How to Move From a 3.5 to 4.0 Pickleball Rating

It’s a common refrain throughout pickleball, advancing from a 3. 5 to a 4.0 pickleball rating.

While many folks, including yours truly, can consistently win games at local open play sessions against other 3.5 players, we struggle to take that next step up. But there are a few paths you can follow to get your game over the hump. Here’s a look at some of the keys that helped propel my progression.

Let Go of Perfection on Third Shots

One of the biggest mental hurdles I had to get over was this obsession with hitting a perfect, low-skimming third-shot drop every time to try to put maximum pressure on my opponents. However, a veteran player gave me some great advice: “You know you can play defense too, right? You don’t have to go for a winner every time.”

I realized I didn’t have to go for broke on every third shot, but could play higher reset shots with topspin to neutralize the point and wait for a better offensive opportunity. This simple adjustment of hitting more conservative third shots helped me start winning more transition points against stronger players. Exercise patience to get that 4.0 pickleball rating.

4.0 pickleball rating

Improve Court Positioning and Movement

Coming from tennis, where I relished my younger days bashing from the baseline, I tended to overhit balls, trying to end points too quickly from the baseline. However, as I made a concerted effort to get more efficient at resetting the point, rushing up to the kitchen line quickly, and then looking for opportunities to apply pressure from the advantageous kitchen position, I started to win more.

Consistently getting to an offensive position at the kitchen line was a major key to picking up more wins at the 4.0 level.

Technical Emphasis on Backhand and Dinking

Two major areas of focus for me were improving my backhand, including developing a reliable two-handed backhand shot, and dialing in my dinking consistency. For too long, my backhand had been a major weakness that better opponents would attack relentlessly.

Shoring up these key technical areas solidified my game.

Develop Patience and Smart Strategy

In addition to the physical and technical adjustments, I put a lot of emphasis on developing patience and intelligent game planning from the mental side of things. Rather than always looking to go for huge bangers, I focused more on smart shot selection, worked on holding my position at the non-volley zone, and looked for high-percentage opportunities to apply pressure.

pickleball practice

A great dink can’t be sped up, so honing your dinking skills to neutralize points when needed and waiting for the perfect offensive chance to present itself is often a sound plan. The journey to a 4.0 pickleball rating is all about finding more consistency, cleaning up leaks in your game, and developing a more cerebral strategy for constructing points. This is chess, not checkers, friends. 

Other Keys to Grow From a 3.5 to a 4.0 Pickleball Rating

Some other potential focus areas for players looking to make the jump from 3.5 to 4.0 include:

  • Getting low and hitting volleys out of the air at the kitchen line
  • Removing unnecessary backswings and using more compact strokes
  • Drilling resets, speedups, and transition scenarios to ingrain them
  • Using topspin and spin variation on all shots
  • Recognizing unattackable balls and resetting rather than going for ill-advised winners
  • Finding a committed practice partner to drill scenarios and situations
  • Improving footwork and court positioning
  • Learning percentage plays against stronger opponents
pickleball player

How Long Does Going From a 3.5 to a 4.0 Level Pickleball Player Take?

For dedicated players who make pickleball a regular priority, put in focused practice time, and get some level of coaching/instruction, most can leap from a solid 3.5 level to playing at a 4.0 level within 6 months to a year. For more casual recreational players, it may take 1-2 years to ingrain the technical and strategic improvements required. But a highly gifted and committed athlete could potentially make that progression even faster, in as little as 3-6 months.

It’s been so satisfying to feel my game progress from being stuck at 3.5 to now playing at a 4.0 level consistently. With some key technical refinements, mental adjustments, and strategic discipline, that jump is definitely attainable for dedicated players. The keys are putting in the practice time, watching the game at a deeper level, and having the self-awareness to identify and clean up holes in your game. 

You can do it!

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