Pickleball Tips: Serves


Every rally in a pickleball game starts with a serve.

Pickleball uses an underhand serve, which you can do by either hitting the serve off of the volley, or by dropping the pickleball and hitting the serve off of the bounce. If you hit the serve off of the volley, the rules of pickleball require the serve to be hit below your belly button with your paddle head below your wrist at the point of contact. And, whatever type of serve you hit—a volley serve or a drop serve—you must be behind the baseline and between the centerline and sideline at the point of contact. After contact, you are free to do whatever you want with your pickleball paddle and you are free to step into the pickleball court.

Although the serve in pickleball can be a very basic shot, it is a very important shot and can give you an edge to start a point. Not many points are won in a pickleball game off of an ace serve; however, many opportunities are lost by serves that are hit out of bounds.

So, what are the key pickleball serve techniques and strategies? Let’s breakdown seven key techniques and strategies to know on the serve.

1. Use a pre-serve routine. It is important that you find a routine that you are comfortable with before you serve the pickleball. This pre-serve routine could be bouncing the pickleball with your hand or hitting the pickleball a few times with your paddle—whatever works best for you and whatever you feel comfortable with. This will help you tell your mind and body you are ready and also help you with your timing.

Whatever your pre-serve routine is, be sure to say the score before you start any part of your serve. In other words, do not say the score and serve at the same time. This is because our bodies and minds are generally not built to “think” and “do” at the same time, and too many errors occur as a result of trying to say the score and serve at the same time. So, think, say the score, do your pre-serve routine, and then serve.

2. Stay loose, move from your shoulder, and finish your swing. During a serve, some pickleball players have a tendency to want to flick their wrist or bend at their elbow. This may cause inconsistencies for you and the goal on the pickleball serve is to perfect a consistent, reliable serve.

So, your pickleball service motion should be more like a pendulum swing from the shoulder, instead of from the wrist or elbow. The pickleball service motion should be fluid and loose, rather than stiff or tight, and it should continue all the way through the pickleball. The pickleball service motion should not stop at contact with the pickleball, but rather continue through contact, as if you were hitting several pickleballs in a row in the direction that you want the pickleball to go—which would be to the crosscourt service box.

3. Again, it is important to have a consistent, reliable serve on the pickleball court. This includes consistent placement, as you must hit the serve to the crosscourt service box. To help you hit your serve with some consistent direction:

a. Avoid over-rotating on your backswings;

b. Take relatively short backswings; and

c. Try using a semi-closed stance, which is a stance that is partially open to the crosscourt service box and partially closed to the crosscourt service box. A semi-closed stance will help deter backswings that are too big and help you keep your point of contract on your serve relatively tight to your body. This is important because you want a consistent point of contact that is repeatable, routine, and out in front of your body. A short backswing and a semi-closed stance will help you accomplish this.

4. Use your legs and core to help you generate your power. Be sure to look like an athlete and compress your legs on your serve. You can also generate some power by increasing your paddle speed through the pickleball on your service motion.

5. Set yourself up for success by giving yourself a consistent toss or consistent drop.

When using a pickleball volley serve, lift the pickleball before releasing it. If you simply drop the pickleball, the pickleball will be too low at the point of contact and create a more difficult shot for you.

When using a pickleball drop serve, drop the pickleball from a comfortable height above your head with your arm slightly out in front of your body and slightly toward the paddle side of your body. This will give you the highest bounce possible.

Lastly, it probably goes without saying, but one of the easiest mistakes to make on the pickleball court is not watching the pickleball to the point of contact. So, be sure to watch the pickleball hit your paddle on your serve.

6. One pickleball serving strategy is to serve deep to your opponent’s backhand. This is because, a deep serve pushes your opponent back on their side of the pickleball court, making the return of serve more difficult. And, in most cases, your opponent’s backhand shot will be weaker than your opponent’s forehand shot.

With that said, when targeting a deep serve to your opponent’s backhand, do not overplay the serve and aim too close to the lines of the pickleball court—whether it be the baseline, the centerline, or the sidelines. Instead, aim about two to three feet inside of the lines. And, do not forget to consider and factor in the wind if you are playing outside.

7. And, although we just said to target your opponent’s backhands, be sure to mix up your serves. At a minimum, we all need one, consistent serve. Once you have that, you can elevate your game by incorporating different serves. For instance, a driving serve, a lob serve, an inside out serve, a serve with spin, etc. This will help you keep your opponents off-balance. So, perfect one consistent serve and then continue to evolve your pickleball game by adding other unique pickleball serves to your repertoire.

Now, get out onto the pickleball courts and master the serve with these tips!

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