Pickleball Strategy

The pickleball strategies presented below are for doubles play. The strategies will be helpful to players with adequate skill to control ball placement and who want to improve their game. These strategies will improve your odds of getting control of the rally and ultimately winning the point. They are not presented in any particular order of importance.

Court Positioning and Responsibility

  • The player in the right-hand half of the court should be positioned just to the left (no more than a foot) of the center of their half of the court, and either one foot behind the base line or one inch behind the No-Volley-Line (NVL).
  • The player in the left-hand half of the court should be half-way between the left and right sides of their half of the court, and either one foot behind the base line or one inch behind the No-Volley-Line (NVL).
  • The player in the left-hand half of the court should return any balls hit up to one foot into the right-hand half of the court.

Why? This gives good coverage of the full court. Good definition of who has responsibility of what areas on the court will help reduce shots missed due to indecision. Unless some other convention is specifically agreed on ahead of time, this convention should be used for both left- and right-handed players.

Serving and Returning

  • Place your serve in the back quarter of the opponent’s court and located to the opponent’s backhand. Obviously, mixing up serve placement and speed are important but most serves should be to the positioned described above.

Why? It is easier to make points when you are up at the the NVL, so you want to keep your opponent in the back part of his/her court as much as possible. Additionally, many people have less power and control with their backhand than with their forehand shot.

  • When returning a serve, place the ball to the server’s backhand on the back quarter of the court, and return the ball slow enough that you can run to the NVL before the opponent has a chance to hit the ball.

Why? The server’s backhand has the lowest probability of return due to a potentially weak back hand and the indecision as to which opponent should hit the ball. Additionally, a returned serve must be allowed to bounce before it can be hit by your opponent; a slow return gives you time to take position at the NVL before your opponent hits the ball.

Team Play

  • Generally, each player of a team should cover their respective side of the court while playing as a single unit. If one player moves to the NVL, the other player moves to the NVL. If one player is pulled to the right to return a shot, the other player should move to the right to ensure a hole is not opened up.

Why? If players generally move together, then it reduces the chance of a hole opening between them. A shot hit between players can be difficult to return due to the indecision of which player will hit the ball.

  • An exception to moving as a unit is managing the return of a lob. With both players at the NVL, when a lob is hit over player A’s head, teammate B should call “Switch” while moving back to retrieve the lob. And to get the team back in position, player A should switch to the other side and to the back of the court.

Why? It is safer, easier and quicker to turn and run diagonally to the back of the court than it is to turn completely around to run or run backwards. If both players do their part, they will have higher odds of being able to return the lob and be in position for the next shot.

The Third Hit

  • The first hit is the serve, the second is the return, and the third is challenging because it is the first time the ball doesn’t have to bounce before it is hit. If you are the one making the third hit, you are faced with the following:
    Your opponent should have returned the ball in the back quarter of your court (most likely to your backhand), and both of your opponents have optimal positions at the NVL. You have basically three options:
    1) You can lob it over your opponents’ head to the back of the court.
    2) You can hit a hard, powerful shot at your opponent.
    3) You can return a soft shot that lands in the opponents’ No-Volley-Zone (NVZ).
    Any one of the three can be effective but the third option has the highest probability of allowing you to move to the NVL.

Why? Here are the most likely outcomes from each of the options.

  1. Lobbing a ball from the back of your court to the back of the opponents’ court without it going out of the court or setting your opponents up for a slam is most difficult.
  2. Hitting the ball hard at an opponent will most likely result in them returning the ball hard, resulting in you being stuck at the back of the court in a defensive posture.
  3. As soon as a soft return is hit to your opponents’ NVZ, you should run to your NVL being ready to return a dink shot or run back for a lob. Waiting at the base line will invite a dink shot that can’t be reached in time.

Taking Advantage of Opponents’ Mistakes

  • Always look for bad positioning of your opponents. When one is forward and the other one is back, if you are opposite the opponent that is back, hit the ball diagonally between the two opponents, otherwise return the ball to the opponent that is back.

Why? 1) As a general rule a well-placed diagonal shot between your opponents who are separated front and back is almost impossible for them to return. 2) It is harder for an opponent who is at the back of the court to make a point than it is for one at the NVL.

  • If one of your opponents moves to the side but the other opponent doesn’t move with him/her, then hit the ball between the opponents.

Why? As a general rule a shot between your opponents is more difficult for them to return due to indecision as to who is to return the ball.

  • Some players will compensate for a weak backhand by moving so they can return the ball with their forehand. When this happens, an opening may occur where you can take advantage of them being out of position.

Why? As a general rule a shot between your opponents is more difficult for them to return due to indecision as to who is to return the ball.

  • If your opponents tend to linger in No-Mans-Land (the area between the base line and a couple of feet back from the NVL), aim shots at a point about one foot behind their feet.

Why? A shot close behind the feet can be very difficult to return and many times if it’s returned, the return shot will be popped up, setting you up for a slam.

  • When in doubt of where to return the ball, aim for a spot between your opponents.

Why? As a general rule a shot between your opponents is more difficult for them to return due to indecision as to who is to return the ball. It is also a high-probability shot for you to make because you are usually aiming toward the middle of the court and not along the sides or the back.

Pickleball Terms

Dink – A soft shot usually hit from one NVZ to the other NVZ.

Lob – A shot over the opponents’ heads to the back of the court.

No-Mans-Land – The area a couple of feet behind the NVL to the base line.

No-Volley-Zone or NVZ – The area between the side lines and 7 feet back from the net.

No-Volley-Line or NVL – The line on the court 7 feet back from the net.