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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Don't Strangle Your Paddle

Rip and tear and strangle the grip...

There are times when a stranglehold grip is appropriate...such as mountain climbing or climbing a rope. But pickleball is not one of those times. This is something with which I still struggle in cometition. During warm-ups and hitting practice, I can lightly grip the paddle and consistently hit soft shots time after time. But that consistency changes as the intensity of a real game increases. My grip on the paddle seems to tighten and results are deeper drop shots and dinks. That is not good for either me or my partner.

I have read and heard coaches talk about a grip tension scale of 1-10 and associate specific shots with points on that scale. Shorter and softer shots are on the low end as the grip should be looser in order to absorb more of the ball's energy. Longer but soft shots, like a drop shot, should be somewhere in the middle of the scale as the ball must have some energy to cover greater distances. A groundstroke hit with power requires maximum energy and the grip should be tightest on these shots.

Sarah Ansboury wrote about her ideas on grip tension in a blog titled Check Your Grip Pressure. An excerpt from that article is shown below.

Coming From Tennis

Many pickleball players are receiving instruction from former tennis players. Unfortunately, some of these instructors are used to holding the racket tightly and suggest the same is needed in pickleball. As an ex-tennis professional that irks me! Part of my concern is the development of tennis elbow. If you see players with compression contraptions on their wrists or below their elbows, they typically are trying to alleviate elbow pain. Often times, by just loosening their grip pressure the pain will subside.

Secondly, we need to acknowledge that we are hitting a very light ball, with a fairly small paddle. You can easily control the pickleball paddle without a death grip.

Finally, when a player holds a tennis racket too tightly we can compensate by changing the string pressure. In pickleball we can’t adjust that, so we need to adjust our grip pressure.

Pickleball and Golf

Frankly, there are many similarities between how one grips a pickleball paddle and a golf club.
  • As you grip the paddle, I want you to hold it in your fingers…not your palm.
  • Secondly, recall the old golfer’s phrase, “Hold it as you would a bird. Don’t let the bird fly away, but do not hold it so tight that you crush it.”

When I think about my grip pressure, I use a numeric scale from 1 to 10 with 10 being the tightest. For softer shots such as a dink, or third shot drop, my grip pressure will be a 4 or 5. When hitting a return of serve or hard volley, it will be a 7 or 8. Never would I get fully to a 10! This is difficult and takes a lot of practice. Often what you see is players with the same pressure the whole point, making it difficult to control the ball. By gripping too tight they are creating extra force rather than focusing on finesse.  Rule of thumb is if your knuckles are white you are holding too tight!

Grip Pressure Exercise

When I am working with a student that struggles with holding too tight I suggest a little exercise. I have both of us take three fingers (thumb, index and middle finger) and gently hold the bottom of the handle. Then we hit forehand dinks. Concentrate on keeping your shoulder relaxed and drop the tip of the paddle down toward the ground. Your arm should be extended and the face of the paddle pointing towards your partner.

As you dink notice that you can only keep the ball low and slow is by pushing the paddle from your shoulder. If the face of the paddle starts pointing up, you are using your wrist and likely the ball will fly higher than you intended. This is all about simplifying and recognizing how your fingers give your paddle enough support to let your shoulders and paddle do the work. You want that paddle to stay in front of your body the whole time, basically just catching the ball on the paddle and then pushing toward the target.

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