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Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Backhand Ground Stroke

The forehand groundstroke is the most common shot for most players in the area between the baseline and mid-court as I discussed in The Forehand Ground Stroke. But no one can cover their entire area using only the forehand stroke. Your opponents know that your forehand is your stronger shot so they will make every effort to hit their shot to your other side. Therefore, you must know how to cover that area with a backhand groundstroke.

The movements for a backhand groundstroke have many similarities to a forehand groundstroke. All you do is reverse the direction your body is facing. The forehand requires your paddle shoulder and foot to the back. The backhand requires those parts of the body in the front. But the similarities exist in the motion. Your body should turn so your front shoulder is aimed at your target. Your weight should shift to your back foot. Your paddle should be drawn back in the backswing. Your weight should shift forward onto the front foot simultaneously with the paddle swing toward the ball. Your paddle should follow through toward the target. All of these are identical to the forehand groundstroke motion.
There is a big difference in the feel of a backhand versus a forehand. The forehand is a more natural feel, with a sense of pushing the ball forward. In contrast, the backhand has a feel of pulling the ball. Pushing is normally stronger than pulling because your body weight supports the motion. But technique and timing can overcome the natural weakness of the backhand by using your body weight properly. Let’s go through the motion of the shot.

 any movement, you should be starting from the ready position, generally the position described in the The Ready Position from Mid-Court as shown in frame 1 above. The instant that you recognize the backhand is required, the first action should be to take the paddle back to the backswing position. Do this before moving to the ball. Early paddle preparation is a key element of the shot. Bringing the paddle back should cause your body to get into the proper starting position – weight on the back foot with your body turning so the front shoulder points to the target as shown in frame 2 above. If you hold the paddle face with your non-paddle hand as I do, that hand can be used to pull the paddle back into position. Using your non-paddle hand in such a manner ensures the body turn is made. The paddle should be at or below waist level when brought back and the non-paddle hand should be extended to the back for balance.

The stroke includes a weight shift from your back foot to your front foot and may or may not be accompanied by a step with the front foot, depending on the timing of the movement to the ball. The forward swing of the paddle should occur simultaneously with your weight shift. The combination of the swing speed and the inertia of the weight should be sufficient to drive the ball to the depth of your desired shot. This movement is shown in frames 3-4 above.

The paddle should be perpendicular to the court at contact such that the ball crosses the net as low as you feel comfortable. An alternate choice would be to "open" your paddle face by slightly tilting the top backwards, causing the ball to be hit with an upward arc. This may be necessary if your backhand remains too weak to drive the ball low. Both paddle positions mean that low balls require you get low by bending your knees. Another factor to be considered is the grip used for the backhand. In The Grip, I discussed rotating the paddle in your hand to more easily position the paddle face in a perpendicular position. Since I use a continental grip in the ready position, I need to adjust the grip in the preparation stage. I use my non-paddle hand – which is already gripping the paddle face – to rotate the paddle as I pull the paddle back.

Your eyes should be focused only on the ball from the time it is struck by your opponent until you are in the midst of your follow-through after contacting the ball. The single biggest reason for a mishit ball is taking your eyes off the ball. The contact point for your shot should be in front of your body parallel to your front foot or knee as shown in frame 4 above. The paddle should continue past the point of contact and toward the target into the follow-through as the arm is extended to shoulder height as shown in frame 5 above and the photo below. 

The basic backhand is struck such that the paddle is an extension of the arm. This means that there is no wrist action. Do not flick your wrist to try to change direction. Do not spin your wrist to try to impart spin on the ball. Mastery of a basic flat backhand with the ability to hit a directional and depth target is essential to winning play.

The final action of a backhand ground stroke is to return to a ready position. This action could take place where the ball is struck or, if your return allows, after you have moved toward or reached the kitchen line as shown in frame 7 above. Your objective should be to hit a shot that gives you time to move forward. It helps me to be more efficient in that forward move to take advantage of the weight shift that occurs during the shot. I use that inertia to “drag” my back leg forward and into the approach to the net as shown in frame 6 above.

Two short videos are attached below to show the stroke mechanics. The first is a basic training session from Beginner Pickleball Program called Backhand. The second, from Deb Harrison called Mastering the Backhand, goes into more detail, including adding spin, a subject to be covered in a separate post.

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