Duluth Area Pickleball Association

Basic Pickleball Strategy

If doubles pickleball strategy could be summed up in three words it would be - Control the Net! The team that controls the net usually wins. No matter if you are serving or receiving, you want to be just behind the no-volley zone (kitchen) line. What follows is a brief explanation of the strategies during different "phases" of each volley, but all of them usually come back to controlling the net.

The Serve

The basic rule of thumb is to serve deep. Why? If your opponent is backed up in his/her court, it is more difficult to get up to the net in time. Also, keep the serve basic. Unless you have practiced a lot and are very proficient, adding spins and fancy serves will cause you to make just as many errors as your opponents.

Return of Serve

If you are the receiving team, your strategy for returning a serve is similar to serving - make it high, deep, and in the middle. You want to keep the serving team towards the back of the court. If the return is short, it allows the serving team to quickly get up to the net. Don't let them have a free pass - make them work for it! Making the return high allows you an extra second or two to get up to the net, which can make all the difference. Finally, the purpose of putting it in the middle is to sow confusion. Even experienced teams have a breakdown in communication once in a while where both people think the other person is going to get the ball, and then the ball just rolls by both of them.

The Third Shot

The serve is the first shot; the return of serve is the second. The third shot is the serving team returning the ball. This is probably the most critical shot for the serving team. If the receiving team has followed standard strategy, they hit the ball deep to you and are already at the net. You have a few options, but usually the best one is hitting a drop shot. You want to hit the ball just hard enough so it drops over the net and lands in the non-volley zone (the "kitchen").

A good drop shot accomplishes two things: allows you time to get to the net and limits your opponents' options. If you see that the drop shot is a good one, don't waste time getting to the net. If you are too hesitant, your opponents will take advantage and keep you in the back half of the court.

If your shot drops low into the kitchen, your opponents' choices are limited. You need to picture the angle - the ball is low and near the net. To get the ball over the net, they have to hit it up. If they hit it too hard, it will sail out of bounds (and this is very easy to do in pickleball). If they hit it hard, but not hard enough to go out of bounds, the ball will come up and will be at a perfect level for you to blast it back at their feet and win the point. Therefore, if you hit a good drop shot and get up to the net, your opponents' best option is to dink it back over the net.


If both teams get up to the net, then the dinking war begins. "Dinking" means standing near the net and hitting the ball just hard enough to get it over the net. The goal of drop shots and dinks are the same - have the ball bounce in the kitchen so your opponent doesn't have a good shot. As with good drop shots, if your opponent hits the ball too hard, it will either sail out of bounds or give you a perfect put-away shot. The dinking usually continues until one team makes a mistake: hitting the ball out of bounds, into the net, or too high. You might be thinking that this sounds slow and boring, but it is not. The "dinking game" is more physically and mentally taxing than you would imagine. It is like a chess match with very high tension and nerves on edge. As in golf, the way to get good at pickleball is to work on your short game.

A great explanation of basic strategy can also be found on the USAPA website - Winning Strategies for Doubles by Barry Ford.