Pickleball Tips: Sweet Spot and Sweet Spots

Date Published: 
Nov. 10, 2017

Bonkeys in Ocean View is my favorite sweet spot. Too many trips to Bonkeys can definitely have a negative influence on finding the other sweet spot, the one on your pickleball paddle. It matters not how large your paddle sweet spot is if you can’t move into position to hit returns of serve and volleys.

Did you ever weakly pop a ball into the air across the net to your opponents, better yet, did you ever strike a ball in the center of your paddle and get that very satisfying feeling of blasting a solid volley between your opponents? The difference between those two shots is the result of where the ball impacted your paddle, and the amount of energy transferred to the ball.

I am writing this week about striking, or not striking, the ball in the sweet spot of the paddle. A little research on your part would reveal that there has unfortunately been far more written about the technical sweet spot of tennis rackets, golf clubs and baseball bats than about ways to solve the world’s problems.

But here is what you need to know, all things being otherwise equal: When a hard-hit pickleball hits your paddle slightly outside the sweet spot, you might have a force as much as 30 times the weight of your paddle at that point. That impact can force the face of your paddle down or up. A larger sweet spot can help you overcome the torque.

The sweet spot can actually be measured, and is that part of your paddle where the most energy is transferred to the ball rather than into shock and vibration. This photo, one of hundreds, was taken in the Wilson Sporting Goods research lab of me striking a tennis ball by an automatic camera with an incredibly fast lens attached to a machine recording impact. Someone was feeding tennis balls to me and I hit backhand after backhand, with bundled leads to the machine attached to the racket, while the camera and equipment registered every detail of impact.

If you ever bounce the ball slightly upwards on your paddle, you can actually hear the sweet spot, and can trace it on your paddle by lightly tapping it with a small hammer. The sweet spot sounds solid, while the irritating “tinny” noise outside the sweet spot is mostly all vibration.

The whole idea of inventor Howard Head’s Prince oversized tennis racket was to increase the size of the sweet spot by increasing the entire size of the hitting face. I worked with Howard and told his sweet spot story (polar moment of inertia, center of percussion, coefficient of restitution) thousands of times around the world.

All, and I mean ALL, the experts said it would never sell, but I was confident that tennis players wanted to enjoy the solid feel of the sweet spot. Today, all tennis rackets are oversized, and there is even a Harvard Business School Case Study of that remarkable Prince product introduction in a declining world market for rackets.

Remember, no matter how powerful your pickleball paddle, balls struck outside the sweet spot will simply go into the net, or float up over the net. The size and shape of the sweet spot will be influenced by the design, geometry, weight, weight distribution, and materials of the paddle. The manufacturer’s choice of materials and application can also enhance ball control. A simple detail such as thicker carbon fiber, for example, can cushion the impact and enhance control.

You can toss all the various explanations and run your own experiment to determine the effectiveness of the sweet spot. Put 40 pounds of sand in a backpack and wear it on a hot day. Stand at the “No Volley Zone” and have someone hit pickleballs for an hour at you to volley. As that extra weight wears you down, you no doubt will hit fewer balls in the sweet spot, and your shots will die or float off.

Getting into position and balanced to hit a shot is more important than the size of the sweet spot, but a larger sweet spot on your paddle is a definite plus in a fast volley exchange at net. Normally I say there are no magic silver bullets in pickleball or tennis because improvement is a result of physical conditioning and practice. However, a paddle or racket with a larger sweet spot gives you a definite leg up on the competition.

Incidentally, this sand experiment might help you get rid of some of that counterbalance you are carrying around your waist. Afterwards, reward yourself and go to the other sweet spot, Bonkeys, and start the cycle all over again.

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.