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.
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.
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