A lot of pickleball players will jokingly say that they must be using the wrong paddle when they miss a shot, hit out of bounds or otherwise trip over themselves during a game. As much as we appreciate this humble sense of humor, sometimes it really is your equipment at fault! But how can you tell if it’s you or your paddle? Allow us to help you decide what needs fixin’ below…
This issue is about a matter of degrees. When you miss a ball, do you find that you’re just a hair’s breadth away, or are you a few good inches apart? If you’re not that far off, it may be the case that the paddle you’re using is simply too small or slender to accommodate your play.
This is why we frequently tell new players to use wider paddles, so that they have more surface area to work with. Alternately, you may want a paddle with a longer handle so that it’s easier to perform groundstrokes during games.
If you’re in an entirely different location than the ball when you miss, then unfortunately it may just be you. The best way to ensure you’re moving the right way during a return is to watch your opponent and not just the ball. Looking at their movements and the way they angle their shot will allow you to predict which way the ball will go instead of having to react once it’s already left their paddle.
Can you return most shots, or are you scrambling across the court? (Image credit Michael Martin)
Are you always hitting out of bounds? Smacking the ball near the baseline instead of dinking into the kitchen? Or perhaps it’s the reverse. Your serve may end up short of the net, or you can only tap the ball onto the court instead of putting it away with a slam.
You could fix this by controlling the power of your hits. Reign things in if you’re slamming too often or work on improving your strength if your shots lack “oomph.” But usually it’s easier to find equipment that suits your strengths rather than catering to your paddle.
If you’re hitting too hard, then you should try a medium to lightweight paddle made with softer materials, such as a composite face with a polymer core. This will help to temper your strength and provide more control.
If you have a light touch, then use a middle to heavyweight paddle or pick materials that have a tough, “poppy” surface like graphite. The added mass will add more power to your swings and help ensure you can give the ball a good smack when needed.
Can’t Add Spin
Let’s face it, spin can be tricky. A large part of it is about how you angle your paddle, the motion with which you hit the ball, and being able to read the direction the ball is coming at you. It takes time and practice to learn. But this also isn’t tennis—there are no strings to help grip the ball or allow it to “sink into” the surface of your paddle.
The USAPA has cracked down on textured paddles to some extent, though there are a few remaining options that can help you literally “get a grip” on pickleballs so that they’re easier to spin. If you’re having trouble learning the technique, they may help. A few good textured options are the Apex, 30P-XL and Graphite Z5.
Does the thought of spin leave your head spinning? (Image credit Tanner Jackson)
Most players can quickly tell if their aches and pains are simply from pushing their body during a game or due to a paddle. Pickleball has its own version of “tennis elbow,” as the muscles and tendons associated with hitting a ball can become strained. It may be the case that you have arthritis or older injuries contributing to problems with your swinging arm as well.
While physical therapy may help, and you could simply struggle through the pain, your health definitely takes priority over a favored paddle. We usually recommend a balanced middleweight paddle to players with joint problems, as going too heavy can stress the problem, while a light paddle will force them to use more of their own strength to get the same amount of power. It’s all about finding what feels best for you and understanding your body’s needs.
A good player can make any paddle work for them, but it’s also true that certain paddles will complement your strengths better than others. Have you ever switched paddles after thinking the problem was you, only to find a “night and day” difference?