Pickleball shares a variety of similarities to a few other racquet sports such as Badminton, Tennis and even Ping Pong. When someone is first introduced to Pickleball and they happen to have played one or more of those sports in the past, they often find it easier to adapt to the game than those with no previous racquet sport experience. Even with all the similarities, there are a few rules that are unique to Pickleball – especially involving the serve and serve return (see rules) – and it often takes a few games before any new players can remember them well enough to avoid any infractions. Just don’t be surprised to see the odd “experienced” player get caught making a common mistake on a service return.
Once those rules are fully understood, the beginnings of each rally will often follow the same pattern of shot making. Depending on whether you are on the serving side of the net or on the returning side, you should strive to accomplish two things……
- Serve the ball deep so that it keeps your opponent further back
- Remain at your baseline and wait for their return of serve. Since the serving team must let the ball bounce once in their court before hitting it, expect your opponent to return the serve deep in your court as well.
When returning a serve…
- Return the ball deep to the serving teams court and then…..
- Immediately move up beside your partner who should be standing at the non-volley zone line
Since both serving team members must wait for the return shot to cross the net and bounce in their court, they often find themselves playing that third shot from back at their baseline. Expecting to see both of their opponents positioned just across the net at their non-volley zone line, they have three shots to choose from…..
- A high lob shot. This is a shot designed to make an opponent run backwards and play that ball deep in the back of their court. This can be a good shot if the ball does end up going deep AND if the opponent is not skilled at hitting a hard slam. But if that lob shot isn’t returned to the back of the opponents court and it ends up coming down closer to the net, it can often be returned with a slam by almost any player of any skill level at anytime.
- A hard passing shot. A shot hit hard and returned just over the net is often used when a player feels they can find a spot that their opponent can’t reach or if they feel their opponent’s reaction time is slow and they are likely to misplay the ball.
- Third Shot Drop. This is the most effective and most commonly used third shot of all and attempted by players of all skill levels. However, it is harder to be consistent at it without lots of practice since the shot needs to be hit hard enough to clear the net yet soft enough that it will land or “drop” into the non-volley zone and not bounce up very high. A properly executed drop shot forces the opposing team to hit a more defensive soft shot in return which is often hit softly over the net into the non-volley zone and now a short game “dinking” rally begins.
Although it is harder than it looks, mastering these short game drop shots or “dinks” is a skill that definitely requires lots of practice and will also require patience. Get them both right and its much easier to compete against players who tend to always want to hit hard shots or who are much younger and can run around the court faster than you. Get one of them wrong and you’ll know it immediately!
Here are two links below that illustrate these basic instructions and while both sets of teams are successful at getting their serves and their return of serves deep in their opponent’s court, it’s the consistency and skill level of their third shot and all of the subsequent shots that is noticeably different.
You will see how advanced players can keep the soft game rallies going much longer which keeps their opponents in a defensive mode as well. Although novice players will try to do the same thing, unforced errors occur a little sooner for them than for advanced players but errors will eventually occur regardless of skill level.
Errors happen when one player doesn’t maintain a skilled and patient dinking rally and decides to choose a different shot that ends up going out of the court or into the net. Or, they may have intended to keep returning the ball softly over the net but if their shot ends up going just a little bit too high over the net, it enables an opponent to hit an easy winner.