Everyone’s got an opinion on equipment. I’ve recommended quite a few paddles for beginners, and have come to a few conclusions. Getting the right racket is especially crucial for beginners and novice players. A racket that is too fast will only make it harder to learn, and will eventually cause real frustration. I learned this the hard way. Although it was twenty years ago, I vividly remember my first professional paddle. The fine people at Spintech were more than willing to sell me the fastest paddle they had. That is what I asked for. I ended up with an offensive carbon blade from Stiga with Donic Desto on both sides. I was initially thrilled. This was a big step up from my basic recreational paddle. I have to admit, that racket had a great feel to it. I found I was making shots from further back than I thought possible. The only problem was that I rarely played at that distance during matches. I had trouble with basic shots, returning serves, and just about every aspect of my game, other than playing way back from the table. I actually played much better with my $50 Stiga premade paddle.
Years of countless equipment changes resulted in an appreciation for defensive rackets that suit my style far more than my earliest purchases. It’s easy to go wrong with your first paddle. But, if faster isn’t necessarily better, what are the characteristics of a good starter paddle? A typical misconception is that beginners need very generic slow paddles. It’s possible to get a starter paddle that isn’t too fast but is really fun to use. If you are planning to buy a first racket, it’s a good idea to get a coach to help you. It’s also a good idea to get a second opinion. Ask two coaches. Whether you’re looking for yourself, or helping another player, you need to consider the following factors.
- It’s possible, and a good idea that you individualize the racket to the player. The needs of a small child won’t be the same as an adult who’s played recreationally. There doesn’t have to be a one size fits all approach to starter paddles. Even a first racket can be designed to accommodate a player’s strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies.
- The key is the blade. If in doubt about blade selection, gravitate towards the middle. If you are thinking it might be too fast, it probably is. There are some really good blades that are rated as all around. These types of blades can work for a wide variety of players. Five ply wood blades usually work well. You want a blade that allows you to feel the ball.
- As long as you don’t get a blade that’s too fast, you can get a little creative with the rubber. You also don’t have to spend a fortune. Avoid the high end bouncy rubbers, but go for something with good control, and consider a thinner sponge. A 1.5 thickness can work on the backhand, but I usually recommend 2.0 for the forehand. I wouldn’t normally recommend maximum thickness, or anything less than 1.5 for most players.
It’s possible to assemble a really nice racket that has some pop and great control. My normal advice to players who are getting their first professional racket is, “The right racket won’t automatically make you a better player, but it will definitely make you enjoy playing more.”