PICKLEBALL WISDOM: Backhand or Switch Hands?

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

10 thoughts on “PICKLEBALL WISDOM: Backhand or Switch Hands?

  1. I switch hands and have been told by other (better) players that I shouldn’t do that, but I don’t have a good back hand and most times it works pretty good

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  2. I hurt my shoulder and had trouble with my backhand. So I switch hands instead of further aggravating my shoulder. Now my shoulder is better but I still occasionally switch hands. My injury helped me develop an asset. Now it’s automatic when I need it.

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    • If you are going to switch hands you should get one of of the Engage Encore XL paddles that have the longer handles. That way you can use the double grip with the paddle held out in front of you. You don’t toss the paddle from one hand to another but just let go with the hand you don’t want to use. With practice you can do this as fast as a one handed player having to decide if they want to go forehand or backhand. The benefit of rarely having a backhand becomes clearer when you watch play and track how many errors are caused on the backhand as opposed to forehand shots. Add in how many winning shots are hit off of weak backhands. When it have tracked it I have seen twice as many errors off the backhand as the forehand. I know that the pros are as good on backhands as forehands but the average player will mostly prefer their forehand to their backhand.

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  3. One feature of switching hands that is important is that by using the 2 handed grip in front of your body you don’t transfer the paddle from hand to hand but simply let go of the hand you won’t be using. Having a paddle with a longer handle helps with a 2 handed grip. Plus the 2 handed grip requires that you hold the paddle in front of your body instead of keeping the paddle by your side. I have seen players with poor backhands (this includes probably 75% of beginning and intermediate players) improve their game when they use the switching hand technique. Within a couple of games the players become comfortable with the technique.

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  4. Can someone explain what was meant by “jump to the out of bounds area at the net and smash your return”? Does that mean the kitchen line does not extend out of bounds so you can stand at the net and hit the ball as long as you are standing out of bounds?!

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    • Hi Bill, Thanks for your question. “Wily” is the key word here. A “wily” opponent, and Glen probably had Brian in mind, knows that the non-volley zone includes the area of the court an the two sidelines, period. Reference USAPA Rules section 9A. Brian says he does it all the time…out of bounds is not included in the non volley zone.

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  5. I am one of those players with declining mobility and not a great backhand and I learned to use both hands early on. I’m a southpaw by nature so switching hands does give me an advantage….it often confuses my opponents …plus I get that extra 2 feet of reach.

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  6. There is no difference in the mechanics of hitting a forehand with the right hand or left. Still the same fundamentals. Just because it feels weird is no reason not to if time allows. A bit of practice/drills and you now have an advantage over your opponents, especially dinking crosscourt on the backhand side as you return quicker. My first coach drilled me in left handed hitting and I am grateful for the advantage it gives me, especially in singles.

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  7. Hi Anna, could article about switching hands. I’ve found one more drawback to switching to the weak hand instead of using a backhand. Said players that switch hands tend to do so all the time, meaning if a shot comes down the middle, the add court player being right hand probably has a better opportunity at the return, than the deuce side player who switches to his weak hand to return the shot. Personally, I have no issue with players switching hands, as long as they do it when their weak hand is on the sideline and not the middle. Keep writing these good blogs.

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