Welcome to my beginner's guide on how to improve your pickleball serve. I've been playing pickleball competitively for over six years now and I've learned a thing or two about serving in the game of pickleball. In fact, with some help from players a lot better than me and even some pros, I've compiled my top 5 tips on how to to improve your pickleball serve.
Before I get into each tip in more detail, I often get asked by new players "what's the best way to improve my serve in pickleball?"
The best way to improve your pickleball serve is to work on your consistency so your serve is the same every time - deep and to your opponents off hand. After you've got a consistent serve that's deep to the baseline, you can begin to add elements like spin and power.
Keep reading for more simple tips and you'll be ripping your serves in no time.
One more thing. The five tips I've laid out for you below come from a few different avenues. They come from my own play experience where I've played with and learned from players a lot better than me that compete at the 4.5 level and above. They also come from a slew of pickleball pros and coaches I've met through my six years of playing this wonderful game.
One of these coaches is Duke. I have to give Duke some recognition here because he took his love for pickleball and his passion for improving his serve and created a fantastic training course around it all.
Duke runs the site QuickPickle.com which is dedicated to providing simple video courses to improve your game. One of Duke's signature video courses is "Serving for Gold" where he and Gold Medal winning 5.0 Pro player Vivian Edwards, break down the strategy and the technique needed to serve like a champion. Click the link above for access to his video course on serving and all his other helpful courses he offers to help improve your game.
Between what I've learned from Duke and other coaches (and pro players) here are my top 5 tips for improving your pickleball serve.
Pickleball Serving Rules - A Quick Refresh
Before we can rip our serves and put our opponent back on their heels, we must first know the rules behind the pickleball sere. You probably already know them, but here's a quick refresh.
The rules of a pickeball serve are fairly straightforward. First, you must make contact with the ball using an underhand stroke below your waistline. Also, your paddle must be held below your wrist. Basically, you MUST serve underhand. No overhead smash serves like in Tennis.
For the complete list of rules and serving instructions from the USAPA click here.
Pickleball Serve Tip #1 - Have A Consistent Pre-Serve Routine
Utilize a consistent pre-serve routine. Much like the best free throw shooters in basketball, having a pre-serve routine gets your mind and body ready for the shot. Find a rhythm that feels right for you. There is not a right or wrong routine, the point is to be consistent and do it EVERY TIME!
Duke our resident pickleball coach also recommends the following when it comes to a pre-serve routine:
"Take your time to clear your head. The previous point is over, and you can’t change that outcome. Use your preservice routine to catch your breath and focus on your serve. If you’re playing in a rec game, make sure your opponent is set and say the score. If it’s in a tournament, wait for the referee to call the score."
I watch a lot of pickleball tournaments on youtube, and some of the best players have a very unique pre-serve routine. Some of a little quirky, they're always the same!
Pros never deviate from this muscle memory.
The biggest advantage to doing this is that it allows this muscle memory to get ingrained into your form and technique so that you're serving motion is the same every time.
From how far you take your arm back to how hard you follow through and where you're aiming, this can all become second nature when the routine is intentional and identical every time.
Related: Ever wonder what kind of pickleball paddle is designed to give you both power and control? I interviewed a panel of experts and learned some surprising facts about pickleball paddles!
Pickleball Serve Tip #2 - Target Practice
When serving in pickleball, its important to find your target. Aim the face of your paddle where you want the ball to go. Many golf pros will say, wherever your toes are pointing before you strike the ball, that’s where the ball is going to go.
It’s no different in Pickleball except that the face of your paddle is going to be your directional indicator.
After you’ve made contact with the ball, make sure you follow through with your paddle so that it is pointing directly at your target. The more consistent you are with your follow-through, the more likely you are to hit your target.
Pickleball coaches have told me:
"Make sure to put weight on your back foot and bring your paddle forward."
This a simple tip but one easily forgotten. Don't let your body lean too far forward and serve off your front foot. You'll lose accuracy and consistency that way.
Instead, serve off of your back foot, and let the pendulum of your arm come through the ball to generate the power; not your body leaning forward.
Plus, if you're body is leaning forward, you run the risk of a foot fault at the baseline where your mometum will carry you over the basline before serving which will make the serve null and void...ultimately losing the point before it even got started.
Pro players never foot fault on serves and never serve into the net. Period.
They're robotically consistent.
For more ideas for practice tips, read our Comprehensive Guide on Pickleball Tips
Pickleball Serve Tip #3 - The Release and Follow Through
Release the ball and make contact between yourself and the net. The important part here is to make contact with the ball out in front of you.
Remember, you must release the ball, not throw the ball or toss the ball up like a tennis serve. While a drop serve is legal in pickleball (where you drop the ball, let it bounce then hit your serve) many beginner players with tennis or racquetball experience will fall into this trap.
As mentioned above, hitting the ball above your waistline is an illegal serve, so by leading or lobbing the ball, you risk getting a fault.
It’s best to keep it simple. Release the ball at waist height to begin with and follow through as the ball is dropping towards your oncoming paddle.
Our pickleball coach Duke added:
"Have your shoulders turned and your hand without the paddle holding the ball in front of you. Transfer the weight from your back foot to your front and make contact with the ball as soon as you drop the ball to your paddle."
Pickleball Serve Tip #4 - Deep Impact
The single most effective serve in Pickleball is one that is DEEP! In fact, serving deep into your opponent's baseline is one of the fundamentals in pickleball strategy.
Of all the tips that I can provide you to improve your serve, this is by far the most important.
The most important aspect of your serve, is where it lands on the court. Serving the ball deep makes it much more difficult for your opponent to return the ball with authority.
It also keeps them from getting to the net quicker. The harder you make it for your opponent to get to the net, the better. The easiest way to do that is by serving the ball deep to your opponent’s baseline. The deeper the better.
Related: Want to know which types of paddles are great for deep serves and accuracy? Click here where I interviewed the owner of Pro-Lite Sports and 3 5.0 level Pros to get their take on what makes a great pickleball paddle!
Once you’ve mastered how to place the ball accurately and deep, you can begin mixing it up and keep you opponent off balance.
Pickleball Serve Tip #5 - Force A Backhand
Tip #5 is a crucial tip once you've got some consistency and accuracy to your serves. Once you've got some reliably good ball placement on your serves, it's time to take it to the next level! From here, you can force your opponent to have to return your serve with a backhand return.
Why a backhand?
Because for most players, a backhand is more difficult than a forehand shot. Especially a hard-hit serve that is deep and at their backhand side.
To do this effectively, make your opponent's weaker foot your target. Meaning, that if they're a traditional right-handed player, aim for their left foot. If they're standing on the baseline, this makes it even better because you can aim for that baseline and force them to have to take a step backward.
If your opponent is standing a few paces behind the baseline, that's fine too. You'll just want to aim for the part of the baseline that is in front of their left foot. This may require them to back up even more still. Which is to your advantage!
When you can force your opponent to back up during a serve and hit a backhand shot, you're putting yourself in a great position to win the point early! Backhands are hard enough, but hitting a hard serve backhand while having to back up? Well, many recreational players have a hard time with that.
Even if your opponent gets a paddle on your deep serve to their backhand and returns it, it will most likely be a good put-away shot for you so you can keep them from getting to the net sooner.
This type of serve keeps your opponent back sooner and forces difficult returns for them. Which in turn, gives you the advantage to win the point earlier on.
Bonus Tip - Mix It Up
Good pickleball strategy keeps your opponent guessing. One of the ways to do this is by varying your type of serve. This can give you a big advantage to winning the point. Having different kinds of serves in your arsenal of play can keep your opponent from finding tendencies and playing to your weaknesses.
There are many types of serves but three kinds of serves that are effective but also relatively easy to learn are the Drop Serve, the Power Serve and the Spin Serve.
The Drop and Power serve require you to be able to serve deep, so mastering tip number four is the first crucial step. The Drop Serve is a basic serve where you’re lobbing the ball high and soft into the last two to three feet of the baseline i.e. “dropping” the ball into this spot. There is very little english on the ball.
The Drop Serve is basically used for placement purposes. The Power Serve is like the Drop Serve but with more power and less arch. More experienced players will put spin on this serve, specifically, topspin.
Once you’ve got your opponents guessing and playing your serves by standing deep behind their baseline, it’s time to hit them with the Spin Serve.
The Spin Serve, just like it sounds has spin on it. However unlike the Drop and Power serves, it is intended to land just beyond the “no volley zone”or “kitchen” and bounce left or right based on the spin you put on it.
When you have your opponents pushed back in order to play your Drop and Power serve, you can take advantage of all that open space you’ve created by the net. Hitting them with a short, effective Spin serve keeps the other team off balance by forcing them to run up towards your shorter Spin serve. This can effectively put them out of position.
Duke, our pickleball coach at Quickpickle.com goes in-depth on how to learn the fundamentals of the Drop Serve, Power Serve and Spin Serve. He also covers two additional serve types (the Backhand Serve and Slider Serve) in his pickleball serve master class.
Duke also gave me this tip when it comes to mixing up your pickleball serve:
"Look at your opponent's positioning on the court. You can pick which serve you'll do based on where they are standing. For Example, if they are standing on the baseline, send them a deep serve so it bounces at their feet. If they are near the middle of the court, use a wide or slider serve that should be out of their reach."
The point is, to use their positioning against them. Having a few different serve techniques in your arsenal allows you to take advantage of your opponent's poor positioning.
How To Improve Your Pickleball Serve - Conclusion
Remember, pickleball pros recommend that beginners work on their pickleball strategy before focusing on technique. It's a far easier way to see improvement in your game, faster. We hope these five simple tips help improve your pickleball serve! They may take some practice, so repetition is key.
For a formal introduction to pickleball, the sport's rich history, and scoring basics, click to read our Introduction to Pickleball.
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*Special thanks to Jerry and the folks at Pickleballnaplesfl.com for the featured image!