Pickleball is a fun paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong. It is played with a perforated plastic ball and paddles on a badminton-sized court with a tennis-style net.
One aspect of pickleball that sometimes confuses new players is where the server’s partner should stand during the serve. This article will provide a comprehensive overview of the proper positioning and strategic options for the server’s partner in pickleball.
Unlike in tennis, the serving team’s partner in pickleball is not restricted to standing diagonally across from the receiver. The server’s partner can stand anywhere on their side of the court when the serve is being hit.
This flexibility allows the serving team some strategic versatility depending on their objectives and the score. Generally, the most common place for the server’s partner to stand is near the non-volley zone line. But they can also move closer to the net or baseline depending on the situation.
Proper positioning is important so the server’s partner is ready to cover the court after the return. This article will break down the guidelines, pros and cons of different positions, and strategic considerations for where the server’s partner should stand in pickleball.
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Serving Rules in Pickleball
First, let’s review the basic serving rules in pickleball:
- The server must keep both feet behind the baseline when serving.
- The ball must be hit underhand and below waist level on the serve.
- The serve must be made diagonally into the opposite service court.
- Only one serve attempt is allowed, except during the two initial serves to start each side out.
The server’s partner does not have any foot position restrictions and can stand wherever they want on their side when the serve happens. This gives the serving team some options for where to place the server’s partner strategically.
Common Positioning – At the Non-Volley Zone Line
The most common place for the server’s partner to stand is near the non-volley zone line, roughly even with the player receiving the serve.
This position allows the partner to immediately cover any returns hit deep to the baseline or angle shots toward the sidelines. It provides a central starting position to move forward to the net or backward to defend the court.
Standing near the non-volley zone line puts the server’s partner in good position for poaching any shallow returns aimed at the server. It also lets them quickly transition up to the net to take an offensive position if the serve puts their opponents on defense.
- Centrally located to cover shots to either sideline or down the line
- Close to net for quick transitions forward
- Able to poach shallow returns
- Balanced starting position
- Gives up space in the backcourt to protect against hard hit returns
- Less ability to defend lobs or high returns up the middle
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Moving Closer to the Net
Some server partners like to position themselves closer to the net, often inside the non-volley zone nearer the center line.
This allows them to immediately attack any short returns aimed at the server’s forehand. It can surprise the returning team and put them on defense.
Standing closer to the net requires quick reflexes and solid volleys to capitalize on the opportunity for rapid exchanges after the serve return. This aggressive positioning is best for teams with strong net play and poaching skills.
- Immediately seizes the attack on weak returns
- Puts pressure on returner to hit deep returns
- Strong net play can dominate the point
- Gives up court coverage on deep returns
- Requires superior net skills to capitalize
- More vulnerable to lobs and passing shots
Moving Back Toward the Baseline
Some players stand deeper than the non-volley zone position – back closer to the baseline or even with their feet on the baseline.
This allows them to defend against hard-hit returns aimed for the corners. The extra time getting to deep shots can enable them to return balls that would be winners from the normal position.
Moving back can also create space for the server to hit aggressive first volleys coming forward after the serve return. It’s a defensive positioning favored by teams looking to extend points.
- Provides more time to chase down deep returns
- Lets server attack returns from mid-court
- Defends court area better
- Slow to transition to net up the middle
- Harder to poach returns aimed at server
- Gives up control of the net
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Strategic Positioning Based on Score & Server
The ideal position for the server’s partner may also change based on the score in the match and which player is serving.
For example, late in a close game the returners may start chipping soft returns at the server’s feet, hoping for a weak reply to put away. In this scenario, the server’s partner standing closer to the net has a better chance of poaching those returns.
If the stronger server is trying to pull out a close game, their partner may want to stand deeper to defend returns. Whereas if the weaker server is trying to hold serve, standing closer to attack could be a better strategy.
Reading the match situation and positioning themselves in the optimal spot is an important skill for the server’s partner to contribute to their team’s success.
It’s helpful for the server and their partner to communicate clearly and confirm positioning plans before the start of each point.
A simple “You take the forehand” or “I’m staying back this serve” keeps both players on the same page. Signals like pointing or hand gestures can also quickly indicate intentions if verbal communication isn’t possible.
Assigning coverage zones, poaching intentions, and ruling out conflicts is key. Adjustments can always be made as the point unfolds, but starting organized gives the serving team an advantage.
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The server’s partner in pickleball has flexibility to stand in different positions during the serve. While returning the ball, the partner’s most common place is near the non-volley zone line. But they can also move forward or backward based on strategy and the situation.
Communication, poaching skills, defensive abilities and reading the match score all factor into optimal positioning. Awareness of the pros and cons for each placement allows the server’s partner to make smart choices that increase their team’s chances of winning the point.
Proper positioning takes practice, but is one way the server’s partner can strategically contribute to their doubles team’s pickleball success!