Practicing Pickleball Serves and Returns

I realize for many practicing pickleball serves and returns can be boring.   However, let’s look at why this is so important and how we can improve.

Pickleball Serves

We all know that we can only score when we, or our team, is serving.  So developing a reliable serve is critically important.  But as we improve, we want to focus on more than reliability…we want to use our serve as an offensive weapon.  Throughout my time playing, I have changed my serve several times.  I  have changed how I hold the paddle, how I step into my serve, worked to create spin, etc.  I have also worked to be able to move the ball around within the service area so that I can hit the target I choose.  (Perhaps I want to aim for the sideline when a team is stacking.)

In addition to developing proficiency, there are two simple reasons you want to practice pickleball serves and returns:

  1. When you have the opportunity to start the point, you can start it off in an offensive position;
  2. It is one of the times during a match when you have 100% control of the outcome.  Take time to think about what you want to do.  Being focused at the beginning of the point is a great start to being purposeful throughout the point.
Practicing Your Serve

As you practice your pickleball serve I want you to be conscious of every aspect of serving.

  • Begin by choosing a target….not the entire service box, but a specific spot.  The narrower your focus the more likely you will hit the target.  (Practice tip:  take chalk to the court or place a hand towel on the court.  Try to hit your target.)
  • Practice your pre-shot routine.  Your routine might be:  select a target, visualize the ball hitting the target, take a deep breath, bounce the ball, then fire.
  • Allow your body to be loose and move so you are extending from your shoulder.  Use your full range of motion.  I like to think of letting my hips open to the net as I finish my follow through.
  • Observe where your paddle is finishing…is it close to your body or extended toward your target?  Always stop and take a look at what just happened.
Practicing the Return of Serve

keys to better pickleballPracticing returns you want to create some of these same habits.  Stop and visualize where you want the ball to go. Make sure your body feels in control, relaxed and balanced.   I want to feel loose and able to move.  Just as when serving, you have many choices on a return of serve.  Take time to make a conscious decision before you return the serve.

  • You can focus on deep and hard; or
  • You might want to float the ball high and deep if you need more time to get to the line; or
  • Attempt a short return to mix things up and perhaps catch the other team behind the baseline.

Our returns of serve are much like a groundstroke.  Though we want to use our body to propel the ball forward, we don’t want to run through the shot.  Take your time.  Take your steps, make contact and guide the ball towards the target.  After you actually make your shot, then move forward.

Take Time to Practice

Taking the time to practice your pickleball serve and returns set you up for the point in front of you.  You have time to think, relax and feel comfortable before both of these shots.  Take time to be aware of these things at the beginning of a point…it will pay dividends throughout your match.