How to Improve Your Pickleball Strategy and Tactics?, Top 5 Pickleball Fundamentals

How to Improve Your Pickleball Strategy and Tactics?

Pickleball is a fun paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong. It has exploded in popularity in recent years as an accessible game for all ages. However, like any sport, truly excelling at pickleball requires strategic thinking and tactical knowledge. This article will provide tips on how to evaluate and improve your pickleball strategy and tactics.

How to Improve Your Pickleball Strategy and Tactics
How to Improve Your Pickleball Strategy and Tactics

Understand the Fundamentals

Before diving into high-level strategy, make sure you have the fundamentals of pickleball down solid. Here are some of the basics to practice:


A proper serve incorporates an underhand swinging motion and aims to get the ball diagonally into the opponent’s service court. Work on controlling your serve direction, depth, and power. Strive for consistent execution.


Returning the opponent’s serve can set the tone for the rest of the rally. Focus on quick reflexes, moving your feet efficiently, and aiming returns deep into the opponent’s court or toward weak spots in their positioning.


Dinking involves hitting soft shots that just go over the net. Excellent dinking skills will help you control the pace and placement of shots. Make sure you can dink reliably to all areas of the court.


Volleying means hitting the ball out of the air before it bounces. Sharpen your volleying technique on both the forehand and backhand sides. Work on your reaction time and hand-eye coordination.


Hitting lobs (high shots over your opponent’s head) can be used both offensively and defensively. Practice lobs regularly so they become another shot option you can use strategically.

Mastering all the fundamental shots will give you a strong technical base for strategic play.

Analyze Your Strengths and Weaknesses

Do an honest assessment of your pickleball skills. Identify the specific shots and situations where you excel and struggle. Understanding your abilities will help you play smarter by focusing on your strengths and being aware of your weaknesses.

Some questions to ask yourself:

  • What are my best shots? Most consistent? Least consistent?
  • Do I thrive more at the net or baseline?
  • Is my forehand or backhand stronger?
  • Do I excel more at offense or defense?
  • In which court positions do I feel most comfortable?
  • Do I have any persistent unforced errors?
  • What types of opponents give me the most trouble?
  • What are my physical strengths and limitations?

Make a list of your skill strengths and weaknesses. Then drill regularly to improve weaker areas. Track your progress so you can continue strengthening those abilities.

Study Your Common Opponents

Familiarize yourself with the playing styles and patterns of opponents you face regularly. Pay close attention when on the sidelines and take note of their typical strategies, favorite shots, strengths, and weaknesses.

Some key observations to make about common opponents:

  • What serves do they utilize most? Which court do they prefer to serve to?
  • Do they favor forehands or backhands? Which side do they avoid?
  • Do they tend to play more offense or defense?
  • Are they more skilled at net play or baseline rallies?
  • What are their favorite shots and strategies during rallies?
  • Do they have any evident weaknesses, like lagging footwork or weak returns?

Gathering intelligence on frequent opponents will help you counter their go-to moves and attack any vulnerable areas in their game.

Master Shot Selection and Placement

The hallmark of a strategic pickleball player is the ability to hit smart shots by varying speed, height, depth, and placement. Each shot you make should have a purpose in setting up your next shot.

Shot Types

Having complete mastery of all pickleball shot types gives you more options to outmaneuver an opponent. Make sure you can reliably hit:

  • Groundstrokes – Baseline shots hit after the ball bounces
  • Volleys – Shots hit out of the air before bouncing
  • Overhead smashes – Hard hit shots slammed straight down
  • Lobs – High arcing shots hit over the opponent’s head
  • Drop shots – Soft shots that just clear the net
  • Dinks – Light shots that arc just over the net

Shot Placement

Work on accurately placing shots to move your opponent around and open up the court for your next shot.

  • Hit to the opponent’s weak side at wide angles
  • Aim for open spaces and holes in their court coverage
  • Alternate hitting behind them and then at their feet to keep them off balance
  • Go down the line or cross court intentionally in rallies

Mixing up shot selections combined with strategic placement is vital in dictating play.

Master Third Shot Drops

One very effective pickleball tactic is the third shot drop. After the serve and return, player 1 hits a deep groundstroke. Player 2 then hits a drop shot to take control of the point.

Practice making your third shot a soft drop that just clears the net. This can catch your opponent off guard by charging the net. 

The key is disguising the drop so it’s not obvious out of your swing. Mix up hitting the third shot drops diagonally or straight. Executing third-shot drops reliably is an excellent way to apply strategy and tactics. The element of surprise lets you seize the advantage.

Play an Aggressive, Proactive Style

The best offense is a good defense. Adopting an aggressive, proactive playing style improves your ability to control points and apply tactics.

Here are some elements of playing proactively:

  • Be on your toes and move quickly to take offensive positions
  • Look for opportunities to charge the net and create volley put-aways
  • Hit aggressive return of serves to gain control early in points
  • Apply pressure by hitting deep groundstrokes
  • Use pace and placement to move your opponent around
  • Take time away from your opponent by hitting out in front
  • Focus on applying tactics rather than reacting defensively

Playing proactively with purpose and aggression makes it easier to employ strategies and dictates of play more effectively.

Have a Game Plan

Approach each match with a strategic game plan tailored to your specific opponent. Factor in your strengths, their weaknesses, and necessary adjustments based on past matches.

Elements to consider in a strategic game plan:

  • What mix of shots should you utilize based on your opponent’s court coverage gaps?
  • Will you focus more on offense or defense based on their playing style?
  • What patterns of shot placement will you use to move them around?
  • How will you counter their strongest weapons?
  • What will your serving strategy be against them?
  • How can you disguise your shots and alter speeds and placement?

Having a game plan removes hesitancy and helps you play more decisively through pre-determined strategies and tactics. Adjust your plan as needed between points and games.

Play Smart in Doubles

Doubles pickleball requires additional strategic coordination with your partner. These tactics help maximize doubles success:

  • Communicate verbally and non-verbally with your partner
  • Cover the middle of the court as a team
  • Hit down the middle to create confusion
  • Poach strategically when one opponent is out of position
  • Make use of placement and court positioning
  • Coordinate serve patterns with your partner
  • Switch serve formation looks between points

Practice doubles with the same partner regularly to enhance your chemistry and cohesion. Discuss tactics together and have go-to plays you can execute.

Maintain Consistency

A crucial strategic priority in pickleball is consistency. Remaining steady puts pressure on your opponent to come up with winners.

Elements of consistency:

  • Focus on keeping the ball in play
  • Be patient in rallies and wait for opportunities
  • Cut down on unforced errors
  • Hit high-percentage shots to the middle when needed
  • Stick with patterns of shots that are working
  • Avoid trying risky low-percentage shots

Remaining steady through long rallies tests your opponent’s patience and endurance. Their errors provide opportunities to apply tactics.

Manage Your Emotions

Emotional control is vital for strategic play. Making sound decisions when under pressure leads to better execution.

Ways to strengthen emotional control:

  • Take deep breaths to calm yourself
  • Maintain positivity and avoid beating yourself up over errors
  • Focus on only the current point
  • Avoid fixating on the score
  • Use self-talk cues like “relax” or “move your feet”
  • Positively pump yourself up at key moments
  • Accept that mistakes will happen and quickly refocus

By developing emotional control, you can think clearly, apply tactics, and play the strategic game when it matters most.


Elevating your pickleball strategy involves strengthening fundamentals, analyzing your skills, studying opponents, mastering shot selection, having a game plan, and staying emotionally controlled. Be a thinking player and approach each match with intent. Seek to dictate points using athleticism combined with strategic purpose. Keep practicing and learning to enhance your pickleball IQ. With a focus on smart tactics and consistency, your game is sure to reach new heights.