Even though I’ve played pickleball now for over 5 years, I’m still learning the nuances of the game, even simple things like where to stand in pickleball can make a huge difference. Here’s what I’ve learned about on-court position and improved my game.
Wondering where to stand in pickleball? The two most common places to stand during a game of pickleball, regardless of skill level, are the baseline and the no-volley-zone line. These two spots represent where most points are won and lost during a game of pickleball.
But just being there is only half the battle. Footwork is essential in pickleball. So, how you’re standing in these two spots is absolutely fundamental to winning more points.
Keep reading for a more detailed look into where to stand during a game of pickleball and the little nuances of footwork that can help any beginner win more matches!
We’re going to break up this article into four main sections based on the two most common places to stand in pickleball.
First, we'll get into standing at the baseline and discuss where to stand in a game of pickleball when you’re serving, receiving the serve and receiving the return of serve.
Then we'll cover proper footwork and where to stand at the kitchen line so that you can be in the right spot during dink play and maximize your opportunity to put away winners at the net.
Let’s get started.
Where To Stand In Pickleball - The Serving Team
Let's start with the serving team. Where should you stand if you're serving?
First, pick a good diagonal cross court position that will allow for your serve to hit beyond the kitchen line and be in bounds. You can line up beyond your baseline anywhere within your serving quadrant. It can be in the middle, towards the left corner or the right corner.
As long as you're behind the baseline and not in your partners quadrant, you're good to go.
Most players, myself included, tend to choose a serving spot somewhere in the middle without hugging the corners too much. You rarely see an advanced player serving tightly in one corner.
How close to the baseline should you get when serving? Well that's a player preference.
I like to hug the baseline pretty good because I want every advantage I can get to blast a deep serve with a consistent swing and follow through every time.
If I’m a foot back from the baseline, that’s too far and I’ve left myself too much room. That makes it a little harder to hit a deep, consistent serve to the other baseline with the same arm swing and oomph behind it.
If I'm too close, I risk a foot fault by crossing over the baseline and I've not even given my team a shot to score. That's an unforced error that is easy to avoid.
Let's talk footwork for a moment.
When serving, it is not recommended that you stand with both feet parallel to each other and shoulder width apart.
Instead, your dominant foot (same side as your serving hand) should be back. and your other foot should be up at the baseline in a comfortable spot.
So for me, since I'm right handed, my right foot is back and my left foot is up towards the baseline. See the pic above for a perfect example.
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Where To Stand As The Server's Partner
If I’m the server's partner, where should I be standing?
In this situation, I’m also going to be standing on the baseline, in the quadrant next to the server. But since I am not the server, I can have my feet right on the baseline - touching it or even a little in front of it on the court.
I technically can be anywhere but, it’s in my best interest to be back because the return of serve must bounce. For more on the two-bounce rule, click here.
As the server's partner, don’t cheat eat up too much. Watch the return team's return shots. If they’re always deep, stay back with your partner and don't creep up too much.
If the return team isn’t hitting deep returns, you can move up a little and have your feet standing on the baseline or even closer if it feels comfortable.
Be careful here though. If my partner serves, and I as the teammate am too close to the kitchen line, I’ve become a target for the return team because I haven’t given myself enough room for the shot to bounce.
If a shot is blasted at me, and I've not given it room to bounce, I'm already out of position and have given my opponent the edge. Again, eliminate those unforced errors.
Either way, always give yourself enough room to move forward to attack a return of serve shot. It’s always easier to move forward toward a ball than to have to move backward on it.
If you’re having to backup to get to a return of serve, you’ve positioned yourself too far up the court. Move back and allow yourself time to charge the ball moving forward.
This allows for a much more natural swing mechanic and even gives you the opportunity to hit a ball more aggressively with some top spin behind it.
In short, the serving team should be standing back behind the baseline and adjust accordingly based on how deep the return team’s shots are.
Quick Tip: If you're on the serving team, regardless of whether you served or not...stay back. Expect a deep return back to the baseline. If your weight and momentum are propelling you forward to hit the third shot, you're in position. If you're moving backwards, you're out of position.
Where To Stand In Pickleball - The Return Team
Let's move onto the subject of where to stand in pickleball when you're on the return team.
If you are opposite the server, the place to stand is approximately one to two feet behind the baseline. This gives you ample room to approach a ball hit shallow but also enough room to still get behind a serve that is hit deep.
When I'm returning the serve, I like to stand so that I set up my forehand and minimize the need for my backhand because it's just not as consistent. To do this, I simply stand off to the left or off to the right depending on which side the serve is coming from.
How far back should you stand as a returner? Well, the serving team is going to try to pepper that baseline you're standing by...so give yourself room to adjust without having to carry your momentum backwards.
Remember, hitting a ball on point when your momentum is traveling in reverse is a LOT more difficult. And even if you did manage to keep the ball in play and hit the ball back to the server, you might be an attackable ball. Which is not good.
I typically stand two feet off the baseline and as a former tennis player, I love the feeling of running up on a short serve and blasting it back at my opponent with some low to high top spin.
I simply can't do that when I'm positioned inside the baseline and don't give myself enough room.
As far as footwork is concerned, keep it simple. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent, on the balls of your feet with your paddle gripped firmly in your dominate hand in the middle of your body.
This is the ideal "pickleball ready" position.
I also like to have my other hand softly on the paddle handle, for a double grip tailor made for any type of hit thrown at me.
Where To Stand As The Return Team's Partner
So, where do you stand if you're on the return team but not being served to? The most common place to stand as the return team's partner is up at the no-volley zone.
Remember, as the return team, you only have to let the serve bounce. That's the only shot on your side of the net that needs to bounce. So, the return team can get to net first.
If you're on the return team but not being served to, you might as well be standing in the ready position - at the kitchen line.
You're the first one at the net. So take advantage of it. Be ready to put away any weak third shot hit your way.
Where To Stand In Pickleball - Receiving The Return of Serve aka "The Third Shot"
Now we're back to the serving team and you're getting ready to hit the return team's shot coming back at you...also known as the "third shot."
When you're hitting the third shot in pickleball, where should you stand? Because the ball has to bounce, you and your partner should still stay back near the baseline.
Even if you're playing singles, this rule still applies. Stay back at the baseline and expect a deep shot back from the returner.
But where exactly on the baseline should you stand?
Well, your court position here is going to be mimic that of the return team playing the serve. You'll want to be at the baseline, give or take a few feet.
Again, give yourself some extra room and stay at the baseline. I tend to stand directly on the baseline or even hedge a little closer.
Most return of serve shots are hit deep but they are rarely hit as deep as a serve. So expect the ball to land in front of the baseline but give yourself room to adjust.
Standing near the baseline, on the balls of your feet, shoulder width apart ready to move laterally is the best place to be. From here you'll be optimally positioned to hit the crucial third shot drop.
Where To Stand In Pickleball When Dinking At The Net
For doubles play, this is relatively self explanatory. You and your partner should be standing right at the kitchen line, in the center of your quadrant of the court, ready to cover all angles for drop shots.
You also need to be ready for now popular "drive shot" hit at you. These are the opposite of drop shots and tend to be ripped right at you.
I wrote a super helpful article on what a volley technically is and all the different types of volleys in pickleball here.
For positioning at the kitchen line and footwork, again stand on the balls of your feet with your feet shoulder width apart.
Be ready to step forward into the no-volley zone when the ball bounces in the kitchen.
If the ball is hit to your left, step with your right foot and make your left foot your pivot foot. If the ball is hit to your right, step with your left foot and use your right foot as your pivot foot.
This allows you to cover more ground in a shorter period of time.
For simple tips on how to dominate at the net, click here.
If you're playing doubles and prefer a specific side of the court; it is legal to switch sides with your partner and get to your desired spot on the court.
For instance, if you are right handed and your partner is left handed, you'll want to be on the left side of the court while your left handed partner should be on the right.
This allows for you each to cover the middle of the court with your dominant hands and maximize your best shot - the forehand. This is called having two forehands through the middle.
Switching sides with your partner mid-point, so you can each stand on your preferred side of the court is an advanced on-court strategy called "stacking"...and we'll cover it in our last section below.
Advanced Strategies For Where To Stand In Pickleball - Stacking
What many new players don't realize is that the only two players on the court that must stand in a specific spot during a game of pickleball are, the server and the returner.
Anyone else, on both sides of the net, can stand wherever they'd like. They can even stand out of bounds.
If you really want to know the ins and outs of stacking, check our my complete guide here.
For the purpose of this article, I've give a brief example of where to stand in pickleball when you're attempting to stack and get to your optimal on court position.
If you're the partner to the server and the server is serving from the right side, which just so happens to be where you're at your best, you can literally stand to the right of your partner just outside of his or her swing range and wait.
Yep, you're waiting out of bounds right by your partner.
Once your partner has served, he or she would move over to the left quadrant (left empty by you) and then you would shift into the right quadrant where they started.
Now each player has their desired side in place despite the server starting from a fixed point on the court.
Both players, you and the server were "stacked" on the right hand side of the court aka...stacking.
The same rules can apply regardless of which side the ball is being served from. You can stack, on either side and set yourself up to be in position immediately after the ball is served.
Be careful though, if you are stacking and need to shift to an open area on the court, do it quickly so your opponent doesn't have an open alley to hit to.
Can The Return Team Stack?
Yes, the return team can stack. Here's how it works.
First, the designated returner must return the serve. The rule book says the server must serve to each opponent equally.
So, the stacking or shifting of players cannot happen until the proper returner hits the serve back over the net. Once this has happened the return team can shift positions.
So, when stacking as a return team, where do you stand?
Well, the returner is going to stand behind the baseline like we've outlined above (one to two feet off the baseline) while their partner is going to stand off of the court at the kitchen line but on their partner's side.
So, if the serve is coming to the right side of the court, the returner is back at the baseline while their partner is stacked on the right side at the kitchen line, but just off the court out of bounds.
The return player, after they've returned the serve, then quickly moves up but diagonally to the vacant kitchen line spot on the left side.
We see this all the time in tournament play but if you're still learning the game, don't worry about it. Learn the main on-court positions first, and attack advanced strategies like stacking; later.
Where To Stand In Pickleball - Final Thoughts
In closing, the two most common spots to stand in pickleball are the baseline and the no-volley zone or "kitchen line." Mastering when to stay and when to move from those spots can make the difference between winning and losing a point.
When serving, both players will be standing at the baseline until the first two shots have bounced. Then they can get to the net. When returning, one player is back at the baseline and one player is already up at the net.
Master the little nuances of where to stand in a game of pickleball and you'll quickly improve your game. Which in the end, always makes pickleball more fun.
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