This could potentially be a very short article. I don’t play penhold, and on the rare occasions that I have, I’ve found it to be extremely awkward. For most shakehand players, using the penhold grip is similar to a right hander playing left handed. I have started coaching a young player who wants to use this grip, so I’m trying to educate myself. In fact, I am not completely uninformed on this subject. One of my sons played penhold at a 1800 level, so I do know something about playing against penholders.
There are some facts that are generally known about this style of play. Most penholders stay close to the table, have good footwork, and use their forehand as often as possible. Modern penhold players use the reverse penhold backhand, utilizing the other side of their racket. These are the things that most everyone knows. As already stated, there is a lot that I don’t know, but let’s focus on what I do know for beginning penhold players.
- It’s not for everybody. I could have steered my newest student towards playing shake hand, and some things might have gone smoother. The fact that he is young, moves well, and favors his forehand, seemed to make him a good candidate for this style of play. He also had been using this grip, so we weren’t really starting from scratch.
- Many aspects of training will be the same, regardless of what grip is used. Individualizing a training schedule for a penhold player will mean a different approach than for a shake hand looper, but many skills will get nearly identical emphasis.
- Emphasize the positive. There are plenty of videos of great penhold players, and there are some very real benefits to this grip. Quality serves seem to come a little easier, and only using one side of the racket simplifies things somewhat.
- Good penhold players use finesse and power. Having a strong forehand is not enough to play successfully. While this style of play is very conducive for forehand attacks, it is also good for well placed blocks and loops. The flexibility and range of motion of the wrist can create some unique and beautiful shots.
Perhaps even more than shake hand players, penholders need to feel like the racket is an extension of their body. I sent my new student home with instructions to practice blocking by bouncing a ball against a wall. Anything to keep the racket in his hand will be important in these early stages of development. Hopefully he’s holding it while watching TV, and sleeping with it under his pillow. Eventually he might need to get some coaching from an experienced penholder. Until then, we’ll be learning together.