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Win More With These 8 Pro Strategies

Does your pickleball game feel a bit stagnant, like you can't reach your full potential? You've played for a while, but can't quite seem to take that next step. Learn these advanced concepts:

There are adjustments you can make, starting today, without any upgrade to your physical fitness. You don't need to be faster or stronger to improve as a developing player player.

The following eight strategies will change the way you think about the game.

Pro players pay attention to and make use of these concepts, while most recreational players do not. They will take practice and you will not master them overnight. But in time, your game can have a lot of added dimension. You will be much more difficult to play against as you incorporate these concepts into your game.

Top Pro Pickleball Strategies:

Below explanation on why to use them, how to do them, and how they can make you better.

The first strategy is to block your dominant-side shoulder with a "pancake" or "scorpion" shot, using the forehand side of the paddle. You won't always do this, but it's nice to have. Riley Newman and Collin Johns are pros to emulate for this type of shot.

This will prevent instances of being "chicken-winged". The "chicken wing" refers to the tendency of players to block their dominant side as a backhand, which can lead to an awkward and inefficient shot, due to the wrist and elbow being in a tough position.

It's hard to guard dominant shoulder as a backhand. Our wrist and elbow bend weirdly!

This causes the defender to lack control on their block, and makes it easier for the attacker to force an error. Conventional pickleball does call for most body blocks to be done by the backhand side of the paddle. In most cases it is best.

But when blocking a ball sped up at your dominant side, a backhand block may lead to a vulnerable shot. Your elbow is elevated and your wrist cannot fully adjust the paddle face on its own. Your arm just can't get the paddle into a strong position.

By using the forehand side of the paddle, you may maintain a more stable and controlled block. That's right, you'll open up the paddle and hit a forehand block. It takes some preparation, but this technique is called the "pancake" or "scorpion" shot.

The pancake shot is a forehand block on the forehand side, hand and wrist typically below paddle face. You will get more pop on your punch, because your wrist is in a strong position.

The scorpion shot is when you actually crouch down and let the ball fly over your shoulder, with the paddle over your head, like the tail of a scorpion. The scorpion can be hit over either shoulder, which is a plus.

Give it a try in front of the mirror! You can bend your knees and hit a ball over either shoulder if it is high enough. This shot allows you to keep your wrist facing forward, and you will be able to get considerable pace on the punch.

The scorpion is a tough adjustment when hitting on your non-dominant side though. Sometimes it will "steal" or complicates backhands. It has its cons, but is worth a try.

One of the main benefits of using a "pancake" or "scorpion" shot is that it allows you to take away your opponent's best attack, at your worst spot. Make them attack somewhere else. It's annoying on an attacker to have to change their mind mid-shot or mid-game.

This strategy may help you conserve movement and energy. By using your forehand to block, you can reduce the reaction time spent reaching back across your body if you are waiting with a backhand. In some cases, you will be more efficient with movement.

The downside is you have to wait with paddle opened forehand a bit, or at least ready to open the paddle back up. So you will not be as ready for backhand blocks anymore. But most pros seem fine with this tradeoff. Overall it's harder to attack you.

pickleball doubles court

The second strategy is to not split court duties 50/50, but rather to let the forehand do more and take more balls. Ben Johns and Jay Devilliers are pros who show this concept in action.

Don't listen to the old school! One of the biggest concerns in pickleball is effectively covering the court with your partner. Many players make the mistake of just splitting court coverage in half, each player spiritually responsible for half of the court. My half, your half. Wrong!

Ben Johns has been quoted saying that this is just not how the game is designed to be played. It's meant to be allocated in a more optimal and efficient way, not necessarily an even split. An even split can leave areas of the court vulnerable, since you force a weak backhand to be more involved. It's difficult to defend everything comfortably.

Instead, you should cover the court with strengths masking weak spots, if that makes sense. Tactically give away spots that are not great for opponents anyways. This is what happens when you see Collin Johns shift right on the right side and Ben Johns shift middle from the left. They give up some of the left side, since it's not a great attack spot anyways.

And then they cover the middle and the right side way better. WAY better.

It's an effective strategy to let the player with the forehand in the middle take on more responsibility for the middle of the court. For a right-handed player, this would be if they are on the left side of the court. This player can use their forehand to defend and attack shots in this middle area, while their partner covers their body and their line better.

The only adjustment you might make is if the left-side player is hit a majority of balls and is "busy," in which case the right-side player will simply help out by covering more of the middle.

By allowing the player with the forehand to take on more responsibility for the middle of the court, the overall team can craft a better defense and dictate more of the action. Some people refer to it as the forehand player "inserting" themselves more into points. This player will be able to hit powerful shots more often, making the most of finite "up balls," and making it more difficult for opponents to score points. It reduces vulnerability.

This allows the other player to maximize focus on other parts of the court, covering their line, their body, and makes the doubles unit more in sync covering tough spots.

It's important to note that this strategy isn't eternal. Teams should adjust to their opponents playing style and strengths. Perhaps even someone's backhand is the doubles team's best shot, in which case that person should take more of the middle with their strong backhand.

This is just a general guideline that the middle burden should not be split simply by the middle line, but should change to accommodate strong shot-making and coverage in the middle, regardless of whom. Challenge yourself to see the middle not as a boundary or border, but as a place to place your team's best shot-maker or get your team's best shots more involved.

The third strategy is to use hand signals to communicate side switches before points. Almost all pros do this, watch especially in mixed matches as well as teams with righty and lefty.

Using hand signals to communicate side switches with your pickleball partner before points is a key strategy for winning games. You have probably seen this on YouTube or live streams. It can be confusing to the opponents if you and your partner relay signals before each rally, and you are switching sides some of the time and other times not.

This is worth experimenting with, because there is no physical barrier required to make it work, and anyone can do it with some practice. It creates huge unpredictability in your team's gameplay. If your opponents aren't aware of when you and your partner will switch, they will have a harder time selecting their shots. It's also hard for them to actually swing while you're moving. They might change their mind, or take their eye off the ball.

The most common hand signals used in pickleball are a fist/rock signal, which means to stay put, and an open hand/palm signal, which means to switch after the return. Some advanced teams will use a third signal, a fluttering of the fingers, to denote the net player makes a fake lunge to switch, but ultimately stays put on their current side.

You can use any signals you can make with a hand, typically showing the hand signal behind the back or a paddle. You could also do it verbally. It's crucial to have a clear and consistent way of sending these signals between partners, to avoid confusion or misinterpretation.

Switching allows you to adjust your team's orientation on the court based on the way your opponents are playing. And you can adjust as often as you want, even between points. For example, if your opponent is hitting shots to the left side of the court, or a specific person, you can communicate with your partner to switch sides after the next return and be on the opposite sides of the court. You can balance it, switching part of the time.

This way, you will be better prepared to combat their tactics, you will force them to make changes, distract them with repositioning, show them different looks and shots, or at least you can be confusing for the price of a few extra steps. With virtually no extra effort.

pickleball tournament court

The fourth strategy is to use wrist flicks to generate aggressive speed-ups. AJ Koller, Lea Jansen, and JW Johnson are pros who are great to learn this style of shot from.

Playing aggressively is an important pickleball strategy because it keeps your opponents on their toes and can force them to make errors. But you won't be gifted infinite free chances to attack, sometimes you have to create them on your own!

By varying the pace of your shots, you can catch opponents off-guard and gain an advantage when you hit a quick shot and they are not ready to block.

By using topspin flicks with your wrist, you can take balls that are low to begin with and hit them with pace and power. They will stay in the court length-wise because the spin makes them drop back down. The other team then needs to block or otherwise defend the shot. They cannot let the ball sail, because they will not go long.

This is not a big swing, quite the opposite. Wrist is key in compact attacks. It's a small, quick swing. Think of wrist flexion down to up, brushing the ball with a slight swing path forward.

Aggressive play will have you finding opportunities to speed balls up off the bounce. This means hitting the ball hard, sometimes even off of a soft shot. This can be effective against opponents who are not as quick with their hands and who may not have sound blocking technique. By using a quick, compact wrist flick, you can also disguise the direction.

A lot of newer players will take full, windmill-like swings to speed the ball up, and one problem with this is it becomes easy to tell where the ball is headed and when an attack is developing. By using a compact, disguised flick, there's less info for them to see. You can mix up the directions, some balls at body, some down the middle, and they have to keep guessing.

Using topspin flicks with your wrist is a great way to play aggressively off a ball in the air, as well as off a bounce. Experiment with this small flick of wrist and see if you can add this weapon to your arsenal. The technique of using wrist to add spin to the ball can help you take balls that are low to begin with and speed them up, perhaps when your opponent assumes it's not likely.

You won't use a lot of wrist in all shots, but this is one chance to do so.

The fifth pro strategy is to take more dink shots out of the air instead of waiting for it to bounce. Callan Dawson, Lindsay Newman, and Tyson McGuffin are pros to mimic for this.

Taking dinks out of the air reduces the amount of time the opponent has before the ball comes back. It comes back almost immediately after crossing the net. When a ball is allowed to bounce, the opposing team has time to wait and adjust their positioning.

If the ball is hit out of the air, it gives them less time to prepare, and also presents more attacking opportunities with lesser movement to boot. This can create opportunities for your team. It also reduces the times when the ball "drags" you around, often out wide.

Taking dink shots out of the air allows you to maintain your position. In short, you get to move less. When a ball is allowed to bounce, it may skid or take you out wide or backwards, or both. You may have to move back several feet to negotiate the bounce, which compromises your court position and makes your shot more difficult. You're also more vulnerable the next ball.

You may pop up more balls and be in a worse position to defend any attacks if you keep letting their dinks bounce and you keep tracking back to deal with them. However, if you take the dink shot out of the air, you can maintain your position and remain ready for the next.

It's important to note that the dink shot must be done with control and precision, as a mishit can give the advantage to the opposing team. It's important to develop your dink shots out of the air as they are truly a tough shot. Use a firm wrist and a soft grip, absorbing the ball.

Another added benefit is it will conceal your attack punches out of the air because you now have dinks that look the same way. You will mess this up quite a bit when you begin trying to dink-volley, but don't give up. Keep experimenting with punches. It's very useful.

Overall, taking dinks out of the air is an important strategy in pickleball as it reduces the amount of time the opposing team has to react and allows you to maintain your court position and disrupt the opposing team's rhythm. Any player should do this more.

backhand block volley at net

The sixth strategy is to use misdirection and have a couple different shot variations for each approximate backswing, so you are not predictable. Good pros to watch for this tip are DJ Young and Kyle Yates, both of whom have a ton of variety.

The concept of misdirection in pickleball is a strategy that involves deceiving your opponents by disguising your swings. You make it so the opponent cannot necessarily guess your shot's path and pace simply by watching your swing. For each backswing and setup, you should be able to hit the ball a couple different directions and paces, and even spins.

By having a few different shot options for each approximate backswing, you keep your opponents guessing and prevent them from anticipating your next move. You will find your opponents not camped out on any of your shots, but having to sit back and react.

This can be especially beneficial when playing against more experienced players who are able to read shots and make accurate, educated guesses about where you are going to place the ball. They can't defend their body, their line, and the middle all at once.

One way to implement this is loosely tied in with a previous tip about wrist flicks. You can work on hitting a low shot softly as a dink, or hard as a wrist flick. You may practice winding up on the left side and being able to go hard at opponent's right shoulder, hard down the middle, lobbing over their left shoulder, or dumping it softly out wide right across.

By practicing these different shots, you can be a pain to play against. Every time you address a ball and prepare your swing, you have an entire carousel of options: Some hard and some soft, some at the body and some around them, some low and some high.

Practice up at the kitchen hitting a ball to 2-3 different places using the same backswing. In a game, practice balancing them. And adjust to your gauge of opponents' weaknesses.

Another way to use misdirection is to vary the speed of your shots. You can hit some shots hard and at a person, where they have to be ready to block their body. Then other shots from the same spot taking pace off of the ball, hitting it low and soft, off to the sides, forcing them to reach down and to their side.

You can keep your opponents off-balance and unsure what to expect. This will lead to them making more errors since they can't prepare for any one shot and have to wait and see.

Using the concept of misdirection can also make it more difficult for your opponents to position themselves on the court. If they are unsure of what type of shot you are going to hit, they may be more likely to make a mistake in where they are actually standing. This can give you more opportunities to hit into open areas of the court, or at them while they're moving.

But mostly, it makes their shots worse too. Yup, your variety can worsen their shots.

Overall, the strategy of misdirection is an important one to work on, even if you mishit a hundred balls before you feel comfortable with a new shot concept. Misdirection keeps your opponents guessing, force errors, and gain an advantage in the match.

By practicing different shot variations and varying the speed of your shots, you can improve your ability to use misdirection in a match. Just make sure to keep your eye on the ball as you hit, even if you vary in directions. Don't always look directly out at where you'd like to aim.

The seventh strategy is to do more "poaching" and switching sides mid-point with your partner, being unpredictable at the net, creating more opportunities on offense. Watch pros Irina Tereschenko and Anna Leigh Waters to see this strategy in action.

"Poaching" in pickleball refers to the act of moving sideways into your partner's area of the court to take a ball that would typically be considered theirs. This strategy is useful because it allows for more flexibility in the court and can catch your opponents by surprise.

They may hit a ball back to your partner, which seems safe because they are back, not realizing you will slide over and crush it. Then you ambush them!

By poaching, you are able to take advantage of open spaces on the court and balls left carelessly high and floaty, and make it difficult for your opponents to predict where is best for them to hit to, and what next shot to expect.

Just be careful they don't sneak one behind you. You have to ambush them! So wait until the last second to make your move. Tip: You can also fake poach a bit early, then stay.

The classic poach is when only one player is at the net and the opponents hit a shot to the back of the court. Instead of allowing your partner to cover the shot from far back, you as the person at the net can step over and take the shot. Your opponents will often sail a ball higher, not expecting you to reach, and they may not be prepared to handle the quick rebound.

This strategy is worth a try because it creates opportunities to nab sneaky points. It can disrupt the flow of the game for your opponents. The nice thing is, when the poacher tries and can't reach, it's usually fine and the back person can cover the shot as a backup.

However, be careful when the poacher commits all-in and flies one side to the other. It is important to communicate with your partner and make sure to not leave them in a tough position by poaching too often. Organize your switches. The back person should be vocal.

Poaching can be a high-risk move if not executed correctly. It's essential to practice and be comfortable with your level of reach, and also to vary the scenarios you go for it, so you don't become too predictable and opponents hit balls back behind you and you get burned.

Give poaching a try. It's fun and your opponents will give you some free points.

The eighth tip is to occasionally jump the corner of the kitchen line and intercept balls in the air, surprising your opponents when they leave a ball up and within reach. Watch pros Tyler Loong, Dekel Bar, and Lee Whitwell to see how to choreograph this timely shot.

The strategy of jumping the corner of the kitchen line in pickleball is a high-risk, high-reward move that can be used to surprise opponents and take control of the point. It's a cousin of the poach, except instead of switching sides you will jump at an angle off the court entirely.

Thus it is risky, because you leave your entire side vacant for a moment.

The corner of the kitchen line is an area where the line meets the side of the court, and it can be a vulnerable spot for opponents, because they will occasionally hit a soft dink forward to you. You can then jump and smash the ball before it comes all the way to your kitchen line. This general shot is called an "erne," though you don't have to jump. You can walk too.

Jumping the corner of the kitchen line can be especially effective when opponents are expecting a ball to be hit low and soft and are not prepared for a speed-up. It can also put pressure on opponents.

Jumping the corner of the kitchen line also comes with its own risks. If a player misses the ball or doesn't hit it in the right spot, they can leave their team vulnerable to a counterattack.

Additionally, jumping for the ball takes a player out of position, which can leave the rest of the court open for their opponents. The other partner has to cover the entire court.

Also, it's easy to jump off of or land onto a line, and lose the point right then and there off a violation.

Most players can make the jump, and in some cases don't even need to leap but can kind of skip over in a few steps. It's less about the ability to jump, and more about the ability to identify opportunities quickly, and time your hops with the ball arriving.

Try it out. Try the timing. Wait for them to put their head down and are just about to make contact. Don't go too early unless you are dissuading their shot to go forward. Tip: You can also go early as a fake and try to force them to hit the ball across.

Overall, jumping the corner of the kitchen line is a game-changing strategy in pickleball. It allows players to surprise opponents, take control of the point, and take away one of the safety shots, straight forward. Tread carefully with this strategy, but give it a serious try.

These eight pickleball strategies can make you a better player.

Look to incorporate them into your game, and take your play groups by surprise. Actually, share this article with any avid pickleball friends of yours, and improve together!


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