Pickleball for Beginners: Essential Tips and Equipment Guide

This comprehensive guide offers a deep dive into pickleball’s rules and terminology, perfect for newcomers and seasoned players.

Whether you’re already acquainted with the game or starting out, understanding the foundational rules and essential terms is the first step to becoming a pickleball master.

First, we’ll explore the intricacies of the pickleball court layout, master the art of diagonal ball serving, and navigate the nuances of the non-volley zone.

Next will be choosing the right equipment, from selecting suitable pickleball paddles with a comfortable grip to picking outdoor balls designed for playing on different courts.

We’ll also delve into developing your technique, whether it’s about keeping your paddle high or ensuring that you let the ball bounce before hitting it back across the pickleball net. Then we’ll move on to improving your strategy with tips from experienced players who have perfected their game over time.

Finally, practice makes perfect, especially when starting out in racket sports. So we’ll share some effective ways for practicing success in Pickleball – both on and off-court exercises included!

Table of Contents:

1. Getting the Basics Down

Mastering the fundamentals is crucial for those embarking on their pickleball journey. This entails familiarizing yourself with the rules, court layout, and scoring system.

The Rules

With its quirky name, pickleball combines the best of ping pong and tennis. It’s a game where you serve, hit, and strategize to prevent your opponent from returning the ball.

Court Layout

Pickleball courts are similar to tennis courts, only smaller; they measure 20×44 feet. Courts can be indoor or outdoor and are divided into left and right service courts by a centerline.
pickleball for beginners

Serving in Pickleball

The server must keep one foot behind the baseline until the ball is hit. The serve must be hit underhand and diagonally, starting from the right-hand service court and clearing the non-volley zone.

Serving Rotation

The serving rotation follows a specific pattern, where the serving team starts the game with one player serving from the right side of the court.

After each point is scored, the serving team rotates clockwise, and the serving player moves to the left side of the court.

This rotation continues until a fault or a side-out occurs, and the other team gets the opportunity to serve.

Double Bounce Rule

After the serve, both teams must let the ball bounce once on their side before hitting it.

After the initial bounce, the ball can be volleyed (hit in the air) or played off the bounce.

Non-Volley Zone (NVZ)

The non-volley zone, also known as the kitchen, is a 7-foot area on both sides of the net. Players cannot volley the ball (hit it in the air) while standing inside the non-volley zone. Players can enter the non-volley zone to play a ball that has bounced.


Points are scored when the serving team wins a rally. A rally is won when one of the following happens:

  • The ball is hit into the opponent’s non-volley zone (commonly known as the kitchen), and the opponent fails to return it.
  • The opponent commits a fault, such as hitting the ball out of bounds or into the net.
  • The opponent fails to return the ball before it bounces twice on their side of the court.

The first team to reach 11 points, with a lead of at least 2, wins the game. The game is often played to 15 or 21 points in tournament play.


A fault occurs when a player fails to follow the rules, such as stepping on the non-volley zone line or hitting the ball out of bounds. A fault results in a point for the opposing team or a loss of serve.

Announce the Score

It’s also important to remember the server announces the score before serving.

Here’s how to call out the score in pickleball:

Start with the serving team’s score – the serving team’s score is always called out first.

Follow with the receiving team’s score – after stating the serving team’s score, you then state the receiving team’s score.

Then you indicate the server number – after stating the scores, you need to indicate which player is serving.

In doubles play, there are two servers on each team. You can use the server number to indicate who is serving. The server number is usually determined by the side of the court (odd or even) and whether it’s the first or second serve.

For example, if it’s the first server on the serving team’s side, you would say “One”.

If it’s the second server on the serving team’s side, you would say “Two”.

Example of calling out the score: Putting it all together, if the serving team has 3 points, the receiving team has 2 points, and it’s the first server on the serving team’s side, you would say “3-2-1”.

pickleball for beginners

Remember to call out the score loud enough for both teams to hear and ensure everyone is on the same page. It is also common to repeat the score before each serve to avoid any confusion.

Choosing the Right Pickleball Equipment

When it comes to pickleball, gear matters, get ready to serve up success with the perfect paddle and ball.

Picking Your Paddle

Choose a pickleball paddle that suits your style. Material, weight, and size all play a role.

  • Material: Wood, composite, or graphite? It’s your call. Wood is cheap but heavy, composites offer control, and graphite brings power.
  • Weight: Light or heavy? Light paddles mean quick reactions but more effort. Heavy paddles pack a punch with less work.
  • Size: Big or small? A larger face means more hitting area, but smaller ones offer better accuracy.

Selecting Your Pickleball Balls

Don’t forget the pickleball itself. Indoor or outdoor, choose wisely.

  • Type: Indoor balls are slower, perfect for beginners. Outdoor balls are faster, ready to take on the wind.
  • Durability: Pick a ball that can handle the heat. Hard surfaces won’t stand a chance.

And don’t forget about your feet. Invest in pickleball shoes for traction and support. Comfortable athletic wear is a game-changer too.

Remember, not all solutions will work for everyone. Find the gear that feels right and matches your style. It’s all about comfort and preventing injuries.

3. Developing Your Technique

Like any other sport, pickleball requires a good technique to play effectively and enjoy the game. Your form is crucial whether you’re serving, hitting, or returning shots. Let’s dive into each aspect of pickleball technique.

Serving in Pickleball

The serve in pickleball initiates the point and can set the tone for how it unfolds. The key to a successful serve is consistency and placement rather than power. It should be an underhand stroke with contact made below waist level. Here are some guidelines on proper serving techniques. Remember that practice makes perfect.

Hitting Shots

There are several types of shots you’ll need to master in pickleball: the groundstroke, volley, dink shot, lob shot, and smash or overhead shot.

pickleball for beginners


A groundstroke is a shot hit after the ball bounces on the court. It is a shot that is typically hit from the baseline or mid-court area, and the objective is to keep the ball in play and potentially gain an advantage in the rally.

When executing a groundstroke, players use an underhand motion to hit the ball with their paddle. The shot is aimed to travel over the net and land within the opponent’s court, ideally away from their reach or in a strategically advantageous position.

Groundstrokes in pickleball can be hit with varying degrees of power and spin, depending on the player’s preference and the specific situation. They are often used to counter the opponent’s shots, maintain control of the rally, and set up for a winning shot or create an opportunity to move forward and attack the net.

Mastering groundstrokes is essential in pickleball, as they form the foundation of a player’s offensive and defensive strategies, allowing them to control the game’s pace and dictate the direction of play.


A volley refers to a shot that is hit in the air without allowing the ball to bounce on the court. It is a shot executed before the ball reaches the ground, typically within the non-volley zone (known as the kitchen) or near the net.

When volleying in pickleball, players use an underhand motion to hit the ball with their paddle. The objective is to return the ball over the net and keep it in play while aiming for strategic placement to gain an advantage in the rally.

Volleying is a crucial skill in playing pickleball, as it allows players to maintain control of the point, put pressure on their opponents, and set up for winning shots. It requires good hand-eye coordination, quick reflexes, and the ability to accurately judge the ball’s trajectory.

It is important to note that volleying is only allowed in certain areas of the court. Players must be positioned outside the non-volley zone to execute volleys legally. This rule helps promote fair play and prevents players from dominating the game solely at the net.

Dink Shot:

A dink shot is a soft, controlled shot hit close to the net. It is a shot typically hit with an underhand motion and aims to land in the opponent’s non-volley zone (kitchen) or just over the net.

The purpose of a dink shot is to place the ball in a position that is difficult for the opponent to attack aggressively. It is often used as a strategic shot to create opportunities for a winning shot or to force the opponent into making a mistake.

A successful dink shot requires finesse, touch, and good paddle control. It is a popular shot in pickleball, especially during the non-volley zone battles near the net, as it allows players to maintain control of the point and set up for a winning shot.

Lob Shot:

A lob shot refers to a high, arching shot that is hit to send the ball over the opponent’s head and deep into their court. It is a strategic shot used to create distance and buy time, often to counter an opponent positioned near the net.

Players use an upward swing to lift the ball high when executing a lob shot in pickleball. The shot is aimed to travel over the opponent and land near the baseline or even beyond it, making it difficult for the opponent to reach and return the ball effectively.

Lob shots are often used as defensive shots or to reset the rally. They allow players to regain control of the point, create space on the court, and force their opponents to move back and adjust their position.

Lobs can also be used as offensive shots to catch opponents off guard or to set up for a winning shot when the opponent is out of position.

Executing a successful lob shot requires good timing, control, and ability to judge the ball’s trajectory accurately. It is a valuable shot in pickleball and can be an effective tool in a player’s arsenal to vary the pace and strategy of the game.

Smash or Overhead Shot:

A smash or overhead shot is a powerful shot that is hit from above the head, usually when the ball is high in the air. It is a shot executed with an overhead swinging motion and aims to hit the ball with force and a downward trajectory, making it difficult for the opponent to return.

When performing a smash or overhead shot in pickleball, players use a combination of arm and wrist action to generate power and accuracy. The shot is typically executed near the net or mid-court area when the ball is above shoulder level, allowing for an aggressive attacking shot.

The purpose of a smash or overhead shot is to put the opponent on the defensive and potentially win the point outright. It is a shot that requires good timing, coordination, and the ability to generate power while maintaining control. The goal is to hit the ball with enough force and placement to make it challenging for the opponent to return, either by hitting it out of their reach or forcing them into an error.

Smashes and overhead shots are often used when a player can attack a high ball or when they want to put pressure on their opponents and gain control of the rally. They can be particularly effective when executed precisely and used strategically to exploit weaknesses in the opponent’s positioning or shot selection.

Making Returns

Making effective returns in pickleball involves anticipation, quick reflexes, and sound technical skills. Don’t forget – always aim for deep returns, making it harder for opponents to attack immediately.

Tips For Improving Your Technique

  1. Prioritize accuracy over power – Placing balls accurately often wins points more than sheer force does.
  2. Fine-tune footwork – Good footwork helps get the body into an optimal position, making strokes easier and more effective.
  3. Incorporate drills focused on specific strokes – Repetition leads to mastery, so incorporate targeted drills during practice sessions.
  4. Analyze and learn from mistakes – Self-analysis after games helps identify improvement areas.
  5. Hire a coach – They provide valuable insights, helping accelerate the learning curve.

Check here for additional tips on improving your technique.

Main Takeaway: 

In pickleball, having a good technique is essential for success. This includes mastering the serve, different shots, and making effective returns. Prioritizing accuracy over power, fine-tuning footwork, incorporating targeted drills, analyzing mistakes, and considering hiring a coach are all ways to improve your technique in pickleball.

4. Improving Your Strategy

Mastering the technical aspects of pickleball is important, but having a killer strategy is the secret sauce to winning on the court. You can outsmart even the most skilled players by reading your opponent’s shots and adjusting your game accordingly.

pickleball for beginners
A competitive doubles game of pickleball.

Reading Your Opponent’s Shots

Anticipate where your opponent will hit the ball by examining their paddle positioning, movements, and shot trajectory. Watch their paddle position, movement patterns, and ball trajectory to get a clue about their next move. It’s like being a detective but with a pickleball paddle.

  • Paddle Position: Keep an eye on where they hold their paddle before they strike. It can reveal which direction they’re aiming for.
  • Movement Patterns: Look for any habits or patterns in their movements that might give away their shot selection.
  • Ball Trajectory: Changes in the ball’s trajectory can tell you if they’re going for a lob, drive, or dink.

Adjusting Your Game Accordingly

Once you’ve cracked the code of your opponent’s shot, it’s time to take action. Here are some tips on how to adjust your gameplay based on what you’ve observed:

  • Serve Deep: Serve the ball deep into the backcourt to force your opponent out of their comfort zone near the net.
  • Vary Shot Selections: Keep your opponents guessing by mixing hard-hitting groundstrokes with softer touch shots like drop-shots or dinks. It’s like playing a game of pickleball mind tricks.
  • Lob When They Are Up Close: If your opponents crowd the pickleball net, use the lobbing technique to send the ball high above their heads.

Incorporating Doubles Strategies

In doubles games, communication with your partner is key. Try strategies like stacking (where the stronger player covers a larger portion of the court) or poaching (stealing your partner’s shot when the opportunity arises).

It’s like having a secret language with your pickleball partner.

Main Takeaway: 

Mastering the technical aspects of pickleball is important, but having a killer strategy is the secret sauce to winning on the court. You can outsmart even the most skilled players by reading your opponent’s shots and adjusting your game accordingly.

Anticipate where your opponent will hit the ball by observing their paddle position, movement patterns, and trajectory. Adjust your gameplay based on what you’ve observed – serve deep to force them out of their comfort zone, vary shot selections to keep them guessing, lob when they are up close, and incorporate doubles strategies like stacking or poaching in doubles games for effective communication with your partner.

5. Practicing for Success

Improving your pickleball game is all about practice, but not just any kind of practice will do. You must know how to practice effectively to improve your skills and strategy.

The Importance of Consistent Practice

To become a better player, you need consistent and focused practice sessions. Don’t worry; you don’t have to spend hours every day on the court. Even 15-30 minutes daily can make a real difference if done regularly.

Focused Drills

Forget just playing games; incorporate specific drills into your routine. Serve precisely, return shots like a boss, and work on your footwork. It’s all about that targeted practice.

Serving Drills

A good server sets the tone for the game. Practice power serves, soft serves, and slice serves. Check out these useful pickleball game serving drills.

Movement Drills

Pickleball requires quick reflexes and agility. Get those lateral slides and forward-backward sprints going.

Playing Against Different Opponents

Don’t stick to one type of player. Mix it up and play against different skill levels. It’ll help you adapt and improve your game. Here’s why playing with different partners can level up your skills.

Taking Lessons from Professionals

Hiring a pickleball coach can accelerate skill development, provide strategic guidance, enhance physical fitness, offer mental support, analyze performance, assist with competition preparation, and provide accountability and progress tracking.

Get Pickleball Tips Online

Plenty of online resources exist if hiring a coach isn’t an option. Check out tutorial videos where professionals share tips and tricks for mastering pickleball for beginners. Here are a few that I found helpful.

Remember: becoming great at anything takes time, patience, and dedication. The same goes for Pickleball. Happy practicing.

Main Takeaway: 

To improve your pickleball game, consistent and focused practice is key. Incorporate specific drills into your routine, such as serving and movement drills, to target areas for improvement. Playing against different opponents and learning from professionals can also help level up your skills. If hiring a coach isn’t an option, plenty of online resources are available with tips and tricks for mastering pickleball. Remember that becoming great at anything takes time, patience, and dedication.


Overall, this guide has provided a comprehensive overview of pickleball for beginners. Players can feel more confident on the court by understanding the basics, such as the rules and scoring system.

Choosing the right equipment is crucial to optimize performance and prevent injuries.

Developing proper technique and improving strategy is key to becoming a skilled pickleball player. Remember, it’s not just about the dill; it’s about the drill!

By practicing regularly and implementing these techniques, beginners can enhance their skills and become more competitive in matches. So, get out there and pickle the competition!

FAQs in Relation to Pickleball for Beginners

How do you teach a beginner to play pickleball?

To teach a beginner, start with pickleball rules, then move on to grip, serving, and volleying techniques.

What is the best way to learn pickleball?

The best way is through hands-on practice, guidance from experienced players, or online tutorials.

What three skills do you need to be successful in pickleball?

You need good hand-eye coordination, quick reflexes for volleys and dinks, and strategic positioning during gameplay.

Is pickleball a good sport for seniors?

Absolutely. Pickleball’s low-impact nature makes it an excellent choice for seniors seeking fun physical activity.

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