9 Beginner Pickleball Tips to Break Into the Sport

Ready to join the pickleball movement, but not sure where to start? These tips will help anyone break into one of the fastest growing sports in America.

Published August 3, 2023
Man smiling at camera while he plays pickleball

Maybe you've been hearing about pickleball for a while now, and you're intrigued. It looks like fun! But how exactly do you get involved and learn to play? Speaking as an official pickleball addict, I'm here to help you get started.

My journey began in 2015 when my mother-in-law purchased a set of wooden paddles and a pickleball net. My husband and I played together for a few years, then one day, we showed up to the right place at the right time, and were invited to play drop-in pickleball with total strangers. That's when hobby turned into obsession by a happy coincidence. Now, pickleball is a part of my identity -- and I want to spread the joy of this sport to anyone who will listen.

Tips to Start Playing Pickleball for Beginners

If you don't personally know someone who plays pickleball, it can be hard to know how to start playing the sport. But if you're ready to start reaping the benefits of pickleball, the good news is that you just have to know where to look. There are lots of pickleball options out there, and more are coming as this fast-growing sport continues to gain traction.

Caution: Once you catch the pickleball bug, it's likely to spread to your friends and family.

1. Watch Videos & Read Articles to Learn How to Play

Before you head out to drop-in play, try to familiarize yourself with the basic rules of pickleball, which can be tricky to grasp. For example, a big one is that you can't stand in the kitchen and volley the ball out of the air (aka, the non-volley zone). You also have to let the ball bounce on the return of serve (so you can't serve and volley).

It's a little bit complicated, but I find this video by PlayPickleball.com helpful in covering the basics:

You'll also need to learn pickleball scoring, which is probably the toughest part. Once you've got these rules down, you're ready to play!

2. Scout Out Local Places to Play

Some rec centers will have indoor pickleball courts on gym floors, which is a good way for beginners to get involved and find beginner play. Or, you can see if there are any outdoor courts in your area.

Apps like Places2Play or PicklePlay can guide you towards local courts, but they might not catch all of the options. Asking around or googling pickleball courts in your area is another great option. At public courts, look for signs with rotational guidelines and etiquette to make sure you're following protocol (and you can always ask if you're unsure!).

Quick Tip

Private facilities will usually let you reserve courts so you can play with your own group, or they'll offer various levels of play based on skill, so you can join a group that fits your level.

3. Grab a Friend to Play With

I'm lucky that my husband is my main pickleball buddy, but if your S.O. isn't interested in pickling, you can always ask a friend, coworker, or family member if they'll go hit around with you so you can get a feel for the game.

Two women friends having fun at pickleball

4. Ask Others How They Got Started

If you know someone who plays but they don't live nearby, you can always ask them how they got started playing. They might have recommendations for a coach, paddle, or place to play -- and I can pretty much guarantee they'll be SO excited you're asking them about it.

5. You Don't Need a Fancy Paddle Right Away

Some people play one game of pickleball and then throw down $200 on the best paddle, but that's not necessary. We started with the cheapest wooden paddles, a month later upgraded to middle-of-the-road paddles, then a year or so in we moved on to higher quality ones (as we became higher-quality players).

There is definitely a difference between wooden and composite paddles -- I'm just saying you don't need to drop hundreds of dollars before you've learned to play.

6. Join a Local Pickleball Facebook Page

I always tell newbies who are looking for play to search for a Facebook group for pickleball in their area. These are great because you can ask questions and get answers on when certain groups meet up to play, or you can find other beginners who are also looking to play.

7. Learn Basic Pickleball Strategy for Beginners

Okay, you don't have to get too serious or competitive right off the bat. But it's good to note that doubles pickleball isn't like doubles tennis. You won't be playing front and back with your partner -- you'll both want to eventually be at the net. If you stay at the baseline, you'll probably notice you're losing a lot of points. So get to the net!

To do so, you'll want to know what a third shot drop is, and eventually try your hand at dinking (a low, soft shot into the other team's kitchen that they hopefully can't attack). Hitting the ball hard in pickleball is lots of fun, but eventually you'll want to have a well-rounded game.

8. Find a Pickleball Instructor

Pickleball instructor teaching group of students

Since the sport is growing so quickly, more and more pickleball pros and instructors are available across the country. They'll teach you not only the rules but also help you with technique and strategy. You can even do group lessons or sign up with a friend, which makes it a little more fun. It's a worthy investment if you think you'll want to play pickleball for a long time (...you will).

Quick Tip

If you want to learn what skill level you are, instructors can assess you so you can play with others at your same level and sign up for tournaments.

9. Set Up a Court at Home

If you have the driveway space, map out a pickleball court and mark it down with tape or chalk and a net - now you've got an at-home court to play at! This is what we did at my mother-in-law's condo when she got her net, and it was tons of fun. We still do it, in fact, and the whole family gets a chance to play.

Ready to Get Out There and Pickle?

With so many avenues to start playing pickleball, hopefully you now feel confident enough to go for it. I felt shy about joining doubles groups originally, but it was easier with my husband by my side. And when I look at how much my life has changed because of pickleball and how many friends I've made along the way, it's certainly one of the best things that ever happened to me. Before you know it, you'll need some pickleball captions for your latest Instagram posts.

Now go and be free, grasshopper -- you'll be Erneing your local senior citizens in no time! Or they'll be Erneing you...

9 Beginner Pickleball Tips to Break Into the Sport