10 Pickleball Serving Tips and Techniques for Beginners

Credit: Kyle Koszuta
Est. Reading: 6 minutes

All pickleball players are given a chance to serve the ball. As a beginner in the sport, you should learn how to serve the ball correctly and effectively. Otherwise, your opponent will get annoyed, and worst of all, you will commit errors frequently.

The best thing about serving the ball is being in complete control. Only you can decide where the ball should go and how fast, and your opponent can stop you. So, if you’re ready, this beginner’s guide has ten practical tips and techniques for pickleball serve.

What is the Purpose of Serving in Pickleball?

The main purpose of serving the ball in pickleball is to start a rally. It could be during the start of the game or after a side-out. It is the opposite in tennis, where players serve hard and aim to win a point. Some advanced and pro players hit an ace, but that’s very rare. If you spot one, that’s most likely unintentional.

The first few shots in pickleball are slow and may look boring to watch. But to players, they are in the planning stages. Once the serve is done, they will go to the middle court to tempt each other to commit an error. In short, pickleball is similar to chess, where players patiently plan to attack.

Pickleball Serve Basic Rules

In pickleball, there’s a two-bounce rule wherein the receiving player or team should allow the served ball to bounce before returning it. The server should serve diagonally, and the ball must land beyond the non-valley zone (also called the kitchen) and the NVZ line. 

Once the receiver returns the ball, the server should also let it bounce before returning it. This rule ensures that the purpose of serving is followed - to start a rally.

As the server, you have only 10 seconds to serve the ball after the score has been called. While doing the serve, you should only use one hand to release the ball without spinning it. 

You should also not jump, and your feet should not touch the court ground and inside the baseline. Otherwise, you will commit a fault. But unlike tennis, there is no more ‘let serve’ rule. For complete details, check out our Pickleball Let Serve Guide.

Pickleball Legal Serves

There are two legal serves in pickleball - the volley serve and the drop serve. In both of them, you should swing your arm in an upward arc direction and follow the 10-second rule. You can also hold the paddle with two hands while hitting the ball. For the volley serve, you must hit the ball when it is below your waist. But for the drop serve, there’s no height restriction. For complete details, read our Pickleball Serve Rules Guide.

How to Serve the Ball Effectively

Assuming you already know the serve rules, it’s time to learn how to do it effectively. But while the tips below look easy to follow, they can be challenging. But don’t fret; all beginners in pickleball pass through this stage. 

#1 Hold your Pickleball Paddle Properly

There are three ways to hold the paddle - the Continental grip, the Eastern grip, and the Western grip. If you’re a beginner, you might want to do the Continental grip since it’s the most common. It’s also easy to use since it’s like holding a hammer. The Eastern grip is more like doing the handshake, while the Western grip is not ideal for beginners. For the complete tutorial on each grip, check out our Pickleball Grips Guide.

#2 Have a ‘Body-Ready’ Position

Different players have different ‘body-ready’ positions before serving. Some advanced players face their opponent, while others face a bit sideward. However, the best position for you is where you feel comfortable as you swing the paddle. To do this, you have to relax your body and loosen up. Otherwise, you cannot hit the ball properly, and might land in the wrong place on the court. Plus, your body will hurt as you continue the game.

#3 Use a Semi-Closed Stance 

Regardless of the ‘ready-position’ that you choose, avoid keeping your legs too wide apart. A semi-closed stance allows you to rotate your body comfortably during the serve. If you’re right-handed and prefer facing a bit sideward, place your left foot about 45 degrees from the baseline and your right foot parallel to the baseline. This position allows you to twist your body and generate more power as you do the serve.

#4 Prepare Your Arms

The position of your arms shall dictate where the ball will land and how fast it will go. Regardless of the serving type, position your dominant arm downward and near your waist as you prepare to swing. If you’re doing the volley serve, bend your arm (with the ball) closer to your body, and don’t toss the ball too high. But if you prefer the drop serve, straight up your arm to be consistent in position when dropping the ball.

#5 Choose Your Target and Aim

You know you should serve diagonally and that the ball should land beyond the kitchen. However, it’s not your only target. You must also know your opponent’s weak position and aim at that. For instance, if your opponent is weak at doing a backhand return, give it to them. You will not win a point in doing so, but it forces your opponent into an awkward position. You can easily plan an attack once you do the correct swing path.

#6 Use Your Shoulder, Core, and Feet

This serving strategy is usually challenging to most beginners. They tend to swing their hands to hit the ball instead of swinging with their shoulders. If you do this, you might not be able to generate the necessary power to force the ball to land where it should. Use your core to shift your body weight from your back to your front foot to generate more power. Baseball players and boxers also use the same technique.

#7 Serve Deep, Not Hard

There’s nothing wrong with doing the hard serve, as it allows you to move forward faster after you serve. But if you serve deep, your opponent will be forced to move backward. Therefore, they will find it more challenging to move forward after returning the ball. In that case, you can be in the non-volley zone ahead of them. Although you still have to wait for the ball to bounce before returning it, you’ll have an edge in terms of position.

#8 Choose a Pre-Serve Routine

Some players might think having a pre-serve routine is optional. But in reality, it plays a massive role in consistency, which is essential in serving the ball. Some good examples of pre-serve habits or routines are dropping the ball twice and taking a deep breath, spinning your paddle once, or tapping the ball. Whichever you choose, your action will become automatic, which can help you focus more once you do the serve.

#9 Test Both Serve Types

Some say that drop serve is ideal for beginners compared to volley serve because it helps them to have better timing. It also has fewer restrictions and prevents you from doing the banned pre-spun serve. But of course, the volley serve has its own benefits. The only way to test which serve type fits you is to try both. Note, however, that drop serve is not allowed in PPA Tour, meaning you don’t need it if you plan to turn pro.

#10 Practice Consistently

All the tips above will work for you only if you practice consistently. So far, this is the best way to master your serve. Even the best pickleball players spend so much time practicing before they come up with the perfect serve. Although practicing on the court is better, you can do it in your garage. All you need is a flat wall and a target to hit. But because pickleball is a noisy sport, make sure you don’t disturb anyone. 

To help you visualize these tips, here’s an excellent tutorial video from one of the leading pickleball influencers, Kyle Koszuta, aka That Pickleball Guy.

Final Thoughts

To summarize the tips above, doing a perfect serve requires the 4 Ps - position, placement, power, and practice. But again, let me remind you that serving the ball is only the start of your strategy to win the game. Yet, this stage is very crucial, and mastering the serve is a must. Otherwise, you cannot reach the next level of pickleball.

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