Pickleball: Teaching Tips and Strategies
Pickleball is a fast-paced paddle game that can be played both indoors and outdoors by all ages. It is very similar to tennis and table tennis! This game is gaining in popularity all across the country and the Pickleball U.S. Open Championship was even televised this year!
At my high school, pickleball is by far the most anticipated unit we do all year long. And I won’t lie I am right there with my students in my excitement level for this game.
If you are looking for more about the rules of the game or even want to see videos of what the game looks like, you can find this information on the internet. I am including a handout sheet that we use at our school for our students. This handout does not include every rule in the rulebook obviously, but it does give our students something to reference if they have a question.
Tips for the Teacher
Tip 1 – Quality Pickleball Equipment
My number one tip for teachers is to make sure you get quality equipment. All equipment is not created equal, and typically cheaper usually leads to buying more later on.
First, you’ll need pickleball balls. We currently only play pickleball indoors, so we only purchase indoor balls (yes, there are both indoor and outdoor balls).
I also recommend purchasing a couple different colors, because depending on the color of your gym you can lose the ball easily. We used to use white but have no found the neon to be the one our students prefer.
The other major piece of equipment is the pickleball paddle. It is amazing to me the variety of materials that are used to make different paddles. We use wooden paddles in our classes mainly because of cost and budget.
Tip 2 – Explain the Rules of Pickleball
My second tip for teachers is make sure you properly explain and demonstrate the rules to the game. Pickleball has some unique rules that separate the game from tennis and other racquet sports, with the double bounce rule being the hardest one for students to understand and remember. We have been playing pickleball for years and we have students who after four years of high school PE still struggle with the double bounce rule.
Tip 3 – Teaching Strategy
My tip for teaching strategy, as is the case for most of the games and activities we do in class, has always been to let my students figure it out on their own for a couple days. It always amazes me to watch students first struggle with the strategy and then slowly and methodically perfect it.
I am not saying I don’t encourage or discuss what worked and didn’t work with students, but I do not give them the playbook. And the really tricky part to the strategy is the difference between playing singles and doubles. I love watching and then discussing strategy with students throughout this unit and hearing the different thoughts they all have on the subject. I also enjoy when the students decide they have finally figured out the strategy to beat me and one of my colleagues. We both love a good before- or after-school challenge, and it motivates our students to think more critically about their game play.
Once your students understand the rules of the game, you can begin refining technique and discussing game strategy. Students with a background in tennis, badminton, or even table tennis will have a slight advantage over other students. All of these games share similar strategy and paddle control. One of the trickiest parts for any student will be controlling the ball off of the paddle, especially once students begin to put spin on the ball.
Find a grip on the paddle that you are comfortable with for both a forehand and backhand shot.
I still have students who try to switch the paddle between their hands because they are not comfortable hitting a backhand shot. Encouraging students to practice backhand shots against a wall in a non-competitive situation is a simple way to start getting them comfortable with the shot.
Make sure students understand the ready position that is used in almost every sport. Ready position meaning standing up on the balls of their feet, knees slightly bent, and eyes engaged. Again, pickleball is a quick game, and if they are on their heels they will not have enough time to react.
When receiving the serve make sure to hit your return shot deep into the opponents back court and try to hit the corners. Because of the double-bounce rule they must let it bounce before they can return the shot, which will allow you more time to move forward for your next shot.
Make sure to talk to your partner when playing doubles. Communication in pickleball is crucial to success, just like in any other sport. Plus, if you don’t talk to your partner you run the risk of getting hit with a wooden paddle, which will not feel good!
The most important part is HAVE FUN! This game is a lot of fun and can be very competitive! We run pickleball tournaments at our high school and are trying to find out a way to play against a couple other schools near us in a home and away competition.
- Mixing up your serve location is a way to keep your opponent off balance and guessing.
- Spots to serve to:
- The back corners of the service box
- The front corner on the sideline side of the service box
- Spots to serve to:
- The power of your serve is also a way to keep your opponent off balance.
- This requires a good bit of control so as not to serve the ball deep and out of bounds or short of the service box
- Remember to stay deep
- You must let the return shot bounce before you can hit it
- Keep yourself positioned behind the back line so that you have the ability to move forward to return the serve.
- Like all sports, it is easier to move forward than it is to back pedal
- Make every effort to return the serve deep into the corners to keep the server back.
- Allows you to move forward and attack their return shot because you are now permitted to volley the ball back
- After you return the serve move forward and stay centered in your court
- Keep your opponent moving
- Avoid hitting the same shot right back the middle
- Mix up your location of shots and depth of shots
- You want your opponent to move often
- This is a skill that will take a little time to develop, but once you have figured out how to spin the ball you will give yourself a tremendous advantage
- Remember your opponent will learn how to do this too!
- HAVE FUN!
Pickleball is a game that students will enjoy as long as you make it fun and entertaining! Students need to know that pickleball is a game that they can play as they grow older, as most YMCA’s and local fitness complexes have started to create leagues and tournaments.
One last thing that we are going to try is a school-wide tournament with students and teachers partnering up. We hope to have students in our media/television technical classes commentate and televise the competition. Events like this are a great way to get everyone in your school involved and active!