How To Take Your Pickleball Game To The Next Level: Tips For Intermediate Players

How to Take Your Pickleball Game to the Next Level: Tips for Intermediate Players

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So you’ve graduated from beginner status and have a solid grasp of the basics – you can consistently get the ball over the net, move around the court with decent footwork, and have some rallies going. As an intermediate pickleball player, you’re ready to take your skills up a notch. But what’s the best way to improve your game and get to that advanced level?

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll provide tips and strategies tailored specifically for intermediate players looking to increase their performance on the court. From enhancing footwork to mastering backhands, read on for the top techniques that can help you start playing like a pro.

Sharpen Your Footwork

As an intermediate player, one of the most important things you can do to improve your game is to focus on your footwork. Good footwork will help you get into position quickly and efficiently, allowing you to make better shots and cover more of the court.

Here are some footwork tips for intermediate players:

  • Move forward to the non-volley zone line (kitchen line) when playing defense. This allows you to return balls more aggressively.
  • Use small, quick shuffle steps to smoothly transition between forehand and backhand shots. Avoid crossing your feet.
  • Practice side-to-side and front-to-back movement drills to improve your agility. Lateral motion is especially important in pickleball.
  • When at the net, keep your feet shoulder-width apart and knees bent so you can react quickly to volleys.
  • Try to keep your weight balanced on the balls of your feet as you move. This makes it easier to change direction.

Mastering footwork takes time and practice, but it’s one of the most vital skills for taking your game to the next level as an intermediate player. Focus on smooth, efficient foot movements and your ability to cover the court will dramatically improve.

Maintain an Active Ready Position

An advanced player should never look stationary or inert in one or two positions while playing. Make sure your body is relaxed and always moving, ready to react to your opponent’s shots.

Here are some tips for staying in an active ready position:

  • Keep your knees slightly bent and your weight balanced on the balls of your feet. This athletic stance allows you to move in any direction quickly.
  • Hold your paddle up in front of your body and angle it slightly open. This ready position makes it easy to get your paddle on shots to both forehand and backhand sides.
  • Resist the temptation to plant your feet. Keep moving them to stay engaged and ready to spring into action.
  • Focus on controlled movements vs. jerky or tense motions. Smooth motions allow you to change direction and recover faster.
  • When waiting at the kitchen line, do mini-hops or shuffles to keep your momentum up. Don’t flat-foot it.

The more time you spend in an athletic ready position, the better you’ll be able to react to shots. Never let your energy or focus drop during a point.

Master the Art of the Dink

If you’re going to play at the 3.5-4.0 level, you’ll need to be able to dink early and dink effectively. Additionally, it will benefit you to understand what a purposeful dink is, and why you are dinking in the first place.

Here are some tips for mastering the art of the dink as an intermediate player:

  • Use dinks to move your opponent back and forth, not just side to side. This tests their mobility.
  • Vary the speed, height and angle of your dinks to keep your opponent off balance.
  • Only dink as deep as needed to pull your opponent forward. Avoid giving them an easy put-away.
  • When receiving a dink, match its pace and placement instead of slamming it back.
  • Dink with your paddle face open to increase control. A closed face adds too much power.
  • Aim to land dinks close to the non-volley zone line to force your opponent up.
  • Be patient. String together multiple dinks rather than going for a hasty put-away.

Mastering dinks requires nuance and finesse. But it’s a crucial tactic at the intermediate level, allowing you to set up winning shots.

Develop Your Backhand

To enhance your pickleball play, practice and master a variety of strokes such as backhand topspin, forehand volleys, drop shots, lobs, dinks, and third-shot drops. By developing a complete range of skills, you can keep your opponent guessing and make it more difficult for them to return your shots.

Here are some tips for improving your backhand as an intermediate player:

  • Use a strong, full follow-through on backhands to generate power.
  • Keep your eye on the ball and watch it closely as it makes contact with the paddle face.
  • When returning shots on your backhand side, pivote your torso and take small steps to move into position. Avoid reaching.
  • Position your paddle hand in front of your body on backhands. Don’t let it drift behind you.
  • Practice control by drilling backhand dinks and drop shots. Work up to harder backhand drives.
  • If you use a two-handed backhand grip, make sure both hands contribute evenly to the stroke.

Perfecting your backhand takes repetition, but it’s essential for balanced, competitive intermediate play. A solid backhand allows you to easily switch between forehand and backhand shots.

Stay Ready in the Ready Position

Always be in a ready position, with your knees slightly bent and your paddle up, ready to react to your opponent’s shots. Avoid these common ready position mistakes:

  • Feet planted flat on the ground. Stay on the balls of your feet.
  • Paddle too low or off to the side of your body. Keep it central and raised.
  • Knees locked straight. Maintain a slight bend in your knees.
  • Leaning forward or backward. Keep your weight centered.
  • Body or paddle facing too far open or closed. Angle slightly open.
  • Crossed feet or uneven weight distribution. Feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Hands grasping the paddle handle too tightly. Maintain a firm but relaxed grip.
  • Arms tense or rigid. Keep arms loose and slightly bent.

Holding a proper ready position keeps your body energized and ready to strike the ball. Review these form pointers often to avoid developing bad habits.

Concentrate on Your Strengths

Knowing what shots are available to you, and focusing on the ones you do well (pickleball is a strength-based sport) will allow you to be competitive at an intermediate level. Focusing on trick shots and excessive spin is not a good strategy for low intermediate pickleball players.

Here are some ways to play to your shot-making strengths as an intermediate:

  • Identify your best 2-3 return of serve options and practice them relentlessly.
  • Know which third shot drop options you can consistently execute under pressure and stick to those.
  • Note if you have a better forehand or backhand and build your gameplan around it.
  • Play more aggressively if you have consistent touch at the net. Stay back if you don’t.
  • Maximize strokes you already do well. Don’t obsess over improving weaknesses yet.

The key is recognizing shots that play to your current strengths and actively focusing on those during games. Eliminate holes in your game over time through drills.

Drill for Consistency

Practice regularly and drill specific shots to improve your muscle memory and consistency. Even 10-15 minutes of focused drilling before playing can make a big difference.

Some great drills for intermediate players:

  • Backhand and forehand groundstroke rallies for control.
  • Short court dinking drills to sharpen your touch.
  • Third shot drop drills for consistent execution.
  • Return of serve drills for key placement.
  • Volley and overhead shot drills at the net.
  • Serving drills for accuracy.

Drilling hones your technique on key strokes and builds the repetition needed for them to become second nature during game play. Don’t neglect solo and partner drills in your training.

Stay Dynamic

It’s important to avoid common mistakes by staying in a dynamic position and actively participating in the game. Here are some reminders:

  • Don’t let your paddle face open during play. Keep it slightly closed.
  • Avoid a hitting “bunt” motion. Use your body for full strokes.
  • Watch your opponent and the ball to react quickly.
  • Rotate your upper body into strokes. Don’t just use your arm.
  • Recover to center position after each shot.
  • Split step as your opponent hits to start moving.

The more energy you put into your movement and readiness, the faster you’ll improve. Never stand still or wait passively for shots. Staying dynamic will take your intermediate game to the next level.

Aim for Your Opponent’s Feet

Hitting the ball at your opponent’s feet can make it difficult for them to return your shots. This tactic takes advantage of the non-volley zone rules in pickleball.

  • Aim about 3 feet in front of the kitchen line to force your opponent forward.
  • Mix up aiming for their forehand and backhand sides to keep them moving.
  • Hitting behind them can pull them back and open up the court.
  • Drop shots at their feet when they’re at the net can catch them off guard.
  • Go for their feet on return of serves to immediately put them on the defensive.

Don’t overdo this strategy, but selectively mixing in shots aimed for your opponent’s feet can produce weak returns and throw off their timing.

Stay Focused from Start to Finish

Improving your pickleball game is crucial at all levels, whether you’re a beginner or a pro player. Even the smallest mistakes or oversights can cost you the game.

Here are some tips for maintaining razor-sharp mental focus as an intermediate player:

  • Eliminate distractions before the game. Turn off your phone and clear your mind.
  • Maintain intensity from the warm-up to the final point. Don’t let your energy drop.
  • Reset mentally after each point, win or lose. Stay positive.
  • Focus only on executing the next shot. Don’t dwell on past points.
  • Tune out your surroundings and opponents’ chatter. Zero in on the ball.
  • Correct mistakes quickly. Identify patterns in errors.
  • Stay engaged in the game between points. Observe and analyze.

Developing total concentration will allow you to minimize errors, capitalize on opponent’s mistakes, and take your intermediate game to the advanced level.

Invest in Quality Equipment

Good equipment can make a big difference in your game. Invest in a high-quality paddle and shoes that provide good traction on the court.

Pickleball Paddles

Look for these ideal features in an intermediate paddle:

  • Weight: 7.6 – 8.5 oz. Lighter is better for quick reaction time.
  • Grip Size: 4-4.25 inches if you have smaller hands. Larger grips offer more power.
  • Materials: Fiberglass face or composite polymer for control and touch. Avoid aluminum.
  • Shape: Slightly oversized for a large sweet spot.
  • Brands: Onix, Gamma, Selkirk make excellent mid-range paddles.

A properly fitted paddle tailored for control can instantly boost your performance.


Prioritize these qualities in pickleball shoes:

  • Lightweight for quickness and agility.
  • Breathable mesh upper for ventilation during play.
  • Full cushioned insole for comfort.
  • Non-marking, textured outsole for traction.
  • Lateral support for side-to-side movements.

The right athletic shoes provide the edge you need in fast-paced pickleball games. Never play in running or casual shoes.

Investing in a quality paddle and footwear optimizes your play and minimizes injury risk as your skills advance to the next level.

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