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Thursday, February 23, 2017

Reinventing My Game - The Grip

Get a grip, but not around my neck...

Change is hard. Change means admitting that you are doing things wrong. Change means accepting that things will be worse before they get better. Change means stepping away and stepping back. Change means work through practice. But change also means a quest to improve. Therefore, it is necessary for most of us...since we are not the perfect pickleball player.

I decided in December that some parts of my game needed to change in order to get to the level I wanted. I started studying the basics of the game even more than usual. I studied serves, groundstrokes, volleys, and dinks. I wondered why I could not perform some of the shots I studied. Ultimately, I learned that I needed to start with the most basic fundamental of the game - the way I grip the paddle.

Before I get to the changes, it would be helpful to explain where I was. My preference was always to regrip the paddle from a forehand to a backhand grip as I moved forward to the kitchen line. I think that was dictated by how the paddle was placed in my hand. I used a grip that Prem Carnot calls the "claw" grip, where the paddle handle was perpendicular to my fingers.

This grip resulted in the paddle being perpendicular to my arm as it dropped for a groundstroke, a dink, or a low volley. I was unable to point the paddle toward the court without contorting the wrist unnaturally, making low shots difficult and shots like Sarah Ansboury's third-shot drop impossible. 

The grip also seemed to limit my power and ability to add least when using a continental grip. Switching grips between forehand and backhand remedied that problem. But having to switch grips in mid-rally presents other problems. It takes time to switch grips and quick volley rallies can result in the wrong grip...with the ball being directed to bad places. This was becoming more of a problem as my opponents' skill levels increased.

As a result, my first change decision was to move to a continental grip. The continental grip provides equal ability to hit both backhand and forehand shots without regripping. In my earlier post "The Grip" I described the the test for a proper continental grip as:
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.

As I have studied more and seen the shape of many clinic students' hands, I would change that description to:
The fleshy part of the hand between the thumb and the index finger lies across the flat top of the handle. The base knuckle of the thumb and the base knuckle of the index finger should lie in the area of the smaller bevel on each side of the flat top. The wrist lies over or parallel to the paddle handle and not behind nor in front.
The key part of that description is the location of the knuckles as highlighted with the blue arrows below. The knuckles should be located on the small bevels adjacent to the top surface. This allows the fleshy area between the knuckles to span the top surface as depicted in red. The grip also results in the paddle being perpendicular to the court when extending your arm with a natural (uncontorted) wrist angle.

But the decision to move to a continental grip meant another big change - from the claw grip to the handshake grip. As I already stated, the combination of the claw and continental grips was not working for me. It was too weak and precluded adding spin. I studied lots of top players by taking screen shots and blowing up their grips. The handshake grip was dominant among the top players. So I made the decision to change.

How does the handshake grip differ from the claw grip? The difference is how the paddle lays in the hand. Instead of crossing the hand at a right angle, the paddle handle angles from the index finger knuckle toward the center of the wrist. The handle lies between the fleshy areas below the little finger and the thumb and mostly against the fleshy outer palm. The top edge presses against the fleshy base of the thumb.

A comparison of the claw grip versus the handshake grip is shown below.

The difference is noticeable. The paddle seems to a natural extension of the arm rather than an awkward addition.

This small change has made some dramatic differences in my play. Those will be discussed in future posts.

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