8 Lessons From a Year on the Pickleball Court

Deep into my second year of playing pickleball, I proudly report that I have not experienced a sophomore slump! However, some lessons took longer to sink in than I would have hoped. Today, I share those with you, hoping you learn from my stubbornness and evolve your game quicker than I did.

Power becomes less relevant when playing 4.0+ players

When I first started playing pickleball, I thought using as much power as possible was the key to winning. I leaned heavily on the same powerful forehand that helped me back in my tennis days. 

But as I improved and began facing 4.0 and higher players, I realized power alone is not enough. At higher levels, it becomes all about ball placement, spin, and strategic shot selection.

If you are at the start of your pickleball journey, work on control and finesse over brute force if you want to excel beyond a beginner level. 

Power still has its place, but it can’t be relied on against experienced players.

An open paddle face is helpful at the non-volley zone

Keeping the paddle face open helps accurately redirect the ball even on quick reaction shots off hard-hit returns. When I first started playing, I would often miss hit balls that came directly at me. I was also trying to be too perfect on my dinks, obsessing over sharp angles. By adjusting my paddle face placement, I’m able to punch volleys back with control. At the very least, I keep rallies alive longer, increasing my chances of winning.

Don’t waste too much effort on power servers, just keep it deep

During my freshman year as a pickleball player, I thought my fast, powerful serve was a weapon. But trying to overpower opponents with speed alone became exhausting and ineffective. I eventually realized the element of surprise matters more than pace. Now, I focus more on mixing up my serve placement, spin, and speed. Learning to keep your opponents guessing with a diverse mix of serve types and locations is the key to success. Save raw power for closing out key points rather than emphasizing it on every serve. 

Accept that people will play more than you and improve at a more rapid pace

Like many sports, the more you play, the better you become. I can dedicate about 4 hours a week to playing pickleball. But many of the people I play with quadruple that output!

I’ve had to accept that I can’t compare my rate of improvement to others.

Drilling is fundamental to advancement

When I first learned pickleball, I was eager to play full matches. But as I attempt to break through the 4.0 level, I have come to terms that drilling proper techniques is a prerequisite for meaningful advancement. Don’t make my mistake of minimizing practice in favor of games. Embrace the journey of long-term improvement over the immediate gratification of winning. Consider adding a pickleball machine so you can practice alone, too!

pickleball machine

Don’t rush towards the net right away

When I was starting out, I couldn’t wait to charge the net anytime I made a decent shot. The pickleball workshops I attended all preached getting to the NVZ as quickly as possible. 

However, my eagerness backfired as quality opponents passed me with well-placed groundstrokes or caught my feet mid-court. Move forward judiciously based on ball placement and control, not reflexively on hope. 

I thought I could play with just one paddle, but technology advancements say otherwise

When I first started playing, I committed to using a single paddle. If not, I knew I would fall victim to the aggressive marketing tactics of pickleball manufacturers. It was more about play consistency than money. But as pickleball equipment technology has advanced, you don’t want to bring a knife to a gun fight. 

Don’t handicap your advancement by resisting modern equipment. A dude I play with just retired his wooden paddle, and he is playing so much better!

While it may pinch your wallet occasionally, regularly adopting cutting-edge paddles lets your skills shine rather than fighting unnecessarily against technology.

Since folks sometimes ask, I started with a Prince Response Pro, then graduated to an Engage Pursuit MX, and recently adopted an Engage Pursuit MX PRO.


Engage Pursuit MX Pro Jessie Irvine Edition Paddle. Fantastic paddle, now with an equally awesome colorway! #pickleball #engagepickleball #pickleballtiktok

♬ Oh Yeah – Ferris Bueller

Breathing between points to relax and slow down my heart is a must

Over the past year I have noticed that I finish intense rallies and go right into the next point. After a while though, I’d make careless mistakes as my heart raced. While a rapid pace can be used to your advantage, I need to regularly remind myself that breathing deeply between points is critical to slow down my heart and refocus. Be as disciplined about breathing techniques as stroke mechanics, and you will regulate your emotions on the court and improve your odds of victory.

Since I started playing in March 2022, I have learned so much, but these are the eight lessons that jumped out at me. I hope they are helpful as you pursue your pickleball passions.

As always, if you want to talk pickleball, contact me or leave a comment!

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