Beginner’s Pickleball Guide to Master the Game
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to on how to play pickleball: from the basics of gameplay and equipment requirements to mastering the rules and strategies that will make you shine on the court. Regardless of your age or fitness level, pickleball is a game that everyone can enjoy!
Paddles come in various materials like wood, composite, and graphite. Each type has its own unique feel and performance characteristics, so you might want to try a few before settling on your favorite. Just remember that the paddle should feel comfortable in your hand and provide a good balance of power and control.
Next up, you’ll need a pickleball. These lightweight plastic balls have holes in them, which affect their flight and bounce. Pickleballs come in two varieties: indoor and outdoor. The main difference is the size and number of holes, with outdoor balls having smaller holes to withstand windier conditions. Make sure you choose the right ball for your playing environment!
A pickleball net is similar to a tennis or badminton net but with a few key differences. The net should be 36 inches high at the sidelines and 34 inches high at the center. It’s important to set up the net correctly to ensure fair and enjoyable gameplay.
Pickleball Court Dimensions and Layout
The pickleball court dimensions are smaller than a tennis court, measuring 20 feet wide by 44 feet long. They’re divided into several key areas:
The baselines run along the length of the court at each end. Players serve and return serves from behind these lines.
Each side of the court has two service boxes, one on the left and one on the right. These boxes are where the serving team stands to deliver their serves and where the receiving team must let the ball bounce once before returning.
Non-volley zone (kitchen)
The kitchen is a 7-foot wide zone on each side of the net where players cannot volley the ball. This rule helps level the playing field, preventing powerful players from dominating the game with aggressive net play.
Proper Attire and Footwear
Wear breathable, moisture-wicking athletic wear that allows you to move freely. As for footwear, choose court shoes with good traction and support.
Running shoes will not provide enough lateral support and can cause injury, so it’s best to invest in shoes specifically designed for court sports.
Basic Pickleball Rules
Pickleball can be played with 2 (singles) or 4 (doubles) players. Here are some of the basic rules to follow:
Here is a couple of pickleball serving rules that you must follow:
The service is always performed underhand, with the paddle making contact with the ball below the waist. The server must stand behind the baseline and serve diagonally into the opposing team’s service court.
The first serve of each side-out is made from the right-hand court serving to the left service court. If the serving team scores a point, the server then serves from the left side and continues switching each time a point is scored.
Singles: Once the server loses a point, their opponent then gets to serve from the right-hand service court.
Doubles: Once the first server loses a point, the service then goes to their partner*. Once both players have served and lost, then the serve goes to their opponents, also referred to as a “side-out”.
*At the start of each game, only one player from the serving team has the chance to serve before committing a fault. After that, the service is then handed over to the receiving team.
This rule states that each team must let the ball bounce once on their side of the court before hitting a volley (hitting the ball in the air without letting it bounce). This rule applies to both the serve and the return of serve.
Pickleball Scoring Rules
In this section, I’ll break down the simple scoring rules that you need to follow.
A standard pickleball game is played to 11 points, with a win-by-2 rule. Matches are usually played as the best of 3 games.
Only the serving team can score points. A point is scored when the serving team wins a rally. If the receiving team wins a rally, no point is awarded.
Common Faults and Penalties
Faults are actions that result in the loss of a serve or rally. Some common faults in pickleball include:
- Hitting the ball out of bounds
- Failing to hit the ball over the net
- Serving from the wrong service box
- Volleying the ball from the kitchen
Basic Skills and Techniques
Pickleball may be easy to pick up, but mastering the various skills and techniques will take practice and patience. Let’s dive into the fundamental shots and strategies you’ll need to elevate your game.
The underhand serve is the go-to serve in pickleball. To execute this serve, stand behind the baseline, hold the paddle below your waist, and swing it in an upward arc, making contact when the ball hits its lowest point. Aim for a consistent, deep serve that lands near the baseline of your opponent’s court.
For more advanced players, the power serve adds extra pace and spin to the ball, making it more difficult for the opposing team to return. The key to a successful power serve is to generate more racket head speed to generate spin while maintaining control.
Returning the Serve
When returning a serve, your goal is to neutralize your opponent’s advantage and get into a good position for the upcoming rally. Stand near the baseline, watch the ball closely, and use a compact swing to hit a deep, controlled return.
Groundstrokes are the bread and butter of pickleball. They include forehands and backhands, which you’ll use to rally with your opponents from the baseline.
You should use a forehand when you are attempting to hit the ball on your dominant hand side.
The forehand is usually the stronger and more comfortable groundstroke for most players. To hit a forehand, while facing the net and holding the paddle in your dominant hand, swing the paddle forward making contact with the ball in front of your body.
You should use a backhand when you are trying to hit a ball that is going to your weak-hand side.
The backhand can be a bit trickier to master but is essential for a well-rounded game. To hit a backhand, use a two-handed grip with your non-dominant hand above your other hand to act as support. Rotate your shoulders, and swing the paddle forward, making contact with the ball as it comes into your zone and drive through the ball.
Volleys and Dinks
Volleys are shots hit out of the air without letting the ball bounce. Volleys are typically used to put pressure on your opponents and take control of the net.
Dinks are soft shots that barely clear the net and land in the kitchen, forcing your opponents to hit the ball upward.
Overhead Smashes and Lobs
Overhead smashes are powerful shots used to put away high balls near the net. To execute an overhead smash, position yourself under the ball, raise your paddle behind your head, then swing in an arcing motion to create power and drive the ball down onto your opponent’s side of the court.
Lobs are high, arcing shots that push the opposing team away from the net, giving you time to regain your court position. To hit a lob, use a gentle, upward swing, aiming to land the ball near the baseline.
Strategies and Tactics
Now that you’ve got a grasp on the basic skills, it’s time to delve into the strategic side of pickleball. Whether you’re playing doubles or singles, understanding the tactics and strategies involved will help you outsmart your opponents and win more points.
Doubles are the most popular format in pickleball, and teamwork is key. Here are some tips to help you and your partner succeed:
Communication and Teamwork
Good communication with your partner is essential in doubles play. Talk to each other about who’s covering which area of the court, call out shots, and encourage each other throughout the game.
The ideal court positioning is known as the “two up or two back” formation. This means both players on a team should either be at the net (offensive position) or at the baseline (defensive position), depending on the situation. This positioning maximizes court coverage and minimizes the chance of leaving open gaps for your opponents to exploit.
Smart shot selection can make all the difference in doubles. Aim to hit shots that put pressure on your opponents and exploit their weaknesses. For example, target the player with weaker groundstrokes or use dinks to bring aggressive players out of their comfort zone.
In singles, the game becomes more focused on individual skill and endurance. Here are some tips for success in singles play:
Mobility and Endurance
You’ll need to cover more ground than in doubles, so work on your fitness and agility to stay one step ahead of your opponent. Incorporate cardio and agility exercises into your training regimen to improve your on-court mobility.
Precision and variety in shot placement are crucial in singles. Mix up your shots to keep your opponent guessing and aim for the corners of the court to force them to cover more ground.
Consistency and Patience
Patience is a virtue in singles matches. Focus on keeping the ball in play and waiting for the right opportunity to attack. Consistently hitting deep, well-placed shots will eventually force your opponent into making an error.
Tips for Improvement and Practice
No matter how experienced you are, there’s always room for growth in pickleball. Here are some tips to help you hone your skills and become the best player you can be.
Drills and Exercises
Practice makes perfect! Set aside time for drills that focus on specific skills like serving, groundstrokes, volleys, and footwork. Incorporate both solo and partner drills into your routine to work on different aspects of your game.
Playing With More Experienced Players
One of the best ways to learn is by playing against players who are better than you. They’ll challenge you, expose your weaknesses, and force you to adapt your game. Plus, more experienced players often have valuable insights and tips to share.
Watching and Analyzing Matches
Study the pros by watching professional pickleball matches, either in person or online. Pay attention to their techniques, shot selection, and court positioning. Analyze their strategies and try to incorporate what you learn into your own game.
Participating in Clinics and Lessons
Consider attending pickleball clinics or taking lessons from a qualified instructor. These opportunities provide focused instruction and feedback that can help you refine your skills and take your game to the next level.
Pickleball Community and Resources
Being part of the pickleball community not only helps you improve your game but also allows you to connect with like-minded people who share your passion for the sport. Here are some ways to get involved and stay informed:
Local Clubs and Leagues
Join a local pickleball club or league to meet new players, participate in friendly competitions, and improve your skills. Many clubs host social events, clinics, and tournament games that cater to players of all levels.
Online Forums and Social Media
There’s a wealth of pickleball knowledge available online. Participate in online forums, follow pickleball social media accounts, and join Facebook groups to stay up-to-date with the latest news, tips, and trends.
Tournaments and Events
Competing in tournaments is a great way to test your skills, meet new players, and experience the excitement of competitive play. Look for local, regional, or national events that cater to your skill level and enter as a singles or doubles player.
Pickleball is a sport that’s easy to pick up and enjoy, regardless of your age or athletic ability. If you’re new to the game, don’t be afraid to jump in and give it a try. With practice, patience, and a positive attitude, you’ll soon find yourself hooked!
Frequently Asked Questions
How Do You Play Pickleball for Beginners?
Here’s a simplified guide to playing pickleball for beginners:
1. Court Setup: Set up a pickleball court with a net in a suitable space. The court dimensions are 20 feet wide by 44 feet long The pickleball net height is 34″ in the middle and 36″ at the posts.
2. Serving: Stand behind the baseline and serve diagonally to the opponent’s court. Serve underhand, making contact with the ball below your waist.
After the serve, the receiving player must let the ball bounce before returning it. Once the ball has bounced on both sides, players can either volley it in the air or let it bounce before hitting.
3. Non-Volley Zone (Kitchen): There’s a non-volley zone, also known as the kitchen, located on both sides of the net. You cannot hit a volley (strike the ball in the air without letting it bounce) while standing inside this zone.
4. Scoring: Points are scored only by the serving team. Games are typically played to 11 points, and a two-point margin is usually required to win.
What Are Pickleball Rules?
Pickleball rules include: underhand serves, only the serving team can score, the ball must bounce once on each side once before volleys are allowed (double-bounce rule), and avoiding volleying in the ‘kitchen’ or non-volley zone. A game is typically played to 11, 15, or 21 points and the winning team must win by 2 points.
Can 2 People Play Pickleball?
Absolutely, two people can play pickleball! This is called singles pickleball. The rules are mostly the same as doubles but the strategy differs as each player covers the entire court.
Can I Practice Pickleball By Myself?
Here are some ways you can practice pickleball by yourself:
1. Wall Practice: Find a flat and solid wall, preferably with line markings resembling a pickleball court. Practice hitting against the wall to improve your shot accuracy, control, and consistency. Work on your volleys, groundstrokes, and serves by hitting the ball against the wall and practicing different shots.
2. Ball Machine: If you have access to a pickleball ball machine, it can be a great tool for practicing various shots. Set the machine to different speeds and angles to simulate game-like scenarios. You can work on your footwork, positioning, and shot selection.
3. Shadow Drills: Practice your footwork and movement patterns by imagining you are playing against an opponent. Work on your positioning, split-step, lateral movement, and quick reactions. Visualize hitting shots and practice the timing of your strokes.
4. Skill-Specific Drills: Focus on specific skills such as serving, dinking, or smashing. Set targets on the court and challenge yourself to hit them consistently. Practice serving from different positions and angles.