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11 PICKLEBALL DRILLS FOR BEGINNERS


Whether you play pickleball for fun or to just stay active, increasing your skills and becoming more competitive can enhance your overall playing experience.

If the only time you spend on the court is playing matches, it will be difficult to improve your skills as you are simply reacting to the balls being presented to you rather than working on particular shots or strategies. Practice is an integral part of becoming better at any sport.

Practice doesn’t mean just showing up and slapping shots around. Practice needs to have a purpose.

This article discusses pickleball drills for players who recently became hooked on pickleball and for those who are just now wanting to take their game to the next level.

 

Drill #1 - Get to know your paddle


The first warm up solo drill might seem easy, especially if you’ve been playing for a while. Yet one of the most common errors beginner players make is not understanding that different parts of your paddle will produce more power and control than others.

Take a pickleball ball and your paddle and practice hitting the ball straight up in the air with the goal of not letting the ball hit the floor. This drill helps your hand-eye coordination while showing you the differences when the ball hits different parts of the paddle. Try to hit it along the sides, closer to the grip, and in the middle of the sweet spot to see how the ball responds.

You may start to notice that if you hit the ball in the sweet spot, you’ll often get a truer hit, meaning it will have the most power, and the ball will go straight up. However, as you get closer to the sides, the ball not only loses power but will have less directional control.

This is a good exercise to help you focus on hitting the sweet spot more often and committing that to muscle memory.

 

Drill #2 - Hit Your Target


Another great one-person drill is to find a nearby wall (one that won’t be damaged) and draw a line 36 inches from the bottom to replicate the net size. Draw one or several squares on the wall or use tape to make targets; you can choose the size you are comfortable with.

Step back several feet and practice hitting the ball into that square. Each time the ball returns, you should let it bounce once before hitting it. The goal is to hit your target as many times in a row as possible. You can try it from different angles and distances.

You can do a lot of variations of the wall drill, and this is a great drill for practicing forehand shots while also working on the fundamentals.

 

Drill #3 - Dinking in the Kitchen


Now, let’s get you and your partner on a court to improve your dinking game. If you don’t have a partner, you can still practice these drills, but you’ll need a bucket of balls, a wall, or some tools to help you.

For this drill, each player stands on their own side of the net, on opposite sides of the kitchen lines (non-volley zone lines). Practice trading dink shots with the goal of keeping the ball inside each other’s kitchen. 

Trading cross-court dinks will help you learn to control the ball better and land it consistently just over the net. This dinking drill will help you improve forehand and backhand dinks and is one of the most important pickleball shots to master.

 

Drill #4 - Practice Your Volley


For this drill, you’ll want to stand at the kitchen line and practice volleying the ball (not allowing it to touch the ground) back and forth. The goal is not to score or send a shot flying but to focus on getting lift under the ball without letting it bounce on the ground.

 

Drill #5 - Catch the Ball, Then Volley


A big part of pickleball is being able to “catch” the ball with your paddle. No, this isn’t like baseball, where you are actually catching the ball. Instead, you are deadening the shot that’s coming at you by allowing the ball to hit the paddle without putting force behind it.

If this type of shot is done correctly, it should produce a little pop-up that you can then hit back to your partner. They should then catch the ball before volleying it back to you. Your goal is to get a better feel for the ball and improve your handling.

 

Drill #6 - One in the Kitchen


In this drill, have one person stand at the baseline and the other stand on the opposite kitchen line. The person on the baseline should drive the ball while the person on the kitchen line returns it. Don’t focus on scoring but on making solid contact.

This is a great time to practice hitting the ball with the sweet spot of your paddle. Notice how the ball doesn’t go exactly where you want it to when you miss the sweet spot. After a few rounds, switch so that the other person is on the baseline or in the kitchen.

 

Drill #7 - Transition Zone Blocking


Now, instead of the baseline, have one person stand about halfway between the baseline and the kitchen line on the opposite side of the court. The other person should stand in the opposite kitchen.

The goal here is to have the person in the transition zone drive the ball fairly hard toward the person in the kitchen. The person in the kitchen should focus on blocking (letting the ball hit the paddle instead of swinging your paddle at the ball) so the ball falls just over the net. This drop drill teaches finesse and is often used by advanced players as part of team strategy.

 

Drill #8 - Drive it Back


Use the same drill above, but instead of blocking the ball, the person in the kitchen should drive it back toward their opponent on a volley. This simulates times in a game when your opponent has driven it hard at you but then leaves a gap open by charging the net. A well-timed drive return shot can score you a point or help you win a rally against offensive pickleball players.

 

Drill #9 - Drop it Like It’s Hot


One of the best shots you can develop in pickleball is a good drop shot. What you’re trying to do is hit a shot from the baseline with your pickleball paddle that falls into your opponent’s kitchen.

To practice this drill, put one person at the baseline and the other at the kitchen line. The person from the kitchen should drive the ball back to the person at the baseline of the pickleball court, who then hits a drop shot at the person in the kitchen.

 

Drill #10 - Who’s Driving This Thing?


Similar to the drop, there’s also the drive shot. The goal of this shot is to hit the ball with speed and force your opponent to respond quickly.

Have both players stand at opposite baselines and practice driving the ball back and forth to each other. Try to move each other around, hitting some forehand and backhand shots. This will help improve your reaction time and footwork on the court the more you do it.

 

Drill #11 - Drive or Drop?


Now, we combine the two drills. The third-shot drop or drive are important elements in anyone’s pickleball game. You want to be able to perform both whenever you need them. The goal of this drill is to recognize the best time to drive it versus drop it.

If the ball lands short in front of you, you probably want to drive it. If it’s long, you may want to drop it instead. Ultimately, this drill is about getting a feel for what you like while improving your performance for both types of shots.

 

Conclusion


There are a lot of skill drills that can help you in your quest to get better at the game of pickleball. Practicing and becoming a good all-around player is critical so that the most important shots are ones that you are prepared to take and can handle with ease.

6 Drills for Intermediate Players

 

DRILL #1: DINKING DRILL

Dinking is an essential skill in pickleball, and this drill is fantastic to help improve your dinking.

 

  1. Stand at the net and have your partner stand across from you.

  2. Hit the ball back and forth, focusing on keeping the ball low and in play. Softer shots are better for dinking.

  3. As you get more comfortable, aim for different areas of the NVZ, such as angled shots that hug the sidelines.

This drill will help you improve your dinking technique and ability to control the ball and keep your opposition at a disadvantage.

 

DRILL #2: LOBBING DRILL

The lob shot is another important skill in pickleball, and this drill will help you master it.

 

  1. Stand at the baseline and use some court markers as targets at the baseline on the other side of the net.

  2. Hit the ball with an underhand motion contacting the ball below the waist, and aim for the markers at the back of the opposite court.  

  3. Focus on hitting accurate and controlled shots.

This drill will help you improve your lobbing technique and ability to anticipate and react to lob shots.

 

DRILL #3: SERVE AND RETURN DRILL

If you wish to play pickleball at an intermediate or advanced level, it is vital to master the serve and return of serve. The serve and return are the two of the most critical shots in pickleball, and this drill will help you improve both.

 

  1. Stand at the baseline on one side of the court and practice serving to your partner across the net.

  2. After your partner hits a return, focus on hitting a solid return back to them.

This drill will help you improve your serving and returning accuracy and ability to anticipate and react to different types of serves.

 

DRILL #4: THIRD SHOT DROP DRILL

The third shot drop is crucial in pickleball, and this drill will help you master it.

 

  1. Stand at the baseline and have your partner stand at the net.

  2. Hit the ball over the net and aim for the non-volley zone (or kitchen).

  3. Your partner should then hit a soft, controlled shot back to you, which you will then drop shot back to them.

The idea with the third shot drop is to hit in such a manner that the shot is unattackable. Keep the rally going for as long as possible, focusing on hitting accurate and controlled shots.

 

DRILL #5: MOVING TARGET DRILL

The moving target drill is perfect for improving your accuracy and footwork.

 

  1. Set up targets on the court, such as a cone or markers.  

  2. Stand at the baseline and hit the ball to the target.

  3. After hitting the ball, move to a different spot on the court, and hit the ball to the target again.

Repeat these drills until they become muscle memory. Another technique is to toss the ball in the air in front of you to work on the timing and stroke that produces the best return result.

 

DRILL #6: VOLLEY DRILL

The volley drill is a great way for pickleball players to improve their reflexes and hand-eye coordination when hitting volleys back and forth over opposite sides of the net in pickleball. It's also a good drill to practice with a partner if you want to work on your communication and teamwork on the court.

 

To do this drill:

 

  1. Start by standing at the net facing your partner.

  2. Your partner will then toss the ball to you, and you will hit a volley back to them.

  3. Your partner will then hit a volley back at you, and you will continue to hit volleys back and forth to each other. A good volley resembles ping pong, only with pickleball paddles.

  4. As you get more comfortable with this drill and your pickleball skills improve, you can increase the speed and pace of the volleys to make it more challenging and transition from a warm-up pace to returning groundstrokes, lobs, and dinks. You can vary the direction and height of your volleys to practice hitting different types of shots.

It's important to focus on your form and technique when hitting volleys during this drill. Keep your wrist firm and your paddle face perpendicular to the ground. Keep your eye on the ball and try to make contact with it in front of your body to generate more power and accuracy.

Remember that practice is the key to improving your game. Drills that focus on the forehand and backhand, transitions, and cross-court play are perfect for beginners and intermediate players who are just getting into the game of pickleball and looking to improve their skill level. 

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