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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Grip

Edit to this post - one reason this blog was started to document my learning process. This post was written early in the process. I later learned a lot more about the grip and wrote about in Reinventing My Game - The Grip and Continental Grip. Some of the concepts in this post are still good but be sure to read the others for a complete understanding of the grip.

There are lots of moving parts to the pickleball swing – pointing your shoulder, setting your feet, swinging through the ball, etc. None of that matters if something as innocuous as your grip has your paddle pointing upward, downward, or sideways. A proper grip helps to possible the shot you want.

Generally, the proper paddle position should be perpendicular to the court in order to propel the ball forward as low as possible over the net. Your grip should facilitate that angle. A significant complicating factor is that ball-striking occurs on both sides of your body. A forehand stroke occurs when hitting the ball on the same side as the hand holding the paddle. A backhand stroke occurs on the opposite side. The different strokes require the body to twist in different ways and puts different stresses on your wrist to keep the proper perpendicular position (say that 3 times fast!).

The simplest grip is one that never requires a hand-position change regardless of the stroke. That grip is called a “Continental” grip. An easy way to adapt to the Continental grip is to extend your hand like you would to shake hands. Then lay the paddle handle in your hand along your palm as you would when you are gripping a hammer. (For that reason, this also called a “Hammer” grip.) The test for a proper Continental grip is that the “V” formed between the thumb and forefinger should be centered on top edge of the paddle as shown below – using a tennis racquet grip for clarity.

The Continental grip is recommended for beginning players because it is versatile, good for low balls, good for touch shots, good for fast exchanges at the net, and, of course, can be used without hand-position changes throughout the entire range of strokes. Many highly-ranked players also use the Continental grip due to the speed of the top-level play and their preference to avoid changing paddle position. However, some players may find that the Continental grip no longer suits their advancing game due to its disadvantages – less power and spin. 

In order to generate desired additional power and topspin, adjusting your grip to shot-specific positions may help. Even though the adjustments are minor, changing from the Continental grip requires you constantly change your grip between different stokes. Mastering this technique takes lots of time and practice to rotate the paddle into the correct position for the next shot. Be prepared for an adjustment period if you decide to change to these grips.

The forehand stroke can be facilitated by using the “Eastern Forehand” grip. The backhand stroke can be facilitated by the “Eastern Backhand” grip. The best way to show the difference between the grips is by looking at the racquet grip itself. The racquet grip is an octagon as shown below.

As already discussed, the “V” in your hand should be centered on side 1 for the Continental grip. For a stronger forehand, the racquet should be rotated counterclockwise in your hand until your “V” approaches side 2. For a stronger backhand, the racquet should be rotated clockwise in your hand until your “V” approaches side 8. There is no hard and fast rule about the degree of rotation. It becomes a matter of comfort and personal preference. My preference is that my forehand stroke is just a slight adjustment from the Continental grip I use to serve. But my backhand stroke involves a much higher degree of rotation – to the point where my “V” is centered on side 8. The end result has been that my backhand is now my preferred stroke.

The following video by Mark Renneson of Third Shot Sports called Using Effective Grips in Pickleball discusses the strengths of the Continental grip.

There is one other method to help with the backhand vs forehand grip dilemma – switching hands. Some players have mastered the art of ambidexterity where they can play with either hand. These players switch the paddle between hands during play. Needless to say this method takes a lot of practice - both to master play with the weaker hand and to accomplish the switch without dropping the paddle while doing so quickly enough to manage the pace of the ball coming at you. I can’t recommend anyone use this method…mostly because I hate playing them.

The final area of discussion about the grip is finger position. The preferred grip is to have the fingers and thumb wrap the racquet grip. Many players extend their index fingers (or more) onto the paddle face. This does provide some benefit in that it stabilizes the paddle when absorbing a hit. But the extended fingers (or misplaced thumb) will prove detrimental as players advance as it takes away power. It also can get in the way when that face of the paddle is used to strike the ball with a backhand.

In summary, this post discusses the technical aspects of the pickleball grip. Use the information to understand how the grip impacts your stroke and to make adjustments. The bottom line is that everyone should use the grip that works for them.


  1. A little confused. You first stated for a more powerful forehand rotate V to two, backhand to 8. Then below that you stated for your backhand you rotate the V to 2. Just looking for clarification. Thank you

    1. Savoi, That's a really good catch. I obviously made a typo and I will fix it. The backhand grip should be closer to position 8 and not position 2. The stats for my blog show that this post is one of the most read and no one ever pointed to that conflict before.

      By the way, on February 23-24, 2017, I had 2 new posts (Reinventing My Game - The Grip and Continental Grip) about the grip that revised my recommendations from this post. I learned a lot in the 16 months between posts.

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