Pickleball Skill BuildingServe/Return/Third Shot Drills
Nothing happens until someone serves the ball. Serves must land inside the diagonal rectangle on the opposite end of the court from where the server is standing. That is all that matters. If the serve goes into the net or outside the box where it is required to land, the server loses the opportunity to score a point. Do not focus on hard serves or twisting serves or sneaky serves until you can consistently get your serves to land in the proper area of the court.
Drill 1 – One person can take a box of balls and practice serving from one end to the court and then go to the other end, retrieve the balls and do it again from that end.
Drill 2 – Two persons can alternate serving to each other. Do not bother returning the serve, but collect the ball and then serve it back. After several serves from one side, switch to the other side of the court and serve in similar fashion. 4 people can do this drill on one court as well, with each person serving to the person on their diagonal at the opposite end of the court.
The Return of Serve
The return of serve is equally important to the serve itself. Failure to return serve gives the serving team a point, with very little effort. Hitting the return into the net, or outside the boundaries of the court costs a point. So, practice returning the ball over the net until you can do it consistently.
When you can return the ball over the net consistently, then practice returning it nearer to the back line. The further back your return of serve goes, while still being on the court, the more difficult it is for the serving team to engage in the upcoming rally for a point. But, do not get ahead of yourself.
First, be sure that you can return the serve into the serving team’s court with consistency.
Drill 3 – This drill adds the return of serve to the mix, and requires two players, and allows for the practicing of two essentials to the game, serving and return of serve. When the server serves the ball, the opposing player returns the serve. Focus on the return is on getting it over the net, and inside the court. If you are comfortable with your returns, then try to make them go closer to the back line, preferably within the last two feet or less at the back. The server does not hit the ball back to the returner but gathers it up to practice his/her serve again.
The Third Shot
Nothing happens unless the first two shots are made, but the third shot sets up the rest of the rally, and is the most critical shot for skillful players.
Most new players and even some who have played for years think that smashing the ball over the net after the return of serve is an effective strategy. While this may be true with unskilled players, it is a recipe for disaster against accomplished players.
Because the serving team must remain near the back of the court until they have hit the third shot, and because the game is in actuality won at the net, being stuck at the back line after the third shot becomes less effective the more skilled are your opponents.
When the serving team has played the third shot, it should allow them to advance towards the net for the remaining shots of the rally. If the serving team is not able to get to the net, the opposition has a lot of court available to them to play shots that will win them the point, or service break.
So, the third shot should be a long dink shot that just drops over the net into the non volley zone. Alternatively the serving team can lob the third shot over the heads of their opponents, but that is another strategy that can be learned in later drills.
Both of these third shot approaches will be covered in Dinking and Volley drills later.