In a perfect world, you’d win every toss and start each set with 11 aces. But in the real world, where the rest of us play, the pickleballer or ballers across from you are learning more about your playing style with each new serve you make. They’ll start to pick up on your patterns (deep, close, near, far), and the subtle signs your body language makes. Add to that, going for an ace each serve is the quickest way to service fault the ball to the other team.
So what’s the key to a winning serve? It all comes down to two key points. Consistently smooth serves, and a deliberately inconsistent combo of power, spin, angle and placement. That might sound counterintuitive, but after reading the tips below, you’ll walk away with a structured approach for serving the ball to any opponent.
Some reminders before we begin.
Overhand serves are expressly forbidden in Pickleball. The paddle needs to travel in an upward arc prior to making contact, striking the ball at a height below your waist, with the top-most point of your paddle somewhere lower than your wrist. You can’t step onto or in front of the service line during your serve, but you can follow through into it after. And once you’ve hit the ball, it has to drop in the opposite service court to start the play. But beyond this, how you get there is your prerogative. With these basics in mind, we’ll move on to our intermediate serving tips.
Quick Tips for Total Control of Your Serving Technique:
Start every serve the same way, with your personal pre-serve routine. If you’ve ever watched a basketball player prepare to take a free throw, you likely got a glimpse of their pre-shot routine. They bounce the ball once or twice and get a feel for it in their hands, bend at the knees and hips, and smoothly transition into their well-practiced free throw form. The same goes for serving in Pickleball. Before you release the ball and begin your swing, make sure to center yourself and focus. You’ll have to find what works for you, but start by controlling your breath, bouncing the ball on the court with your non-serving hand, and holding the ball against the paddle for a moment. Adding these simple steps into the start of your serve can kickstart your muscle memory for a smooth, practiced, multi-muscle movement in your swing.
Don’t toss the ball up to hit it. Pickleball isn’t tennis—we serve underhand at every point in every game, and tossing the ball up will only make your swing more difficult. Instead, release it from your hand at a standard height each serve, out in front of your body at about hip level. By controlling the height you drop from, you remove one element of uncertainty from your serve, and should be better positioned to time your swing just right, with way more control.
Bend your wrist back slightly to build up torque as you let the ball drop, then release that torque as you rotate your core, shoulder and arm to whip through the moment of contact with maximum power. This also helps to add spin to your slice.
Rotate through the knee, hips, core and shoulders with your serve to generate more power and speed.
Connect with the ball in front of you at a height between your hips and your knees. At the moment of impact, your core, shoulders and knees should be almost done rotating through, so your body is nearly parallel to the net.
Finish the serve with a relaxed follow through across your body. Don’t stop your motion the moment you’ve hit the ball. A good follow through is vital for the form that comes before it.
Keep Your Opponents Guessing.
Having a consistently smooth serve is important, but it’s just as crucial to switch things up throughout the game. If you aim for the same spot on the court each point, swing with the same speed, the same level (or lack) of spin, and give the ball the same arc each serve, the returning team or player will almost always pick up on the pattern and adjust their approach accordingly.
So what do you do? Stay one step ahead. If you start with a deep serve to your opponent’s off hand, catch them off guard the next serve with a slice, and send it to the far-side corner near the front of the service court.
Next shot, try a power serve to another corner. Or a soft angle serve towards the center of the service court, where you definitely won’t land out of bounds. Again, you don’t have to go for an ace each serve, sometimes the safe choice is smarter, and gives you a chance to set up for the third shot, with a dink or a smash.
Now Go Get Pickling.
By nailing down your serving motion, you’ll have more control of your power, placement, serving arc and shot spin, and be able to implement a more varied and strategic shot selection.