A backhand in pickleball is a shot played on the side opposite the paddle arm—the left side of the body for right-handed players and the right side for left-handed players. Backhands are often the weakest part of an amateur player's game as they are a less natural movement than forehands. They can be played with either one or two hands.
What is a backhand in pickleball?
A backhand is a shot hit from the non-dominant side of the body. For right-handed pickleball players, this means backhand shots are struck with the paddle head to the left of the body; this is reversed for left-handed pickleball players. Backhand strokes can be played with one or two hands.
Plenty of pickleball players have a weak backhand compared to their forehand. This is because forehands are hit with the palm facing forward, while backhands are hit with the knuckles facing forward.
Most movements we make in everyday life—like opening a door or shaking someone’s hand—are made with a palm-forward motion. For this reason, forehands are more natural than backhands.
What’s the proper technique to hit a backhand?
Many people struggle with the proper backhand technique, leading to errant backhand shots and a lack of confidence in backhand groundstrokes.
To hit a proper backhand stroke, follow these simple steps:
- Start from the ‘ready position’: feet shoulder-width apart, weight slightly forward, paddle in the center of the body.
- Turn your body: When you pick up the direction of the pickleball ball, turn your body and pull your paddle arm back to prepare for the stroke. It is crucial that these two movements happen together. Many people lead only with their arm, forgetting to activate the body, leading to an inability to sync up their movements and difficulty generating paddle speed to hit a backhand with power
- Remember to move your feet! Many people get stuck once they reach the point of contact. Remember, your whole body needs to work together.
- Follow through on the swing: Once you go to make the stroke, make sure your pickleball paddle swing moves through the ball, not stopping at contact. This will help with both accuracy and power.
Two-handed Backhand vs One-handed Backhand
The decision of whether to employ a one-handed backhand or a two-handed backhand comes down to personal preference.
Many players with a tennis background use the two-handed backhand, as that is the more common technique in tennis.
However, pickleball is a very different game from tennis. It is played over smaller distances and with less time between shots, meaning there is less time to get into a two-handed position.
Pickleball paddles are also much smaller than tennis rackets. This means that many non-tennis players will find that the one-handed variation is their preferred method.
One-handed backhands are quicker and have longer reach. Switching from back to forehand is easier as both employ the same grip. One-handed backhands are also more maneuverable, making it easier to hit delicate shots such as a crosscourt backhand dink
However, the two-handed variation is more stable, making it easier to hit consistent and powerful backhands. Having the extra hand makes it easier to hit powerful shots and can be good for players who have trouble engaging the body as it forces better rotation.
Advantages of backhands
Having a strong backhand can benefit your game greatly because plenty of pickleball players have weak backhands.
If you can develop a consistent backhand, it means you can dominate both sides of the court rather than just a single side.
Many pickleball players compensate for a weak backhand by running ‘around the ball’ – in other words, manipulating their body so they can always hit forehands. However, this technique takes much longer and gives you less time to set yourself up and execute your shot correctly. A good backhand is far quicker and more effective.
Having a strong backhand can also make you a better doubles player. Doubles requires that each player spends half of their time on each side of the court (unless you use the stacking technique!). So hitting a strong backhand can make you a potent teammate and partner.
You can also consider ways to use your opponent’s weak backhand to your advantage. If you notice that you are playing against someone who is more comfortable on one side, try hitting toward their backhand. Force them to hit the shots they don’t enjoy!
Types of backhands
Backhand Ground Stroke
A backhand groundstroke is the most common type of backhand shot. It involves a ball that has bounced before it reaches you, which is then returned across the net. Backhand ground strokes are the most powerful type of backhand.
Most pickleball players stick to a forehand serve. However, did you know it is perfectly legal (and very effective!) to develop a backhand serve as well? It can be a significant weapon in your arsenal as many players won’t be used to playing against it, potentially throwing them off their rhythm.
Many players hit a backhand slice as their standard backhand shot. This is because most players employ the ‘continental grip‘ – great for forehands, but harder to hit topspinning backhands! In the continental grip, it is easier to hit down and across the ball, causing a ‘slice’ – a slow-moving, spinny shot that keeps low when it bounces. A solid backhand slice is a great weapon (it slows the game down and is very hard to return with power) but if you want to develop a more powerful backhand as well, try experimenting with the eastern backhand grip. Both can be used in tandem, so keep practicing both techniques!
Backhand Drop Shot
A backhand drop shot is often played similarly to the slice – it involves cutting across the ball, creating a shot that drops quickly out of the air just over the net. It is often used to catch out a player who is stuck on the baseline.
Dinks are a crucial part of pickleball. These soft shots drop into the non-volley zone, drawing your opponent into the kitchen and allowing you to hit powerful ground shots past them while they are stuck in no man’s land. Make sure you practice both forehand and backhand dinks, as well as varying between shots that go crosscourt and down the line. All these variations are required to outmaneuver your opponent!
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