Pickleball is a new sport. Invented in 1965, it didn’t begin to proliferate until the United States Amateur Pickleball Association formed in 1984. The US Amateur Pickleball Association reformed in 2004 into USA Pickleball Association, which rebranded in 2019 as USA Pickleball to show similar branding to other sports governing organizations like USA Baseball and USA Roller Sports. Being a racquet sport, pickleball benefits from strategies that were developed for badminton and tennis long before pickleball ever came along, and many of those strategies will work well with the smaller, lighter ball and smaller court of pickleball.
Pickleball began proliferating in 2008 after the publication of USA Pickleball’s official rule book. Along with standardization of pickleball equipment, the low cost of entry with its plastic whiffle-style balls and paddle-like racquets made it instantly accessible to a wide range of players.
A beginner pickleball set can cost as low as $15.00 for two polymer paddles and four balls, and competition pickleball shoes can be as low as $65.00. Because of this low cost of entry, someone can begin playing pickleball for under $100 U.S. It’s a very accessible sport for fitness as well, being originally designed for children to play.
Pickleball is both a singles and a doubles sport, which makes it attractive to play. As a sport that can be played either individually or as a double, the strategies involved in the game are slightly different. Singles players have a larger amount of court to defend, but the court is significantly smaller than a tennis court, so singles strategies will be more like badminton, with small, quick lateral movements predominating over a running game.
Singles pickleball is however more like tennis in that it’s a game predicated on speed and power. Singles pickleballers entering the game with a good strategy that includes multiple lanes of attack and multiple ways to respond to an opponent’s strategy are more likely to win than players who are
Force Opponents To Use Their Backhand
When facing any opponent, you will almost always want to force them into relying on backhand shots. In a racquet sport you will almost always be stronger with your forehand, so forcing an opponent to consistently reach across their body to hit the ball will make them more defensive. In relying on the weaker backhand, there’s a better chance that your opponent will be forced to hit into the net or otherwise commit a ball fault, allowing you to score more easily.
Consistently hitting the ball to the opponent’s backhand side will keep them moving to one side of the court, keep them using a side that they are going to be naturally weaker on, and keep them off-balance.
Using The Whole Court And Controlling The Pace Gives You The Advantage
In any sport, the player who can control the pace of the game has the advantage and will likely win. Controlling the pace in pickleball is no different. Singles pickleball is a fast, power-oriented game where keeping your opponent moving by hitting lots of cross-court shots is a key to victory. Letting up on your opponent will let them set up powerful shots that will instead force you to move and give them the victory.
One danger to a whole-court strategy in the game is the possibility of accidental faults costing volleys. Keeping the ball within the baseline will be more likely to keep the game to your advantage.
Avoid Drop Shots
Drop shots are a consistent part of strategy in many racquet and paddle sports. There’s a good reason to use them, especially when a long volley has pushed your opponent to the baseline. But over-reliance on drop shots can set up your opponent for success. A drop shot will naturally pull your opponent to the non-volley line, which is a good place for them to be to cut off your angles of attack.
Instead of drop shots, a good general strategy to follow is to push an opponent back with passing shots and baseline shots, and mix up with drop shots only when your opponent has been pushed to the baseline or out of the court entirely. Good tactics within a rally will drive victory in the singles game.
Consistently Serve Deep In The Court
In any racquet sport, serving as close to the opponent’s baseline as possible is a strong strategy to set up the rest of the point. A deep serve forces your opponent to start the game out of bounds, making them move further to continue the point as you control the pace of the game.
With a consistent deep serve, you can keep your opponent on the baseline and off balance, and keep them from coming in to the kitchen line where they can control the pace of the game. Remember that the easiest way to control a game of pickleball is to keep your opponent deep in their half of the court while moving up toward the kitchen line in your half.
Come In To The Kitchen (Line)
The Non-Volley Line, or Kitchen Line, is where most points in pickleball are scored. By positioning yourself at the kitchen line, you have ample opportunities to cut off opposing shots early, possibly before they even land the first time. Volleying an opposing shot is a great way to mess with the timing of your opponent, who may not be expecting to have to set up a quick response and reduces the amount of travel that an opponent’s return can make.
While hitting from the kitchen line, be careful about where your feet are going because returning a volley from inside the no-volley area can cost you points. While pickleball is more forgiving than many other court sports, with 11 points to victory, foolish errors shouldn’t cost you some of your points.
Return Serves Deep And Hit The Angles
When an opponent has the opportunity to serve, they will likely be using the same deep service strategy that you will be trying, so the response to the opponent’s deep strategy will be to keep using those deep shots. By responding to the opponent’s deep serves by resisting the urge to go for drop shots immediately, keeping the opponent deep in their side of the court while you move up and take control of the kitchen line,
Go Small Or Go Home
Many people have used the cliché of “go big or go home” to describe playing sports but in fact, shrinking the court and slowing the game are important strategies to win in any racquet sport. A player who can keep their play to a smaller area of the court – by intercepting shots before they have a chance to travel too far and keeping themselves out of the backcourt – will paradoxically find greater success than a player who uses the entire court.
Keeping your swing controlled and compact will help prevent opponents from exploiting potential weaknesses. Keep your body and movement together so that in the event that your opponent volleys the ball back to you, you are already ready to respond instead of needing to pull your arms back into control before returning. Any ball that comes back rapidly will need a quick response, and the best way to keep your responses quick is to work on a small, controlled swing.
Work On Your Cardio To Outlast Your Opponent
Pickleball is notable as a sport where average people can have good results. But even given this, it’s never a bad idea to put more time into training. Especially in the present environment, being more fit off the court will translate to success on the court.
Jogging and even walking are good ways to boost your cardio fitness. Jogging laps around the baseline before and after playing will encourage developing more endurance. In a game that lasts to 11 points, cardio endurance is part of the game. Remember that the best exercise program is the one that works for you and that you will stick with. All exercise programs can be scaled up as you gain fitness or scaled back after setbacks like an illness.
Singles Pickleball Is A Different Game, But Has Familiar Principles
Singles Pickleball is a game that needs more range and more fitness than the doubles game. Its strategy is more like that of badminton or tennis than of the doubles game that is the most popular form of pickleball. Singles pickleball asks more fitness and different strategies than the doubles game, and a player who can successfully shrink the game and their movements, force their opponent to expand, and consistently use the deep part of their opponent’s side of the court, keeping the opponent on the move and on the back foot will be successful. Singles pickleball is an unpredictable game, but for people who play it, it’s a rewarding experience distinct from its doubles sibling.