Pickleball Serves

There seems to be two schools of thought when it comes to pickleball serves.  Some believe that you just loft it in to start the point.  Others want it to be an offensive weapon.   I believe it depends.

Pickleball Serve

Since pickleball doesn’t allow you one fault and since the ball just can’t travel as fast as a tennis ball, I doubt we will ever see dozens of aces during a pickleball match.  But when I have the ball in my hand and I am confident in my serve I do try to do something with it.  I work hard to

  • Hit the serve deep
  • To favor the receiver’s backhand (in most cases), and
  • To hit a low, penetrating shot.

Pickleball Serves and Skill Level

Pickleball ServeIf you are a newer player, or aren’t consistent in hitting your serves in, your sole goal should be to start the game.  Since you only score when your team is serving, there is nothing worse than not giving yourself an opportunity to win a point. The great news for new players is that you don’t need a practice partner or ball machine to practice serving.  All you need is a few balls and an empty court.  Keep in mind that consistency will be improved when you utilize larger muscles, so keep your wrist fairly firm and swing from your shoulder.  Extend your arm to your target.  You need to hit the ball a bit harder than you might think, so many people step into the serve.

Where a newer player might just aim for the center of the service area, an intermediate player should work on direction and depth.  Take a piece of chalk with you, and draw a line 3′ from the baseline.  Work to groove a serve that lands deep, that is between the chalk line and the baseline.  Create games with yourself related to hitting 12″ from the center line or sideline to develop a serve that can capitalize on an many opponent’s weaker backhand.

Practicing Pickleball Serves

Regardless of your skill level, it is important to practice serving mindfully.  You are wasting time if you simply hit ball after ball without a purpose.  Previously we discussed Focused Pickleball Practice, i.e. having a plan and committing to practicing productively.  You want to practice with the same attention and focus as when you play.

Perhaps you have seen someone suddenly have difficulties in their serve.  One day they are fine, and the next…seemingly for no reason…they can’t get it in.  This may continue for a few days or even weeks.  Suddenly their arm or wrist is doing something it never did before.  Why?  Unfortunately the player’s mind, not their swing or the paddle, is the problem.  If this occurs, let me recommend a few things:

  1. Develop and Practice a Pre-shot Routine:  You have seen basketball players bounce the ball three times, then spin it towards their body in their hands, then shot a free-throw.  The best free throw shooters do it the same way every time.  Nadal pulls at the seat of his pants before he serves.  Another player may bounce the pickleball twice and then hit.  It really doesn’t matter what the routine, or ritual, is…you just need to have one.
  2. Slow Down:  Great golfers don’t putt until they can see the ball going into the hole.  If every thought in your mind is, “OMG I’m going to hit someone in the next court” you probably will.  In fact I have observed that when someone is having difficulty serving, they will actually take less time preparing.  Their focus is on getting it over with, rather than getting it in.  Slow down, take a deep breath.  Recall all the times your serve went in.  Remember, your last serve can not influence or determine your next one, unless you choose to let it.
  3. Pick a Target:  Focus on one spot in the service area.  Not the entire court.  Not the entire service box.  Look at one spot, perhaps a 1′ square near the middle of the service box.  The narrower your focal point the better.

When you practice serving, practice the way you play.  Practice: preshot routine — focus and take a deep breath — pick a target — serve.  Then before you hit the next ball take a moment and think.  Evaluate how well you did.  Did you execute your pre-shot routine?  Did you focus on getting it in or getting it over with?  Did you pick a small target?

It is more likely your thoughts and beliefs determined the outcome before the paddle ever struck the ball.




15 thoughts on “Pickleball Serves

  1. Great ebook, can’t wait to read the next installments. Will see you in Fort Collins, Co. end of June but need your thoughts re: developing patience. I come from a tennis background and I love to smack that ball, I feel as though I have Pickleball ADHD. Any thoughts besides taking Ritalin before I play?🙄 Thx.

  2. I go back and forth on the issue of the serve being an offensive weapon. I have a good selection of serves, with different spins. Some days I have good control over my placement, other days I miss more frequently.

    I think the serve is a weapon on our arsenal, but it is not always wise to employ it. A good deep serve is better than a difficult to return serve that misses the box!

  3. Thanks for the advice. The key in all your lessons seems to be PRACTICE — makes perfect sense—-and yet many of us play in YMCAs, with timed open play, where there are no skills clinics nor practice time available, and partners are not happy when you say “I’m practicing my serve during this game. Screw the score.” I am unable to find a solution. HELP?

    1. Alan, there isn’t a simple solution as you know to this issue. Unfortunately many communities don’t have enough courts and practice time is limited. The solution is to work with local recreation departments, churches, etc to make more facilities available. Perhaps you can get there a few minutes early and practice your serve while folks are setting up nets.

  4. Great advise and something to think about. A lot of us players know we should focus and practice but we don’t so this was a good wake-up and nicely put.
    thank you.

  5. My question is when you are choosing who serves and what side, should you take the serve first? What is your choice or strategy?

    1. I only have a side preference in singles when it is windy sometimes in doubles in the wind. Otherwise, it seems most people have a different strategy whether they want to be able to serve twice so they choose side or no matter what they want to serve. I would say it is mostly personal preference. On average if I don’t have a preference on side I will just serve it.

  6. I believe a well placed serve is about positioning the returner to provide possible angles that best suit the servers strengths. But a fast serve isn’t necessary, but an accurate serve is required.

  7. I play with a guy who has no control over his overhead slams (so he claims) I got hit three times bruising me. What should I be doing when I see he ready to slam the ball. Just turn around? I’m 5 ft he’s 6′

    1. That is tough my first questions I would ask would be what level is this? If you have spoken to him and asked him to please try and work on aiming better at your overheads so people aren’t getting hurt. If it still continues then maybe just not play with them anymore. I know some people if they think they might get hit they just turn away also.
      Good luck to you!

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