With the increasing involvement of sports science professionals in training programs, drills have become widespread across all sports.
Pickleball is no exception, and we see an increasing number of coaches offering pickleball drills as a way to improve pickleball players’ games.
Pickleball drills offer players many benefits and is a component of reaching pickleball proficiency and ultimately mastery for those that seek to become competitive players in this great sport.
Regular drilling sessions will not only help improve your pickleball but your overall cardiovascular fitness and strength will also improve.
Your playing results will also likely improve thanks to your muscle memory gains.
What Is A Pickleball Drill?
A pickleball drill is an exercise that is designed to isolate and work on a particular skills or set of skills that a player desires to improve. A key component of a drill is that it allows for many repetitions of the same stroke or small set of strokes in a condensed period of time which is necessary in order to develop the necessary muscle memory that is required to engrain the skill as a new habit so that it becomes automatic.
How Do I Improve My Pickleball Skills With Drills?
Drilling various shots regularly offer players the opportunity to fine-tune & hone their technique. It reaches a point at which they can trust that a particular shot will pay off for them during a match.
This confidence in their technique comes from repeated practice of basic movements back and forth under strictly controlled conditions.
Drills remove the extraneous and focus on the specifics of what is needed to perform a technique accurately and with control.
So, what skills should I drill?
We’ll start by identifying the basic and broader athletic skills that are needed as a foundation to play well in pickleball and need to be present every time you step out to drill and then we’ll discuss specific pickleball stroke skills and how to drill them.
Core Pickleball Skills
Athletic Ready Stance, Balance & Footwork
An athletic stance slightly wider than shoulder width with the weight evenly distributed over both feet allows for rapid movement to be initiated quickly. When your center of gravity is lower to the ground with your knees bent and your paddle up and ready, you’ve got the best chance of moving into position in a timely fashion.
Even when the ball isn’t coming close to you, in a doubles match, for instance, you must maintain a good dynamically balanced body and paddle position while on the move.
Maintaining good form throughout the entire length of the game and maintaining that over the course of many games requires fitness and strength. Drills will put you into a repeatedly stressed, constantly moving position that you simply cannot achieve during a game.
Repeatedly hitting the ball between two players on either side of the net is far more taxing than playing a point during a game. Many shots are played in a short space of time, increasing and stress and leading to exhausting much faster. Keeping your feet moving and keeping your body organized with athletic movement during and between each shot is vital to successful play.
And, by focusing on just one type of shot at a time, you get enough repetitions of it to ingrain it into your repertoire of shots. It’s also important to be mindful to be doing everything correctly throughout the shot and between each shot. You want to be careful not to ingrain poor technique.
It’s very easy to start getting lazy and sloppy footwork between shots especially when you get tired. During drilling, be sure to push yourself to stay balanced throughout all your movement. Be sure to return to your athletic ready stance between each hit so that you are appropriately ready for the next shot.
Pickleball is a fast-paced game. You must stay focused on every shot because it only takes one sloppy shot to lose a point.
By not getting flustered when shots are returned that you thought were winners, you give yourself the maximum chance to succeed later.
Hitting returned shots harder, hoping to win the point when the conditions aren’t right is a recipe for disaster.
Keeping ego out of your game by maintaining your composure is something that drills will help you achieve.
On the flip side of that, chase down every ball and don’t assess whether you think you can get it. Train yourself to do this in drills and games.
Don’t think, simply BELIEVE that you can get to every shot and try for it no matter what. You’ll be surprised by the miracle gets you will be able to achieve if you simply run hard, stick out your paddle and do your best to get it back over someway, somehow. It will shock your opponents too!
Sure, you won’t make a lot of them but it’s good practice and not only will you squeak out a few extra points that could make a difference in the game. It will put a ton of pressure on your opponents to know that you just don’t give up on anything. They will go for too much and miss a few more shots as a result due to that extra pressure. I see it happen, all the time!
Reaction times can be improved. The ability to recognize and process where the pickleball is and where it is going is crucial to your success in the game.
Developing better hand-eye speed and coordination will go a long to help you throughout EVERY facet of the game and getting to the ball on time and well.
Good reactions will be especially useful, and in fact critical, for counterattacking and defending in particular. These are the KEY skills that will propel you to higher levels of play.
Wall drills are great for improving reactions as well as basic techniques.
Keeping the pickleball up, hitting it harder and faster, standing closer to the wall, and then moving further away from it, all help to improve your depth perception and ultimately your game.
Don’t start at a speed and distance so high that you’re out of control. Start slow and build up as your skills improve.
How Important Are Pickleball Drills?
Simple drills can help both beginners and more advanced players to improve all aspects of their game.
Successful players master the basics and then go on to improve the core aspects of the game. Beginners must practice basic pickleball techniques until they can move on to more advanced aspects. Skipping over the fundamentals will only lead to disappointment and frustration.
By repeatedly practicing the various strokes, you will build an understanding of when they can be used.
You also teach your body how to position itself for the best effect and with enough repetition it will become automatic leading to improved reaction time.
The position of your feet at each stroke, to a large degree, determines how successfully you can execute the shot.
The Basic Pickleball Strokes
Learning the different strokes and understanding when to use them is very important to enjoyment and overall success with the game.
Serving is used to start each point in the game. It’s done underhand and players must be able to control both the speed and placement.
Since you toss yourself the ball and hit it yourself, you have total control of your serve. So, it’s easy to practice because you don’t need another player. By practicing your serve early and often, it greatly increases your chances of success with it. While it is useful to have a partner who can get the balls back over to your side all while practicing their return, you can easily level up the skill of serving by yourself.
Practicing is as simple as getting out to an empty court with a basket of balls and serving to your hearts content.
Pro tip: practice hitting DEEP serves. They will serve you well for as long as you play the game.
A groundstroke is a shot that is hit after the ball bounces once on the court.
It is usually hit from the back of the court around the baseline.
A common strategy is to hit a good groundstroke that allows you to advance to the net and they can help to maneuver your opponent into an area where you can utilize other shots to win a point.
You may have to hit many groundstrokes that leads up to the good one that will allow you to advance to the net behind it.
As a beginner, practicing the correct technique will ensure that the ball is taken slightly ahead of you and that the appropriate swing and angle of the paddle face at contact is suitable for the correct placement of the shot.
The return of serve is basically a groundstroke at its core but it has its on name because it has a very distinct purpose in the game. It’s always the second shot of each point and it is only ever used in response to a serve which means you do have to think about it differently as opposed to every other groundstroke you hit.
You’re strategically at a very specific part of the point whenever you hit the return and the strategy you intent to use for this shot will dictate the type of shot you want to use which will dictate the technique you use to hit the shot.
You typically want to be following a return into the net, if you can, every time which makes it different than many other groundstrokes. So, when you are drilling the return, be sure you use footwork patterns through the shot that will help you advance to the net.
Dinks and Drops
During a rally, timing these two important “soft shots” is vital to successfully deploying a winning pickleball strategy.
Soft Shots: pickleball shots that are slow in speed and hit with more of a push or simple block motion rather than full swings. Less is more in terms of paddle movement for these shots. They are typicall used to advance to the net, setup attacks once your at the net or block and defend attacks from your opponents.
Soft shots such as these two can help you to advance to the net and build up to your attack all while preventing your opponents from attacking you.
A dink shot is a low & soft shot hit from the non-volley zone (NVZ). This shot has a soft arc that is designed to force your opponents to hit up on their next shot and prevent an attack.
Your target for these shots will be a combination of in and near the kitchen. You will want to move them around to keep you opponents off balance and unsure of where your dinks will come.
A drop is similar to a dink with the key difference being that it is hit from further back in the court such as in the transition zone or near the baseline. It will have a longer arc because it’s being hit from further back and will ideally land in the kitchen (NVZ) or just beyond the kitchen line with a low bounce.
These strokes require a good feel for the ball and a great body position during setup and throughout the shot. Quick reflexes & agility to get to these shots is therefore paramount because you will often need to be slowing the ball down which is an advanced skill.
A volley is the term used for the action of hitting the ball before the ball bounces (out of the air) on your side. Volleys are typically used in a more offensive way as part of an attack or as part of a setup to an attack.
A good volley is often used to win a point by forcing your opponent into an error or by being an outright winner.
Striking the ball before it has had a chance to bounce, speeds up the game, usually puts you in control of the point and can intimidate opponents.
Practicing the correct swing and body position for the volley is vital. Volleying is a key skill as part of a winning game.
Drills that focus on good hand-eye coordination will help tremendously here.
A lob is a shot that is lofted well into the air vertically. It’s a high arcing shot that typically sends the ball deep in the back court and high over your opponents heads when hit well.
Playing a lob is one of the more difficult shots to perform well because the downside of a poorly hit lob is big.
A lob that is shorter than you intend could be disastrous because now your opponents can use an overhead smash which is widely viewed as the most offensive shot in the game.
It takes good timing, accurate placement, and the ability to judge how much power is needed to lift the pickleball over your opponent’s head.
The overhead is a hard shot with a contact point that will be above your head. It is often also referred to as a “smash”.
It’s typically directed downward towards your opponent or hit at an angle so that it ends up well off the court and away from your opponents to one side or the other after the bounce.
The opportunity for this shot presents itself from a ball that was lobbed by your opponents. If you play it right you can usually win the point.
A complete motion, good body position, timing, and accuracy are needed to bring this shot off. It’s spectacular when you get it right and frustrating when you miss-hit the ball.
Now that we’ve covered what shots you need to learn, let’s look at some of the best pickleball drills.
24 Pickleball Drills To Up Your Game
Beginner Player Backboard Wall Drills
1. Basic Forehand Groundstroke
A basic forehand groundstroke is a shot that the player makes by hitting it on their dominant side (the side with which you hold your paddle). So if you are a right handed player. The forehand is the shot you will use when the ball comes to the right side of you and vice versa for a left handed player.
You will lead with the palm of your hand on this shot. Being able to lead with the palm of your hand is what tends to make this the preferred shot of most players as opposed to the backhand where you lead with the back of your hand.
Standing approximately 10 feet from the wall, hit it in such away that it will bounce at around the 5 foot mark from you after it hits the wall.
You’ll want to hit it high enough so that it bounces high enough for an approximately thigh height contact point when the ball reaches you after the bounce. Be sure to use your knees and step in with your non-dominant foot (the foot on the opposite leg from the side on which you hold your paddle).
Start by hitting a point on the wall that is approximately the height of your chest and work from their by adjusting height and speed so that you achieve the appropriate bounce for your height and the distance your standing.
For the basic forehand groundstroke focus on a strong shoulder turn to get the paddle back rather than reaching back and use a more abbreviated backswing and follow through as you get started with this shot and since we’re quite close to the wall at this point.
As your skill level improves, you can move further away from the wall. You’ll have to hit harder and the ball will travel further after it hits thew all before bouncing so that it reaches you at a good height. You also need a more pronounced shoulder turn and follow through as you move further away from the wall.
You should concentrate on angling your body slightly ahead by moving your lead foot forward. Bend your knees and aim to hit the ball slightly ahead of your body.
2. Basic Backhand Groundstroke
Set up exactly as you have for the forehand shots and with all the same concepts mentioned above but this time hit the ball on your left side and leading the paddle with back of your hand.
Once again, ensure that you bend your knees before making contact with the ball and step in. This time, you’ll want to step in with the foot that is on the same side as which you hold your paddle. See the video below for more information about backhand shots.
3. Alternate Between The Forehand & Backhand Groundstroke
Once you are comfortable with both forehand and backhand shots individually, you can proceed to alternating between the two.
Switch using each shot on alternate hits. Aim the backhand shots to the right and the forehand shots to the left (if you’re left-handed, do the opposite).
Footwork is important here, so make sure that as you change from forehand to backhand, your lead foot changes.
For right-handed players, the left foot advances on the forehand, and the right foot advances on the backhand.
You’ll notice that when you hit these shots individually you’d be hitting straight at the wall to get it to come back at the same spot. Now, you’ll notice you have to hit at a slight angle on each hit to get it over to the other side of your body and then back again.
4. The Serve
Tape out a box that is about 1 square foot at a height about 2 feet higher than the net would be and aim for that box on the wall. Move 20 feet back and aim your serve within the box.
You can practice both drop serves (drop from you hand and let it bounce before serve) and traditional serves (toss and hit out of the air) and decide which you prefer. Most will ultimately decide on one or the other and stick with it.
Tip: Pros tend to use traditional serves exclusively but some beginners find it easier to use a drop serve.
Leaving the taped box in place or move relatively close to the wall (approx. 5 feet) and hit forehand volleys (no bounce at anytime) in the boxed area. You can also simply aim for a mark on the wall that already exists. Don’t let the return hit the floor but rather hit it back at the wall repeatedly.
Start off gently and slow. Many will make the mistake of hitting directly forward at this stage (slow speed). Using a rather slow tempo for your shots, which is necessary at first, will also mean you need to hit it higher of the wall so that it gets back to you above your waist and not at your feet. There will be quite a pronounced arc to your shots at the beginning stages.
You may question if you’re doing it right because it will not resemble what you see on the courts. That is just PERFECT! You are working your way up to that.
As your skill improves you can hit harder and hit lower down with less of an arc.
As that improves too, you can proceed to move away further from the wall, increasing the speed and power of each shot.
6. Alternate Between Groundstrokes & Volleys
Once you’re comfortable with both your groundstrokes and volleys, you can alternate between the two.
This will help you develop the understanding of how hard to hit it against the wall so that it bounces in front of you and gets to you at a good height for another shot vs. how hard to hit it against the wall so that it gets to you out of the air at a good height for another shot.
As usual, start closer and then move back further away from the wall as your skill level increases.
Intermediate Player Backboard Wall Drills
All the shots we’ve mentioned can be enhanced by adding spins. Once you have reasonable control of all the core shots of pickleball then it’s a good time to start adding topspin, under spin and even sidespin to each of your shots.
Spin complicates the shot for your opponents and makes you a higher level player because you now have a wider arsenal of shots.
Pick a type of spin you’d like to add to your game. Use all the same drills we’ve mentioned above and focus on hitting each shot with the desired spin. You can cycle through each drill again using all the different spins.
Check out this video here to learn how to add spin to the ball with drills on the wall.
8. Short Hop Shots
Practice hitting shots that land right at your feet and that you will have to hit immediately after the bounce. This is called taking the ball of the short hop or as a “half-volley”.
These are more difficult to control so you will want to use an extremely limited backswing for these shots. As close as possible to no backswing at all.
Stand on a line parallel (imaginary) to the wall and relatively close, maybe 5 feet away or so. Aim to let the ball bounce on or close to the line.
You will need to get good at dealing with shots that bounce right near your feet as many players will aim for your feet during play. It’s smart strategy to do so for the very reason that these shots are on the more challenging side to deal with.
You will have to angle the shots up sharply to clear the net which is why it’s usually best to hit these shots softly so that they land in the kitchen and bounce low so as to remain unattackable by your opponents.
This is one the most important shots in pickleball. It’s the most commonly used shot to advance from the baseline to the net as described above.
Imagine that the wall is the net and that you need to land the ball just beyond the net in the kitchen. Therefore your shot should be descending as it approaches the wall so as to land short in your opponents court. Practice both forehand and backhand drops.
The ball won’t return to you in such a way that it will work to drop the next shot so it’s best to alternate between a groundstroke and a drop to make it work in a continuous hitting format.
When you’re feeling confident on both the forehand and backhand side you can alternate.
Vary the distance from the wall to simulate drops from the baseline and up in the court (transition zone).
Dinks are soft shots hit from the non-volley zone or “kitchen” that should land in your opponents kitchen or not too far beyond the their non-volley zone line. Stand approximately 7 feet from the wall and practice your forehand and backhand dinks individually.
You can then practice hitting alternating between forehand and backhand dinks or do various combinations (i.e. 1 forehand, two backhands and repeat etc…).
With a little creativity, you can mix up a lot of these drills to add challenge and complexity. The more you can handle, the better, but don’t move on to more challenging things until you’re strong at the basics.
11. Walking Dinks
Using your dinks (or any shot really) you can lead yourself in one direction by hitting it slightly that way off the wall (start right or left, it doesn’t matter) and stepping that way to keep up with the shot. Once you’ve traveled 10 feet or so in that direction, hit it slightly back in the other direction and travel back with it. Go back and forth as many times as you can.
This will really help develop your control.
Practice lobs from a position close to the wall. Lobs are often made when you are standing close to the kitchen, so ensure that you get plenty of height on the ball as you practice.
13. Backhands Only
We tend to start every drill with the forehand before we do the backhand. That’s just universally true across all racquet and paddle sports. As a result, and simply because players simply tend to prefer their forehand, the backhand takes a backseat and often gets less reps even if that’s not intended.
Regularly spend an entire drill session with at least four different drills from the ones already mentioned on your backhand only to help close this gap. Especially if your backhand is something you typically like to avoid.
If you avoid your backhand, you’ll never be the player you aspire to be.
Advanced Player Backboard Wall Drills
14. Highspeed Volleys
Stand close to the wall and hit forehand and then backhand volleys as quickly as you can while still being able to maintain continuity. This improves both reactions and coordination.
Finish with an alternating backhand and forehand volley.
15. Forehand & Backhand Backspin Dink + Volley
Use a slightly downward motion (emphasis on slightly, most tend to overdo the downward motion) to impart backspin as you dink the ball off the wall followed by a volley off the wall. The backspin will send the ball headed more downward after impact with the wall than it would if if it hit the wall with no spin. Check out the video in drill #7 for different spin variations & a demonstration of how to accomplish a backhand backspin.
16. Forehand & Backhand Topspin Dink + Volley
Use a slightly upward motion brushing up the back of the ball to impart topspin as you dink the ball off the wall followed by a volley off the wall. The topspin will send the ball headed more upward after impact with the wall than it would if if it hit the wall with no spin.
17. Forehand & Backhand Sidespin Dink + Volley
Use a slightly outside to inside motion horizontally along the back of the ball to impart sidespin as you dink the ball off the wall followed by a volley off the wall. The sidespin will send the ball headed slightly toward one side after impact with the wall than it would if if it hit the wall with no spin so be mindful to compensate for that and adjust the location you hit on the wall so that it comes back to you.
18. Speed Control
Hit one or two firmer volleys shots at the wall and then attempt a dink over the line. This dinking game or drill gives you the needed control to convert any fastball into a dink. This type of dink is also often referred to as a “reset” or a “block”
19. Volley, Surprise Lob & Overhead
Hit several high-speed volleys off the wall followed by a lob and clean it up with your own overhead smash.
20. Third-Shot Drops Shots With Spin
Practice your drops as described in the drop drill above only this time use spin. Cycle between topspin & backspin.
21. Fake Out Attack
Hit a high ball and pretend to attack with a high volley, but instead reduce your paddle speed at the last moment and gently dink the ball over the line. Practicing this skill will come in handy when you have opponents pinned back at the baseline and they are expecting a hard drive and you surprise them with a drop shot for a winner. This skill is very handy especially against players that defend well from the baseline.
Advanced Pickleball Drills with a Partner
The techniques you are practicing with this drill are aggressive feeds that simulate low groundstrokes and controlled volleys. One player stands just behind the non-volley zone line and received a hard feed as a volley. The feed comes from the player who starts from behind the baseline.
The feeder must try and put as much pace on their feed as they can to try and force an error from their drill partner while still maintaining control of the feed.
The player at the net should aim to volley deep, preventing the feeder from approaching the net.
Both players are seeking to win the point.
The objective for the feeder is to find a way to advance to the net. The objective of the receiver is to prevent the server from coming in.
The drill can be done with 2 or 4 people. If with two people, use only half the court and it can be done going down the line or crosscourt.
Play to 11 points and then switch roles.
One player stands at the non-volley zone and feeds a high, easily attacked ball to the other player at the baseline. The baseline player steps in and plays an aggressive shot, simulating an offensive third-shot drive. The baseline player bust let the feed bounce.
The baseline player must try to keep the return low over the net and the non-volley zone player should try to keep the baseline player back by playing the ball to their feet.
Once the ball is returned, the game continues on one-half of the court.
You can change it up by cycling through down the line as well as crosscourt on both the even and odd side.
This drill focuses on attacking for the player receiving the feed and on counterattacking and defending for the player that start on the non-volley zone line.
Play to 11 points then switch roles.
The player at the baseline feeds a lob to the player at the non-volley zone. The receiving player plays a smash and attempts to put the ball away.
The baseline player’s job is to survive and play out the point.
Once the ball has been smashed, the drill continues in one-half of the court.
Once again, it’s best to work this drill in all directions: down the line and crosscourt (even and odd side).
Play to 11 points and then alternate roles.
The difference between mediocre players and great players is the amount they practice with purpose at improving the necessary areas of their game with the use of appropriate drills.
The pickleball drills we’ve described here will help you to improve as a pickleball player when used consistently.