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7 Expert Tips For First-Time Pickleball Players

While pickleball is an incredibly accessible sport (that’s one of the many reasons why it’s super popular right now) there are quite a few beginner tips to keep in mind as you shuffle around the court and serve that little whiffly ball.

If you’re truly brand new to the game and don’t know what it’s like, imagine a blend of tennis, badminton, and ping pong, says David Dutrieuille, the national director of Life Time Pickleball. Like other racquet sports, pickleball involves paddles and a net, as well as a specially-designed whiffle ball. You can play the game in singles or pairs on a pickleball court or anywhere else a pickleball can properly bounce, like a gym floor, tennis court, or concrete, Dutrieuille adds.

Should you find yourself with a paddle in hand and about to enter your first pickleball game, don’t sweat. “The smaller court size married with a slower moving ball and lightweight paddle make pickleball very easy to play,” says Dutrieuille. It’s why so many people of different generations love the game — and why you’ll likely pick it up in no time.

Here are a few beginner pickleball tips to keep in mind should you want to give it a try.

While you can keep it casual, it’s best not to play pickleball in flip-flops or jeans. Instead, pull out your favorite stretchy pants and exercise top and gear up just like you would for any other sport. That way you’ll be able to move and groove across the court without feeling restrained.

“Wear your favorite clothing that will allow you to move freely,” Dutrieuille says. But if you want to roll up to a pickleball game straight from work without changing your outfit, that’s OK, too. “There is no set standard, and this is what makes pickleball so accessible,” he adds.

You can play in pretty much anything, as long as you have the right footwear. “My one suggestion is to wear a true court tennis shoe,” he says. “Never mess around with your feet. And don't wear running shoes, as they won't provide the proper stability moving laterally.”

Lots of people hold their breath when focusing, says Dutrieuille, so remember to breathe and fully exhale as you concentrate and wait for a serve. “This process helps alleviate stress by elevating the Co2 in your lungs, leaving you more capable and relaxed while learning a new sport,” he says.

Pro tip: Don’t just look at the ball as it comes towards you, but try to find the holes in the ball — or other small details — as a way to focus your eyes and remain present during a match, Dutrieuille says.

“How many times have you been present without actually being present, aka looking at someone but thinking about something else?” he asks. “We do the same while playing pickleball, so make sure you are trying to find the holes in the ball.” That way you’ll be less likely to miss a shot.

It helps to play pickleball up on the balls of your feet, the same way you would tennis. This tip will help keep you more agile so that you can respond quickly to serves and shots. “Take time to notice if you feel your heels off the ground or on the balls of your feet,” Dutrieuille says. “When you focus on being on the balls of your feet, you will move a lot better on the court.”

If you’re about to hit the ball, yell “mine!” If you want your partner to get it, yell “yours!” This ensures you and your partner stay in constant communication throughout the match, says personal trainer Daniel Maman, who adds that this little trick will help you to play better as a team.

You should also decide which one of you will return middle shots, which is when the ball flies right between you. It might help to agree that whoever is closest to the ball, or whoever can hit a forehand shot, should get those, Maman suggests.

This tip will save you from missing the ball and prevent arguments over who should have gotten it.

You don’t have to be a pickleball expert to have a great time, but it helps to know the basic rules. “There should be one bounce per side, serving must be done along the baseline, the serve cannot fall in the no-volley zone, and the game must terminate at 11, 15, or 21 points,” Maman says. “These are the five laws of pickleball. Additionally, the ball isn’t allowed to bounce twice.”

While pickleball can certainly get competitive, one of the main draws is that you can play it almost anywhere with minimal equipment and little knowhow.

The most important thing is that you have fun during the game, so don’t take yourself too seriously as you learn. Practice getting a feel for serves and return shots, but mostly focus on having a ball.

Sources:

David Dutrieuille, national director of Life Time Pickleball

Daniel Maman, personal trainer