In this guide we take a look at the technique and fundamentals behind a great serve in pickleball. Read on for more info on how to improve your serving!
[Bonus Read: 47 Signs You're Obsessed With Pickleball]
The serve is the first shot in a pickleball game and sets the tone for the entire point.
It's your opportunity to put your opponent on the defensive and start the point with an advantage. A consistent, accurate, powerful serve is crucial to pickleball success.
Let's go in-depth on the important aspects of a perfect pickleball serve, including: Technique, strategy, footwork, arm mechanics, and mental considerations.
What is proper pickleball serve technique?
The grip is the foundation of your serve, so it's essential to make it feel right for you.
The most common grip for a pickleball serve is the Eastern forehand grip, which involves placing the base knuckle of your index finger on the third bevel of the handle. Basically this means to hold more of the bottom of the paddle, rather than the backside of it.
Some say the continental grip is like holding a frying pan and the Eastern grip is like shaking hands. Another way of putting it is to rest your palm face-up and put the paddle into it. This will keep your paddle facing down and generate some pop and topspin.
Experiment with different grips to find one that feels comfortable for you. You are likely to find that the continental grip too, while ideal for some dinks and blocks, may not be for serving.
Stand with your feet about shoulder-width apart, facing somewhere between the net and perpendicular to the court.
Find a comfortable angle that allows your body to swing freely.
You cannot coil your body if you face the court head-on. But you might have a hard time following through properly if you are facing perpendicular like you're on a skateboard.
Your weight should be evenly distributed between both feet so you can shift forward. Your stance will affect your ability to coil your torso and let it unwind as you make contact, and swinging with your torso will let you get more power without swinging harder with your arm.
As you bring your arm back to start your serve, keep your wrist relaxed.
You should begin your backswing before the ball toss, so you are not rushed to accelerate forward as the ball drops in mid-air.
When you initiate the serve, let your arm drop a bit and then begin forward and upward, like the middle of a figure-eight symbol.
Allow your wrist to snap as you make contact. Hit the ball slightly out in front of you, and follow your paddle through up to your non-dominant shoulder. This will generate topspin and help you control the trajectory of your serve. Some wrist, not a lot, but not none either!
Your footwork is critical to generating power and accuracy in your serve.
Before you serve, you can take a small step forward to initiate the motion and tempo.
Begin with your center of gravity relatively neutral, then transfer your weight to your front foot as you make contact. Make sure you do not run forward after you serve, but rather hang back behind the line in case a return comes back deep.
To begin, try to serve roughly 2-3 feet from the middle line, rather than all the way out wide. As you follow through, you might take a step.
What is the strategy behind pickleball serves?
Know Your Opponent:
Observing your opponent's tendencies, such as where they like to return serves or what type of shots they prefer, can give you an edge in the serve.
For example, if they tend to return serves with their backhand, try aiming to their forehand. As a newer player, depth is your main goal, hitting the ball far back. Focus on making them return from deep, even if your serve is softer and higher.
Take Risk, But Smart Ones:
If you are missing some serves, consider going back to the basics and going more like a bowling motion, where you are swinging just to give the ball some arc and to make sure it lands in.
You may also consider doing a drop/bounce serve to boost consistency, as then the ball will be stationary when you make contact. Some find it easier.
Mix It Up:
Don't become too predictable with your serve.
Experiment by mixing up the placement, speed, and spin of your serve.
You will have to practice these before a game to ensure you can make them consistently. But the serve can be a weapon if you can keep your opponent guessing. Think about how to make it difficult for them to return the ball effectively.
What are the arm mechanics of a pickleball serve?
A faster serve is more difficult for your opponent to return, but it also requires greater control.
Find the balance that works best for you, and don't sacrifice accuracy for speed.
But to hit a faster serve, you need to swing harder and flatter, reducing spin and arc and hitting the ball more straight on/square. Use a little bit of wrist at the moment of contact.
The height of your serve toss can affect its trajectory and trajectory, so consider how high you want your serve to go when you hit it.
A high serve toss is generally more difficult to hit well, but it will give your more pace. Some like to let the ball drop low too, however you won't be able to hit the ball as hard. Just make sure to make contact below your waist.
Adding spin to your serve can make it more difficult for your opponent to return.
Experiment with topspin and side spins to find a spin that works well for you.
An inside-out slice serve is a good one to try first, which involves swinging across your body rather than down to up. Just make sure to aim in the opposite direction of the spin.
How to improve mental game in pickleball?
Stay focused and mentally prepared before your serve. Take a deep breath, relax your body, and concentrate on your target. Try to have your tempo and timing be the same each time. And remember that there is no rush to serve.
Confidence is key in serving. Believe in yourself and your abilities, and don't let negative thoughts affect your serve. Hit a bucket of serves whenever you can.
Visualize the serve you want to make before you hit it. See the ball going to your target and imagine yourself making a perfect serve. Make sure your feet are aimed in the right direction, then just go for it, trying not to think about mechanics too much mid-swing.
Choose a specific target on the court and aim for it with every serve. This will help you increase your accuracy and consistency. This can be a backhand or a specific side.
Develop a consistent serve routine that you follow every time you serve. This will help you stay focused and mentally prepared. Some folks bounce a ball on the court a few times. Some bounce it on the paddle. By crafting a routine, it helps your muscle memory.
A strong pickleball serve takes time and practice.
It seems simple, but there is a lot to a good serve.
By considering technique, strategy, footwork, arm mechanics, and mental game, you'll be well on your way to an improved pickleball serve. Remember to be patient and persistent, and always keep learning and improving.