I was teaching a group of 9- to12-year-old beginners who love to flail away at the ball with reckless abandon. As you might imagine, they completely missed contacting the ball most of the time.
So this led me to pose the riddle-question that titles this article: What is known by the word “off” but is best “on” most of the time?
Answer: The “off hand.”
If you’re right-handed, your “off hand” is your left hand (and the opposite for a lefty). Virtually every beginner and many recreational players have no idea of the important role the “off hand” plays. Proof of this comes from watching them swing at the ball with their ‘”off hand” and arm limp at their side.
So, what is the role of the “off hand?”
First, it helps you support the racquet, allowing your dominant hand to relax on the handle while holding the racquet throat with the “off hand.”
Second, it supports the racquet while you change grips from forehand to backhand.
Third, keeping it on the racquet during your backswing for both forehand and backhand allows you to coil your core and get the proper shoulder turn, thus creating power from your upper body, not a bigger backswing.
Fourth, on the forehand stroke, it’s used to point out at the ball, helping gauge distance and timing to contact the ball solidly on the racquet.
Then, it catches the racquet at the end of the forehand follow-through, allowing for better preparation for the next shot.
On the one-handed backhand, it’s used as a counter balance behind you while the racquet follows through, further helping to maintain your overall balance.
On the two-handed backhand, it’s positioned on the handle, above the dominant hand. It actually generates the power for this shot by cocking the wrist, pushing forward, and staying on the handle throughout the follow-through over your opposite shoulder.
Fifth, for volleys, holding the racquet in the ready position (like the first description) helps keep the racquet head up (above the handle and the racquet) and out in front of you (two essential aspects of playing close to the net).
This improves your ability to keep the racquet stable while reacting quickly.
Sixth, and most obvious, is the service toss. This is the most readily recognized function of the “off hand” and is a whole lesson in itself.
The first five aspects are rather subtle but make up the basics for good stroke production. Practice and incorporate them into your strokes, and the “off” will always help you be “on.”
Lou Marino is a USPTA Cardio and Youth Tennis Coach who lives and teaches in the greater Bluffton-Hilton Head Island area.