While the world over loves pickleball for many reasons, how quickly you can go from never playing to having fun surely tops the list. But something happens at this point. Players pick their lanes, either deciding to stick with the sport in a purely recreational capacity or to start getting more competitive and entering leagues and tournaments.
For the latter, they quickly find out that competing in pickleball requires frequent and consistent development of their skills.
Now, we've all heard that "practice makes perfect" - but it's more than a fun phrase, there's science behind it. Let's get a little bit Bill Nye with this, shall we?
Why Pickleball Drills Make You Better
We’re guessing you’ve heard about neurons - those little cells in your brain that fire off at ridiculous speeds and allow you to think at the speed of light. But what about axons and myelin? In the plumbing world, if neurons are the equivalent of water, then axons are your pipes and myelin is foam insulation surrounding those pipes.
Sticking with the plumbing analogy a bit longer, on a bitterly cold day the thickness of that foam insulation matters quite a bit - if it’s not there or too thin, the pipes will begin to freeze and slow the movement of water down, but if the insulation is thick enough it can keep the water moving quickly.
Similarly, the thickness of myelin is responsible for the speed of how quickly your neurons travel along your axon. And research has shown that repetition thickens your myelin, thereby letting your neurons travel more quickly. This is why you can drive your car or walk around your neighborhood without having to think about it. You’ve done it so many times that there is zero resistance in the path of moving the thought process to the action.
And this is also why practicing pickleball drills is an effective way to improve your skills. Through repetition of correct form, what once was an activity that required concentration to complete can easily become like driving a car to work - you don’t even think about it.
Pump Up Your Skills With Drills
So if you’re committed to improving on everyone’s favorite court sport, then it’s time to work on specific areas of your game that need improvement through practice. To outsiders, pickleball may seem like a simple game, but once you break through the purely recreational layer of the sport you’ll find there are many facets to it.
Things You Should Know Before Starting The Drills on Our List
From foundational moments like serving and dinking, to more nuanced aspects of the game like Ernies and third shot drops, there are endless rabbit holes to go down. In our best effort, we’ve attempted to categorize some of the biggest moments throughout a rally and bring them all into one spot, which is this article.
For each category, we’ve detailed several drills for players to explore, which include a summary of the drill, how it will improve your skills in a specific area, and detailed step-by-step instructions on how to perform each drill.
This isn’t some light list either - we’ve pulled together 18 pickleball drills for beginners to help you improve in different facets of multiple skills. That’s right, 18. We told you it was a big sport.
The purpose of this article is to make your task of improving a little bit easier. From speaking with pros and coaches to testing drills ourselves, we’ve run through the gamut to bring you the best 18 out there as it relates to the following categories:
- Groundstrokes: Forehand and backhand drills as far as the eyes can see...
- Serves and Returns: This solely focuses on volley serves.
- Third Shot Drops: Drills you can practice solo, with a friend, or in doubles.
- Dinking: From accuracy to soft hands, this one offers a wide range of areas to focus on.
- Volleys: This section offers a lot of support for hitting more consistent volleys.
Packed into these 5 categories you’ll find 18 individual drills.
If you know how to properly grip a paddle, what we mean by footwork and body position, and the term “shadow practice” then you’re clear to jump into the list of drills. If you need a refresher on any of those three concepts, read the sections just below this. They’re important elements of being able to complete any drill in our list successfully.
How Do You Grip a Pickleball Paddle Correctly?
Gripping a pickleball paddle correctly is a combination of grip pressure and placement, both impacting power and control. Your fingers are largely responsible for pressure, where some grip and others stabilize. Placement is the location of your grip on the handle, which also impacts the angle of the paddle face.
As soft hands are an important topic for playing pickleball, your grip directly affects this. If you were to only grip with your index finger and thumb but use your other fingers to stabilize the paddle, this would be the closest grip to playing with soft hands. With each finger, you add into a gripping role and the firmer you squeeze, the greater the grip pressure becomes.
Gripping Styles and Placement
How you place your hands on the grip impacts not only the power and control of your shots but also the angle. Power and control related to placement run along the y-axis of the handle, where the further from the neck of the paddle your hand is located the greater your power but with less control. And if your hand is closer to the neck, the inverse is true.
Since each pickleball paddle’s handle is essentially a column connected to a plane as you get to the paddle head, how your hand is placed around this column directly shifts the angle of the paddle. So your grip placement also impacts the rotation of the paddle in your hand, which is why you have grip styles like eastern, western, and continental.
- Eastern Grip: A relatively neutral style of holding the paddle where the paddle face is nearly vertical with a slight tilt forward in your dominant hand, which closes the angle of the paddle.
- Western Grip: This is a dramatically closed paddle angle compared to the eastern grip, where holding the paddle in your dominant hand, you would see the paddle head tilts much further down.
- Continental Grip: The continental grip is close to neutral, just like the eastern grip, but where the eastern grip is slightly closed at an angle, the continental is slightly open. This means the paddle face would be angled away backward, where the top edge is closer to your body when in your dominant hand.
Each style has a specific purpose, and as we walk through each drill we’ll call out the best style for specific shots or moments.
Footwork and Body Position
In pickleball, your feet and body position are just as important as your grip on the paddle. Footwork is the base of all movement, while body position determines how you’re able to hit shots correctly and consistently.
Your footwork matters for several reasons, aside from the obvious of following the rules of the game, like not crossing into the baseline on a serve. Outside of that, your footwork specifically changes how quickly you can get to a ball and cover the court. It can also be the difference in how ready you are for any shot that comes your way. Agility and coverage, that's the name of the game.
Your body position is just as important, if not more because it’s the relationship between your feet and grip. Your stance alters your ability to engage in a shot. And with the correct body position relative to your paddle (think holding your paddle 18 inches in front of your chest) makes a drastic difference in being ready for all shot opportunities.
Not to mention getting to the ball as early and as high as possible is a key strategy in keeping shots low and avoiding those pesky pop-ups.
So as you read on throughout this article, you'll find that we've called out specifics around footwork and body position for each drill, which is there to help you sharpen your form.
What Is a Shadow Drill?
A shadow drill, which is also referred to as shadow practice, consists of mimicking a shot before doing it with an actual pickleball. This helps players understand the body position and mechanics needed to execute the shot correctly without worrying about a paddle or ball.
More specifically, it's a valuable framework to improve form and footwork so you can go into a more simulated experience executing the fundamentals correctly.
A shadow drill is one of the most effective ways to practice specific movements and footwork. Every shadow drill in this article will have you first mimic a shot without actually hitting the ball, which should be viewed as the most basic drill for improving a skill. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's only good for beginners. Practicing fundamental mechanics is good for any experience level of player.
And with shadow drills out of the way, it's now time to jump into our 18 drills and their respective categories, starting with groundstrokes.
Groundstrokes are the bread and butter of pickleball shots. Aside from being used all the time, they're also the building blocks to many other shots. In this section, we'll cover drills for both forehand and backhand groundstrokes.
- A forehand groundstroke is executed by hitting the ball with the face of the paddle on the dominant side of your body, while off the bounce.
- A backhand groundstroke, on the other hand, is executed by hitting the ball with the face of the paddle on your non-dominant side, where you will need to reach across your body to make contact with the ball off the bounce.
While both strokes are important, the forehand is generally stronger than the backhand because it relies on your dominant hand, which typically generates more power and accuracy when properly executed. But there are exceptions to this as some people have unexplainable strength in their backhands. And of course, some even use a two-handed backhand to get the job done.
How to Grip a Pickleball Paddle for Groundstrokes
Each stroke requires different grips, depending on the angle of your hand. For example, a continental grip would be angled away forward,
The way you grip your paddle is crucial to executing a proper forehand and backhand groundstroke. For the forehand, you want to use a handshake grip, also referred to as the Eastern Grip where your hand is wrapped around the handle of the paddle, with your thumb on the backside of the paddle. For your backhand, you want to use a continental grip, where your hand is positioned so that the paddle face is slightly tilted, with the thumb resting on the right edge of the paddle.
As mentioned earlier, each stroke requires a different grip, depending on the angle of your hand. Let's start with the forehand.
Forehand Groundstroke Grip
This shot requires a handshake grip, also known as the eastern grip. To achieve this grip, wrap your hand around the handle of the paddle, with your thumb on the backside of the paddle. This grip will allow you to generate more power and spin on your forehand shots.
Backhand Groundstroke Grip
For the backhand, you'll want to either keep the forehand grip if you have trouble switching between grips during a rally or use a continental grip if you can switch grips. This grip involves positioning your hand so that the paddle face is slightly tilted toward you, which opens the face of the paddle up.
The continental grip will allow you to hit backhand groundstrokes with more control and precision, but it's also great near the kitchen since this angle is also optimal for dinking.
Footwork and Body Position
With your forehand shots, step forward with your dominant foot as you swing. This will help you to transfer your weight onto your front foot, giving you more power and accuracy.
With your backhand groundstrokes, step back with your non-dominant foot as you swing. This will transfer your weight onto your back foot, providing you with the balance and control needed to get the ball over the net and still keep it low.
As you finish your follow-through your dominant shoulder will naturally shift toward the net, just reset to an athletic stance right after and be prepared to jump into a split-step to get ready once more.
Now then, let's get into some groundstroke drills.
1. Shadow Swings: Mechanics
You know the drill with shadow swings (good pun, right?) - this drill is performed without a ball. By eliminating the ball, you can focus solely on your technique and generate power throughout your entire body.
First, you'll need to find a flat surface, such as a wall or garage door, and stand a few feet away from it. Then, execute your forehand swing, paying attention to your elbow's position and your body's alignment with the target.
This drill is meant to refine your swing mechanics, allowing you to deliver stronger and more precise shots. Practicing shadow swing will help you hone in on technique and enhance your overall game. This drill's simple but also extremely effective. Plus you can do it from anywhere.
Steps to Perform Shadow Swings:
- Find a flat surface like a wall or garage door to practice on.
- Stand a couple of feet away from the surface and assume your ready position.
- Swing your arm as if you were hitting a ball, focusing on proper form and keeping your elbow up.
- Use your entire body to generate power - engage your legs, core, and shoulders.
- Repeat the motion several times, and practice until you feel comfortable with your swing. This is a perfect drill as part of your warm-up or just something to do for a few minutes every day.
2. Drop and Hit: Consistency and Timing
This drill allows you to focus on the timing of your swing and develop a consistent contact point.
To start, stand in your ready position with your paddle in your backhand grip (most likely eastern or continental). Drop the ball in front of you and let it bounce once, but keep your eye on the ball the entire time while you simultaneously swing your paddle towards it. Try to hit the ball at its peak height off the bounce - in a game this will help you hopefully keep the ball down and just above the net. This drill will help you enhance your hand-eye coordination and timing, which are crucial skills for consistent backhand groundstrokes.
You can certainly do this drill with your forehand too.
Steps to Perform Drop and Hit:
- Stand in your ready position, holding your paddle in your preferred backhand grip.
- Drop the ball in front of you and let it bounce once.
- Move your body into the correct position and swing your paddle toward the ball.
- Focus on hitting the ball at the peak of its bounce.
- Repeat the drill several times, and try to develop a consistent contact point.
3. Figure 8: Footwork and Coordination
This is another drill that's great for your backhand, but it doesn't prevent you from applying the same approach to your forehand. Coordination and timing are typically worse with backhand shots, so that's why Figure 8 and the Drop and Hit are catered toward backhands, but everyone should want to improve coordination and timing on both shots.
Specific to Figure 8, you'll learn to move your feet while improving your backhand. Remember, footwork has ridiculous sway on your shots, so this is a way to turbocharge against the learning curve for your backhand.
This drill forces you to move your feet in a figure 8 pattern while hitting backhand groundstrokes. The key to this one is rhythm. If you can find a rhythm in your feet while swinging, you'll find that timing and consistency in your backhand will skyrocket.
Steps to Perform Figure 8:
How to Draw Figure 8: Draw a figure 8 with your feet by placing them a few feet apart and stepping first with your left foot to the left, then crossing your right foot in front of your left foot. After this, you'll step to the right with your right foot before crossing your left foot behind your right foot. Here's what it looks like as part of the drill:
- Stand in your ready position with your racket in your backhand grip.
- Move your feet in the figure 8 pattern and have a friend or ball machine send to your backhand while moving.
- Focus on maintaining a consistent rhythm and footwork while hitting the ball.
- Repeat the drill several times, and try to improve your footwork and coordination.
4. Forehand to Forehand (Backhand to Backhand): Control and Accuracy
This is a classic drill for improving control for either groundstroke, and it's beautifully simple. You just need a partner to stand across the net from you on the same side, and the usual ball and paddle for this drill.
As the name suggests, you will focus on hitting a forehand to your partner's forehand while they hit back to your forehand, and you continue in this sequence. Just swap your backhand to work on that groundstroke.
A fun way to gamify this is to see how many times you and your partner can reach in keeping the back and forth alive. Nothing improves consistency and motivation like gamifying a drill with a partner. Just don't lose sight of the purpose of this drill, which is accuracy and control.
This means you should focus on trying to hit the ball in the same spot every time, rather than worry about speed or power. In doing so, you'll build the muscle memory and technique you need for effective groundstrokes.
Steps to Perform Forehand to Forehand or Backhand to Backhand:
- Stand opposite your partner, the kitchen line is probably a good spot as you begin, spread out as you improve.
- Assume your ready position, holding your paddle in the correct grip.
- Hit forehand groundstrokes back and forth with your partner, trying to maintain consistency and control.
- Switch to backhand groundstrokes and repeat the drill.
- Try to hit the ball with accuracy and control and repeat the drill several times to improve your groundstroke technique.
5. Cross-Court Rally: In-Bounds and Rally Winners
This is another classic drill, but this one focuses more on rallies and in-bounds shots. This drill is great for players who are new to pickleball as it teaches how to control the court and make consistent returns. By hitting diagonally, you give yourself more space, plus if you time a cross-court shot correctly you can catch the opposite side way off guard.
You'll find that this drill improves your groundstrokes (backhand or forehand) by helping your consistency, but it also forces better footwork as you'll get into a habit of trying to respond to sideline shots. Plus this is a devastating strategy when you get into dinks, and much of the footwork carries over.
Oh and perhaps the best part - you'll see this one shine in a game as you switch play up from front to diagonal.
Steps to Perform Cross-Court Rally:
- Stand on opposite sides of the court, diagonal with your partner - like one is serving and the other is receiving.
- Practice hitting forehand groundstrokes cross-court to your partner's forehand, or backhand groundstrokes cross-court to their backhand. If this is too difficult, modify it by just focusing on keeping the rhythm of cross-court shots alive with either groundstroke.
- Keep the rally going for as long as you can, and try to avoid hitting the ball out of bounds.
- Switch to hitting backhands cross-court and repeat the drill.
6. Groundstroke Down the Line: Control and Accuracy
This drill is best with four people, as one person on each side can send it cross-court while the other two can send it down the line - creating the shape of an 8, keeping the rhythm going. Simply rotate roles when the rally ends.
This drill is great for learning how to control a rally - if you continue to play your opponent straight on, mix it up and shoot it cross-court - if you see them out of position or your rally is playing diagonally, send it down the line. This will put you in the driver's seat where you control the flow of play.
It's also quite helpful for improving accuracy since down-the-line shots require precision.
Steps to Perform Groundstroke Down the Line:
- Have your partner hit a ball to your forehand side - go backhand if you're dominant with that.
- Use your forehand groundstroke to hit the ball down the line, aiming for the opposite corner of the court, or if you are in the position for cross-court, send it diagonally.
- Repeat the pattern until all four players hit in sequence, alternating between line, cross-court, line, and cross-court.
7. Switch Sides: Footwork and Position
If you're looking to improve your footwork and your ability to hit shots from different positions on the court, the Switch Sides drill is perfect for you. This drill plays more like a small game, where players switch sides after every single shot, meaning if you hit from the right service area you'll shift to the left service area for your next shot, and continue this pattern throughout.
This drill will get you out of any flat feet issues you may be facing since you're constantly moving, and it will also challenge you to hit from different angles and distances.
Steps to Perform Switch Sides:
- Play a game with your partner where you switch sides after every shot.
- Hit forehand and backhand groundstrokes from different positions on the court - no need to prescribe one style here.
- Focus on your footwork and positioning, and make sure you're hitting the ball with proper form - this means doing your best to keep the ball in front of you before you make contact and taking it from as high in the air as possible.
- Keep the game going for as long as you can, and try to hit as many winners as possible.
Serves and Returns
There are two types of legal serves in pickleball - volley serves and drop serves. We're going to focus on the former though, since it's the original serve and far more prevalent than the drop serve.
A volley serve is essentially an underhand serve where the serving player cannot make contact with the ball above their waist, their arm must move in an upward arc, and the highest point of their paddle's head cannot rise above the highest part of their wrist. And since it's a volley, it's hit from the air, not off the bounce.
It sounds more complicated than it is, but if you can imagine an underhand hit, it's that. If you need more info on volley serves, we've got you covered.
How to Grip a Pickleball Paddle When Serving
Technically you could get away with any grip style to serve the ball, but the eastern grip is the most common, as it favors the forehand slightly and since your non-dominant hand is used to hold the ball while serving, this grip complements that.
If you like to add topspin to your serve, the western grip could be used here as well, although with USA Pickleball regulations on spin serves, that could become problematic. It's probably best to stick with the eastern grip.
Footwork and Body Position
Since you have to serve behind the baseline, your position is already confined from the start. The other part to take note of is that you have to keep at least one foot on the playing surface behind the baseline when serving - even if you're in motion to make contact with the ball.
And even when you're behind the baseline getting ready to serve, you can't go past where the baseline meets the centerline or sideline.
So as far as position goes, you could be toward the center of the court or hugging the sideline. Most players will recommend being closer to the centerline since it's closer to the service area and also standing about a foot behind the baseline so you don't fault by stepping on it.
8. Toss and Catch: Placement and Consistency
This drill is a fun way to work on your placement and consistency. With Toss and Catch, you'll practice tossing the ball and catching it with your paddle while keeping your wrist and arm loose. In case that needs any clarification, you're throwing the ball up with your non-dominant hand and catching the ball on the paddle.
This motion should sort of look like a tennis serve. While you can't do this motion to legally drop serve, what this really helps with is learning how to develop a softer touch on the ball, which will improve your ability to direct your serve as you'll know how to properly make contact with the paddle.
To get started, stand a few feet away from a wall or net and begin tossing the ball up and catching it with your paddle. Focus on keeping a light grip on the paddle and letting your wrist and arm do the work. For your grip, you may want to consider trying to only squeeze the grip with your thumb and index finger, and just keep your middle, ring, and pinky finger there to stabilize the paddle in your palm. This will help you keep a softer grip increasing the odds of you catching the ball with your paddle.
Steps to Perform Toss and Catch:
- Stand a few feet away from a wall or net.
- Toss the ball up with your non-dominant hand.
- Catch the ball with your paddle, keeping your wrist and arm loose, but attempting to rely on your shoulder more, as you would in a serve.
- Repeat the motion several times until you feel comfortable with the motion and can catch the ball consistently.
9. Serve to Target: Accuracy and Control
This one is another from the book of simple drills, but don't knock it until you try it, as this drill has stood the test of time in being an effective way to boost accuracy and control with serves. In essence, you'll find a specific spot on the court to aim for and practice serving to that spot - time and again.
Since serving deep is one of the golden rules of serving, you may want to drop a cone or some sort of mark near the opposite side's baseline to help your targeting. Grab as many pickleballs as you can scrounge up for this one because it heavily relies on the repetition of serves.
This drill will help you develop greater accuracy for placing your serves right where you want them, hopefully making a return of serve nearly impossible for your opponents.
Steps to Perform Serve to Target:
- Choose a specific spot on the court to serve to.
- Practice your serve, focusing on hitting that spot consistently.
- Adjust your aim as needed to improve your accuracy.
- Continue practicing until you feel confident in your ability to hit your target consistently.
10. Serve and Split Step: Movement and Patience
Want to improve your footwork and timing on the court? Try out the Serve and Split Step drill. After serving the ball, you'll perform a split step hop to move from the baseline to the kitchen in 2 to 3 iterations.
This drill does a couple of great things for your game. First, it helps you get into position for the third shot but prevents you from rushing the kitchen without assessing the situation first. And this is because the split-step forces you to build momentum while remaining in place for a few seconds. This improves your agility, and ability to cover the court, and also builds your court IQ as well.
What Is a Split Step in Pickleball?
A split step is a fundamental skill in pickleball that involves jumping and landing with your feet shoulder-width apart before your opponent hits the ball. This movement allows you to quickly react to your opponent's shots and get into position to hit your own shots.
The split step is essential in both doubles and singles play, as it allows you to move quickly and efficiently around the court. It's a key element in keeping your opponents on the defensive and putting pressure on them to make mistakes.
Footwork and Body Position
Good footwork and body position are crucial for successful split steps in pickleball. When executing a split step, you should keep your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. This will give you a stable base to work from and help you move quickly and efficiently.
It's also essential to position your body correctly when executing a split step. Stand with your shoulders square to the net and your non-dominant foot slightly forward. This will allow you to move in any direction and react quickly to your opponent's shots.
In addition to the split step, it's important to practice good footwork and body positioning throughout the game. This includes proper court coverage, quick movements, and efficient footwork. By practicing these skills regularly, you'll be able to move around the court with ease and hit more accurate shots.
The Serve and Split Step begins with a serve, then immediately do a short hop into a split step, where you'll time your jump peak with the moment your partner makes contact with the ball, you'll hit it back then move into another split step until you make your way to the kitchen. Focus on keeping your movements quick and precise, and work on developing the right timing for each step. This drill will help you become more agile and efficient on the court.
Steps to Perform Serve and Split Step:
- Practice your serve, focusing on getting it over the net and into the opponent's court.
- After serving, immediately hop into a split step.
- Transition into a split step where you'll repeat split steps until you reach the kitchen line from the baseline.
- Practice until you can perform the motion quickly and efficiently.
2 Drills to Improve Your Split Steps
The T-Drill is a great solo drill that can help you beef up your split step skills! By running forward, shuffling left and right, and then backpedaling, this drill helps improve your agility, speed, and footwork - all the basic ingredients of the split step.
To perform the T-Drill, set up cones or markers on the court in the shape of a T. Start at the base of the T and run forward to the top of the T, then shuffle to the right cone, shuffle to the left cone, and then run back to the base of the T. Repeat the drill several times, focusing on your form and speed.
Steps to Perform T-Drill:
- Set up cones or markers on the court in the shape of a T.
- Start at the base of the T and run forward to the top of the T.
- Shuffle to the right cone and touch it with your hand.
- Shuffle to the left cone and touch it with your hand.
- Backpedal to the base of the T.
- Repeat the drill several times, focusing on your form and speed.
Practicing your split step can help you quickly move to the ball and get into position for your next shot - this drill is all about improving your reaction time needed in a split step.
To perform the Splits drill, stand at the kitchen line and practice taking a step forward with one foot while splitting your feet apart, just as your opponent makes contact with the ball.
Steps to Perform The Splits:
- Stand at the kitchen line in your ready position.
- Take a step forward with one foot as your opponent makes contact with the ball.
- Split your feet apart, landing on the balls of your feet.
- Quickly move to the ball and get into position for your next shot.
- Repeat the drill several times, focusing on your footwork and reaction time.
Returns (Return of Serve)
The return of serve in pickleball is a crucial aspect of the game, as it sets the tone for the entire point. A strong return can put pressure on the serving team and give the returning team an advantage, while a weak return can result in a quick point for the serving team.
How to Grip a Pickleball Paddle for Return of Serve
When it comes to the return of serve, the grip on your pickleball paddle can make a big difference in your ability to execute a successful return. It depends on what side of the court you receive the ball on, what side of your body it arrives at, and which hand is the dominant hand.
Somewhere between eastern and continental would surely cover it, but if you're able to hit a nice topspin return you may want to use a western grip. Or you could use a modified eastern or modified western grip - this gets into your preference for this shot and where it lands.
Footwork and Body Position
In addition to having the right grip, footwork, and body position are also important for a strong return As the serve is coming at you, it's important to move your feet and get in front of the ball with your paddle 1-2 feet in front of you, as part of a ready position.
Try to take small, quick steps to get into position, you could use a split step (hint hint) and keep your body square to the net. Avoid lunging or reaching for the ball, as this can throw off your balance and make it harder to control your return.
11. Deep Returns: Accuracy and Power
Do you struggle with returning deep shots and transitioning to the net? You're not alone, this is a tough one for many since you may lack the ability to control the ball well enough to drive it back far, or you may lack the control to place it correctly due to how much power is needed.
Grab a partner and have them serve you - they'll remain at the baseline and your goal is to hit one foot before their feet. In a game, this will be quite effective at buying you time to get closer to the kitchen and also keep your opponents pushed back at their baseline.
If you find that you're going too far, aim two feet in front of your partner. It's a bit like golf where if you can't help but slice the ball, if you can't work around it, just work with it.
Steps to Perform Deep Returns:
- Start at the baseline and assume your ready position.
- After your partner serves, step in and hit a deep return trying to land the ball a foot or two before their position at the baseline.
Use proper technique and aim for accuracy to set yourself up for a strong transition to the net.
Third Shot Drops
The third shot drop is a game-changer shot - and if you ever want to advance in pickleball, you have to master this shot. This shot is played after the return of serve and aims to drop the ball softly over the net, putting your opponents on the defensive. Not to be confused with a third shot drive, this ball is meant to die on the bounce.
The goal of the shot is to get the ball to land in the kitchen, just over the net, and force your opponents to hit up, allowing you to move up to the net and take control of the point.
How to Grip a Pickleball Paddle for a Third Shot Drop
A soft shot requires soft hands, so your grip here is less about style and more about pressure. You want to maximize control of the paddle, which means minimizing the pressure you apply to the grip. So lay off the tight squeeze here.
Since you'll most likely be taking this shot just off the baseline and not quite in the kitchen, you'll want to make sure your hands are soft as silk.
Footwork and Body Position
As you prepare to hit the shot, make sure your feet are in a good position, with your body square to the net. Take small, quick steps to get into position, and keep your weight on the balls of your feet. As you hit the shot, try to stay low and keep your paddle face more open than closed, so that the ball will have a soft landing in the kitchen.
Remember, you want it to gently rest on landing like it's about to stick to the court.
12. Wall Drops: Accuracy and Control
If you're looking to improve your accuracy and control with your third shot drop, Wall Drops are the drill for you. This drill allows you to practice dropping the ball over a wall and into the court, simulating a third shot drop. It's a bit unorthodox, but that's part of the fun. And who said untraditional means less effective? Well, whoever did was incorrect, and wall drops prove it.
Find some sort of object that is about 3 feet high - this can be at home in your driveway or even something on the court. Move somewhere between 10-12 feet from it and practice bouncing the ball and hitting it so it arcs over the height of the object, just like you're hitting a third shot drop's arc.
This drill helps you develop precision and control with your drop shots.
Steps to Perform Wall Drops:
- Set up an obstacle that's 3 feet tall and place it about 10 feet away from you.
- Stand facing the object, with your feet shoulder-width apart and your paddle in your hand.
- Drop the ball for and try to arc it over the object on its peak of its bounce.
- Focus on your technique and try to hit the ball with accuracy and control.
- Repeat the motion several times, and practice until you feel comfortable with your drop shot.
13. Return and Drop: Angles and Accuracy
If you want to improve your ability to hit a third shot drop from different types of returns, Return and Drop is the perfect drill. In this drill, your partner will hit a variety of groundstrokes to simulate a return of serve, and you'll have to hit a drop shot in response.
Start at the baseline, and have your partner hit a groundstroke to simulate a return of serve. Then, hit a drop shot in response. This drill helps you develop your ability to hit a third shot drop from different types of serves.
Steps to Perform Return and Drop:
- Start at the baseline with your partner at the opposite end of the court.
- Your partner hits a groundstroke to simulate a return of serve.
- Hit a drop shot in response.
- Focus on your technique and try to hit the ball with accuracy and control.
Repeat the motion several times, and practice until you feel comfortable with your third drop shot.
Soft. Soft. Soft. It's so important for dinking, which is arguably the most important shot in the game of pickleball. So how do you go soft with your shots? You practice them. This strategy involves hitting a soft shot over the net that drops in front of your opponent, making it difficult for them to return the ball.
What Is Dinking in Pickleball?
Dinking is a type of shot in pickleball that involves hitting the ball softly over the net, making it land in your opponent's kitchen. This shot is typically used when both you and your opponents are on your respective kitchen lines.
Dinking is an effective strategy for slowing down the pace of the game and forcing your opponents to make a mistake. Patience often wins dink rallies.
How to Grip a Pickleball Paddle for a Dink
The key to executing a perfect dink is to hold the pickleball paddle with a loose grip. You want to use a continental grip if possible, it helps with control and maneuverability of the paddle since you'll keep the paddle in front of you, helping you get right or left as needed with ease.
Footwork and Body Position
You want to get as close to the kitchen line as possible without volleying in the kitchen. This will allow you to hit the ball with more accuracy and control. You should also position your body so that you're facing the net, and your weight is shifted toward your toes. To win at the net you need a ton of agility, putting your weight on the balls of your feet will help with this.
14. Dink Aim: Consistency
Dinking may look easy, but it takes a lot of control and precision to execute correctly. This solo drill will help you improve your aim and develop consistency in your dinking game.
Set up a row of cones or targets on the other side of the court, and practice hitting each one with a dink. Start with a simple row of targets, and gradually increase the difficulty by adding more targets or moving them around.
This drill will help you develop the muscle memory needed to accurately hit your targets and improve your overall dinking game. Remember, practice makes perfect...
Steps to Perform Dink Aim
- Set up a row of cones or targets on the other side of the court.
- Stand on the other side of the court and practice hitting each target with a soft shot that has a restrained backswing (imitating a dink)
- Start with a simple row of targets and increase the difficulty gradually by adding more targets or moving them around.
- Focus on developing control and precision in your dinking game by hitting each target accurately.
15. Two Up, Two Back: Rally Point and Communication
How about a game? In this doubles drill, two players start at the kitchen line while the other two players start at the baseline.
The players at the kitchen line practice their dinks by rallying with each other until they can put the ball away. If the ball gets past them, the players at the baseline move up to the kitchen line while the other two players move back to the baseline. This drill improves teamwork and communication between players, as well as dinking skills. Not to mention it helps build that killer instinct and patience, so you know what's attackable and what isn't. This is a virtue in dinking.
Steps to Perform Two Up, Two Back:
- Divide into two pairs, with each pair consisting of one player at the kitchen line and one player at the baseline.
- The players at the kitchen line start dinking the ball back and forth to each other, trying to put the ball away.
- If the ball gets past the players at the kitchen line, the players at the baseline move up to the kitchen line, and the other two players move back to the baseline.
- Continue the game, switching positions when necessary, and practice until you feel comfortable with your dinking skills.
Ah yes, volleys. The shot has a special zone where it's prohibited. That must mean it's a pretty powerful hit, right? Absolutely - which is why you need to have strong volleying skills to progress in pickleball. Whether it's a soft block, hard block, lob volley, or punch volley, there's a drill to help you build your volley prowess.
At its core, a volley simply means hitting a ball before it bounces, but this can come in many shapes and sizes. Regardless of what manner of volley is used, it's a must-have skill in both singles and doubles, and if you can control your volley shot, you increase the likelihood of controlling a rally.
In doubles though, volleys become particularly valuable for running the net and deciding what time is controlling the rally. By volleying, you can intercept your opponent's shots and hit winners that they cannot return.
How to Grip a Pickleball Paddle for a Volley
Eastern or continental all day. You can run a modified version too, but the bigger part of the grip here is pressure.
If you're trying to add some heat to your volley, which most of the time is a good idea since it's typically a jarring shot for the opponents, you need to increase your grip pressure. Just don't do so at the cost of all control over your shot. Find a balance then add a little spice with a firmer grip.
Footwork and Body Position
Stability is the word here - when volleying, you should keep your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent to maximize your stability. And lean onto the balls of your feet once again. This will further support stability while giving you a better position to hit the ball more squarely.
16. Toss Up: Timing
Looking to improve your hand-eye coordination? The Toss Up drill is the perfect solo activity to practice your volleys.
Stand close to the net and toss a ball back and forth between your hands, catching and tossing it with one hand and then the other. This drill is a great way to improve your reaction time, and coordination, and get you ready for those quick volleys during a game. It will also help you track and meet the ball, a valuable element of hitting volleys as early and as high as you can.
Steps to Perform Toss Up:
- Stand close to the net, with your paddle in your non-dominant hand.
- Toss the ball up with your dominant hand, and catch it with your non-dominant hand.
- Toss the ball back up with your non-dominant hand, and catch it with your dominant hand.
- Keep switching back and forth between your hands, making sure to catch and release the ball smoothly.
- As you become more comfortable with the drill, increase the speed and height of your tosses to challenge yourself.
17. Volley Spot: Position and Angles
It would be great if you always knew where and when a volley opportunity would present itself, but if you knew that, the element of surprise would be erased, which is the greatest weapon of volleys. So the next best thing is to get comfortable with hitting volleys from different positions on the court - and the Volley Spot drill is meant to do just that.
You'll need a partner to send you the ball - they can either toss it by hand or lightly dink it your way, but be sure they can get it to you in a timely and semi-close manner.
Starting at the kitchen line, hit a volley, then move back to the baseline and hit a volley from there. You aren't trying to necessarily hit it right back at your partner, more so place it away from them. So grab a bucket of balls for this one.
This drill will help you develop your volley technique, and learn to hit volleys from various distances.
Steps to Perform Volley Spot:
- Start at the kitchen line with your paddle ready.
- Hit a volley, then move back to the baseline.
- Hit another volley from the baseline.
- Move back to the kitchen line and repeat the sequence.
- As you become more comfortable, vary your volley placement and try to hit the ball with different angles and speeds.
18. Back and Forth: Consistency and Reaction
You know this one - it's the game where you stand close at the start and move further apart the more consecutive volleys you do with your partner.
One player stands at the net and hits a volley to the other player, who then hits it back. This drill helps to improve your reflexes and also teaches you to hit the ball softly while keeping it in play. In a way, this drill can also help dinking as much as a powerful volley, but regardless, it will help you consistently hit the ball where you mean to as you take it out of the air.
Steps to Perform Back and Forth:
- Stand at the net with your partner on the other side of the court.
- The player at the net starts by hitting a volley to their partner.
- The partner hits the ball back with a volley.
- Continue to hit volleys back and forth, focusing on keeping the ball in play and controlling the ball's speed and placement.
- Try to vary the angle and placement of your volleys to challenge each other.
18 Drills That Will Surely Improve Your Skills
Now that you know all of the drills to improve your pickleball game, apply them and practice them as often as possible. Every drill has a specific purpose, so don't feel like you have to rush out and try every single one on the same day.
Pick apart your game and figure out your weaknesses at the moment. Ask your friend or double's partner if you're unsure.
There's a high probability that your weakness can be improved with one of the 18 drills we've just worked through. With enough practice, we're confident you'll reach your pickleball goals. If you hit any moments where you're questioning the purpose of drills and practice altogether, do one of two things.
First, remember our old friend myelin - and that practice makes perfect isn't just a cute adage, but a truthful motivator. Second, all work and no play defeats the purpose of pickleball. This game is first and foremost about having a good time. So if you're dreading drills, call up some friends and go play instead.
Pickleball should never be a chore, not even drills.