Segment 1: A Good Serve
Think about it. What would you answer?
At a clinic, voices will usually call out one after another, “Fast.”
“Lots of spin.”
“Over the net.” (Always good.)
“In the court.” (Also extremely important.)
I’ll listen, inviting more and more answers until nobody’s got anything left to add.
And then I’ll ask another question.
“So, if you are playing against an opponent who is able to return a hard, fast, or spin-y serve, then what’s the advantage of hitting hard, fast, or spin-y?”
People are usually a little stumped at this point.
What IS the advantage of that kind of serve, if you know your opponent is capable of returning it?
Slowly it dawns on people: There isn’t much of an advantage…
Then I remind people about the #1 Rule of Smart Pickleball™.
The #1 Rule of Smart Pickleball™. Always choose the shot that buys you more time so you can get into position and be ready for the next shot.
So then I ask, “What kind of serve would buy you the most time to prepare for the next shot?”
And the answers I get are something like, “Slow.”
“A lob serve.”
At which point, I get to congratulate my brilliant students, because that is exactly the type of serve that we will then spend the next 20-25 minutes practicing: slow, deep, and lob-like.
When people realize that I am advocating for a high, deep, “loopy” serve, as I call it, their first concern is usually, “But I love my fast serve!”
And I say, “Well, then keep it! Remember, I’m not saying anything I teach is THE way, I’m just showing you A way. Practice the high, loopy serve today, and simply add it as another weapon to your arsenal. Mix them up when you play, and pay attention to the results.”
Then I’ll ask, “So, what’s the advantage of a slow serve?”
Someone who’s been paying close attention will answer, “It gives you more time to get ready for the next shot.”
“Absolutely,” I answer. “And what else?”
Now they have to do a little more thinking. Eventually, someone guesses, or I point out, that when you hit a hard shot, the opponent really just needs to block the ball and the momentum will carry it back over the net.
When you hit a slow serve, not only are you saving yourself a little energy, but it forces your opponent to have to expend some energy to give the ball enough “oomph” to go over the net.
Then I dig a little deeper and ask, “Now, a slow serve gives you more time to get ready and makes your opponent work harder, but why make it a high, loopy, lob-like serve?”
With some more back-and-forth discussion, we’ll usually get to the answer: A high serve bounces higher than a low, slow serve.
Most people are ready to hit a return of serve that is somewhere around their knee to waist level. But a high, loopy serve will often bounce above the waist, almost to chest level, which sometimes forces people to “chicken wing” the shot, where their elbow is out to the side and their wrist is somewhere near their armpit. In this awkward position, they are lucky to return the ball at all let alone make an excellent return.
Then we go on. “…And why do you want to hit the serve deep?” I ask.
That brings us to Rule #2 of Smart Pickleball™.
Rule #2 of Smart Pickleball™: Always choose the shot that keeps your opponents toward the back of the court.
Now, of course, against some players who are particularly immobile, a short serve may win you point after point, but for one thing, it’s kind of obnoxious to do that in recreational play.
More importantly, against better players, a short serve is just an open invitation for your opponents to go directly on the offensive, putting you immediately on the defensive. If a good player sees that you consistently hit your serve short, not only will they be ready for it, but you’ll be giving them a head start on getting up to the net.
The deeper you can hit your serve, while still reliably keeping it in play, the farther back you push your opponent from the net. An opponent who is not used to your deep serves may even have to take a step backward in order to hit the ball, which again, keeps them from hitting as good of a return.
Around this point in the clinic, we’ll start to get into the specifics of how high and deep the serve should go.
I tell them to aim for the peak of their lob to be above the opponent’s kitchen line, and about 10’-12’ high. This will ensure 32 Prem Carnot the ball lands deep enough (about 2’-3’ from the opponent’s back line) and that it will have a nice high bounce.
Because we usually have about six people per court, I’ll bring up a couple volunteers to show how the drill rotation will work. I know that at first you might be scratching your head, thinking Six people per court! How does that work?! But I promise you, I’ve done many clinics this way now and it works just beautifully.
For this drill, they simply line up three on each end of the court and take turns serving. Of course, I’ll ask them to switch from the even court (right-hand side of the court) to the odd court (left-hand side) about halfway through our allotted time.
Now, if you want to get a feel for the physical workout my students get during an actual clinic, from the comfort of your own chair, simply flex the left and right sides of your derrière about 100 times each as you read through this.
(Just joking! If you really want to get a feel for the physical workout my students experience, get your derrière off your chair, out on the pickleball court, and start practicing!!)