When I first began playing pickleball, I realized it was a sport the whole family could enjoy. I was very excited to get my child involved. This raised a question.
Did they need a child’s pickleball paddle, or could they use a standard paddle? I began researching, and learned the topic is more complicated than I first thought.
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Yes, Kids Need a Junior Paddle, But…
You are certainly aware that children differ from adults in a multitude of ways. The most obvious of these is size, but there are other important differences as well.
They don’t have the strength of adults, so they can struggle to wield a heavy paddle. Their motor coordination isn’t fully developed either. Until they reach 12-14 years old, a child’s coordination isn’t nearly that of an adult.
On top of that, their bodies are constantly changing. You may have noticed your child losing any coordination and grace they possessed during a growth spurt. As their bodies grow, they have to adjust to their new size and weight.
Kids do well with a kids pickleball paddle, usually known as a junior paddle, for all of these reasons. So, what’s the but?
Not All Junior Paddles are Created Equal
Ideally, a junior paddle would have several differences from an adult paddle. However, not all of them do.
The Size Conundrum
When you think of the difference between a child and adult item, size is probably the first thing that comes to mind. Many children’s items are simply scaled down to “child size”.
When it comes to pickleball paddles, it’s a bit more complicated. If you scale down the size proportionately, the sweet spot shrinks considerably.
Children are already at a disadvantage when it comes to reach and motor skills. A smaller sweet spot can make the game hard for them to master, or even enjoy.
Unfortunately, this is what some pickleball paddle manufacturers do. They use the same proportions as an adult paddle, scaled down for kids. As the paddle shrinks, so does the sweet spot.
The best youth paddle manufacturers acknowledge this, and redesign their paddle to negate this effect. For example, the new pickleball company Baddle elongated their youth paddle. This gives kids a smaller paddle size, without shrinking the sweet spot.
Kids do need a smaller grip size. Their hands are smaller than adults, so they will struggle to hold a paddle with an adult size grip. There are ways to modify the grip size with overgrip, but this also adds more weight.
It’s best to start with a paddle that has a smaller grip designed for child sized hands.
A paddle’s weight has a big effect on it’s effectiveness. Heavier paddles provide more powerful hits, while lighter paddles offer more ball control and maneuverability.
Adults typically choose a weight based on their preferred play style. However, if you have any type of physical issue, including tennis elbow, you should opt for a light paddle.
Paddle weights are designed based on adult strength. The spectrum, from light to heavy, are weights that the average adult can manage.
When it comes to kids, we need a new spectrum. A heavy paddle for a child would be much different from a heavy paddle for adults.
This can quickly get complex. To keep it simple, it’s important to understand that kids need a lighter paddle than adults, because they have less strength.
Are Youth Paddles Really Different?
We know that a child needs a paddle different from the average adult paddle, but are youth paddles really necessary? Are they really different than the adult models?
The answer is surprising. In short, it depends.
Paddle Grip Sizes
The grip size is one of the most important aspects of a paddle, for both adults and kids. Everyone needs a paddle that fits their hand comfortably.
You would expect a youth paddle to have a significantly smaller grip than an adult paddle, right?
Adult paddle grips range in size from 4 to 4.5. A small grip is 4″-4.125″. A medium grip is 4.25″, and a large grip is 4.5″.
The grip on most youth models is 3.625. This is noticeably smaller than the smallest adult size. If your child has small hands, this is ideal. However, if their hand is near a small adult size, a small adult paddle grip will work fine.
Now, you are probably wondering if youth paddles are lighter than adult paddles. They can be, but they aren’t always.
Youth paddles range in weight from 5.8 to 7 oz. This weight is ideal for most kids. It’s light enough to maneuver, and heavy enough to provide them with some power.
However, some lightweight adult paddles weigh as little as 6 oz. If you want a lightweight paddle for your child, you aren’t limited to only youth paddles.
Lightweight adult paddles weigh less than 7.2 ounces. Mid weight paddles weigh 7.3-8.4 oz. Heavy paddles weigh 8.5 oz or more, with the heaviest being 14 oz.
Do You Really Need a Youth Paddle?
Youth paddles can offer some benefits for kids, but they aren’t always necessary. When deciding if your child needs a youth paddle, there are some things you should consider.
Age and Size
When deciding if your child needs a youth pickleball paddle, age and size are important. If your child is younger, the slightly smaller grip and lighter weight of a youth paddle can be beneficial. However, if your child is 12 or older, or simply large or strong for their age, an adult paddle will work just fine.
Do You Need a New Paddle?
If you need to purchase a new paddle for your child, it makes sense to get the one that works best for them. However, if you already have an extra or spare paddle, there’s no rule saying they must use a youth paddle.
This also depends on how often they will play. If you expect them to play rarely, it’s ok to give them whatever paddle you have on hand. If they really enjoy the sport, then you should get them a paddle suited for their needs.
Price and Availability
Adult paddles may be a bit easier to find, but there’s no shortage of youth paddles these days. When it comes to price, there’s not much difference between the youth and adult models.
Both have a wide price range, depending on the company and quality of the paddle. However, you can purchase a comparable youth paddle for the same price of an adult paddle.
Determining Grip Size and Weight
Determining grip size and weight is pretty simple for younger players. You want the smallest and lightest paddle possible. However, if you have an older child or a teen, the process becomes more complicated.
Determining Ideal Weight
Children need a lightweight paddle. The paddle should weigh 7 ounces or less. However, older children and teens can consider a midweight paddle, particularly if they want more power. Older teens can choose any paddle that suits them and their play style.
Determining Grip Size
You can determine grip size with a measuring tape or ruler. Measure from the tip of your ring finger to the middle crease in your palm. This measurement is your ideal grip size.
This should be between 4-4.5 inches in adults, and smaller than 4 for most children.
Adjusting Grip Size
The easiest way to adjust grip size is with overgrip tape. However, this will only make the grip larger. If the grip size is too large, you’ll need to choose a paddle with a smaller grip size.
The Bottom Line on Youth Paddles
Youth paddles are beneficial for younger players, but they aren’t a necessity. There is only a small bit of difference between some youth and adult paddles in terms of weight and grip size.
What matters the most is that your child has a paddle that is light enough for them to use comfortably, and a grip size that fits their hand.
Do Kids Need a Youth Pickleball Paddle FAQs
Does the paddle matter in pickleball?
Yes, the paddle is very important in pickleball. You will need the right paddle to play your best. The wrong paddle can also increase the risk of injury, particularly over time.
Are kids pickleball paddles smaller?
Youth paddles are usually smaller in size. However, what’s important is the grip size and weight. A child’s paddle should have a small grip and be lightweight.
Do teens need a youth paddle?
Youth paddles are usually designed for kids 12 or younger. Teens should use a lightweight adult paddle with a grip size that fits them.