In the survey I did a while back, a few people asked about proper grip techniques and positions.
It can be a tricky subject because most people don’t realize that the way you hold the paddle at the beginning of the point is usually not how you’re holding it when you actually hit the ball. Plus, most paddles don’t have the octagonal base like a tennis grip, so it’s a little harder to gauge the angles of the paddle relative to your hand than in tennis or badminton.
In this article, I’m going to tell you about the most common grips I see players use across the country, how to tell the difference between them, and which one NOT to use if you’re one of those people who “Doesn’t Have a Backhand.”
If you’ve followed me at all, you know that I’m not about to teach you “The Right Way to Hold The Paddle” and then try to mold all my students into using “The Right Grip”.
You know that’s not my style. The “Right” Grip is the one that works for you.
If your grip works for you: Keep it!
If you find that the ball often goes out of bounds when you defend against a hard shot, or if you often hit the ball into the net on your volleys/putaways, if you struggle particularly with your forehand or backhand shot, then you might want to read this article and find out whether changing your grip will improve your results.
There are two main categories of grips that most people I see use. I’ll refer to them as “The Shake Hand Grip” and “The Claw Grip”.
The Shake-Hand Grip
This grip is fairly self-explanatory. Imagine someone is passing you the paddle and you grab the grip as if you’re about to shake hands with the paddle. That’s the shake-hand grip. (Pretty revolutionary terminology, I know! No need to be intimidated!) 😉 The paddle face is perpendicular to the floor and the end is at about 45 degrees toward the ceiling.
Here’s a photo showing the shake hand grip from the front and back.
(These are just a few photos Wendy and I shot quickly in the Paris apartment we rented for the week. I’m not sure I’d even had breakfast yet, but I figure something is better than nothing, even if the photos aren’t highly polished. I know several of you have been requesting videos and I promise there will be better photos and more videos coming in the next month or two… On all this and MUCH more…)
The shake-hand grip is generally the same on the forehand or backhand side. It’s a great all-round grip and is the one I generally recommend when people ask what grip they should use.
You will often see players (especially table tennis players) modify this grip, by putting their pointer finger up to touch the paddle face. Tennis players will usually is this grip and hold as close to the paddle face as possible to get the most power.
When I am working with tennis players or other hard-hitters who are struggling to soften their shots, I often ask them to use the shake hand grip closer to the butt of the paddle handle and to modify it to rest their thumb along the top of the handle rather than wrapping it around. Without the added power from wrapping the thumb and holding close to the face, they can usually hit a much softer shot. If that sounds like you, give it a try.
The Claw Grip
If you think of a simple claw, like the extenders they make for people to grab items out of reach, that’s pretty much the claw grip, where you thumb makes up one side of the claw and your four fingers the other. (Similar to how you might pick up a drinking glass.)
Here’s a photo showing the claw grip for the forehand and backhand.
Players who use the claw grip tend to play more shots on the forehand, even if it means moving around the ball to hit it with their forehand. This is because when you use the claw grip to hit with the backhand or defend against a hard shot, it’s difficult to get the face of the paddle to point toward the other side of the court. As you hit the ball, it tends to point out of bounds, which means your balls are most likely to go out of bounds as well.
You often have to “scoop” the ball as shown below when you use the claw grip, because the angle does not allow you much rotation of the wrist.
If You “Don’t Have a Backhand…”
Many newer players who complain that they “Don’t have a backhand at all!” tend to use the claw grip for their forehand and try to use it, without modification, for their backhand as well. If you are one of those people who feel that you don’t have a backhand, you have 2 options:
- Either move around the ball to hit it with a forehand instead (which is okay if you are relatively quick and mobile), or…
- Change your grip to a shake-hand grip when you try for a ball on the backhand side.
How to Tell The Difference Between the Grips
If you’re not sure whether your grip is a shake-hand or claw grip, here’s one way to predict: Look at the angle of the paddle line relative to your wrist line.
- Is the paddle butt pointing out between the flesh of your palm and the base of your thumb? (Probably Shake-Hand Grip)
- Or is the paddle butt pointing out between the Pinky Knuckle and the Flesh of Your Palm? (Probably Claw Grip)
“Is that what they call a semi-hexi-north-by-southwestern-ex-pi-alidocious grip in tennis?”
Ok, no offense to tennis players…
The grips in tennis matter a lot when it comes to getting more power or spin.
But in pickleball, we are dealing with a smooth, flat paddle surface without any strings. And especially in doubles play, power and spin aren’t particularly strong strategies.
Plus, because of the force required to hit a tennis ball, you’ve got to lock your wrist, however the weight of a pickleball paddle and ball allow it to be played with a lot more wrist.
In sum: the rotation of the paddle relative to you wrist is just not such a big deal in pickleball as it is in tennis.
And all the jargon that goes along with describing tennis grips, is just a lot more complicated than it needs to be to describe pickleball grips. But if you want to find out for yourself, here’s a little info:
In case you don’t know, the grip of a tennis racket has 8 sides, each of which are numbered in a clockwise or counter-clockwise direction, based on whether you’re a lefty or a righty.
The types of grips are defined by which side the knuckle at the base of your pointer finger is on when you hit the ball. (Except instead of calling them sides, they call them “bevels”)
The Eastern Forehand Grip, which is technically the same as the shake-hand grip is when you have the base knuckle of the index finger on the side (bevel) labeled #3. The Continental Grip, which is similar to the claw grip, is when the base knuckle of the index finger is right on bevel #2. (So says this wikepedia article if you care to read more.)
For our purposes, we’re going to keep it simple.
Shake-Hand Grip or Claw Grip.
Sure there are a couple other ones out there, like the table tennis players who keep all 4 fingers on the face of the paddle, but they aren’t frequent enough to merit detailing in this article.
Side-Out. Over to You.
There’s always more to be said, but I hope this article was a good start. If you found it helpful, please drop me a line or two in the comments below or on my facebook page. If you still have questions or want clarification, then post your request down below or on facebook as well.
Boosted board says
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know what you are speaking approximately! Bookmarked.
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Al Thomson says
Hi Prem. This is not a comment about the grip, but about your comment that spin in pickleball isn’t a particularly strong strategy. I’ve only played five games of pickleball so far, but I’ve played a LOT of badminton, squash, table tennis and tennis. While watching the games at my first pickleball session, I saw one shot played from mid-court with heavy backspin, which floated over the net, landed in the kitchen, and died. I believe that the shot was virtually un-returnable. Any comments? Thanks.
Thanks for writing and sharing your thoughts.
Spin when used effectively can be very useful. Especially from baseline or mud court. At the pro level it is even used at the net. My only suggestion is if you can successfully impart spin and be ready for the next shot I see no problem. Often times I see players spending so much trying to spin the ball and being not ready for the next shot. I learned it the hard way when I realized the amount of energy spent on imparting spin of a ball did not always get me ready to the next shot. So I curtailed it and use it only for shots from baseline.
Not against spin simply I see lot of folks spending time trying to impart spin and loose focus on the next shots.
If you can do it successfully go for it my friend
Ed nowakowski says
On a 1 to 10 level how hard should you hold the paddle?
Aruna Tumpyte says
It depends on when and where you hit your shot. A drop shot might require as as my suggestion somewhere around 5 as your level of tightness of your grip. A dunk I would say a 3. Got a drive probably a 9 or 10.
Hope it answers your question
John Jessen says
Very interesting topic. As a former tennis teaching pro, l can relate to the grip issue. There can be a variety of different grips. However, what works best for me may not work best for you. If l have a true beginner( someone who has never played any type of racket or paddle sport), l will recommend the “shake hands or hammer grip”. I do this because l believe it to be the most versatile grip. You can hit virtually every shot with this grip. ON the other hand, if l have someone who has played a little tennis, racquetball or pickleball , l usually don’t mess with the grip. The thing l tell my students is, if your grip prevents you from getting better with control and consistency, then you might want to tweak your grip a little.
Thanks….keep up the good work…..I am known as “coach John”
Prem Carnot says
Hi John, thank you for your comments! You are exactly right- what works for one will not work for all. Great job in relaying that correct message!
Jeffrey Roy says
I serve with a Ping-Pong serve. I have the back of my hand on the paddle face (rear) and the body of the paddle is close, but below my wrist joint. I verified that that is a legal serve…I wanted to know your take on this. I can get a powerful and very low/slow rise and fall off this and with accuracy, score a tremendous amount s of Aces varying from serves to positions 1,2,3, and 4 and straight down the line (volleyball positions)
Prem Carnot says
Hi Jeffrey. As you know from my book and any clinics I teach, I do not say that what is right for me, will be right for you, or vice versa. If you have a grip that works for you, it gets you the results you want and is legal in play, then stick with it!