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Instruction - The Grips

The grips that you use have a strong influence on what you are able to do on the pickleball court. Different grips have different advantages and disadvantages and while I have my preference, the fact is that there are some pretty good pickleball players out there using a variety of grips and swing styles. That is especially true for players playing at the net. So if you have been playing for some time, do fairly well with the different shots, and are having fun don't worry about your grips.

Because of my background in teaching tennis and the fact that these grips were originally used in tennis for many years, I'm going to relate some of the traditional arguments in favor or against the different grips as they are used in tennis. I'll then offer my own opinion on how these arguments transfer to the sport of pickleball. Since the sport of Pickleball is still young, I believe knowledge on the best grips for this sport is just barely in the development stage.

In general, I normally recommend that people who play other racket sports stay as close as practical to the grips they used in the other sport to cut down on learning time and avoid confusion when switching between the two sports.

I play with pretty much the same grips in Pickleball that I use in Tennis which is the Eastern Forehand and Backhand grips with the continental for serve, volley, overhead, dink shots, lobs, and scramble points. I guess the only difference would be that my forehand is gradually slipping a little towards the Continental and away from the Eastern. I think that is probably because it's a little easier for me to do the dinks with it and also there are so many scramble points where you have to be ready to do anything to get the ball back.

Continental Grip

The Continental Grip is also known as the "hammer" grip, because if you pick up your paddle like you are going to hammer a nail with the edge of the paddle, then you pretty much have the Continental Grip. It used to be one of the most popular grips in tennis and the United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA) says that some of its advantages are: it requires no grip change, it is good for hitting low balls, it is good for slice, it is good for touch shots, and it has a high degree of versatility. The USPTA says that its main disadvantages are that it is tougher for weak wrists and forearms, that it is harder to generate power and top spin with than the Eastern or Western grips, and is harder to hit high balls with.

Continental Grip and Pickleball

The advantages listed above for the Continental grip would seem to make it a prime overall choice for your grip in Pickleball. It's especially useful at net where very fast exchanges often makes changing grips between forehand and backhand difficult if not impossible for the average player. It is also very good on half volleys, low balls, and dinks. The disadvantage of it being harder to hit high balls and having less topspin than with the eastern grips seems much less important in Pickleball than in Tennis. In Pickleball, where the ball typically bounces low or lower, the best way to hit a high ball doesn't appear to me to be as important as the best way to hit a low ball. The amount of topspin doesn't yet appear to be an issue in Pickleball as very few of the pickleball players using the Eastern Forehand grip hit with much top spin either at the moment. It will be interesting to see how this may change in time. The problem for people with weak wrists should also be less of a problem since the pickleball paddle is quite a bit lighter than the tennis racket.

Eastern Forehand Grip

Place your hand flat against the face of your paddle and then slide it down to the handle to get the correct grip. This is a very versatile grip, allowing the player to brush up the back of the ball for topspin or to hit a flat shot for more power. It's also easy to switch quickly to the continental grip for play up at net. In Tennis this is considered an excellent grip to learn with, but the very best players in tennis today are using some form of the western grip for tremendous spin and for ease of use on high balls.

Eastern Backhand Grip

To find the Eastern Backhand grip rotate your hand on the paddle until the knuckle of your index finger and the heel of your hand are on top of the handle grip and your thumb is extended diagonally across your grip.

Eastern Forehand Grip and Pickleball

The Eastern Forehand grip works equally as well in Pickleball as it does in tennis and probably better because the ball seldom bounces high. It is a really good choice for forehands and beginners learning to volley! So far the Eastern forehand grips appears to be the overwhelming favorite choice of Pickleball players in Arizona. It appears to work very well for the forehand ground stroke, forehand volley, overhead, and dink, and I have seen some good backhand slices with it also.

Unfortunately, for those that keep the Eastern Forehand grip for all their shots, it doesn't appear to work very well for most people on their backhand ground strokes. A few have developed some quite nice slices with it, but I haven't seen any good top spin drives with it yet. A few have also developed some interesting methods of hitting their backhand volleys, which I need to study a little more, but many are struggling on the backhand volley with this grip. Many use the same side of the paddle as their forehand turning the wrist over and standing on their head a little bit. This can work well on the higher forehands and backhands, but is very difficult on the lower backhand and extremely difficult when that low volley turns into a half-volley.

On the positive side, the Eastern forehand grip is usually easier for beginners to hit their forehand volleys with than the continental grip, and that early success helps keep them playing instead of giving up and there is a lot to be said for that!

Western Grip

Tennis describes the currently popular Western grip as being good for producing big top spin and more power, but as being difficult on low balls. Because Pickleball has lots more low balls than high balls, and because I haven't seen any Western grip players yet, although there must be a few, I'm not going to say any more about it. Time will tell if this grip has a place in the Pickleball future, but I suspect we will see more of it as our younger generation enters into Pickleball.

Some Grip Variations that may work for you!

Our best men's senior Pickleball player in Arizona, Pat Kane, puts his thumb behind the paddle for his backhand and punches it with great power. One of the main advantages to this technique is it allows him to hit the volley well in front of his body which is a big advantage in quick volley exchanges. The disadvantage would be that he has to change grips to hit a forehand volley, but I have never noticed it to be a problem with Pat. I know of another player who is copying him and also does very well on the backhand volley, but is still having problems changing grips for his forehand. Hopefully time and practice will take care of this problem.

Another gentlemen impressed me with his table tennis style backhand volley where he hit his backhand volley like the good table tennis players do. In one of the games we played, he put away a lot of backhand volleys with that style. On the low backhand volleys, he had to use a little different style, but it was very effective when he got to use it.

A couple of the best players use a lot of swinging volleys which are normally discouraged because of the time it takes to make such a big swing. However, these players have such great reactions that they can normally make that big swing quicker than the average player can make a much shorter swing.

In closing, I would say that it isn't clear yet what the dominant grips for the best pickleball players will eventually end up being, but its pretty clear to me from observing lots of players that the eastern forehand grip is not a good choice for backhands and should be discouraged as a grip of choice for the backhand. Unfortunately, I see more players using this grip for their backhand presently than any other!

It will be interesting when some of the tennis players currently using the western grip for their forehands and two handed backhands take up pickleball. I have seen only a few two handed backhands so far and it appears that the short handlegrip makes it more difficult, but time will tell.