Open Letter Blog Photo
By: Tony Roig | May 27, 2023 |

Open Letter to Pickleball Paddle Manufacturers – You’re Missing This

From Tony’s Desk:

When looking to purchase a pickleball paddle, we are told the paddle’s weight (scale weight to be clear – more below), grip size, paddle length and width (and depth, which is often called width), and perhaps some of the materials that go into making the paddle core and face.

There is, however, one hugely important piece of information that is missing from the pickleball paddle specifications that are provided: the paddle’s swingweight or, at a minimum, its balance (more on each below).

This is why last week we published an Open Letter to all pickleball paddle manufacturers where we ask them to adopt a standard convention about swingweight or balance so that pickleball players can make more informed decisions about the paddle they are looking to purchase. Our friends at The Dink helped us get the word out by including it in their May 24, 2023 newsletter.  We are hopeful that this will start a conversation among the manufacturers that leads to having access to this critical information.

As our sport continues to grow, we will continue to advocate for players in any way we can, including on rules changes that we see as important to the integrity of the game and through this open letter. We will also continue to provide you unbiased information so that you have the knowledge you need (and deserve) to navigate pickleball.

Our most recent major undertaking is our FREE Pickleball Paddle Hub – which includes numerous resources you can use to:

(a) pick a paddle
(b) optimize you paddle
(c) even calculate the head balance of your paddle and know what that means.

Now, let’s talk to paddle manufacturers about the one piece they are missing and the one thing we pickleball players NEED!

To: Pickleball Paddle Manufacturers

From: Every Pickleball Player Everywhere

Paddles are, obviously, critical to us pickleball players. No paddle, no play. This open letter is to request two things from you, the pickleball paddle manufacturers:

    1. Keep in mind the reality for the majority of us players who enjoy this sport (more on this below) and
    2. Adopt a convention to be used by all paddle manufacturers to provide swingweight information about your paddles.

Paddle Swingweight

One of the most important specifications for any pickleball paddle is the paddle’s weight. 8 ounces has become the universal standard paddle weight these days. This paddle weight is its static weight: when the paddle is placed on a scale.

The reality, however, is that we do not statically use the paddle. Our pickleball paddle does not sit on a desk or table where its static weight would be the only relevant measure.

Rather, the interaction between us and our paddles is with the paddle in motion. We hold our paddles aloft and swing them around for 2, 3, or even 4 hours at a time.

That prolonged holding and swinging of the paddle stresses our small arm muscles, tendons and joints. Too much stress on these areas and we end up with arm pain, potentially sidelining us.

Because of the way we interact with the paddle – paddle in motion as we swing it – what matters more than the paddle’s static weight is the paddle’s “swingweight.”

We can think of swingweight as the force the paddle exerts back onto our hand/wrist/arm as we swing it through the air. As we swing the paddle, say to hit a serve, the paddle “pushes” back into our arm, applying what is, in essence, weight to our arm.

An easy way to feel a paddle’s swingweight is to grab your paddle in your dominant hand and swing it from side to side. You can then pick up a different paddle and do the same thing. It is likely that you will feel a difference between the two paddles. The one that offers more resistance (like if you are dragging the paddle through water) has the higher swingweight.

This comparison of two paddle designs should help further illustrate the distinction between static weight and swingweight:

                         

Both of the above paddles have the same 8 ounces in total (static) weight. The difference is in how the weight is distributed in each paddle. It is helpful to think of weight distribution from the center of the paddle out toward the paddle’s top and bottom.

The paddle on the left has 5 ounces toward the top and 3 ounces toward the bottom. This paddle would be a “head heavy” paddle and would have a higher swingweight than the paddle on the right, where only 3 ounces are toward the top. The paddle on the right is a “head light” paddle. The terms “head heavy” and “head light” are commonly used in tennis and can easily be adopted by pickleball (more on this below).

The key takeaway here is that two paddles that weigh the exact same when placed on a scale can have vastly different swingweights. The second takeaway, addressed in the following sections, is that our focus needs to shift towards swingweight (not static weight).

Effects of Paddle Swingweight on Play

Paddle swingweight impacts paddle performance in a few ways.

First, the heavier a paddle swings, the more power it will deliver to the ball. Think of sledgehammer vs regular house hammer. Heavier hammer = more power behind each swing.

Second, a heavier swingweight paddle will be slower than its lighter swingweight counterpart. Again, sledgehammer versus house hammer. Much harder (and longer time) to get a sledgehammer from one side to the other. Same with a heavier swingweight paddle.

One example where a player may want to use a paddle with higher swingweight is in singles pickleball. Singles pickleball involves many more groundstroke rallies, a powerful serve is more important, and there are not as many NVZ hands battles (where paddle speed is important). A heavier swingweight paddle would also be helpful if you are having to play into strong wind conditions and cannot get your balls to go deep.

This is to say that there are times as well as types of players who can benefit from a paddle with greater swingweight. But the heavier swingweight paddle also has some drawbacks, one of which potentially disqualifies the paddle for use by many players.

One of the drawbacks of the heavier swingweight paddle is that it will take longer for you to get the paddle into position. Say your paddle is set up for a backhand volley but the ball gets hit hard toward your forehand side. It will be harder for you to get your paddle into position if it is heavier as compared to a paddle with a lighter swingweight.

Effects of Paddle Swingweight on Your Body

Before diving in here, nothing in this article is intended to provide medical advice. We are not health care providers and are not trying to diagnose any one person’s medical condition. The information in this article is based on years of playing both tennis and pickleball as well as experience both personal and anecdotal from other players.

We wield our paddles with our hand. Using our shoulders we bring our arm forward, swinging the paddle towards the ball with the aim of making contact with the ball and sending it towards our intended target. At first glance, seems like a simple thing: arm moves forward, paddle moves with arm, ball is hit.

But reflect on it for a moment and you will see that there is more to it.

There are several moving parts in the chain from hand to shoulder. In addition to the complexity of the hand, our wrists, elbows, and shoulders each are designed to provide a good deal of mobility and, hence, have lots of range. And the muscles, tendons, and joints in our hands, wrist, forearm and elbow are some of the smallest on our bodies. 

As we swing our paddle through the air, we stress each of these muscles, tendons, and joints. The higher the paddle’s swingweight, the higher the stress.

There is also the reality of the difference between players based on age, gender, and size. The first thing I do when a player who is smaller than me asks whether paddle swingweight is a big deal is to ask the player to place their arm next to mine. The visual says more than I could with words about the difference between me holding a heavy paddle and the player I am speaking with holding the same paddle.

Here are two realities about paddle swingweight and our bodies:

    1. A heavier swingweight paddle applies greater stress to the muscles, tendons, and joints in our arm than a paddle with a lighter swingweight.
    2. A player with smaller arms needs to pay particularly attention to the swingweight of the paddle they play with. A paddle that a male pro athlete swings easily will not be as easy for the smaller player to wield out on the pickleball court.

Request No. 1 – Paddles for the Real World

It is great that paddle manufacturers are innovating and putting out paddles to be used by pro players. Recently, however, it seems that many manufacturers are overfocusing on paddles specifically designed for pro-level play.

And this is the first request in this letter: do not forget pickleball’s majority of players. As you design new paddles, keep in mind that most players are not dipping their paddle heads to whip that extra power and spin into the ball. And that most players do not need a sledgehammer paddle to enjoy the game.

To the contrary, most players would benefit from more paddles with lighter swingweight. Paddles that they can quickly move into position and that will not cause potential elbow, wrist, or other arm pain.

Note – the request is not for lighter paddles. It is for lighter swingweight paddles. The paddles can be 8 ounces – the weight just needs to be distributed slightly more in favor of the grip than the head. In fact, I would venture that paddles could even be a heavier than 8 ounces as long as they maintained a lighter swingweight than many of the current 8-ounce paddles.

Request No. 2 – Share Swingweight (or at least Head Balance)

Paddle manufacturers should adopt a convention that they all use to provide the swingweight of a paddle. Based on my review of articles discussing the science of swingweight, it appears that coming up with an actual swingweight figure may not be a realistic one. I would submit, however, that if my understanding of the science on swingweight is incorrect and such a figure could be reasonably provided by the paddle manufacturers, then paddle swingweight for each paddle should be provided.

If you are reading this open letter and have more in depth understanding of how to arrive at a swingweight,
please join the conversation in the comments below.

Having a tennis background, I do know that there is, in fact, a convention already widely used and accepted to provide at least some swingweight guidance. The convention consists of using head heavy/head light points to identify the paddle’s balance.

A perfectly balanced paddle would have a 0 on this scale. If we continue the above example of the 8-ounce paddle and give it exactly 4 ounces on each side of the centerline, we would have a paddle with a zero (0) head balance.

As the paddle’s weight distribution moves up or down, the paddle becomes head heavy or head light and points are assigned based on how head heavy or head light. Tennis racket specifications have included the racket’s head weight designation for years. And the process for determining the points to assign to a racket – or paddle – are simple and can be done by anyone.

In this video, we show players how to calculate the head balance of their paddle.

There is no reason why paddle manufacturers cannot, at a minimum, provide this same information. The information can then be used by players to have an idea of the swingweight of a paddle.

For example, if a player is comparing two paddles that are each 8 ounces but one is 8 points head heavy and the other paddle is 10 points head heavy, the player will at least know that the first paddle will swing lighter than the second paddle. This player is able to make a more informed decision about which paddle to select.

Currently, there is no way for a player to even approximate a paddle’s swingweight without actually holding and swinging the paddle.

Given the information we have been able to determine to date about a paddle’s head balance, we would suggest using the number 8 as the standard for an evenly balanced paddle. By this convention, 1 inch above the paddle’s centerline nearer the top of the paddle would be the zero balance line.

For every 1/8 inch deviation from the zero balance line, the paddle would be assigned 1 point of head heaviness. The more points, the head heavier the paddle and, all other things being equal, the greater the paddle’s swingweight.

To “sweeten the pot” for paddle manufacturers, I will suggest here that the first manufacturer(s) to adopt a swingweight convention will: (a) be the leader(s) in this area and (b) will gain an advantage by providing players with valuable information that they can use to be smarter consumers.

I would also suggest that these manufacturers can help themselves as well as the playing public by including educational resources about swingweight on their sites, allowing players to learn more about this important consideration. You are welcome to link to this open letter as well as our videos explaining swingweight to help in this process of strengthening pickleball players’ knowledge about the gear they use.

There is simply no reason to delay providing a paddle’s head balance. Pickleball has matured way past plywood cutout paddles and players deserve to have the information that is actually relevant to their purchasing decisions.

If you are reading this open letter and feel strongly about it, let the manufacturer of the paddle you use know that you would appreciate knowing the swingweight (or at least the head balance) of the next paddle you purchase. No more purchasing paddles in the dark.

If there is ever a major area of the game that you think merits our attention, please let us know. You can email me at Tony@BetterPickleball.com. Together, we make pickleball better.

Tony Roig

Hola. Hello. Konichiwa. After 40 years playing tennis, I am now a full-time pickleball player and professional. As a 5.0 rated Senior Pro Pickleball Player and an IPTPA-certified Master Teaching Professional, my focus is on helping players like you learn to play their best pickleball. In 2016, shortly after starting to play pickleball, my friend Tom and I jumped into the highest division at the first US Open in Naples, Florida. That morning it became clear just how much there is to learn in this seemingly simple sport – a lifetime of learning if you so choose. Since 2018, I have been on a mission to share my knowledge of pickleball so other players can enjoy the game at a higher level and attain their pickleball objectives. When not studying or playing pickleball, I like to travel with my other half, Jill.