time to get to the kitchen line and to force the opponents to let the ball bounce before returning the ball (a difficult touch shot, but probably the best tactically).

After these three shots, the real game commences, followed by a virtually endless variety of shots and tactics.

8 comments on “Basics of Pickleball”

  1. Yes amazingly simple the first moves are the same as learning opening moves in chess boring but effective, automatic.

  2. Thank you, Mark, for your detailed and carefully considered reply. My intentions were to encapsulate the essential patterns inherent to the rules laid out by the founders of the game. Getting down or even back to basics can be foundational for players of all levels. I do believe your observations have applicability more to 4.5 to 5.5 players than to the vastly larger number of players at 4.0 or lower. I do agree that there is a greater variety of targets for the return of serve., most notably the upper right hand corner of the left service box from the returner’s perspective. However, I agree with Coach Mo that the percentage play is down the middle, relatively deep, and splitting the gap between the opponents. As for looping the return, I note that even national champions employ this shot as an option, a tried and true tactical mainstay.

    As for going offensive with the serve, one cannot deny that going big and missing guarantees two things: (1) your team will never know how many points it may have run off and (2) you opponents had to do absolutely nothing to win the rally. The only thing worse is an unforced error on the return of serve as this gifts the opponents an actual point towards victory.

    Additionally, I do agree that more and more gifted young players are entering pickleball with a significant modern tennis background. Accordingly, the importance of ground strokes over dinking wars will grow, especially in singles–and especially at the 4.5 level and above. However, for the vast majority of recreational pickleball players, it is rink a dink a do.

    Finally, I suppose my credo is walk before run, so the old fashioned tactics first, modern tactics second as players gain skills.

    1. As a beginner you should learn positioning on the court so you are practicing high percentage shots by default, rather then honing those low percent shots that feel good but will hamper you from getting any better and will have to unlearn old habits.

  3. Interesting post Keith but I’m going to have to disagree with a few points: there is nothing about the rules or design of the game that assume the return must be looped high or down the centre of the court. While the higher shot gives more time to get to the kitchen, it also gives the opponents ample time to prepare for their reply. Most important is that the return be in play and deep. That makes your opponents’ shot tougher to execute.People would do well to hit the return high enough to have enough time to get to the kitchen before their opponents hit. The time needed will vary based on the speed of the returner.

    As for hitting to the centre of the court, that offers the opposition the chance to decide which of them will hit the ball. Wouldn’t it be better to limit their options make that choice yourself? While it is not necessary to hit to the sidelines and take great risk, hitting to the weaker opponent is a superior option than hitting to the middle.
    Historically, the “right” way to play pickleball was to make the first two shots essentially meaningless and merely the necessary steps to get to the dinking game. This is no longer the case in the modern game. The serve and the return are opportunities to gain an advantage, to pressure your opponents and force them to make a poor shot. While “the soft game” is still an important part of pickleball, it’s significance has changed dramatically and will continue to do so. At least, that’s my opinion.

    1. Maybe you are talking about singles? I have seen no recorded matches at any level, that play the pattern you describe. The winners play the same old high percentage boring game. I may have missed one recording so please paste a link to a match that shows this play pattern.

      1. Nope. I’m talking about doubles. You can see a good example of returning away from the centre — especially by Barksdale (in blue) — from last month here

        You might enjoy this video . While the high, slow serve and return is used pretty frequently, it is only by Dawson Sr. Early on, you hear him say “this is a test” which suggests it is the exception to the rule, not the rule itself. The other three guys, well under 40, do not play this way. I think this supports my assertion that the game is changing and that the first two shots are becoming more offensive (Evans serve is the best example here).

        Does this help? I’m not saying that beginning players ought to play exactly like this. But what I am suggesting is that the ultra-conservative approach that sees the first two shots as merely formalities before the “real” game starts is outdated. New players ought to learn the tactic “hit to the weaker player”, “take away your opponents’ time” early on. This, of course, must be coupled with sufficient technical training in order to accomplish the tactic.

  4. Your are most welcome, Ray–and be ready to catch the passion for this most excellent game. Pickleball is wonderful socially, athletically, and holistically–and a source of great fun and laughter, too!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top