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CJ Johnson
Tony Roig
Tony Roig

Pickleball Paddle Position-It’s NOT Just the Paddle!

There are several schools of thought regarding the pickleball paddle position, but they’re all focused on a small piece of the pie. If you’re past 50, it’s not only the paddle that matters.

Similar to the other sports I coach golf and skiing, the advice varies depending on who’s giving it. Step on the courts or watch a couple of pickleball videos, you’ll likely be told different things about the same shot.

We hear a lot about the paddle position. One coach says to keep your paddle up. Another coach says your paddle position doesn’t matter. Does it? Yes!

After the dink footwork video, one of the frequent contributors to this channel made me think more about movement efficiency for players over 50. Thank you, Dale! When we discuss the ready position, the paddle is essential, but it’s just a piece of the overall picture.

Answer this question, are your reactions slower, faster, or the same as they were ten years ago? Put the answer in the comments below this post.

If you’re not sure, step on the court with someone of equal skills ten years your junior and then answer. Most of us will say slower.

While it may be hard to accept that we’re changing, the good news is by using our bodies efficiently; we can get quicker. That means we need to look at the entire ready position, not just the paddle.

Before we talk about the rest of the body, let’s get the paddle thing out of the way because it can impact everything else. Here’s what four-time US Open Champ Laura Fenton Kovanda says about paddle position.

“People will say, oh my gosh, this guy has such quick hands or this lady has such quick hands and sometimes they do. But a lot of times, they have quick hands cause their paddle is in the correct position at all times. And I don’t think most players realize that a paddle should be in a position to always attack or block versus a lot of paddles dropped down by their legs.”

If the paddle needs to be positioned to attack or block, it has to be in front of your body. When the paddle is in front of and away from your body, you can contact the ball in front of you.

One other thing people ask is if the paddle should tilt to the backhand or forehand side? It depends on the situation, and that’s not what this post is all about. But in general, if 12 o’clock is straight out in front of you, then a righty would have it tilted toward 11 o’clock and a lefty toward 1 o’clock. This slight tilt allows you to move quickly from the backhand to the forehand.

Now that you understand the paddle position let’s talk about what’s more important — your lower body and specifically your balance.

Stand up right now. Common, you know that you read these posts and sometimes forget to practice the things you learned. Humor me! Get up and stand as if you are at the non-volley zone.

Now let’s focus on the lower body. Your feet should be wider than shoulder-width, knees and hips flexed, and weight on the balls of your feet. Put your arm out in front of you away from your body as if you were holding a paddle. That’s an efficient ready position.

The most common mistake I see is players standing too tall, and I get that. Once we’re past 50, our balance and muscular fitness change, and for many standing tall, is more natural. But standing tall is not going to put us in a position to defend or attack a pickleball shot.

In a volley exchange, the ball is just over the top of the net. If you want to be able to block or attack, you need to be where the ball is, and that requires you to get lower.

If you’re dinking, and I talked about dink footwork in this previous video, is it easier to bend when you are standing tall or when your feet are wider, and you’re flexed at the hips and knees?

Now that your feet are apart and your knees and hips are flexed. Focus on your feet and make sure you have the weight on the balls of the feet. You may even feel like your heels are a little off the ground.

Let’s take a couple of steps laterally in each direction. Easy. Right?

Here comes the secret sauce, where the paddle position gets us into trouble is what it does to the rest of the body.

Get back in your ready position. Make sure you feel the weight on the balls of your feet? Without changing anything else, drop your paddle hand. Is your weight still on the balls of your feet? If you’re like most people, it’s moved to your arch or your heels.

Now move laterally. Is it easier or harder? If your weight is in the arch or your heels, it’s significantly harder.

Conclusion

What I see time and time again is players standing tall, flat-footed with their paddles near their hip. Even if they don’t start that way, during rallies, our paddles tend to drop lower and lower. When your paddle moves lower and closer to your body, your weight moves further toward your heels, and you’re less balanced. If we’re on our heels, it’s easy for a hard shot to knock us backward or to have a difficult time moving to the ball.

Pickleball is about movement, and if you’re over 50, efficient, balanced movement is quicker. To improve your ready position and your balance on the court, spend a few minutes a day working on balance off the court.

14 Comments

  1. Thanh Thieu on December 21, 2019 at 5:16 pm

    Good tips. Thank you for sharing them!

  2. Robby. on December 22, 2019 at 1:49 am

    Hi. Strange but my reactions are just as fast as they were when I was playing ball sports in my prime. Fellow tennis and pickleballers comment re how did I manage to get to the ball or how do I react so fast [I’m nearly 68 and 18 stones]. I’m constantly split=stepping and moving on court and I get a good work-out if we get a mens’four. I don’t know the answer re how lucky I’ve been to have the gift I have, but I’m thankful that I was born with the hand-eye-co-ordination which helped me play all ball sports to a pretyy good level.
    I only started playing pickleball a few months ago as the standard of tennis sessions was pretty dire at our club and a friend had said a few times to get to our sport’s centre to play the pickleball. I just wish I’d gone sooner!

  3. Judy Wax on December 22, 2019 at 7:03 am

    Very valuable, helpful video. Thank you!

  4. Graham Hall Level II CPTP on December 22, 2019 at 8:10 am

    CJ
    You are spot on with this advice. I teach PB and I stress BALANCE all the time. If the body is not in balance you cannot stroke a good forehand or backhand shot. Paddle position and balance are the simple essentials at the NVZ line. A tight rope walker does not have his arms down at the side but out and up at the side for balance. I also teach skiing and when I see smooth consecutive turns I know the body is in balance. When you see a smooth controlled swing in golf you know the body is in balance. Coaches no matter what the sport should always concentrate on an athlete being in balance.

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on December 22, 2019 at 9:02 pm

      Sounds like you and I have the same school of thought. Where do you teach skiing Graham?

      • Graham Hall Level II CPTP on December 27, 2019 at 4:47 am

        CJ
        Teach PB and skiing in Muskoka Ontario Canada which is just north of Toronto Ontario. Keeps me very active and busy.
        At age 74, I think I am the oldest Level II in Canada. I am a great fan of your philosophy on fitness and health.

        Graham Hall

  5. Jean Poling on December 22, 2019 at 8:39 am

    My reaction time most certainly has slowed but it’s beginning to improve after picking up Pickleball. So appreciate your videos. Plan to incorporate the balance exercises into my workout routine.

  6. Chris on January 3, 2020 at 12:30 pm

    CJ – our local USAPA ambassador, Jeff Anthony, gave me a great tip that helps me keep my paddle up and ready. Hold the paddle up and use the paddle edge to track the ball as you play. It is a little awkward at first, but my game has improved greatly with this technique.

    • Cathy Jo Johnson on January 3, 2020 at 8:13 pm

      You’re right Chris. Paddle tracking helps a lot of players keep the paddle in correct position.

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