As with all racquet sports, or paddle sports in this case, it’s important to master the serve to become a better pickleball player. A good serve is consistent, accurate, and difficult for your opponent to return. Naturally, the same applies to a pickleball serve.
Consistency is important in a pickleball serve, but it doesn’t have to be the same every time. It’s helpful to have a few different serve styles in your repertoire to keep your opponent guessing.
But first, let’s understand some of the basics.
How to Serve in Pickleball
Unlike tennis, the pickleball serve is always made underhand and is always a forehand shot. The paddle cannot contact the ball above the waist (about your navel level) during the serve.
A pickleball serve is made from behind the court’s baseline to land in the diagonal service court on the opponent’s side. The server must stand behind the baseline, between the center and side lines when serving, and the server’s foot cannot touch the line until after the ball is struck.
The serve must clear the net and land in the diagonal service court within the base, center, and sidelines and pass the kitchen line. The kitchen, aka the non-volley zone, line is a line seven feet on either side of the net, so learning to serve consistently and accurately every time is important to meet these rules. Naturally, the returning team cannot return a service until after the ball bounces.
The proper stance will help you deliver a strong pickleball serve. It is similar to a boxing stance, with the left foot forward if you are a right-handed player or the right foot forward if you are a left-handed player.
The ball is dropped, not tossed in the air, and you must hit it before it reaches the ground. This should come fairly naturally, dropping the ball as you swing the pickleball paddle forward.
The server should not “wind up” with a huge backswing. The serving arm should swing back only about as far as your rear foot and follow through as you shift your weight to your front foot. At least one foot must always be touching the ground during the serve.
When first learning how to serve in pickleball, there can be a tendency to stop the swing abruptly as soon as the paddle makes contact with the ball, popping it high into the air without much force behind it.
You can achieve a strong pickleball serve with a complete follow-through on the swing, much like how a golfer tees off. Flex your wrist on the backswing, but keep it straight and strong as you strike the ball.
Step-By-Step Pickleball Serve
To properly serve a pickleball, follow these three easy steps:
- Get in your proper stance behind the baseline of your serve zone. Hold the ball waist-high in your free hand and put your weight on your back foot. Take a short backswing, flexing your wrist slightly.
- Shift your weight onto your front foot as you swing forward, dropping the ball around when your paddle is at the bottom of your swing. Straighten your wrist as you make contact with the ball, and follow through until your elbow is directly in front of your face.
- The ball should make a smooth arc, not too high, which clears the net and lands near the back of the opponent’s serve zone. This is the spot you should aim for consistently.
Advanced Pickleball Serving Techniques
How to Serve a Top Spin
A forward-spinning ball will bounce unpredictably and pitch forward, making things difficult for your opponent. To create a top spin, picture the ball as three balls in a row on a string. Pretend to hit all three balls with the face of the paddle, so that the balls have to “roll” from the center of the paddle off the edge, thus imparting a top spin.
How to Create a Back Spin
Opposite to a top spin, a backward-spinning ball is deceiving and more difficult to return. To create a back spin, strike the ball with the paddle face turned flat or “open,” so that the paddle skims the underside of the ball as you hit it, thus imparting a back spin.
How to Serve with Side Spin
Strike the ball by moving your pickleball paddle slightly to the left or right (horizontally) to put some side spin on it. Many players find this a bit more natural than either top spin or back spin.
The “Change-Up” Trio
Just like in baseball, you can surprise your opponent by suddenly altering your pickleball serve style. Here are three types of serves to practice and keep in your arsenal.
- The High Soft Serve
This is like a lob. Serve the ball softly, striking it from underneath and sending it in a high, slow arc. An easy serve to return and get the game going.
- The Power Serve
This is a low, fast type of serve, striking the ball hard and with less upward movement. This forces your opponent to move fast and potentially miss.
- The Soft Angle Serve
This is similar to the power serve but not hit as hard. The ball makes a low arc and tends to drop quickly after clearing the kitchen line, forcing your opponent to rush forward.
With these pickleball techniques, you’ll have a few solid serving options under your belt. Stay ahead of the game and show off your newly learned serving skills the next time you hit the court.