13 Top Pickleball Strategies for Doubles

A game of doubles pickleball is a fun and entertaining way to get your workout done. With the right strategies, you’ll be able to win each game with ease. Whether you’re just starting on your pickleball journey or you’ve been playing for a while, read on to know how to play a better pickleball game with smart efforts instead of your best efforts.

List of Pickleball Doubles Strategies

Pickleball is a game of strategy as much as a physical game. Once you get on the pickleball court with your partner, keep in mind these simple strategies to up your game.

Choose A Compatible Partner

Older male pickleball doubles players playing at a pickleball tournament

Flickr by Michael & Sherry Martin 

The key factor to winning as a doubles team is to pick a partner with whom you’ll be able to remain in sync. Be it your spouse, best buddy, or someone you’ve just met, good compatibility in play is essential. You’ll have to work together to find the opposing team’s weaknesses and implement the necessary strategies.

An even better pickleball strategy is to get a partner with a dominant hand that complements yours (suppose you’re one among the right-handed players, it would be beneficial to get a left-handed partner). This ensures your team can deliver a variety of shots and good coverage of the pickleball court. Especially with a middle shot (in no man’s land), you stand a better chance of reaching it.

Good Team Communication

Once you have a compatible partner, being in sync with your partner through constant communication, particularly during rallies and in between shots, is key to winning. This includes middle shots, down the lob, or deciding whether to take or pass ones that might be out of bounds.

Shouting out ‘Mine,’ ‘Yours’, ‘You’ makes it easier to play shots, ‘Bounce it!’ warns your partner about a ball that may land out if hit high, and ‘No’ or ‘Out’ if you’re certain a ball will land out before it strikes the court. Additionally, create a positive atmosphere by encouraging your doubles partner and complimenting on good play at the end of a rally.

Move in Unison

In a doubles game, you and your partner must move together (as if tethered by an 8-10 foot string). The one hitting the ball has to communicate the movement of the team. For example, the partner who is hitting the ball from the baseline and moving towards the non-volley zone (NVZ) line must be followed by the other partner moving forward, but not before.

When the partners are separated widely, it is easy for the other team to place a winning shot. If one moves towards the sideline, probably to return a deep shot, the other partner must move towards the centerline to close the gap in the middle.

Related post: Best books on pickleball strategy

Player Positions

The serving team or player must stand behind the baseline to serve and ensure the double bounce rule is followed. The receiver returning the serve is positioned at or near the baseline; in the case of a shorter serve, there might be the need to move forward. The receiver’s partner typically stands at the non-volley line on their side of the court.

A Good Serve

The important thing to remember when you serve is to get your underhand serve over the net and inside the service box, rather than trying to serve deep. Since there’s only one attempt to serve, your aim must be trying to minimize the service faults.

One strategy that works is a good, low-risk serve aimed at the center of the service box, also ensuring that at least one of the opponent team members moves. With practice, you can serve faster, harder, and longer shots, even with an added spin. Delivering a good serve must make it harder for your opponents to attempt the return of serve.

  • Serve by targeting the opponents’ backhand, which is usually the weaker side; a majority of pickleball players have a weaker backhand and strong forehand.
  • Hitting a deep serve, but not out of bounds, pushes your opponents back over the baseline. This makes it difficult to attempt their next shot owing to a longer return.

Return to The Net

A group of pickleball players on the court

Getting to the net quickly is the #1 pickleball doubles strategy. Being at the net is more advantageous than in the backcourt. While you could keep hitting a deep return to ensure your opponents stay in the backcourt, you must get yourself and your partner towards the non volley line. This gives you the upper hand in gaining the point, giving you more control of the game.

Playing from the middle of the court, closer to the kitchen, is beneficial to scoring.

Return of Serve

An equally important doubles pickleball strategy is the return of serve, which is the second shot of a rally. A deep return of serve makes a good shot while making it difficult for your opponents. If you aren’t confident enough, you could avoid hitting deep and hit returns aimed at the middle of the court. ‘Down the middle solves the riddle’ holds even for pickleball as you’ll have the highest margin of error in the middle of the pickleball court.

If you’re the returning team, you must target the opponents’ weaker side and weaker player (with a weak third shot). Soon after hitting the return, try to get back to the kitchen line (non-volley zone line) quickly since most points are won at this zone.

Keep Good Posture

Moving your feet constantly and bending your knees are essential for good posture in pickleball play. Bending your knees helps you get low to (a) effectively play the low balls and (b) utilize the more powerful leg muscles of your body.

Your posture must be the pickleball-ready position that will help you transition around the court, especially while entering the no man’s land or the transition area. This includes keeping your feet shoulder-width apart, bending your knees, keeping your paddle facing ahead, and paddling forward and head up.

Baseline – Keeping Your Opponents There, But Avoiding Being Too Close Yourself

You must target your shots such that your opponents are away from the kitchen line instead, push them towards to the baseline. You’re more in control with long and strong shots, while your opponents are prevented from getting to the non-volley zone. Eventually, your opponents might start hitting into the net or won’t be able to hit back continually due to incorrect placement.

Yet another effective doubles pickleball strategy that helps you effortlessly score a point is to hit at your opponents’ feet. Hitting the pickleball that low makes it difficult for the opponent to return it. Also, if your opponents are standing at the back of the court, in between the baseline and kitchen line, it helps to aim your shot at their feet.

However, you must avoid standing too close to the baseline or kitchen line yourself and try maintaining a distance of about 2-3 feet between these lines. This makes you prepared to return any shot played by your opponents.

Hitting Drop Shots

A couple of older pickleball players active in a game

Flickr by Michael & Sherry Martin

A drop shot is the perfect doubles pickleball strategy when your opponents are on the non-volley line, but you and your partner aren’t. It is a soft shot played from a deep position, getting the ball to land at the opponent’s non-volley zone. A well-executed drop shot will help get you and your partner to the non-volley line too.

This is a frequent shot selection following the return of serve by the serving team. Since the drop shot is commonly executed on the third shot, it’s also called the third shot drop.

Placement Strategy is More Important Than Power

In pickleball, the doubles team making less unforced errors has a better chance of winning than the opponent team. Each shot’s placement determines whether there will be a strong return aimed at you or your opponent team will have to move to the backcourt. Strong, deep returns help push your opponents to the back of the court, thereby increasing your chances of victory.

Merely returning the ball with soft play will stretch the game. Strategizing your shots, and hitting them lower, towards the middle of the court (or towards your opponents’ feet), gives you the upper hand.

Playing Smart Rather Than Playing Hard

Any gap between two partners makes it an easy point for the opponents to target. It is important to be in complete control of the game and be in sync with your partner while also maintaining sufficient distance. 

Strategic moves on the court work better than running or lunging at the gaps. Playing pickleball the smart way includes anticipation of the direction the ball is headed towards and moving accordingly. Surprisingly, a player who moves slower can still outplay a fast, young, and strong player with smart play.

Keep The Pickleball Low

Trying to hit a pickleball low and still make it over the net is one challenging strategy. When hit low, your opponents will most likely not be able to deliver an offensive hit. If you return the serve low, the high chances are the opponent team hitting a drop shot instead of a drive. A low pickleball at the kitchen line results in a dink instead of a volley.

To keep the pickleball low, the angle of your paddle matters the most, along with the pace on the ball at various heights.

  • The pickleball gains more height when the paddle is angled flat to the sky. This open angle can be used to slow the pickleball’s pace, in turn allowing you to keep it within the court.
  • When the paddle is angled parallel to the net, the pickleball goes lower. This closed angle helps speed up the ball and hit it down into the court.

Final Thoughts

Get your adrenaline pumping on the court with a good pickleball doubles game. You’ll be able to play the best pickleball with these winning strategies that will get you to thoroughly enjoy playing doubles, while also improving your skills as a pickleball player and partner. While these might not come naturally at first, constantly practicing will help you implement most of these tricks in your own game.

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