Pickleball Drills for Beginners to Pros

The beauty of pickleball is that people can start playing at any skill level. However, the specifics of the games are nuanced.

This is what creates the need for different skill levels in pickleball tournaments. With the right mindset and enough dedication to your practice, the sky is the limit in terms of realizing your full potential.

One of the keys to becoming a great pickleball athlete is practice. While nothing rivals on-the-court experience against another player, it’s important to take some time on your own to hone the fundamentals you’ve already learned. The best way to do this is through pickleball drills.

Drills are a great way to figure out what your weaknesses are on the court and work out those kinks accordingly. Through repetition, drills drill (who would have thought?) consistently good habits into your repertoire.

If you’re looking to step up your game, here’s a list of some of the best instructors to follow and some insights on what they have to offer.

Sarah Ansboury

With a 2015 National Open Doubles Championship along with a 2016 Open Doubles and Mixed Championships under her belt, Sarah Ansboury knows the ins and outs when it comes to the sport of pickleball.

In the drill below, Sarah addresses one of the most important moves on the pickleball court—the dink:

What’s so useful about this video is that Sarah doesn’t only explain how to dink, but illustrates where you might be going wrong. This video is ideal for beginners, but also valuable for those looking to hone such a significant skill.

Joe Baker

While pros have firsthand knowledge of the intricacies of a sport, sometimes spectators can offer a fresh viewpoint. After all, with an objective point of view and a keen eye for detail, spectators can become great teachers in turn. Case in point, Joe Baker, who specializes not only in pickleball strategies, but golf and ballroom dancing.

In the video below, Joe shares backboard wall drills for pickleball:

What’s so convenient about backboard wall drills is that they allow you 7 to 10 times more opportunity to hit the pickleball than you would have in a typical doubles game. The only way to get better at pickleball is to hit the pickleball more. Participating in backboard wall drills will help you find your form, create consistency and give you valuable court-time experience.

CJ Johnson

When you’re looking to better yourself on the pickleball court, look no further than a website called Betterpickleball.com. Run by CJ Johnson, as the name suggests, they strive to make you better at pickleball!

As CJ explains in the video below, “If you step onto a pickleball court, you know that being a little bit faster you will have a bit of an advantage of the other team.” The drill in the video will help you with hand-eye coordination and improve your reaction time:

What’s interesting about this video is that this drill doesn’t happen only the court. It begins with a simple eye test using a magazine. This is an effective drill for strengthening your focus. From there, CJ takes you onto the court to apply what you learned. This video is a fun way to break up the monotony of typical drills.

Primetime Pickleball

Ready for the Primetime? Primetime Pickleball was founded by two 5.0 rated IPTPA certified pickleball coaches, Nicole Havlicek and Jordan Briones. With such high placements, it’s obvious that these two have honed their skills.

In the video below, the twosome work with U.S. Open and National Champion, Marcin Rozpedski in helping you find your sweet spot on the pickleball court:

This is a unique drill as Marcin holds the paddle like a pencil while using the round edge of the paddle bottom to hit the pickleball. Doing this will help your eyes get used to tracking the ball. Creating such pinpoint precision on a small surface will lead into the follow-up with a much larger target zone of a properly held paddle. There you will find your sweet spot!

Deb Harrison

Deb Harrison, or Picklepong Deb, was awarded Pickleball Athlete of the Decade, having won 15 gold medals over a 10 year period at the Florida State Senior Games. With a decade’s worth of experience, Picklepong Deb has been kind of enough to share her knowledge with pickleball enthusiasts via her YouTube videos.

In the one below, Picklepong Deb teaches about footwork and walks you through a drill that involves simulating play. It’s fun because it allows you to use your imagination and let loose a little:

What makes this drill so effective is that Deb breaks down the art of footwork and offers real insight into the steps. It’s also an intense workout that can help you get some cardio in. Lastly, since you’re not really playing, you don’t need to be on the court to practice!

These drills will give you plenty of new concepts and techniques to work with so that you can improve your play outside of games. Are there any videos that have been of use to you in the past? Share them with us!

What Makes a Good Pickleball Partner?

Doubles is even more popular than singles in pickleball, and there are plenty of great reasons why. Teaming up with a partner helps you play longer and more safely since you only need to cover half the court. The game also becomes more exciting and tactical when you have a partner covering your back.

You share the wins, the losses, and best of all, the fun!

Many players enjoy partnering with a friend or family member, and while this is a great place to start, you may be surprised to find that tensions can run high even during casual games.

Everyone wants to be a supportive partner, but at times it can be difficult to remember the original reasons you decided to play when you’re down several points and caught up in the moment—especially if you’re in a competitive tournament.

Here are a few ideas to keep in mind to support your partner on and off the courts:

Consider Your Partner’s Goals

Is your partner actively looking to improve their game, or do they just use pickleball to blow off steam at the end of their day? If they are interested in learning new skills, do they appreciate constructive feedback during games or prefer to hear from you in a more relaxed environment?

It’s important to find a balance between your own goals and those of your partner. Most players certainly want to win games when possible, but everyone has a different level of competitiveness and shouldn’t be forced to constantly evaluate their play if they’re just looking to smack a few pickleballs.

If you and your partner have largely different reasons for playing the game, it may cause trouble down the road, so it’s important to ensure you both have the same goals in mind. Otherwise, try to be considerate of what they’re looking to achieve and how you can support their aims.

Stay Positive

Remember that every game is a learning opportunity, even when you’re losing. Try to consciously take in as much of the action as possible so you can replay the points in your mind later. Doing this helps discover areas for improvement and come back even stronger later on.

Sometimes players can get frustrated when they’re at a clear disadvantage. At times like these, it’s important to remember why you started playing pickleball in the first place. Even for those who are competing at high levels, we’re all engaging with the same game… and the goal is fun!

Don’t let an “off” day bring you down. The fact that you’re getting to run around on the courts in the first place is cause enough for celebration.

Smile

(Credit: WithoutFlns)

Also consider how your mood affects your partner. When you’re frustrated, they’ll likely pick up on this and their attitude or play can end up suffering as well. On the flipside, if they’re getting down, a kind word or two can do wonders to bring a smile back to their face.

Know Your Team’s Strengths and Weaknesses

We all have our natural strengths. Maybe you have a powerful serve or can out-dink opponents for days. The same goes for your partner. Consider what they’re good at and how you can best leverage their play style. Depending on how your abilities mesh, you can work together to come up with tactics that play to both of your abilities while shoring up any weaknesses.

It can be helpful to read up on tactics like stacking and poaching when you’re ready to give more advanced techniques a shot.

Communicate

Communication makes a huge difference for everyone involved. It’s nice to be heard! Whether it’s as simple as calling “mine” or “yours” during a lob or center shot, or you’re examining ideas off the court, make sure you’re constantly keeping your partner in the loop.

While the best teams seem to share an almost telepathic connection, you can bet that many hours of practice and discussion have gone into smoothing out their play. You should be allowed to rely on your partner as much as they rely on you, so make sure you go to them if you have any concerns, whether it’s regarding your play or just feeling tension before a game.

Picklers playing together

(Credit: Chad Ryan)

Remembering these points will not only help you stand up to the competition, but have a wonderful experience playing pickleball every time you tackle a new challenge. Your partner will thank you and everyone will walk away happy.

The Pickleball Magazine Provides the Latest and Greatest in Pickleball Trends

Pickleball Magazine continues to offer excellent articles about pickleball trends, best places to play and tournament features. In the latest issue, Wayne Dollard, publisher of Pickleball Magazine, shares his personal experience in “Building Your Dream Court.” Wayne shares the main reasons he considered building a home court, which include having a place for parties and social gatherings.

He also shares the list of things to consider before building a court, like space and cost. Excellent photos are included showing the stages of building the court, as well as a check list with a price breakdown. This article is definitely one of the best for explaining everything that goes into building a home court. The USAPA has also published a book, “Pickleball Courts: A Construction & Maintenance Manual,” that is helpful on this topic.

The Oct/Nov 2017 issue also contains two USAPA announcements: A Major Region Restructure for 2018 and the new USAPA Sanctioned League Play. It also has a great Q & A page “The Rules Guru” that answers some complex questions about the interpretation of the IFP Official Tournament Rulebook.

We enjoy hearing feedback from Pickleball Magazine subscribers. Here are some of our most recent customer reviews:

“This is a terrific magazine, and I’ve been passing it around the club for others to read. There is a good variety of articles, and the photos and physical pages are high quality! Personally, I would love to see more intermediate skills advancement articles, as well as product reviews.”

“I’m picking up useful tips from this magazine that are improving my game.
I highly recommend a subscription.”

A fellow pickleballer gave me a copy and it’s so informative to me (as a beginner trying to ‘catch on to how the game is played).
Articles with information are so appreciated”

Every Pickleball Magazine issue contains training tips from some of the best trainers in the country. Who doesn’t want to learn how to “Run Down a Lob Safely” with Sarah Ansboury or “Hit Down the Middle” thanks to Coach Mo? Subscribe today, and if you are already a subscriber, make sure your subscription does not expire.  You cannot afford to miss an issue!

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Win More Points by Being Unpredictaball

I encourage players of all levels to play high percentage pickleball. Aggressive, low percentage shots may be fun for some, but other players will get frustrated at the resulting losses.

Pickleball loves consistency, and more points are lost than won. Many more.

High percentage pickleball is frequently described as hitting the right shot in a particular situation time after time. This is partly true, but not entirely. Many players do hit the same shot in a particular situation consistently, but as their opponent, I’m completely relaxed because I know exactly what to expect.

They are predictable. They are safe. And while safe pickleball wins at many levels and is quite fun, the element of surprise is essential at higher levels. Incorporate a hint of danger into your game.

Be unpredictaball.

Leaping for pickleball

Go for difficult shots and be consistent yet flexible (Credit: Chad Ryan)

Yeah, silly word. What do I mean by it?

In every situation there are several high percentage shot options. For me, high percentage means there is over an 80% chance my shot will be in. The 80% shot should be aimed to throw my opponents off more than the 95% shot.

Such a shot might involve hitting the ball near the sideline to throw your opponent off balance or driving a shot hard and low so it’s difficult to return. These shots nearly always occur at the kitchen line, but driving a third shot from the baseline is effective at times. High percentage play is not the same as predictable play.

This element of surprise generates anxiety and tension in opponents. We don’t want our opponents too comfortable or confident! Uncertain players make more errors. I love it when I know a player so well that I can guess the exact shot they’ll hit.

If I don’t know whether a well-placed dink, drive or lob is coming, I tighten up! Don Paschal was famous for this. He would take a backhand volley off his shoelaces at the kitchen and put it in my chest. Sometimes I couldn’t even see the ball till it crested the net.

Don’t use head fakes. They appear odd. Short back swings help you sell one shot and deliver another. Large back swings foretell hard shots. Decide even before your opponent hits the ball that, if the ball arrives where you expect, you’ll deliver a surprise shot.

Pickleball in center court

Hitting balls through the center of the court can slow your opponents (Credit: Chad Ryan)

Stroke or volley the ball using the appropriate mechanics. Avoid wristy shots that are difficult to control. Moving soft kitchen shots from the sideline to the center creates confusion as to which of your opponents will take the ball. An occasional lob might force your opponents to be uncertain about whether to take a step back from the kitchen line.

Keep your opponents guessing where and how hard every ball will come. Bringing a bag of high percentage trick shots to the court might just win you a few points and a few laughs.

Raise Your Floor… Not Your Ceiling

Sorry, no HGTV tips here. Just PickleballSpeak!

Ever had one of those days on the court where nothing feels right, nothing goes right and the weakest player in your community is smiling because he or she just collected their first win from you and will never, ever let you forget?

Pickleball winners

Pickleball winners (Credit: Michael D. Martin)

First, if there is any joy in winning, why not give a little joy? Second, we’ve all been there. But some players, whether in recreational or tournament play, are able to perform well no matter the opponents, ball, venue, wind, temperature or emotional state. They have raised their floor to a level of consistency that gets past those first rounds of tournament play until the muscle and mind are in sync and performing.

My wife and I showed up late to the beautiful Freedom Park courts in Palm Desert a couple days ago just after I took two silvers in Marcin Rozpedski’s tournament. We planned to just drill slowly that morning, but within a few minutes we were facing some outstanding players who were feeling great and banging away. One even had my Selkirk Omni 31P XO paddle (I love getting beat by someone with my paddle)!

Anyway, in order to prevail, we really had to focus and play well with almost no warm up! I was afraid that I would have to donate my trophies to the club otherwise!

Pickleball jump

One way to raise your floor is to jump off of it! (Credit: Chad Ryan)

My floor is often too low, but here are a couple things I think about to try and raise my floor:

1. Find your rhythm by watching the spinning ball. Which way is it spinning? Did I see the blur of my paddle hit the ball? Don’t be distracted by opponents or your partner. There is only a ball and a beat. Feet dancing. Back, bounce, swing. How many balls can I return in a row without mistakes?

2. Be consistent rather than banging away. Bangers often have low floors because balls either go long or in the net. Give every ball a life by hitting over the net and in. Make your opponents beat you with extraordinary shots. Then smile and congratulate them.

3. Warm up for at least 45 minutes prior to an important first match. Get relaxed. Hit at least ten great third shots in a row. I smile at players who spend lots of time and money going to tournaments and then warm up for only ten minutes prior to their first match when they know that their peak performance normally doesn’t occur till after an hour or two of play—and that they can sustain that level for many hours.

Finger on paddle

Player showing proper finger-on-paddle-face form (Credit: Baliboa Racquet)

4. Grab your paddle more firmly with your finger on the face. This can reduce the wrist action required in strokes. Wrist action in pickleball is tricky because players cannot “grab” the ball with topspin as in tennis or ping pong. Striking the ball more squarely with a firm wrist improves consistency.

5. Drill, baby, drill. Spend less of your time playing games, and more time drilling with a partner.

Some players have very high ceilings and very low floors… and they find it difficult to attract great partners. Players with lower ceilings but much higher floors attract great partners. Being a top club or tournament player demands consistently strong performance through ten to twenty games.

I would love to hear other thoughts or tips from players on raising their floor level of play.

 

Pickleball Calm

Few sports demand the abrupt transitions between calm and intensity so common in pickleball. I played doubles recently with one of the finest athletes over 50-years-old whom I’ve ever met. In his first game, he played completely relaxed yet raised his intensity and focus perfectly at critical moments. He played flawlessly.

Pickleball reach

You’ve got to keep your calm under pressure! (Credit: Michael D. Martin)

In the second or third game, after making a few mistakes, he begin to tighten up. As he tightened, the calm and relaxation disappeared, and he compensated by raising his intensity throughout every point. Mistakes flowed. Frustration mounted. And at the end of several games, he was both exhausted and discouraged.

Pickleball calm is essential in this quirky little sport. This is unnatural for many tennis players and other athletes. But at the present stage of this emerging sport, it is mandatory… and fun. I simply wouldn’t last during long kitchen rallies with prolonged intensity, happy feet and bent knees.

Bent knees

Don’t play with bent knees all the time (Credit: Michael D. Martin)

Some of the finest players, like Aspen Kern and Mike Gates, almost appear lazy. They are relaxed but keenly focused.

No need to keep your knees bent throughout every point. Stand up, stay alert, and watch the ball come off your opponent’s paddle. Think of each point as a long dance which could be sustained for minutes.

Meditating

Get into a meditative state (Credit: Tina Sbrigato)

And breathe!

1st Anniversary of the Pickleball Magazine

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Pickleball Magazine, the first magazine dedicated to America’s fastest-growing sport, was launched in January 2016. Wayne Dollard of Dollard Publishing is responsible for starting the magazine! We are glad to share his story on how this fabulous publication got started. Enjoy!

wayne-dollard

Wayne Dollard, Dollard Publishing

In the 1990s, I was a Color Systems Specialist for Canon. In 1999 I began publishing a national magazine for the sport of Platform Tennis, just for fun. A few years later, I quit my day job and began adding direct-mailed community magazines to my publishing portfolio. By 2015, I had 40 employees and 42 magazines being direct mailed to over 2 million households.

I was introduced to pickleball when I visited family at The Villages, Florida. I have a competitive tennis background and even played a couple years at Penn State. I was also nationally ranked in platform tennis for several years until I was permanently sidelined by a back injury and surgery in 2011. I began playing pickleball socially last year. In my first tournament, I won a few rounds at the US Open 35 Mixed and Men’s 4.5 Doubles. I have since won a few local tournaments.  My wife Lisa and sons Jordan, Brenden and Tyler really enjoy pickleball, so we’ll be putting a court in our backyard this spring.

US Open LogoIn June of 2015, I received phone calls from Terri Graham, Director of the 2016 US Open Pickleball Championship, and Chuck Vietmier, Director of Product Marketing for Gamma Sports, who encouraged me to launch a magazine for pickleball.

I did further research on the sport, and had positive discussions with Justin Maloof, the Executive Director of the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA).  Justin gave me the statistics that made this venture all the more attractive: 2.5 million players worldwide, USAPA membership growth from 4,071 to over 10,000 in 3 years and a similar rate of growth in places to play listed on the USAPA website. usapa

Justin and I brainstormed content features and the first Pickleball Magazine was published in January last year. The USAPA does not have an ownership interest in the magazine, but we offer them free content and they email the magazine to their 10,000+ player membership. The USAPA has been very helpful in getting Pickleball Magazine started.

Now, just 14 months after launching, we email each issue of the magazine to over 100,000 people, as well as sending print copies in the mail to 5,000 people. We also distribute the magazine to over 200 Barnes and Noble locations. Both the digital and print subscriptions for Pickleball Magazine are growing every day. We imagine Pickleball Magazine will continue to grow in popularity for many years to come.

Thank you Wayne for giving us your story on how the first Pickleball Magazine got it’s start. You’ve done a great job with this publication and we look forward to all of your future issues!

If you are interested in subscribing to Pickleball Magazine, here is some great information for you:

  • Pickleball Magazine is published six times per year.
  • Each issue runs around 60 – 70 pages and contains 20 or more feature articles.
  • Each issue contains four to six great instructional articles with detailed recommendations for drills, strategy, and skills development.

Click here to subscribe to Pickleball Magazine