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Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Ready Position at the Kitchen Line

My earlier post The Ready Position from Mid-Court discussed being prepared early for the next shot by taking a proper stance and paddle position. It included the following caveat:

Being in a ready position applies to all shots all over the court. But the ready position changes slightly at the kitchen due to the nature of the shot you will likely have to defend. You are more likely to get a ball in the air for a volley than the low ball requiring a ground stroke or half-volley you will see deeper in the court.

The change in the ready position at the kitchen line is subtle but meaningful. While the body position remains the same (see the previous post), the paddle no longer is above the wrist and pointed toward the net. The paddle is instead held with a backhand grip and is parallel to the net. Below is a comparison of the 2 positions.

Mid-Court Ready              Kitchen Line Ready

Why the change in paddle position? The simple answer is “reaction time”. When you are positioned at the kitchen line, it is very likely that your opponents are also at their kitchen line. This is as physically close as you can get – meaning this position will allow the ball to get to you in the shortest amount of time. Every tenth of a second in reaction time matters at this distance and speed. The positioning of the paddle face parallel to the net means that it is ready to return a shot without having to turn it.

But why use the backhand grip when that shot is typically the weaker of the 2 sides for most players? The answer is that the backhand is needed to hit balls that are across the body from the paddle arm. From anywhere on the court, a backhand grip allows you to cover all of the area in front of and to the backhand side of your body. At the kitchen line, the backhand grip expands the coverage area to include many returns normally hit with a least those below shoulder level. Remember, you are looking to get your paddle in position in the shortest amount of time. A backhand grip and parallel paddle face allows you to cover a minimum of 270 degrees of the area in front of you just by rotating the paddle with your arm and without moving your wrist. A forehand grip does not allow nearly as much coverage without more moving parts and, thus, more time.

The lone area of vulnerability is above the shoulder of the paddle arm. There is little choice but to flip your wrist to hit a forehand return in that area or, even better, to rotate your body toward the ball in order to hit a forehand volley.

A short video called Pickleball Ready Position at the Non Volley Zone is below that illustrates the concept. Note that Deb Harrison recommends a continental grip instead of the backhand grip. There seems to be some difference of opinion among top players on which grip to use. I recommend the backhand grip because it works best for me. As always, use whatever works for you.

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