Why is Grip Pressure So Important?
By Max Costantini
When we talk about grip, most of the time we reduce the topic to the types of grips such as shakehand or penhold, including Chinese, Japanese, Korean and so on. We add, for example, that with the shakehand grip you can keep your grip for the forehand and the backhand a bit open or a bit closed.
But beyond these things there is another aspect of the grip that is very important but does not get enough attention. This is the amount of pressure each player applies to his or her handle when holding the paddle. When a coach works with a student, even a very experienced one, the player’s grip pressure is something that should be considered in that player’s developmental process, as grip pressure changes a player’s strokes and technique completely. I believe many mistakes happen because of grip pressure. For example, if a player holds the paddle so tight that all the muscles in their forearm are tense, then the ball is going to be played very hard with a lack of control.
When a player is said to have great touch, what does that mean? Great touch means that a player holds the paddle in such a way that the paddle is the same as their hand, or you can say the paddle is an extension of his/her hand. As the coach at ICC, with a lot of different students, it is important for me to understand what they are feeling when they hit the ball. I ask them, are you squeezing the paddle enough? Do you squeeze the paddle at all? Why is the ball not going where you want it to go? This question and answer process regarding grip pressure is starting to get some results. Players are gaining more understanding of what is going on with their grip pressure and how it affects their shots. The goal is to understand it well enough to make adjustments, when required, on their own.
For example, if a player is having trouble keeping the ball short because they squeeze too hard, I tell them it’s not a matter of how to hit the ball, but it is a matter of how to hold your paddle. If you hold the paddle with too much pressure the ball will automatically bounce too hard off the paddle surface. Similarly, when they drive or block or execute a loop, they should know what is going on with their grip pressure and the role it plays in producing a successful shot.
Table tennis is a sport based on experience. And experience is personal–what a player feels when playing is his/her own experience. But there are ways a coach can help. Touching the player’s forearm gives the coach an idea of how much pressure the player is using to grip the paddle. If the forearm is tense, the arm muscles hard, the wrist stiff and the hand tight, then it will be very difficult for that player to have good touch. However, even when a player hits with too much pressure he/she can still develop a kind of feeling because, as I’ve said, this is a sport of experience and a player’s experience, despite bad habits, will help them adjust. However, developing the appropriate amount of grip pressure will result in a more effective game.
I encourage my students to relax their grip enough so they can feel the paddle and then squeeze when they hit the ball. The right grip is to keep the paddle relaxed, to keep firm, but not to squeeze enough to produce tension in the wrist or forearm. Start with a relaxed grip and squeeze just as you strike the ball, not before or after. Some players will learn more quickly than others the correct grip pressure and when to squeeze. But by becoming aware of grip pressure and its effect on hitting the ball, each player will be able to work on developing their own grip technique.
Some players tell me their block is out of control, and I can see that their grip is too loose or too hard. I explain to them that when you hit a ball off of a wall it returns quite fast. When you hit a ball into a barrier all of its power is absorbed. The same thing happens with your grip. Depending on the grip pressure, the hand and paddle can absorb the ball’s force or generate power. Grip pressure also dictates a response to the spin you are receiving. Developing the player’s ability to adjust their grip is a blend of technique and experience. The more they understand how the grip affects a shot, the more they will feel and experience and the better they will be able to adjust.
When I coach my students, I try to teach in three ways. The first way is to explain the lesson I’m teaching verbally and then to watch the results. The second is to show or demonstrate to the student what I want them to do. Sometimes this is not enough so the third way I teach is the kinesthetic way. I hold their arm and we play together. Students are all different and learn in different ways so I will use any and all of these methods and watch for positive results.