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Pickleball Education | Oct 12, 2022

By Stephen Bass

Four MORE Tips to go from 3.5 to 4.0 in Pickleball (Part 2)

I had too many tips to share in just one article, so you are getting part II of tips to get from that 3.5 to 4.0 level.  I’m linking videos for each of the tips from Pro Coaches and Pros so you can get visuals and more tips on how to implement each of these into your game. All these things can be practiced in your games, but if you want the fastest results, you must drill these tips.  You just don’t get enough repetitions playing games to advance as fast as drilling.   

 1. Focus on the Depth of Your Serve and Return.

How does each point start?  Each point starts with a serve and then the return of the serve, but how much emphasis are you putting on each of those shots?  These two shots are key to setting up the point and can lead to putting you in amazing positions or can lead to the point being over quickly.  The depth of the serve and the depth of the return are the key factors to each shot.  You want a deep serve and a deep return. 

Your return of serve you want to keep deep but not too fast because you want to give yourself enough time to get to the net.  Do you find yourself receiving a 3rd shot drive low at your knees or feet because you didn’t make it up to the NVZ in time?  You might be hitting your returns deep but with too much pace.  I also try to keep my returns more toward the middle to give myself a bigger margin of error. 

If you do want to target a certain player there are two different thoughts on whom you should target.  One mindset is targeting whom you think the weaker player is because their 3rd shots won’t be as good.  The other mindset is you want to hit it to the stronger player because it keeps them back longer and prevents them from poaching or shake and baking. Do you have a backhand slice return?  This is a key return shot you should learn to make your returns better and easier.  Sometimes that low serve to your backhand is hard to return, but if you can slice it back and deep you will find yourself making it to the NVZ with ease. The good news is both shots are easy to drill with a partner and you can get a lot of practice in a short amount of time.

Tyson McGuffin gives three great tips to help you improve your serve.

2. Using the Lob as a Weapon

How many 3rd shot lobs have you seen?  How often are you lobbing?  When I started, I was lobbing way too much and then I stopped lobbing altogether for a period.  Some people don’t use lobs at all and not many people practice returning offensive lobs. It can be a great shot to add to your game that can make your game a little different.

Pro Coach Mark Renneson gives a good overview of the art of the offensive lob.

3. Aggressive 4th Shots

How are you returning your 4th shots?  Are you aggressive with your block volleys, swinging volleys and forehand/backhand rolls?  Are you keeping your opponents deep or are you just getting it back?  The higher level you play the more you will see the quality and aggressiveness of the players 4th shots because keeping your opponents from getting to the NVZ is essential to winning more points.  You don’t have to be completely focused on pace for this shot you can focus on hitting spots.  You want to be aiming at your opponent’s feet and away from them if possible.  Make them move and keep it low.  

Pro Pickleball Coach Mark Renneson does a great job explaining 4th shot strategy in this video. 

4. Think Before You Dink

A key difference as you try to move up in skill level is the level of dinking.  Are you thinking about where you place your dinks, how you vary the speed, how you vary the location, and why you hit certain dinks?  Being confident in your dinks and dinking strategy will help set you up for more attackable balls and stop you from speeding up a ball too early.  I suggest working on one aspect of dinking at a time.  I would pick targeting specific locations first, then start adding more pace and spin, and then start thinking about variation of power, spin, and location.  The most important thing is you don’t become predictable in what you do because that makes it easy for your opponent to stand in one spot.  You want to move them around and make them work to return your dinks.  Keeping them off balance keeps them from having good speedups. 

Check out this great drill from Tyson McGuffin to improve your dinking.


Be sure to check out PART ONE of this series for 4 more tips to go from 3.5 to 4.0!

Want to see what I am up to on TikTok? You can follow me @PickleballDad

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