Pickleball Strategy: Controlling Your Returns and Hits


While serving is your foundation to playing Pickleball, returning each serve will earn you the winning points. We have a quick guide for you full of strategies and tips to help you control the court and score Pickleball points.

Strategies for Return of Serve

In Pickleball, there is a crucial no-volley zone nicknamed “the kitchen,” which players can exploit to get points. When you’re returning serves, you’re trying to get to the kitchen; not to stand in it, of course, but to be ready to receive the ball.

So here’s the biggest thing to remember. The receiving team has an advantageous opportunity in Pickleball. That is because after they return the ball to you, they have time to take control of the net. However, for the receiving team to ensure that advantage, they have to reach the kitchen.

Controlling the Third Shot

In this situation, let’s say you’re the receiving team. The team has served, making the first shot, and you’re about to return it in the second shot. Once you return it, the serving team gets the third shot. This shot is crucial for you; if the serving team makes it right, they will surely score.

The best way to control the third shot is by making your second one as hard for them to receive as possible. But chances are, your opponent is ready to receive it, standing right at the kitchen line. However, If you’ve already gotten to the kitchen line, you can still pull this off. Here’s how you can do it.

Get to the Kitchen

The hardest part about getting to the kitchen is giving yourself enough time to run there. Typically, if you’re a well-seasoned player, you should know how to do this in your own time. But if you’re still learning how to, one trick is to return your serve in a way that gives you more time.

A high return will make the ball return a bit more slowly. With that extra time, you should be able to move toward the kitchen just in time. Another option is to aim it further toward your opponent’s baseline.

Use Your Momentum

Incorporating some momentum into your hits will give you a good rhythm and some fair control over your movements too. Running can cause a carelessly uncontrolled hit, which will hurt your aim a bit. On the other hand, positioning yourself to do a simple forward step will give your shoulder ample momentum for the hit.

If done correctly, that forward step will bring you toward the kitchen too. Therefore, it’s always a good idea to have your feet well-positioned and ready to move. Don’t lock your knees and stand still, or be in a position where you will have to backpedal.

It’s better to be forced to move forward than to pedal back; at least in the former case, you’ll be able to keep your eye on the ball. There is, of course, the danger that you’ll be too far away from the kitchen to be able to run and return a short serve. However, we think this comes down to how agile you are as a player.

Aim for the Baseline

In the same way, you don’t want to end up backpedaling, you definitely could force your opponent to backpedal. Aiming for the baseline, also known as going for a deep hit, will give you more time to reach the kitchen. It will also get your opponent struggling to meet the ball. Both outcomes are beneficial to you.

Know Your Opponent

In the case of doubles, be keen on observing the weaker player in the opposing team. That’s the player to whom you’ll aim your shots at. Because teammates don’t like bumping into each other, chances are the other opponent will give that player their own space. That also means their own space to slip up.

But remember, even though it’s fun to win, many people play Pickleball only for fun or for leisure. Try not to be too harsh on pinpointing who the weaker teammate might be.

Force Them to Backhand

On the topic of knowing your opponent, their backhand is likely weaker than their forehand. Aim to the side of their backhand to force them into that more vulnerable position. Either they will keep their position and perform a backhand or step out of their position and force a forehand.

Whichever happens, it’s all about making your opponent struggle to return the ball.

Spin It Good

If you’re familiar with spins in ping pong, that’s what we’re suggesting here. Although it’s a bit of an advanced technique, it can catch your opponent off guard. More experienced players will be able to return a spin well. Less experienced ones will end up striking the ball into the net or hitting it too high.

Surprise Your Opponent

We’ve already mentioned some techniques you can apply to get some advantage: high arcs, short returns, deep hits, and spins. All of these are meant to give your opponents a difficult time.

 However, it mostly matters how exactly you use these techniques in a game. Players who know how to adapt will eventually gain the upper hand if you keep using the same shots, even if they’re all spin shots. So do your best to surprise your opponent continually -- you want to keep them on their toes, especially for that crucial third shot.

Master the Basics

To be clear, none of these tips matter if you’re still having trouble returning and aiming the ball. If you haven’t mastered doing that, then applying these techniques will likely mess up your play style by quite a bit.

It would help if you also remembered that your opponent probably has their tricks up their sleeve. Don’t worry if you have to play on the defensive and stick to the basics; eventually, you’ll get your upper hand.

The Bottomline

The main objective isn’t to score on the third hit. Although it’s possible to do so, here’s the main point: challenging that third hit will earn you the advantage. If you’re able to give your opponent a little trouble on that hit, then it will be hard for them to win back that control of the net.


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