The beginning stages of learning pickleball are both exciting and overwhelming. With so many rules, strategies, and techniques, it can sometimes be intimidating. If you're feeling that way - don't worry. It's usually the result of getting too many opinions and nice-to-haves around the sport. What you need are fundamentals that can help you take your pickleball game to the next tier.
Here are 5 foundational pickleball tips that every beginner should play by:
- Keep it simple - Focus on mastering the fundamentals first before taking on more advanced skills
- Embrace mistakes - Use them as an opportunity to learn and change your technique
- Dress comfortably - Wearing clothes and shoes that are appropriate for movement is key
- Get loose - A proper warm-up is essential before each game to stay loose, so stretch and get your body ready for activity
- Investing in quality - Don't settle for subpar paddles, balls, equipment, etc.
There's nothing fancy here, and that's by design. To reduce the noise, you need to simplify, and the best way to do that is by starting with the basics. After reading more about each of these 5 tips, you'll walk away from this article with the knowledge and confidence to improve your pickleball career.
What Are the 5 Tips for Beginner Pickleball Players?
Focus on keeping it simple and mastering the fundamentals, embrace mistakes as a learning opportunity, wear comfortable clothes and shoes that are appropriate for movement, stretch properly before each game to stay loose, and invest in quality equipment.
Starting with pickleball doesn't have to be daunting - so let's take some time to work through each of these tips and set you up for success on the court.
1. Keep It Simple as You Start
Watching pro pickleball on YouTube is great, but don't be fooled into thinking it will translate to your own game - they make lobs and dinks might look easy, but you've got some hard work ahead of you to reach that point.
Many times, pro techniques, strategies, and shots don't translate well to a beginner's court. They complicate the game and are most often overkill.
While you'll see some amazing shots at the pro level, every single one of them will tell you that the core of quality pickleball play is mastering precision, timing, and control. It's not all power all the time. And it rarely relies on luck.
Rather, it's all about understanding the fundamentals and practicing so you can build them into skills. So start there, with a focus on mastering the basics first before taking on more advanced skills.
We get it; it's tempting to rush into some crazy shot or advanced technique early on - especially when you believe the alternative is doing basic drills. But hear us out. If you take on an advanced skill, one that requires proper form, awareness, and experience to execute, at best, you'll develop bad habits on the court that will most likely lead to a frustrating experience.
And as an extreme worst-case scenario, poor form and technique are quick ways to injure yourself - especially with something like tennis elbow, where repeated misuse is a likely cause of inflammation.
With so little experience under your belt, your margin of error is a lot higher than the average player’s, so why not master the basics instead? At the end of the day, the game of pickleball is about forcing errors on your opponent’s side and avoiding errors yourself. The power in this concept is really about knowing the basics of the game inside and out.
Fancy serves look cool, but without the basics like accuracy, distance, and control, all you’ll have are your fancy serves without the points to go along with them. Besides, not all fancy serves are what they’re cracked up to be - serving is truly about putting the ball in play, which is one of the main reasons USA Pickleball officially banned the spin serve in 2023 (Rule 4.A.5.). This is just a year or so after adding the drop serve.
The point is, fancy things come and go, but a good forehand, backhand, dink - all the key parts of the game remain. Focus your attention on getting those right first, and there's no better place to start than digging into the 8 basics of pickleball that every beginner should know.
2. Every Mistake is a Lesson
Sure, going on the defensive is a natural response when you make a mistake- but it won't do you any favors on the pickleball court! You might think you know the rules, but there's more to it than meets the eye. It's time to look beyond your initial knowledge and learn the intricacies of this tricky game.
We all know the power of stopping, listening, and asking. And it's certainly easier said than done, but this is critical in pickleball. Here's why - pickleball's rules are rather simple at a high level, to the point where you could walk on the court and get the gist of the game in less than 10 minutes.
But what you may not know is that the rule book for pickleball is 86 pages long and filled to the brim with major and minor regulations.
For a game that's a competition in who can make fewer mistakes, there are certainly many ways to mess up. It's easy to fault without meaning to. Take for instance the kitchen, arguably the least understood area of the court.
You most likely know that you can't volley in the kitchen, and you probably know that your serve can't land in the kitchen. But did you know the kitchen line is considered part of the kitchen? If your serve hits the kitchen line, then you've missed the service area.
What about momentum in the kitchen? This is an easy one to mess up. Say for instance that you volley a foot behind the kitchen line, but as you step forward to volley your body carries into the kitchen line - that would be a fault. The kitchen and so many other parts of the game have several rules that are nearly impossible to know without infringing upon them. This underscores the importance of learning from mistakes. Your alternative is to read and study an 86-page rule book - wouldn't you rather just learn on the court instead?
Awareness of your mistakes is perhaps the most valuable tool you can have early on since if you plan on playing many more matches, early education will have a positive ripple on your pickleball future.
Learning during the game will teach you where to stand, how to position for specific moments, where to serve, and of course how to navigate the kitchen. As long as you’re reducing your rate of mistakes, you’ll fault less during your games.
So plan on making mistakes early on, look forward to them and embrace how they'll improve your contextual knowledge of the game - save your defense for playing the game, not to argue a point.
3. Comfortable Clothes and Shoes
When it comes to pickleball, dressing for success isn't just a saying - it's a must. This is certainly less about the mechanics of the game, but no less important. We firmly believe the more comfortable you are on the court, the better you'll play. The last thing you want to think about is some fabric tugging at your arm or pools of sweat covering your body like you're inside a sauna.
So as you get ready to gear up for your games, dress the part by following the following guide:
- Popular Pickleball Apparel: Polos, tanks, athletic shorts and pants, and tennis skirts are the unofficial uniform of pickleball. With long-sleeved, short-sleeved, and even sleeveless options available, you can choose the perfect look no matter the occasion or temperature.
- Be Mindful of Maneuverability: When it comes to pickleball, style is important - but comfort is paramount. By opting for sports slacks or sweatpants with the perfect fit, you'll have room to move around and tackle difficult shots. Remember: when in doubt, choose clothing that won't hamper your maneuverability!
- Moisture-Wicking and UPF: Pickleball is an intense game, and you'll likely be playing in the heat. Make sure to choose apparel that is moisture-wicking and made from lightweight fabrics like polyester or semi-synthetic blends like bamboo polyester. And if you plan on playing outdoors, look for items made with UPF protection to keep your skin safe from UV rays.
- 2-Way and 4-Way Stretch: Fabric flexibility is another concern.- you want your apparel to move with you, otherwise, you might have an unfortunate wardrobe malfunction on the court. Polyester on its own isn't exactly stretchy but blended with spandex it takes on an elastic property, helping move where you want it to move.
- Tennis Shoes for the Win!: Don’t forget your shoes! Tennis shoes translate well to a pickleball court. You need quality footwear for a good grip on the court, as you don’t want to slip when making a return serve. Your shoes should fit you properly and be supportive. Wearing the wrong types of shoes when playing pickleball can increase your risk of injury, so choose wisely.
4. Stretch Before You Play and Stay Loose
Speaking of stretching, this has less to do with the fiber in your clothing and more about the fibers in your muscles and tissue. We'll start with this - do you know the difference between dynamic stretching and static stretching? It's okay if you don't, most people aren't exactly sure.
Odds are high that when you think of stretching, you think of static stretching - holding one position for an extended period. This is a great way to cool down your muscles after a workout, however, dynamic stretching is more appropriate before playing as it helps warm up the body and increase blood flow throughout.
Dynamic stretching involves fluid movements that mimic game-like motions without actually participating in the game itself. Think of it more like light exercise that won't drain your energy before the match, instead, it gradually awakens your muscles, improving your flexibility and range of motion so your performance can be top-quality.
Trunk twists, leg kicks, arm circles, and other variations of dynamic stretching can be implemented before playing to help prime your muscles for action and make that first swing a lot easier. We've pulled 5 of the best warm-ups for pickleball together that will get your entire body engaged before the first serve. They don't have to take forever either, just set aside 5-10 minutes to get your entire body limber.
This will improve your flexibility and readiness, and help keep the injury bug at bay, or at least as much as possible. But what's often overlooked is how it gets your body ready to stay loose during the game. This is huge because beginners often hold their bodies too rigidly when playing pickleball. If you've ever held the paddle with a death grip and tried to volley, you know the importance of playing loose, and certainly with soft hands.
When you go rigid, it's usually just stress related or trying to force power into a sport that's more about finesse - either way, it's not conducive to playing well. You should maintain a semi-loose, semi-open stance with your legs shoulder-distance apart.
If your legs are squeezed together, you could compress your muscles too much, heightening your injury risk. You’re also not in the ready position like your opponent likely is, which gives them the advantage.
On top of that, being tense makes it a lot harder to swing the ball accurately, and the muscle cramps you could give yourself end up hindering your ability to run to the right spot on the court.
When you find yourself stiffening up throughout the game, take a breath, widen your stance, and loosen up. Maybe throw in a leg kick or arm circle as your reminder to stay loose.
5. Invest in Quality Pickleball Equipment
Just like hitting the court without the right clothing and footwear is a no-no, you also don't want to be caught with the wrong pickleball paddle, and as the leader in high-performance pickleball paddles, who better to guide you in finding the perfect paddle than us?
We've prepared a few things to guide you along the way - follow these three steps before buying a paddle, it will save you headaches in the long run:
- Answer 11 Questions: Shopping for a pickleball paddle, especially for your first paddle, can be extremely overwhelming. And while it might seem like a good idea to just pick a paddle that looks cool and feels decent, you need to know that seemingly minor differences between paddles can have a profound impact on what feels right from one person to the next. So to guide you on this process, we pulled together 11 questions you should ask yourself before buying a pickleball paddle - think of it as the starting point of your paddle research. Each question walks you through potential answers and what that ultimately means for you or your style of play, pairing you with the perfect paddle.
- Beginner's Guide to Buying a Pickleball Paddle: If answering those 11 questions was your appetizer to buying a pickleball paddle, then this buyer's guide is the main course - and dessert. This guide centers around 5 critical areas of a pickleball paddle: core material, core thickness, surface material, paddle weight, and grip size. There are far more variables at play with a paddle than just these 5 categories, but for beginners, they cover a wide enough range of factors to dramatically improve how a new player finds a great first paddle.
- How to Pick the Right Paddle Weight: You probably noticed that weight is covered twice now - found in both steps 2 and 3 - and that's because it has such significant weight on your performance (good pun, right?). Pickleball paddles come in 3 different weight classes - each with its benefits and drawbacks. Midweight paddles (between 7.3 and 8.3 ounces) offer a great balance of speed, control, and power, while lightweight paddles (7.3 ounces and lighter) provide increased agility and control, and heavier paddles (8.3 ounces and up) increase a player's power behind the ball. Since paddle weight is so influential on how you'll perform on the court, it's important to pick the right weight for your level of play. Early on, this has arguably an even greater effect on how you play. Use our buyer's guide to figure out what is a must vs. nice-to-have as you try to hit an ideal weight for your paddle. Once you find the right paddle, it's time to have some fun with your newfound pickleball skills!
Enjoy Your Pickleball Progress
Leveling up in pickleball can take a while and require lots of practice, so don't get discouraged if progress is slow. Remember that this game is supposed to be enjoyable, and as long as you are having a good time, you are doing it right.
Now go out there and explore the court and have some fun! We'll be here when you need a new paddle or have questions along the way.