Serving in pickleball is quite a bit different than the more popular sports involving a serve. With pickleball the ball must be served underhand rather than overhand. This makes for a more balanced game that requires quite a bit more effort to ace a serve. In fact most of the time it isn’t about acing the serve as much as it is about placing a serve in a manner that the opposing player pops the ball up or makes a mistake on the play. A good serve can be so difficult to perfect that many players will simply use a generic serve as the risk of an overpowering return is relatively slim.
Someone that has the ability to serve well has the ability to score just as many or more points than someone that is a great net player. This is because the serve requires very little experience. Someone that just started playing the game with an effective score can easily become a game changer if they are able to beat the other team on the serve. Good servers also put a great deal of pressure and stress on the other team. If they are expecting a good serve they are more likely to feel the pressure of returning it. This added pressure is what will ultimately force them into making easy mistakes. These mistakes are what win the game in pickleball.
What is a good serve?
To know how to create a good serve it is important to know what a good serve is. A good serve is one that makes it difficult for the returning player to hit. This could be because it is hit fast, has little to no bounce, or because it catches them out of position. With a good serve the returning player is forced to move quickly to make the play. If the returning player is able to slowly move to make the return or make the return with no movement at all then it is simply a serve that was good enough to meet the demands of serving.
A good serve starts with consistency. If someone wants to be a good server it is important to serve the same way each and every time. With practice serving in the same manner a player is going to adapt to that method of serving and will become better at it over time. Just like with anything else, the key is practice. The more time spent practicing with a single type of serve the better they will become at it.
Setting up the serve
The most important aspect of the serve is the positioning of the body. Just like any other hit in a serve the body needs to face the direction where the ball is going. By having any twist in the body it is going to be difficult to not only hit in the correct direction but will also be difficult to put the body behind the hit as well.
Now it is important to understand the placement. The ball should be held rather than dropped for the serve. The serve literally entails hitting the ball out of the hand, not hitting the ball on the drop. Hitting the ball on the drop creates a large arc on the ball and makes it more difficult to create a consistent hit. By holding the ball better control is created that allows for placement with practice. Simply moving the ball slightly right or left will determine where the ball goes rather than attempting to move the paddle to do the same thing.
During the swing it is important to create a straight line with the paddle. It should move quickly and along the line fo the body. The motion should be as smooth and straight as possible. By having a straight motion of the arm along with a straight line on the body itself the ball should go exactly in the direction it is meant to go.
Breaking the other team
Once direction has been figured out it is time to start working on creating a better serve that is going to make the other team work harder. By working on direction first it is now a matter of fine tuning to hit the ball better for a better serve. Since speed makes the ball more difficult to hit it is a good idea to work on creating additional speed in the swing. The problem for most players is that with speed comes mistakes that send the ball out of bounds. To reduce this, the ball should be held higher.
By holding the ball the same height or higher than the net without going over the height of the hips the ball can be pushed straight rather than pushed up and still go over the net. This method allows the ball to skim over the net quickly with a light bounce. If the ball still goes out of bounds then it may be a good idea to take a few steps back for the serve. If the ball isn’t going quite far enough try hitting it a little bit harder or get closer to the serving line. Remember that the faster the paddle is swung, the faster the ball is going to move. By placing yourself up or back it will determine how hard the ball can be hit and still stay in. The harder the ball is hit once the ball is at least net high also ensures that the ball will go over the net without touching it.
Once a hard hit low bouncing serve is mastered it is a good idea to start working on a changeup. This is a hit that clears the net and barely bounces inside of the box. If players are expecting a hard hit serve and don’t have a good stance it is a good idea to hit it short in order to force them to run to it, which most will not be able to do quickly enough without making an error in the process. This is especially the case with slower players. This can be done by still hitting the ball hard to ensure it clears the net but reducing the speed slightly. It is important to give the player the appearance of a hard hit ball but changing up speed to drop it in.
If the player has mastered the fast serve and the changeup it is time to work towards much more difficult serves to return. Typically a returner is going to lineup in the back of a box. If the ball is hit towards the far line it is unlikely that they are going to be able to get to it in time. This is especially the case if the ball is hit fast. It doesn’t matter how good a player is if they aren’t expecting a line hit they are never going to reach it in time. To get hits to the line it takes a little bit of practice but once mastered can be an incredibly means of beating a player on the serve. Simply move to the furthest corner of your own box. Line up the body the same way you would on any other hit. Now just power the ball while facing the line. This will push the ball towards that line quickly and if it isn’t over hit it will have a light bounce that is almost impossible to hit.
Once several different types of serves are mastered it is just like a pitcher in baseball. Simply mix up the different serves so that the returning players don’t ever have a chance to adapt to them. By mixing up the serves it is not only difficult to adapt but it is tough to find a returning position that will allow them to return all of the different serves effectively. This means that they are going to have to guess what type of serve the server is going to be using. The server always has the advantage here because they can see how the player is lining up and change the serve to reflect that lineup.