What is paddle? Simply put, paddle is fun.
The birth child of tennis, paddle is the only racquet sport played outdoors in cold weather…the colder the better. The sport is played at private clubs, public facilities, and in backyards at both highly competitive and purely recreational levels. Most of the rules and rounds of play are similar to tennis making it a breeze for tennis players young and old to learn quickly.
In brief… A paddle court is about half the size of a tennis court with a similar line grid layout, surrounded by metal screens on a raised platform (i.e. platform tennis as it is sometimes called). The racquet is compact, solid, hard and dense with small perforated holes (no strings) and it hits an equally hard and dense ball. The format is all doubles; you only get one serve vs. two as in tennis; and hitting the ball off the screens is part of the play (and the fun!).
Not sure if you should get into paddle? Here are top ten ways playing paddle will quickly level up your tennis game:
NET GAME: Paddle is all about coming to the net and volleying after each serve. Controlling your volleys and playing at the net is key. If you are uncomfortable at the net, you will rarely have the luxury of staying back. After playing paddle, you will see significant improvement in comfort level when coming to the net and volleying in tennis.
LOBS: 80% of playing paddle is executing lobs well. Because the court is small you quickly learn to be precise with your lob arc and placement. In tennis doubles a good lob is a key tool in your arsenal. After paddle, your lobs will fly right.
POSITIONING: The paddle court is half the size of a tennis court, and although a calm pace of play is encouraged it can get fast in the blink of an eye. In a quick-fire exchange, there is no time or space to adjust if you’re standing in the wrong place. Understanding the angles, knowing where the ball is coming from and quickly adjusting your position are vital in paddle and will improve that skill set in tennis by leaps and bounds.
PARTNERS: Teamwork, camaraderie and true partnership in play are some of the most important factor in good paddle. Tight quarters mean you play as one. Often you may rub shoulders or tap each other during play because you are constantly so close, especially at the net. Long points are meant to set up your partner not to create a winner. Being a good partner is a skill you will appreciate developing for tennis.
COMMUNICATION! In paddle, communication at every point it is almost a necessity. You are so close, that if you don’t yell out “I got it! Mine! Yours! Let it fly!” you will end up standing in the middle of the court with your racquet down wondering “what just happened to that point?” A great tennis team is always communicating, and playing paddle will help get you into that habit.
MOVEMENT: Sometimes its about moving less. Approaching the net after every serve, getting to the right spot when the ball is going to the screen, anticipating a lob vs. a drive… make paddle all about mindful transitions not ‘jolt and rush’ movements. Honing anticipation skills will conserve your movement and help prevent injury. On a small paddle court, it is much easier to study patterns of play up-close until they become intuitive and can easily be applied to the ‘big’ tennis court.
STRATEGY: You really can’t get away with much on a paddle court when playing with experienced opponents. You may be more athletic, you may have a great drive and you may even be winning in the first set… but as soon as the opposing team changes their strategy ‘you are toast’. Having a plan is the biggest differentiator when it comes to playing well in paddle, and can significantly elevate your tennis game when strategy becomes part of your tool kit.
AWARENESS OF THE COURT: An odd thing happens when you transition from playing on a paddle court to a tennis court… the tennis court seems suddenly HUGE! It’s the “Honey, I shrunk the tennis player” syndrome. Tennis court lines you thought were tight before, suddenly seem the size of a highway. The upside is, your fear and probability of hitting an out ball diminishes. Hyper awareness of tennis court parameters is a bonus skill you will develop after playing paddle.
FEELING LIGHT: Paddle is played in the brutal cold. You need leggings, a vest, long sleeves, hat, glove and warm socks—similar to light ski wear. Because the strokes are shortened in paddle there is no need for big swings and excessive movement so that type of restricted, heavy apparel works well. After playing in paddle gear, you will ‘fly like a butterfly’ on the court wearing your airy tennis clothes.
PLAYING OUTSIDE: Cold weather does good things to a paddle ball. It becomes easier to control and creates the perfect environment for ‘good paddle’. The courts have heaters to melt snow and evaporate rain, so there’s rarely a bad day to play. For those who aren’t fans of the cold, something amazing happens as soon as you start to play… you get HOT! It is common to see paddle players in t-shirts on a blisteringly cold day. For those in seasonal climates, playing paddle outdoors during the winter months makes for an easy transition to the outdoor tennis courts in the summer. Recently, with the development of a warm weather ball, paddle has extended into summer play so that those in warmer climates can begin to enjoy the sport!
If you think you’re ready to be queen of the paddle court, just go for it! It’s the perfect compliment to tennis, a great way to play outdoors and a fun way to get social. When the perfect shot is set-up or returned in paddle, we say “All day.”