There are many different theories and methods for teaching beginners the game of pickleball. Many clubs offer beginner lessons and skills clinics. More and more players and professionals are offering their knowledge for a fee, every one sharing a different philosophy.
I too, have my own philosophy on how best to teach beginners and I’ve created a simple curriculum to start with the basics. We are using this plan at Toledo Pickleball Club (Ohio) on Monday nights in our Beginner/Novice Training sessions, and I’d like to share that plan with you.
First, lets define WHO should be attending these sessions.
- Beginners – a beginner is someone who has NEVER played pickleball before. They are a clean slate, waiting to be taught the very basics of the game.
- Novices – a novice is someone who might have come to open play once or twice, but is not comfortable playing with others yet. Perhaps they can hit the ball, but they don’t know anything about court position, and they don’t understand scoring yet.
That’s who we want to see on our beginner/novice training nights. If you have played pickleball in an organized game and have an understanding of court position and scoring, this would not be for you.
My philosophy of teaching is that you have to start beginners at the beginning, and teach the very basics first. The progression of adding skills in the order they are needed in a game situation will best prepare them to learn how to play the game.
We begin our sessions with a few words about safety (proper footwear, balls entering the court, running backwards, etc), and point out the court lines (sideline, baseline, center line, NVZ line). We mention the importance of warming up, however we don’t teach warm up drills at this session. Anyone interested in learning a few of those are welcome to come to us afterwards for that.
Step 1 – THE SERVE
A game can’t start without a good serve, so we start by teaching how to serve.
- My philosophy – I’ve seen many lessons start with two beginners trying to tap the ball over the net to each other, as if they were dinking. The balls are going into the net, or being popped up. In my opinion, this is an intermediate skill that is difficult to perform at this level, and doesn’t need to be taught until much later. In addition, if you are going to put people at the kitchen line, you have to teach them the NVZ rules which only fills their heads with information they don’t need yet.
- Getting the feel for the ball on the paddle is important at this stage. Starting with the serve allows the beginner to hit the ball with a full swing, yet gives them a target to aim toward. This will help them to adjust their swing harder or softer, in order to hit the service court.
Start by explaining the rules of a proper serve.
- Upward motion (avoid saying “underhand” as some people legally use a backhand stroke)
- Paddle must be below the waist when it strikes the ball
- Paddle must be below the wrist when it strikes the ball
- Body must be inside an extension of the sideline when ball is struck
- Server must be behind the baseline when serving the ball
- Serves are always made to the service court which is diagonal from they are serving from (point out the service court)
- Explain that the ball MUST cross the NVZ line completely, but all other lines in the service court are considered GOOD.
- DEMONSTRATE – a few serves from the right and then the left sides
EDITED 5/2/2022 –
Last year, USA Pickleball added rules to include a “drop serve,” which allows the server to drop the ball and hit it after the bounce. The ball can be dropped from any height but cannot be thrown, tossed, or otherwise released with any added force to bounce it. This is a great addition to help players who struggle with serving.
NOTE: With the drop serve, there are no specific rules governing where you drop the ball or how you strike the ball. The only thing that matters is that your feet are behind the baseline when you strike the ball. By this, I mean you are not required to have an upwards motion or to have your paddle below your wrist at impact. Obviously, the ball will not bounce above your waist, so there’s no need to say you have to strike the ball below your waist!
Demonstrate the drop serve to your students. Remember, if using the drop serve, the student must DROP the ball. No propulsion downward or toss upwards is allowed.
DRILL – Serve – Catch
- put four players on the court at the baselines, one at each service court.
- give a ball to two players on the same side
- players will practice serving to the opposite service court
- Let the players decide which serve they would like to use, or try them both
- receivers will catch the ball (Stress that they need to CATCH the ball! At this point in beginner play, you will have chaos if they hit the ball back! The drill is to learn to SERVE. Returning the ball will come next!)
- After they catch the ball, the same player will serve it back
- again, receivers will catch the ball
- repeat 5-10 times (depending on time) then have players change to the opposite service court and repeat.
- NOTE: if you are outside and there is wind, also change ends and repeat so players are able to hit both with and into the wind
You have now allowed players to not only learn how to properly serve the ball, but also to get the feel for hitting the ball with a full swing, and also see how the ball will bounce when it is hit to them.
Step 2 – RETURN OF SERVE
A game of pickleball progresses with the return of serve, so it makes sense that this would be the next step in the learning process.
Explain to your students:
- The ball must bounce before you can hit the return (this is the beginning of explaining the two bounce rule)
- The best returns are hit deep to your opponents baseline
- no need to explain why at this point, just tell them so they will attempt to hit their returns deep
DRILL – Serve – Return – Catch
- place four players on the court, same as in previous drill – all at the baselines
- give a ball to two players – one in the right service court, and one in the left service court on the opposite end
- players will serve to the correct service court
- receiver will let the ball bounce once, then hit it back over the net.
- NOTE: explain to the receivers that their return can be to any spot on the opposite court. Remind them to try to hit returns deep.
- players on serving side will catch the ball
- Again, in order to preserve the integrity of the drill, you must stress that they catch the ball after it is returned!!
- Repeat with the same servers 5 times, then change servers
- Repeat until all four players have served and returned
Step 3 – TWO BOUNCE RULE
Next, we want to continue the progression of a rally by allowing the players to hit a third shot. Therefore, it is time to explain the two bounce rule. Players have already learned that they must let the ball bounce before returning a serve. Simply add that they also have to let the ball bounce before they hit the third shot.
- NOTE: Don’t tell them how or where to hit the third shot. Simply let them hit it.
DRILL – Serve (bounce one)- return (bounce two) – third shot – allow to continue until they fault
- This drill is very simple. Serve the ball, one bounce, return the ball (deep), two bounce, third shot.
- Allow the players to continue hitting shots as if in a rally, as many times as they can before faulting.
- As you are coaching, you might verbally call out “One Bounce” before they hit the return, then “Two Bounce” before they hit the third shot. This will create a pattern in their minds.
- As they continue their rallies, if they go into the kitchen, stop play. Simply explain that it is not allowed, but that they will learn that rule in a future lesson.
By now, your beginners have learned how to start a game (serve) and proceed with a rally. There’s still lots to learn, but that’s enough time for a first lesson.
Although we discussed court position, as they are having fun rallying after the third shot, I begin to casually share some court position advice. For example, I will tell the non-receiving player to come to the kitchen line when their partner is the service receiver. After a rally or two, I will stop them and ask if they realize why I have put them in that position? Sometimes they have already figured out that they don’t have to let the ball bounce by the time it comes to them because the two bounce rule will already have been fulfilled. Often you can see the light bulb go on in their heads, as it starts to make sense! That’s when we know our beginning lessons have been successful.
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Your comments are also welcome and appreciated.
If you are in the Toledo area and would like to join our Beginner/Novice Training sessions, look for our Facebook page (Toledo Pickleball Club) or send me a message through this site! I’ll hook you up! (Summers only)
29 thoughts on “Teaching beginners……start at the beginning”
Hi there. I am teaching beginners on Bowen Island BC. I loved this first lesson/introduction and it worked very well. Do you have any kind of lesson plan for lesson 2? This is a 4 session beginner PB. I would appreciate any plans/tips/drills for moving forward
Thank you 🙏🏼
I actually ONLY teach beginners, and only in this manner. However, as a player and thinking about what newer players need next, I would suggest really working on court position. GET THEM TO THE KITCHEN LINE! This is only accomplished by showing them how much more powerful (not strength, but offensive) they can be when they get to the line. Perhaps just extend their playing from serve, return, third shot (not necessarily teaching third shot drop yet), and being sure they are all at the line by this time. Drills? For one, teaching them to hit their service return a bit higher and deep is very important to keep their opponents back longer, and to give them time to get to the kitchen line. How about playing rally’s without anyone driving the ball? Not really teaching the dink yet, but teaching them how to hit the ball with more touch than power. Rally is over when someone hits the ball hard. I consider the dink to be important, but first they need to learn not to hit the ball hard! Work on that and they will adapt to the dink (or maybe even teach themselves!) much easier and quicker.
Hope this helps!
Pam, I teach Beginners and Intermediate as well. This Lady has great ideas, I would add before addressing any ball on the court. I demonstrate paddle grip 1-10, how the handlle should allow while gripped your index finger to slide between fingers on paddle grip and palm in Continental grip. Then PB stance, legs bent body slightly forward on the balls of your feet pretending there’s a plywood at your knees going up and a plywood sheet on your butt illustrating staying in the same plain. I align students on one baseline to demonstrate swing from the shoulder with non-dominant hand on dominant(paddle hand) shoulder to feel the rotation of the shoulder with wrist locked, elbow bent… feel the shoulder rotation.. I pretend swing (aka ghost, dry, shadow) count to 1003 out loud, so on 1003 they’re swinging at ghost ball 10x– your job observe students for correction. then Split step drill NOT 10X maybe 3x having them return each time to the Baseline to advance with split step again w/ dry swings. I gotta run but i learned all this from watching YOUTUBE PB Beginner videos which I believe I have 100+ hours. It’s fun !! Plz don’t email me, just enjoy watching YOUTUBE as many of us have great ideas but the Pros really do it right.
I have designed a four week, two days a week curriculum if you’d like me to email it to you. I am on my 7th clinic. It seems to works well.
Our local health club has asked three of us to run exactly what you said – a four week, two days a week curriculum. Can you email your curriculum to me? email@example.com. Thank you.
If you don’t mind sharing I would love to take a look. I have been teaching four week sessions once a week for about two years and Would really like to get some fresh ideas.
If you will check the comments after you offered to share your teaching curriculum you will find several requests. Add your email to a comment so people can reach you directly.
Hi Betsy. Can you please email me your 4 week curriculum if you are willing. I have designed my own but your 1st lesson was so helpful I’d love to see more!
Thanks so much!
Hi Pam, I don’t have a 4 week curriculum. Someone commented on my blog and said he had one but did not supply his contact info. I’ll see if I can get it.
Javonni – please provide your email address, several people are interested in your program.
If anyone would like a copy of my 4 week curriculum ( I have designed a separate one for seniors) just email me at: BGPICKLEBALLCLINIC@YAHOO.COM. I will email it back to you.
I use the 50 Drills for Pickleball Handbook as part of it. You can find that book on Amazon.
I would love to receive your 4 week beginner’s curriculum. I have developed one as well but would love to see yours to see how they compare, if you are willing to share it. It would be much appreciated! Thank you!
Javoni, would you mind sharing your curriculum. I have just taken over our PB program in our Park in Florida and would love to see your progression. Kathy
I’d love to take a look at your beginner curriculum.
I would really appreciate it if you could email this to me for I am teaching beginner clinics soon. Thanks
I would love a copy of your curriculum
Read through the comments for the email address of the gentleman who has the clinic.
Javonni, I would greatly appreciate it if you could share your 4week lesson plan, thank youDeborah firstname.lastname@example.org
I would love to receive your curriculum as I am a new teacher. My name is Janice Roosevelt and email is jroosevelt51@gmail.Com. I’m experienced as a personal trainer and group trainer but due to a serious illness of one of our Y Pickleball instructors, they’ve asked me to get certified and teach beginners. I play quite a bit and am Team leader of a fun group (170 members) in Bonita Springs, Florida.
Could you send me your lesson plan? I have a 4 week, but one day series coming up this summer. email@example.com
Sure, I would like to take a look at your curriculum. THANKS!
very helpful presentation
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Nice presentation. A bit different from PPR’s hand to hand, hand to paddle, paddle to paddle progression.
As a new, but not to racket sports, player, I like this teaching service and return first progression!
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enjoyed the post, will try it with a beginer
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My friends and I have been wanting to learn. Thanks for the help.
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I thought your instructions were well put and in good order
I watched a so called 5.0 rated player give free lessons at a grand opening of new courts in a public park. He may be a good/proficient player but horrible at teaching/coaching especially newbies. A long winded spiel about the rules, shot making, dinking, scoring system and on and on for almost 20 mts. all w/o demonstrating what in the heck he was talking about. I think that drove away some who just wanted to try hitting the ball in order to get a feel. He failed to grasp the idea that this was on court instruction and not a classroom session away from the courts, Lol!
Reblogged this on Crazy Pickleball Lady and commented:
As the weather begins to warm up, soon we will be playing outdoors where we will not be as limited with our court times. This will encourage clubs to start teaching more group lessons and new players to seek lessons.
This is a repost of a previous blog post I made detailing the program we use at Toledo Pickleball Club. We had much success with this method and hope you will too!