This page is not about how to play the game but rather how to Master the game. Apply these principles to give yourself the best chance of winning.

Rule #1 – Fully Engage Your Body

This means that you need to move your feet, split step, have good footwork getting to the ball, but also have good footwork between shots - also known as recovery footwork.

Also, watch the ball as much as you can. That is relatively easily done from the baseline when you have quite a bit of time because you’re sending the ball quite a distance and it’s also coming back from more of a distance.

Work on your eye tracking speed but you are going to have to rely more on your peripheral vision to track your contact in quick shoot outs at the net. In fast exchanges, your eyes will have to be more focused on tracking between your opponents contact and a few feet away from you so that you can see the change of direction your opponent is making to the ball in order to be able to react to it. Perfect tracking all the way into your paddle will have to suffer as a result.

If you’re dinking or dealing with any kind of a slower incoming shot the you will have time to watch the ball more closely and anytime you can do that, you should!

Last but certainly not least when it comes to having your body fully engaged is that you want to breathe. But you have to breathe in a specific way.

Generally speaking, when you’re loading up for your shot and getting yourself set with your take back, that’s when you’re going to be inhaling. As you swing and release your shot you’re, that’s when you’re going to be exhaling. You want to be doing that on every shot. Of course you may need to breathe in between shots but the rhythm as you’re hitting should be inhale to prepare, exhale to strike.

Rule #2 – Consistency!

You have to make your shots in order to win points. There’s really no way around that so it’s better to sacrifice a little bit of power for the sake of making the shot. My advice to many players is to take 15-25% of power off your shots and make them more often than not. I find that too many players are playing at a level of power just outside their ability to control it. We all like to push the envelope a bit right? Resist the urge to do this and you’ll likely find yourself winning more points as a result.

Along with taking a little bit of pace off the ball, you may also want to give yourself more buffer from the lines. Depending on how accurate you are you may need more or less buffer but you never really want to be aiming directly for the line. You want to give yourself a little bit of cushion and margin for error from the lines and also from the net. Clear the net by a few inches at least, don’t just be scraping by on everything.

The more accurate you are, the less buffer you need. All the shots you’re going for should be well within your skill set so you should be relatively confident that you can make that shot nine out of ten times. If you’re only going to make the shot that you’re going for three out of ten times or even four or five out of ten then you simply can’t be going for that shot. It’s a losing proposition over time. Play within your skill set.

You can widen the range of the shots you can go for by improving your skill set. If you want to hit closer to the lines and with more power…fine! Work on it so that your skill lives up to that desire. There is so much you can do to shore up your weaknesses and make your strengths into weapons.

If you plan some time to practice, as you should be doing frequently, you’ll want to divide that time in a smart way so you can get the most out of it. Spend the first two thirds or so of that time stabilising the shots that you’re not so good. Spend the last third of your practice time working on your favorite shots, your weapons so that you can develop those weapons into a devastating force that will wreak havoc on the courts.

Obviously you need to be working both your weaknesses and your strengths so this is a nice way to divide your time because you’re a bit fresher at the beginning of practice and that will give you more mental and physical bandwidth to deal with the challenge and frustration that can and will come up as you develop areas of your game that you’re not as good at. Then you get to treat yourself to the gift of getting to “play” with your favorite shots.

The key take away is to remember that you must make your shots! The team that doesn’t make their shots doesn’t win the team. The team that makes their shots wins. It can often really be that simple. So, it’s better to keep the ball in the court and have an average shot rather than go for that fancy shot and be missing it every other time.

Rule #3 – Have A Plan For Each Shot & Point!

Players often just hit the serve or get the return back and apply a “wait and see” approach to the rest of the point -this is just reactionary pickleball. When you’re relying on reactions and responding to what you get, you’re not in charge. It’s like being on defense the entire point. It’s not a smart way to approach playing if your goal is to win.

You always want to have a plan when you step out onto the court. You want to be proactive rather than reactive. Go out there with an idea as to what you’re going do with each type shot you expect to receive.

Have a purpose and have an idea as to what you want to do so that you can build your points and stack up towards the win because if you don’t do that you’re just going to be responding to what your opponents have decided to do to you. That’s not generally a good idea because you’re basically going to be reactionary and on defense the whole time and that’s not what you want. You want to be dictating and be on offense and imposing yourself and your strengths onto their weaknesses.

Rule #4 – Be & Stay Positive!

Your entire pickleball game hinges on staying positive with yourself in singles and in doubles and with yourself and your partner in doubles.

Stay positive and be encouraging with yourself and your partner when you do something good. If your partner does good things, let them know. Cheer “hey, awesome shot!” Or “Good playing, Keep it up”. Easy to do because you’re feeling good about what’s happening -it strengthens your connection.

When you’re struggling, you also need yo be your own biggest fan and cheerleader. If you missed an easy shot, no worries. Tell yourself “let’s go, next one point”.

Stay positive and take responsibility for your own emotions. Everyone loves to play with a positive person. Everyone hates to play with a negative person. Be a positive person in good times and bad. That will take you so far and it will pull you out of so many slumps. It really pays dividends when you’re positive especially when you’re going through tough times. It can, and does, and often will pull you out of an undesirable slump.

It’s a key ingredient towards giving yourself and your team a chance to turn things around and ultimately squeak out a win that looked like it probably wasn’t going to happen. And it is “oh so sweet…” when you’re able pull yourself and your partner as a team out of it and then ultimately win even if you had a rough patch there somewhere in the middle.

Rule #5 – Be Ready For The Drive First!

Always be ready for that hard hit shot FIRST because that one is the most likely to hurt you. It can jam/handcuff you or get by you. You always have a chance at these dealing with these shots but it’s usually going to be tough.

If you weren’t ready then you’re going to have a hard time having your hands react fast enough to block or counterattack. You also won’t give yourself a chance to get moving fast enough to get it on the stretch.

You need to split step in anticipation for a hard shot to come. If a soft one comes, such as a dink or drop, that’s great, chances are you will have plenty of time to deal with it. The exception to that is if you’re way back behind the baseline and it’s a very well hit drop shot. Yes, those do happen but percentage-wise they don’t happen that often overall. You’re far more likely to get hurt by a hard drive so be ready for that to come at any time. You should assume that’s coming so that you’re ready in case it does.

If you see that your opponent has any chance at all to drive then what you typically want to do is get in the middle of their most likely range of shot options. If you happen to know what their tendencies are then get in the middle of their likely tendencies.

Seek to get in the middle of the highest percentage shots that they are most likely to hit based on where they are in the court and what the range of shot trajectories available to them are.

Usually players are building up the point towards an opportunity to drive and end the point. It’s best to always be ready for that drive first in order to prevent that since that has the highest chance of winning the point for them if they’re able to jam you up or pass you.

In Conclusion

Know these 5 Golden Rules, use them in your play at all times, and you will be a force to be reckoned with anytime you step on the court.

How to Master Pickleball (The 5 Golden Rules)

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