Ball Contact – How long is it?

What does it mean when your coach says, “Hit through the ball?”

Generally, he or she just means that you should lengthen your ball contact as much as possible. But is that even possible to accomplish? The answer is no, making that instruction far from ideal.

To understand this point, we need to know how much time the pickleball dwells on the paddle when they meet. Since so many tennis players are now taking up pickleball, we compared both sports.

From our high-speed camera work, we first learned that tennis ball contact lasts up to 4 milliseconds or up to 1/250th of a second. In actual distance as a part of the swing path, we calculated (with an average swing of 40-50 miles per hour) that the tennis ball dwell time occupies just about 2.5 inches. 

Pickleball is quite different. The contact dwell time averages just 2 milliseconds, which is only 1/500th of a second, and covers a distance of only 1.25 inches in length!

Why is there such a difference between tennis and pickleball? There are two reasons. 

  • First let’s cover the pickleball paddle versus a tennis racquet. The tennis racquet strings compress to increase the ball dwell time whereas the pickleball paddle is a hard surface, creating a faster rebound.
  • Second, tennis balls are soft and compress (and then decompress) to further lengthen the elapsed time and length of contact. On the other hand, pickleball balls are hard and rebound off the paddle faster, especially considering that the paddle surface is hard also. This results in a time lapse “event” of pickleballs striking the paddle at literally half the time of a tennis ball striking a tennis racquet.

All that said, there is one redeeming reason to try and lengthen your swing by trying to hit “through” the ball.

While you will not extend your contact length by this effort, you may be able to control the ball direction better in case you hit slightly earlier or later than you planned!

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