Pickleball Strategy: The Importance of Having One

I have found the many players have difficulty learning how to develop a successful pickleball strategy in a match.  There is a tendency to just keep dinking without purpose, or to get bored and try to create something out of nothing.   Today we discuss the basics of creating a pickleball strategy.

pickleball strategy
Whether you play with someone regularly or are with a new partner, it is important to create a plan for every match.  In both cases, talk about your respective strengths and weaknesses.  Talk about how you might work around those weaknesses.  Also, talk about each of your strengths and how you might set up your partner to succeed.  For example, if I have someone with a really strong forehand I want to find ways to get them that shot. I would want to encourage them to poach when an opportunity is created. And I would be trying to create that opportunity.

pickleball strategyThe other day I heard someone say, “I don’t like when someone poaches my ball.”  I then asked what kinds of balls are being poached?  Are they taking a ball way out of position and not doing anything with it?  Are they not recovering to their own spots? Are they being too greedy? OR is your ego getting in the way because you want the ball?
This game is all about strategy and that line in the middle doesn’t say this is one person’s side and this is the others. There is some fluidity here. I want someone to poach a ball if I have set it up for them.  I might do this by intentionally hitting a hard body shot at my opponent directly in front of me if I am on the right side of the court and my partner is right handed.  This might cause my opponent to pop up a shot, that my partner can slam with his or her forehand.

Testing things Out

Have you ever played against a team that you felt pretty even with and then the match rapidly went south?  One thing more advanced players do effectively is to feel out the other team.  They might begin my focusing as much as possible on just one opponent.  Think about how difficult it feels when two people are ganging up on you.  They are analyzing that player’s strengths and weaknesses.  If they have success, they may continue this.  If not, they might redirect all their focus to the other player, again looking to learn as much about his or her tendencies as they can.

They may try to determine if their opponent  has an “enforcer” and if so, do they prefer that role on a particular side of the court.  Perhaps both players are the enforcers.  They work to determine the strength and weaknesses of their opponent and make sure they communicate that to their partner.

It might be as simple as:

  • We are having difficulty returning Player A’s return of serve, so let’s try to return to Player B;
  • Backhands are in the middle;
  • When you are cross court from Player B she has difficulty with your great cross court dinks;
  • They seem to like pace, let’s try to slow it down.
Try isolating on certain shots or just one of the players  to give you and your partner something to focus on.

Squirrels, Waiting, and Creating

pickleball strategyWhile it may be necessary to change your strategy, some teams go into what I like to call “squirrel” mode.  They get so distracted by something that they start creating new strategies in the middle of a point.  That results in sudden changes in direction and one partner not sure of what the other is doing.

When you watch high-level players we are working certain strategies over and over again. Look closely to see them isolating a backhand…a person… trying to hit deep to their feet to create an upward angle, or shorter to pull them in.   The more you watch players and notice the patterns the more you will see the strategies at work.

When I first started playing pickleball I didn’t understand the strategies as I do now. I call that my days of “waiting” in pickleball. I was always waiting for something to happen but didn’t really understand why it was happening.  Now I call it my days of “creating”!   I am constantly working some strategy to open up  the court, set up my partner or create an error.  I like to be in control of the outcomes rather than reacting to my opponents.


3 thoughts on “Pickleball Strategy: The Importance of Having One

  1. What do you think of invite only play ? I was invited to play with a group on a city owned court and then told not to return because my soft game needed work. I was very hurt. The city I live in frowns on this but isn’t stopping it.

    1. Well you had an unfortunate experience that is for sure! We do have invite only play regularly on courts that are not being used for open rec play. However, part of the idea of a private group is you can all work on your game together. It’s unfortunate that a few have made it difficult in your area but the best you can do is find the times and places you want to play to keep improving your game and help others do the same

      1. Thank you for your response Sarah. Your advice keeps me wanting to play and do the best I can. You are an inspiration to me!

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