How to Level Up Your Pickleball Game

Pickleball’s popularity is skyrocketing across Canada, emerging as one of the nation’s fastest-growing sports. This paddle game boasts inclusivity, welcoming players of all ages and skill sets to the court for a social and exhilarating experience.

While Pickleball offers a straightforward entry point, mastering the game demands a range of skills including agility, balance, coordination, and endurance. To elevate your performance and advance from beginner/intermediate to advanced levels, we turned to Natalie Araya, Head Pickleball Pro at Mayfair Lakeshore, for expert advice.

Here are Natalie’s Top Tips:

1. Master The Basics

Progressing in Pickleball involves a blend of focused training, strategic gameplay, physical conditioning, and a profound comprehension of the sport. New players should start with a solid foundation with the fundamental strokes, footwork and rules of the game. Focusing on proper technique and efficient footwork will allow you to improve accuracy, consistency and proper court coverage. Put in the work to improve your agility, lateral movement and quick directional changes. Look to position yourself strategically on the court to control the game and anticipate your opponent’s moves. Dedicate regular practice sessions to hone your skills. Work on serves, returns, dinks, volleys and drills that work on transitioning into the net.

2. Strategic Play

Pickleball is a game of placement and patience. Develop a deeper understanding of game strategy, proper shot selection and court positioning based on the situation and learn to develop a variety of shots and pace that keep your opponents off balance. You can also learn by watching advanced level pickleball matches to pick up what the pros are doing as well as analyze or record your own matches to identify areas of improvement.

3. Participate in Competitive Play and Tournaments

The best way to learn is through competition. Participate in tournaments and competitive match play to gain experience against a variety of opponents. Embrace challenges and use losses as opportunities to learn and improve. Look to build a network of players of similar skill level to set up practices and gain perspective of different strategies on court. Competitive play will also work on your mental toughness, teaching you how to stay focused and positive as well as learning to manage pressure situations during matches. We have lots of opportunities for match play at Mayfair Clubs. Visit our website or contact our Director of Pickleball Ken Crosina to learn more about our Pickleball offerings.

How to Improve Your Doubles Pickleball Game

In regard to pickleball doubles, effective tactics are crucial as it involves teamwork, communication and strategic positioning. Here are some key tactics for improving your doubles game:

1. Communicate With Your Partner

Constant communication and chemistry with your partner is essential for effective doubles play. Use verbal cues, hand signals, or predetermined strategies to coordinate your movements and shots. You can share information about opponents’ strengths and weaknesses during the match. Effective doubles play is all about working as a team and adapting to the dynamic nature of the game. Continuously assess your opponents and make strategic decisions based on the flow of the match. And remember, it’s better to over communicate then under communicate!

2. Court Positioning

Adopt the “side-by-side” formation and look to transition into the net on the return or third shot as soon as possible. Attacking the net takes time and space away from your opponents, so you should look to come towards the kitchen line in a quick and balanced manner. When you’re at the kitchen line, work on “shadowing” or “shifting” – when your partner is pulled out wide, move to the middle to cover higher percentage attack areas and minimize open spaces. 

3. Build Your Receptive Skills

Like most racquet sports, the game requires you to read the incoming ball and send the ball back in a position that takes your opponents off court or off balance. As you start to build your hand-eye coordination and get more of an understanding of how to space yourself accordingly to where the ball is, the easier it will be to execute the right shots depending on the situation.

4. Smart Shot Selection

Making intelligent shot selection based on you and your opponent’s position and movement will help in developing your game tremendously. Consistency with drilling specific shots will allow you to build confidence in executing offensive and/or defensive plays at the right times. Work on building your technique and feel on all of these fundamental strokes: dinks, volleys, third shot drops, serves, returns, forehand & backhand groundstrokes, lobs & overheads. Make time to schedule drilling sessions with a partner or group and get those reps in!

How to Improve Your Singles Pickleball Game

In regard to pickleball singles, the game requires a different set of tactics compared to doubles. In singles, you have more court to cover and need to rely on your individual skills. Here are some key tactics for improving your singles game:

1. Fitness & Conditioning + Court Coverage

Develop efficient agility and lateral movement to cover the entire court effectively. Work on your overall fitness to maintain endurance & stamina during long rallies and matches. Being physically fit will help you recover quickly between points and play at a high level consistently. Look to transition into the net so you can take time and space away from your opponent.

2. Anticipate Your Opponent’s Shots

Pay attention to your opponent’s patterns and tendencies during competition. Anticipate where your opponent is likely to hit the ball and position yourself accordingly. Develop patience at the net and avoid taking unnecessary risks, especially when under pressure.

3. Adaptability & Patience

Adapt your strategy based on your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses. Consistency, shot variety and strategic thinking are key elements for success in pickleball singles. Singles matches tend to be longer and more strenuous. Having good stamina would help you to sustain the same level of intensity throughout your matches. Being patient and waiting for the right opportunities to attack is a key aspect in developing mental acuity during matches. You can also use psychological tactics to your advantage, such as changing the pace of the game or showing confidence when facing challenges.

4. Smart Shot Selection

Make intelligent shot selections based on your positioning and your opponent’s positioning. Executing the right shots at the right times is what separates the intermediate and advanced pickleball players. Varying the pace of your shots will also help with keeping your opponent off balance and disrupt their rhythm. Here are some shots to practice that will help improve your singles game: consistent + strong serves, deep returns that pinpoint the corners of the court and precise swing volleys to take your opponents off court while transitioning into the net. Setting up the point with powerful, precise groundstrokes within the first 4 shots will help with winning more efficiently and start the point in your favour. Exploit your opponent’s weaknesses and always try to keep your opponents guessing with having your shots stay unpredictable.

Key Terms

Third Shot Drops:

The third shot drop is by far the hardest stroke to master in the game. It takes a great amount of skill and feel to execute this shot successfully in a consistent manner. Prioritizing a high-quality third shot drop will help with getting you to the non volley zone and put pressure on your opponents with receiving a low ball as well as neutralizing offensive plays when you are off court or off balance. Keep your shots unpredictable and use a variety of spins and angles to make it difficult for your opponent to attack the drop shot.

Volleys:

Take advantage of opportunities to move to the net and control the non-volley zone (also known as the kitchen line). Developing solid volley skills will help with putting pressure on your opponent with well-placed shots.

Aggressive Groundstrokes:

Work on powerful and accurate groundstrokes to put your opponent on the defensive. Utilize forehand & backhand drives to control the pace of the game and mix in topspin angle shots to set up a “pop-up” that you or your partner can attack at the non-volley zone.

Sky Lobs:

Use lobs strategically to push your opponent back and create openings for offensive shots. When executing this shot, make sure to have enough height & depth and work on placing the ball around ¾ court. Be cautious with lobs, as they can leave you vulnerable if not executed well. If your lob is too short and the player attacks with an overhead, be sure to have your paddle down so you can look to counter-attack.

Remember that progress takes time and consistent effort.

Set realistic goals, focus on building your strengths, become aware of your weaknesses and seek help for improvement when necessary. Be sure to celebrate your success along the way and see how far you’ve come. Keep a growth mindset and have the willingness to adapt your game as you learn new techniques and strategies. Always put yourself in challenging situations that promotes learning and you’ll be on the right track. Most importantly, stay positive, enjoy the process and have fun with it. Happy Pickling! 😊

Head shot image of Natalie Araya, Head Pickleball Pro at Mayfair Lakeshore

About the Author

Natalie is a Badminton, Pickleball & Tennis Club Professional who strives to help others learn valuable skills within the racquet sport realm as well as promoting an active & healthy lifestyle. She is a Tennis Canada certified coach and has received her Tennis Club Professional 2, Pickleball Canada certified Pickleball Instructor 2 and Badminton Regional Coach certifications.

Natalie can be reached at lakeshoresports@mayfairclubs.com.


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Mayfair Clubs (www.mayfairclubs.com) is a modern sports club with four locations in Toronto, Canada.

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