Pickleball is a recreational sport that’s growing in popularity for people of all ages. It’s easy to learn, simple to play, and has limited rules to follow. That said, having the right pickleball strategy will ensure you not only have more fun but also get out there and compete. If you’re trying to win a few games, this pickleball strategy complete beginner’s guide to pickleball will help!
What is Pickleball?
Pickleball is a big mash-up of a bunch of other racquet sports in one. It’s considered a cross between ping pong, tennis, and badminton. You play it on a badminton course using a tennis net and a hard paddle similar to ping pong. See why we said mash-up?
It’s a low-impact sport that’s accessible for people of all ages and athletic abilities to jump right in and get some exercise. The game requires less movement than tennis because you don’t need to sprint from side to side of the court.
You’ll commonly see pickleball at community centers, senior centers, local gyms, and parks. It’s growing in popularity due to its simplicity and accessibility for everyone.
For a more in-depth guide check out, What is Pickleball?
History of Pickleball
The origin of pickleball dates back to 1965 and two men named Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell. They noticed their families were bored and couldn’t find anything to do, and they wanted to create a game that they could all play together.
That’s the problem with many sports and athletic activities. There’s someone in the family that won’t be able to do it because they’re either too old or too young.
So, they found ping pong paddles, a plastic ball, and they went out to the court. They realized that the plastic balls would bounce on the court high enough to make it over a tennis net. Instead of having to hit them over a 96” badminton net, they realized they could bounce them on the ground, similar to tennis.
The advantage here is that the plastic ball doesn’t bounce as far or as high, so you don’t have to cover as much court.
Believe it or not, the name “pickleball” actually came from the family’s dog, Pickles. The pup would run and try to steal the ball when they were playing!
Getting Started with Pickleball: The Gear
Enough with the history lesson, let’s talk about the gear you need to get started with pickleball. All three of these things are important, and you can’t play the game without them.
The paddle is the most important piece of equipment in the game, so you’ll want to spend a solid amount of time deciding on one. These paddles get made of different materials, and each of them has its pros and cons.
Some companies make pickleball paddles with plastic, and others use aluminum. Some cover the paddles with graphite and some with fiberglass. There’s a wide assortment to choose from, just like any other racquet sport, so it helps to understand the options.
Wooden paddles are the traditional type of paddle used in pickleball. These were the ones used by founders throughout the 60s and all the way until the 80s when they started developing the sport a little more.
Around this time is when composite paddles replaced the old wooden ones, and while most people use composite now, we still see wooden paddles here and there. The primary reason they’re still out there is that they’re affordable.
The downside with wooden paddles is that they’re heavy and can weigh as much as 20 ounces. Since they have a solid face, you’re also dealing with air resistance that you wouldn’t feel with a tennis racket, so you need to factor that in as well.
We recommend you don’t use wooden paddles whether you’re getting into pickleball to play in the backyard or you’re serious about playing in a league. You’ll get fatigued, tire out your arms, and run this risk of hurting yourself.
The composite material is made of different elements combined into one to make a new object. These pickleball paddles are the most popular option and the one we recommend because they’re lightweight, durable, long-lasting, and the materials offer the highest playing advantage.
There are three components of a composite pickleball paddle:
2. Edge Guard
The face is the section that you visibly see when you look at the flat part of a pickleball paddle. While it looks like that area takes up the most space, it’s only a core cover.
The core is the centerpiece that makes up most of the face and the handle as well. The edge guard is the section around the face that holds the whole paddle together. It’s usually made of a different material than the rest of the paddle. The edge guard can be rubber, plastic, or even some type of fabric. Check out our guide, Best Pickleball Paddle to find the best pickleball paddle for you!
Now let’s talk about what you’re wearing on your feet. While the paddle is the most important part of pickleball, it’s also crucial that you wear the right shoes if you want to be comfortable, prevent injury, and compete at the highest level.
These are the shoes we recommend for pickleball, and they’re similar to tennis shoes (and no they’re not the heels). The main difference is that they have flat soles, little treading, and often have a colorless sole to prevent scuffing when you’re moving back and forth across the court.
Court shoes are also lighter than tennis shoes, which makes it easier for you to move laterally as you would in pickleball. They’re the best choice if you’re playing indoors on a gym floor. They’ll give you more traction than a tennis shoe, and they won’t damage the gym floor.
We often confuse tennis shoes with running shoes, and depending on where you live in the country; you might not call them tennis shoes at all. Some people call them sneakers; some call them running shoes; regardless of what you call them, they’re not tennis shoes.
Tennis shoes have a few important characteristics that separate them from running shoes. Here they are:
● They’re heavy and bulky
● The shoe bends near the toe
● It’s durable
While court shoes are the best choice for playing pickleball indoors, tennis shoes are the only choice you should have when playing outdoors. Tennis courts are rough, and that can do a number on your knees and legs if you’re not wearing shoes with plenty of support.
Not to mention the fact that your shoes won’t last very long from the rough texture of the tennis court. Check out Best Pickleball Shoes, to see the top 5 best shows for pickleball.
The last thing you need is a place to play and someone to play with. While we don’t anticipate you having a lot of pickleball courts in your neighborhood, some people are lucky enough to have them. You can check the USAPA website to see if there are any in your area.
If you don’t have a pickleball court, you can head to the local tennis court or community center and find a way to play. All you need is a tennis net, or volleyball net lowered in the gym to get started playing pickleball.
If you’re looking for a more in-depth explanation of pickleball courts check out our guide, Pickleball Court Dimensions!
Understanding The Game
The good news is, pickleball is easy to learn and doesn’t require you to have any previous athletic ability. Even if you’ve never picked up a paddle in your life, you should have no problem learning how to play pickleball after a few times out on the court.
Learning the Basics
The first thing you’ll want to understand is the most basic rules of pickleball. You can play this game in both singles and doubles.
Singles mean you’re playing by yourself against another opponent on the other side of the net. If you play doubles, it means you have two people on each side of the net; that would be two on two.
Only the serving team can score points. The server is the person who starts with the ball in hand and hits the ball over the net to the other side. If the non-serving team hits the ball back and you are not able to return in, the other team does not score a point; instead, they become the serving team and have an opportunity to score.
The winning team must reach 11 points and maintain a lead of two points to win the game.
How to Score
In a regular match, you will call out your score and server number before each serve. For example, if you’re playing doubles and the score is three to two, you would call out:
That would mean that your team has three points, the other team has two points, and you’re the second server.
If a point is scored, the server moves from one side of the court to the other. This process will continue until the serving team faults, then the opposing team serves, and you must return the ball.
The game starts like this:
● There are two teams, each team determines who will serve first
● First serve is always performed from the right-hand side of the court
● Whoever is on the right-hand side of the court is the server. The server calls the score
● The server proceeds to serve the ball
There are a few rules regarding serving in pickleball as well. It’s customary for the server to use an overhand serve striking the ball down towards the court in tennis. In pickleball, it’s the opposite.
An underhand serve is required in pickleball, and the ball must get hit in the air on a serve. The server cannot let the ball bounce on the ground and attempt to hit it across the court.
The serve is made diagonally, and it needs to hit in the diagonal section of the court on the opposite side. The server is only provided with one attempt, and if you fault in a singles match, the serve automatically goes to the other team. If you fault on a serve in a doubles match, the ball goes to your teammate.
When the Ball Is in Play
Once you serve the ball, the opposing team needs to let it hit the ground and bounce once before returning it. Once the other team returns, you need to let it bounce once before hitting it back. This rule is called “double-bounce.”
After the ball bounced in both courts one time, you can volley it without letting it bounce or return it off a bounce – it doesn’t matter. That rule only applies until someone scores or faults. Once the ball is served again, the double-bounce rule re-applies.
When someone scores a point, the server switches to the opposite side of the court and serves the ball into the diagonal square on the opposing team’s court.
If you need more information on understanding the game check out our guides, Pickleball Rules, Pickleball Scoring, How to Play Pickleball, and Why Is It Called Pickleball! These guides will give you all the information you need to get started in learning the game!
If you plan to learn the game of pickleball, expect to learn the lingo. Every sport has some jargon that they use, and it reigns true for pickleball as well. Let’s take a look at some of the terminology:
Ace – When a server serves the ball, and the opposing team does not return it. Kitchen – The area seven feet from the net on both sides.
Dink – When a player hits the ball, and it lands right on the other side of the net in the kitchen. Volley – This is when you hit the ball without it hitting the court first.
Rally – When two teams are continuously returning the ball across the court. Let – A serve that hits the net and lands in the servers court.
Two Important Rules
Most sports have a few rules that you can never break. In baseball, one of these rules may be that you can’t block the bag preventing someone from sliding into home unless you want to get tackled. For football, it could be that you can’t hit someone on a fair catch.
In pickleball, there are two important rules always to remember:
The kitchen is the area on both sides of the court, seven feet from the net. You’re not allowed to volley from this area, and this rule exists to protect the game’s integrity. If you could walk right up to the net and hit the ball over it, the game would lean so far in your favor that it would ruin its competitiveness.
The only way you’re allowed in the kitchen is if you’ve already hit the ball, and you ended up in the kitchen. If the opposing team returns the ball and you try to hit it while you’re in the kitchen, it’s considered a fault.
We talked about the double bounce rule briefly, but it’s a requirement for the game. The ball must bounce once on the opposing team’s court before they can hit it after your serve. When they return the ball back to you, you must also let the ball bounce once before you can return it.
Once the ball has bounced once in both courts, you can then volley or let it bounce however you like.
Pickleball Best Practices
Having the right pickleball strategy is important in winning a match. The sport requires a bit of patience, coordination, and endurance.
You want to stay as light on your feet as possible and keep them moving at all times. It’s okay to stand back and play defensively when you’re following the two bounce rule, but once the ball has bounced in your court, it’s time to get close to the kitchen line and get that volley going.
A drop shot is a form of a dink. This happens when someone moves towards the net and hits the ball, so it falls right over the net. When you do this, your opponent cannot return the ball because they need to let it bounce first, and they can’t hit it in the kitchen.
That’s why we said, as soon as you get your one bounce hit out of the way, you want to get to the kitchen as soon as possible. Getting a hit in like this is more difficult for seniors and older players but try your best!
The biggest mistake that a lot of players make is hitting the ball much harder than necessary when they get nervous. When you see the ball coming in your direction, your first instinct is to hit it as hard as you can to get it out of your way, and that will never work.
You need to focus on consistently getting the ball over the net into the opposing team’s court. As long as you can do that repeatedly, the rest will come later with experience.
Having the right pickleball strategy is only part of the game. You must have the right gear and knowledge if you plan to succeed and have fun with pickleball. While we talked a lot about all of these things, you “should” do. There’s one thing you “need” to do when playing pickleball.
…and that’s having fun. Get out there, get some exercise, join your friends, and play a game that’s easy for everyone to grab a paddle and jump right in.