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PICKLEBALL WISDOM: Backhand or Switch Hands?

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Check out the above video where Joe Valenti switches hands to execute a beautiful around-the-post shot. A 4.0 player asked me recently whether she should use her backhand or left hand (right hand for southpaws). My 85 year old father — like many senior players — routinely uses his left hand for one simple reason: more reach. While reach is a great reason, there are other advantages to switching hands. Many 5.0 players switch hands, including Wes Gabrielsen and Enrique Ruiz, 2014 Men’s Open National champions and arguably the top two pickleball players in the world. Here are a few advantages:

  1. For many players — especially those without tennis or other racket sport backgrounds — hitting with the weak hand is more natural than using the backhand.  My wife is an example.  Her left hand stroke is beautiful and much more fluid than her backhand.
  2. Backhand strokes in a kitchen drop shot exchange often require turning your body and head away from the net such that your opponent can move without being seen. As you turn your head to hit the ball, a wily opponent can jump to the out-of-bounds area at the net and smash your return ball.  Hitting with your weak hand keeps your body more square to the net and your opponents in view.
  3. We can all reach further and faster with our forehands. For players who lack mobility, the additional reach enabled by switching hands is the only way to get the paddle on the ball.
  4. Switching hands to hit forehands on both sides confuses your opponents who are trying to hit to your weak side.

But are there disadvantages? Yep. Here are a few.

  1. Some of us can’t manage a fork with our weak hands and wouldn’t even consider a task requiring more dexterity. Don’t worry, most pickleball players keep the paddle in one hand.
  2. You might drop your paddle while switching hands. That switching hands thing looks a bit foolish with your paddle laying on the ground.
  3. Switching hands is difficult when engaged in a fast kitchen volley exchange. Consider only switching hands for balls that bounce but leave the paddle in your strong hand for backhand volleys. Most of us are less dexterous and instinctive with our weak hand making it tough in fast exchanges.

So what did I tell the 4.0 player?  If you love your backhand, keep it! If you lack mobility, find your backhand a bit awkward, or make more errors with your backhand than with your forehand, try switching. It may feel strange at first, but you may be amazed at how natural it feels given a few hours (and a few games) of play. If it sticks, you will not only be in great company, you will be grateful someday when your mobility declines!

So what comments do others have about switching hands in pickleball?

Glen Peterson

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