Playing doubles pickleball and winning doubles pickleball are two entirely different things. The best duos in pickleball will tell you that communication is the key to winning, and once you've mastered that, it's time to work on strategies as a team. If your team is at that point, you might be wondering which doubles strategies to incorporate.
Here are 7 of the best doubles pickleball strategies to take your team play to the next level:
- Practice patience
- Use cross-court dinks
- Move as one
- Serve deep
- Aim for the feet
- Master drop shots
- Use the non-volley line to your advantage
This guide to doubles pickleball strategy will take you through 7 of the best strategies for winning as a team. We'll look at each in detail so you can begin implementing them the next time you step foot on the court. We’ll also share some handy tips, so keep reading!
7 Pickleball Strategies for Doubles
When playing doubles pickleball, especially at a more advanced, competitive level, there’s no one best strategy. Well, if we had to boil it down to just one, it would be this: have many strategies!
The more aces up your sleeve, so to speak, the more you and your partner can confound your opponents. Having just one strategy is a poor way to approach the game. The way you play and your strategy for winning should be fluid and responsive to the opposition's strengths and weaknesses.
Tripping them up can cause them to fault, scoring you points and ultimately, the victory. Without further ado then, here are 7 exceptional doubles pickleball strategies to pick up and use today.
1. Practice Patience
Pickleball can be a heated back-and-forth game, especially when you get into more competitive play, such as tournament finals.
Seeing the rapid pace and incredible reaction time of leaders in the sport sometimes tricks the everyday player into thinking every shot or dink rally is the time to strike.
Now, we’re not advising you to miss viable shots in the name of taking your time; more so, the caution here is to be patient and recognize that not every dink is an invitation to go on the attack.
When we refer to patience, we mean taking a more selective approach to your shots.
This is something that both teammates have to do, not necessarily at the same time, but at varying points in the game. Also, your partner has to recognize that you’re doing this, and vice versa.
If they don’t, then when one of you tries to be patient, the other can rush to take a shot, breaking up the routine and increasing the risk of one or both of you making an error.
Being patient can feel a little strange at first as you shift away from your usual method of playing, but once you know when and how to be patient, amazing things will happen.
How to Practice Patience
The next time you play a game of doubles pickleball, don’t change up your strategy yet and sit back waiting. Rather, just recognize moments in the game when you could have taken an extra moment to execute. Ask your partner to do the same.
If you have solid communication and transparent conversations with your partner, you could track this for one another and work through it after the match.
After your game wraps up, have a powwow with your partner and see where you both thought there was room for more patience. Most often, you'll both identify the same opportunities, but if your opinions diverge, try to get on the same page.
2. Use Cross-Court Dinks
If you and your partner play at least a 2.0 skill level, then you’re ready to begin incorporating cross-court dinks. A dink is a soft hit that sends the ball just over the net into the kitchen. The cross-court dink forces the opposing team to widen their defense. It’s also an excellent way for you and your partner to build patience (patience is a running theme in pickleball strategy.)
Cross-court dinking is an excellent doubles pickleball strategy for forcing opponent errors and finding weaknesses in your opponent’s play.
We recommend doing plenty of drills and getting very comfortable with all forms of dinking. Then try slowly bringing cross-court dinking into your doubles repertoire during a match.
How to Improve at Cross-Court Dinks
Before you try a cross-court dink in a game, even a casual game, we recommend some drills. Here's how it works:
- First, get into position with four players on the court; two players on each side should be ready at the non-volley lines.
- Drop the ball and begin dinking the ball diagonally.
- Send it across the court over and over, waiting for your opponent to lower their defenses.
- As soon as they do, it’s time for you or your partner to slam the ball.
Make sure you’re changing up your dinking strategy and that your partner is doing the same. Otherwise, your opponents won’t fall for the same thing twice.
If you’re doing mostly backhand dinks, then try incorporating more forehand dinks, and vice versa if you rely too much on forehand dinks.
You can even keep the entire game in the non-volley zone and dink if you really want to change things up.
3. Move as One
By far, one of the most integral doubles pickleball strategies is moving as a single unit. This is also one of the hardest strategies to master. Moving together makes you almost like one pickleball player.
It’s harder for your opponents to find a weak spot between the two of you because you and your partner are so attuned to each other’s movements that you know how to position yourselves on the court.
How in the world do you learn a strategy like this? Well, honestly, the more experience you and your partner have playing together on the pickleball court, the better.
You won’t be able to move in unison during your first doubles pickleball game and maybe even many matches after. It takes practice, great nonverbal communication, an innate understanding of one another’s play styles, and time to reach that pinnacle of unity. But it's absolutely worth it, and can be a complete game-changer for doubles.
That said, in the meantime, there are some things you can do to begin to move more like a team.
How to Start Moving as One
If you were to tether yourself to your partner with an 8-foot rope, you'd have no choice but to move as one to avoid tripping each other up. You’d move to the side when your partner did, you’d go up the court when they went up the court, and you’d move back down the court as they did.
This is a great mental exercise to keep in your mind as you hit the courts next time - just imagine you and your partner are tied together like this - and you'll need to mimic your partner's movements, or remove gaps on your side of the court as they move, all the while, keeping an 8 to 10-foot distance from them.
While you may take some losses as you focus on this during a game, and it might feel awkward at first, practicing team movement is a big step in improving your doubles strategy.
You can also ask your partner to mirror your movements, and the two of you can alternate, improving your flow of movement every time you practice.
Once you two get the hang of each other’s movements a bit more, try to play pickleball while watching what your partner and your opponents are doing. Don’t be surprised if some of your strategies fall apart at this point. You’re just practicing right now, not focusing on winning.
The more you and your partner practice playing as one, it will become less about practicing and more about execution.
After you and your partner get to know each other's patterns, you'll be able to execute that part of your strategy without having to think about it. And that's when the two of you will notice the win column start to stack up.
4. Serve Deep
How deep can you serve right now? How about your partner? While accurate serves are mission number one when serving, placing serves deep is a close runner-up.
By serving deep you're forcing the receiver to hug or stay behind their baseline to return the ball - this makes their return more difficult as well as answering the third shot.
A successful third shot is all about setting up a ball or sequence that's unattackable. When the receiver has to return the ball so deeply on their side of the court, it sets up an ideal scenario for a third shot drop, as your opponent will have a ton of ground to make up to get to the ball in time.
While exceptionally skilled pickleball opponents can answer a deeper shot in earnest, not all can. If they make a mistake at this point, your team could earn a point, but more likely, it will get them off balance.
If you're on the returning side, watch your foot positioning and strongly advise your partner to do the same.
Standing right at the baseline or even with one foot or two feet on the baseline isn’t the best idea unless you’re sure the return is going to be short. Otherwise, you want to position yourself two to three feet behind that baseline as you return the serve.
You’ll be able to freely step into the ball without faulting. You’ll also find it a lot easier to return serves deep.
How to Improve at Serving Deep
This is again something that both you and your pickleball partner can practice if you choose.
Since you’ve gotten so used to watching what the other one is doing when playing, you should be able to coach one another on foot positioning when returning serves.
Like anything, it can take a few practice rounds to get used to making deeper serves and perfecting your stance, so be patient with yourself and repeat it as many times as required for you to get it.
5. Aim for the Feet
It doesn’t necessarily matter where on the court your opponents are. If you can pinpoint your shots to their feet, this strategy will be immensely helpful in nearly every scenario. Trying to return any shot to the feet leaves the player contorted and uncoordinated, and it often forces a fault.
It might take you a little bit of practice to get your aim right, especially if you and your partner are still fairly new to pickleball. But that’s fine, as practice makes perfect.
How to Improve at Aiming for the Feet
Spend an afternoon aiming at the feet and then be willing to utilize this strategy on the court.
Wait for the perfect opportunity, as you will find it. For instance, when your opponents are by the baseline, aim low toward their feet, and you’ll stop them from progressing.
If they’re standing between the baseline and the non-volley line, redirect the ball downward in that transition area and see what happens.
Even if you and your opponents are dinking the ball back and forth, you can seriously catch them off guard by suddenly directing a shot at their feet. This isn’t a pickleball strategy to use too consistently, as your opponents can get wise to it.
When pulled out at precisely the right moment, though, the other team shouldn’t see it coming!
6. Master Drop Shots
The best pickleball players are experts at the drop shot. As you and your partner aspire to improve in doubles pickleball, incorporating the drop shot into your repertoire is wise.
A drop shot is a soft shot that’s hit from a deep bounce. The goal is to direct the ball toward the net and ultimately reach your opponent’s kitchen (non-volley zone.)
You can then follow up that shot with another shot toward the kitchen line.
Your opponent will struggle to go on the offensive from a drop shot, which is one of the main advantages of this shot. You’ll also gain enough time to reach the net and begin to turn control around in your favor.
Now, drop shots aren’t the easiest strategy to pick up by far, which is why you usually see this technique used among the best players, beginning with those rated 4.0 and higher.
If you’re only at the 2.0 or 3.0 level and your partner is the same, you'll most likely struggle with drop shots, but if you can pull them off, it’s very much worth it.
How to Improve at Drop Shots
You probably know what we’re going to say by now. Practice, practice, practice.
Pour in hours of your time at the practice courts learning drop shots, and ask your partner to do that as well. Even though it’s difficult, remind yourselves (and each other) that doing this will make you a better pickleball player.
First, focus on mastering the basics of the drop shot, then improve both your accuracy and consistency.
When you feel like your drop shot is a formidable strategy, pull it out the next time you play doubles and see the opportunity for such a shot. Typically, this will be a third shot as the serving team.
7. Use the Non-Volley Line to Your Advantage
The non-volley line is your friend. It’s not to be feared, and it’s certainly not to be ignored, even if you’re relatively new to pickleball. Rather, you want to work your way to the non-volley line, and you can do that only once you familiarize yourself with it.
For beginners, there’s a ton of confusion around the kitchen and its perimeter. The non-volley line is considered part of the non-volley zone (kitchen.) So any restrictions or permissions placed on the kitchen are inclusive of its line.
Generally speaking, there are only two times when you should be extremely cautious with the kitchen:
- Serving: If your serve lands in the kitchen or on the non-volley line, it’s considered short and marked as a fault (Rule 4.M.5.)
- Volleying: There are no scenarios in pickleball where you’re allowed to volley in the kitchen or on the kitchen line (Section 9.A.-9.H.)
All that’s to say that just about anything else goes with the kitchen, and the non-volley line. You can pretty much be in it whenever, you can stand on the line or crash the net - so long as you don't volley when you're there. Definitely read up on the specifics of this though.
Things like your shirt or paddle crossing the line, or your momentum carrying over the line during volleys are considered violations. So you need to know the rules here in detail before you start volleying close to the kitchen.
But, when you boil it down to the simple idea that you just can’t volley in it or serve to it, the non-volley line quickly becomes something to embrace rather than physically avoid.
Playing closer to the line puts you in a better position to win more of your rallies and earn your team more much-needed points. Control the kitchen, and you’ll start to rack up points.
Even More Doubles Pickleball Tips
As promised, we want to wrap up by sharing some further doubles pickleball strategies that will make you and your partner even better at the game!
Communication Is Everything
This bears repeating, but as unified as you and your teammate may be, neither of you is a mind reader. That’s why verbal communication is such an integral part of successfully executing any new pickleball strategy as well as pulling off old ones.
When you want your partner to take the ball, say something like You or Yours. If you want to take over, then shout, I go or Mine.
This way, your partner doesn’t try to go for the ball the same time you do, needlessly causing you both to make critical mistakes that your opponents can capitalize on.
Over time, you might need to call out these verbal commands less, which is fine. It’s also a good sign that you're playing as a team, so long as you're picking up points still.
One command that you’ll probably always use is Switch when you’re moving to your partner’s side of the court. Make sure you're moving per the rules of the game though.
Placement over Power
This tip is befitting of the Practice Patience section of the article. You might want to constantly throw aggressive power behind your shots, but in reality, pickleball is a game of consistent control. It’s about maintaining the correct placement so the ball can stay in play and you can avoid a fault.
Rather than overexerting yourself by taking shot after shot like a pickleball superstar, conserve your energy, and focus more on shot accuracy and staying in control of the ball.
Save those ultra-cool power shots for the moments when you really need them, like from deep in the middle of the court.
Have a Strategy
Before you go into any doubles pickleball game, be it recreational or tournament, you and your partner need to have a strategy. Aside from creating a strategy on your team's strengths, try to take into account what you know about how your opponents play, if possible.
In some cases, especially if you two are relatively new to playing together, you and your partner might not have the same idea of a winning strategy.
You might have to compromise early on. It’s more important to have a successfully executable strategy than to focus on whose strategy you're going to follow. Of course, as you two play together more and more, strategizing will be simple.
Don’t be afraid to change up your strategy on the fly if needed, which is something you’ll have to do from time to time, especially if you’re down many points.
As long as you communicate clearly with each other that you're switching strategies, this can be a powerful tactic for confusing your opponents and proving your team is fluid.
Playing Doubles Pickleball Is All About Being on the Same Page
The best strategy when playing doubles pickleball is to have a variety of strategies at your disposal to pull out whenever appropriate. More importantly, your ability to communicate well trumps any tactic.
Remember that some of the strategies and techniques we discussed today are more advanced, so none of them will come to you overnight. If you and your partner can communicate, remain dedicated, and practice whenever the opportunity affords, you'll reap the rewards.