The 1-Step Serve
While on tour, the very gnarly to return against Pro Jerry Hilecher would walk along the back of the service box, as his service motion. When he’d almost reach the right sidewall, he’d toss the ball you couldn’t see and serve up a hidden drive in front of himself that looked like it came out of his right hip, as it began speeding along that right sidewall toward the rear corner. The walking drive was very, very hard to even see, let alone return.
Sometime back in the 90’s the 2-step serve was first done by Tim Sweeney, a “photon” drive server. The photon action would cause the ball to bounce and then magically spin right in place before it would take off in an even faster gear, rocketing into to the backcourt. In the blink of an eye, lightening fast National Champion Michael Bronfeld would dive to a corner to return a photon. Ask him about his Brian Fredenberg match and his many dives just to keep Brian’s photons in play.
Which Service Motion, Equipment or Contact Made Photon Better?
It’s not certain whether the 2-step motion contributed heavily to those super-fast photon serves … or was it the pressurized ball of the era, or the racquets back then, or where the server placed their strings on the dropped ball? When asked, Egan Inoue, another phenomenal photoner, answered that he placed the racquet strings on ball closer to him and a little <up>, too, on the outer rim of his sweet-spot. That spin and ball speed combo was just amazing to witness.
Feetwork to Serve
Feet work to serve ball has evolved, but to be effective it still must be based on these fundamental principles:
2) step up stance setting;
3) connecting press back
4) preparation (load back and loop up);
5) identical ball tosses;
6) weight transfer;
7) rotation of lower and upper body;
8) arm action from backswing to downswing to outswing;
9) final foot of magic, when racquet waves thru ball, determines its direction, revolutions and mph;
10) recovery or rebalancing; and
Now that’s a big build up to THE simplest form of feetwork we have to serve. It’s the one step (1-step) service motion. Now the 1-step far exceeds the plant and whack or two-footed plop and pop that’s like a jump stop, with an arm-only swipe used by some as their rally stroking method and it’s pretty much restricted to high lob serving. How the feet and legs interplay is a MAJOR KEY to the motion. The 1-step let’s you efficiently be the biped you are. It’s like how a baseball hitter learns to load their hips in one fluid motion, by getting down their stride to the pitcher to interplay both legs, as push open off back foot after stride starts rotation. Now as racquetball server, as you step up, continue pulling hand back and windup upper body. Front foot press back converts to untorque legs and then open hips. Torque wrist as arm/wrist/hand guides racquet head out thru ball. Contact magic happens due to commitment to swing, racquet flow thru ball, and untorquing arm/wrist even when lofting up a lob. Of course the action is far more exaggerated for a drive serve when *how* the racquet strings are placed on the ball determines its angle or trajectory, speed or pace and spin or action, as the ball curve can almost be at a non-constant angle, as it’s very unpredictable.
Today we’re going to review the technique for the one step (1-step) serve motion. (Notice that I didn’t limit it to the 1-step drive serve motion, as it’s also used for lobs, too) The 1-step is where you get set, step up (forward), wind up and … unleash your serve, via a simple motion, with great disguise, power on demand, a remarkable variety of serve options and an ability to impart useful spin or action on the ball. The 1-step motion is done from a stance supporting a medium to low contact stroke, like what you use for a cracking rally passing shot. In essence, that is what many drive serves are … from a set play stance, you step up, toss-n-hit, move into the ball and precisely place your pre-chosen passing shot-type serve in your backcourt target spot.
The 1-Step Service Motion Purposes
There are lots of purposes for serves and the 1-step can fulfill just about all of them. Waist high to knee high (or just below) is routine contact height for the 1-step. Strategically the 1-step provides the hitting platform for pretty much any serve, when unleashed from the very simple stance and with a coordinated, simple stroke motion. Manifold drive serves can be hit. While looking like you’re about to hit a drive serve, a surprise lob could be subbed in to the 1-step motion. To 1-step, simply balance, step up and, as you finalize prep and load back, toss ball forward, connect legs (with front-to back-to front), drop down (bend knees), and all-in-one execute your body and arm motion attacking your ball toss. Two of the biggest advantages of the 1-step motion are its repeatable consistency and, due to the routine more upright server posture, legal screening or somewhat hiding the ball on its way back into the backcourt is a byproduct of the server standing taller vs it being a deliberate tactical ploy. After the serve is away, that more upright posture, as well as usually not being as far forward in the service box as the 2-step motion, allows the 1-stepper to *get out of the box* quicker, too. Getting back in good position in center court is important. Covering the receiver’s return is the second part of any serve strategy.
… for better understanding …
Here’s a Quick Primer on The Screen Serve Rule
The Screen Serve is a “served ball that first hits the front wall and on the rebound passes so closely to the server, or server’s partner in doubles, that it prevents the receiver from having a clear view of the ball”. As the ball crosses the short line, the point is can you, as the receiver, see the ball as it passes by on either side of the server? If the server is inside the 3′ out drive serve lines on each wall and the served ball angles and hits within a couple feet of either back corner, it’s probably not a screen. In self officiated play, only the receiver can make the screen call. Even in competition, the referee often defers to the judgment of the receiver as to whether they can see the “screen” well enough to have an advantage returning. If the receiver believes they are screened, they raise their non-racquet hand as a signal to the ref and then the ref decides. First, the receiver must start in the center to get the screen call.
The 1-Step Forehand Motion
Most players serve with their forehands. Pretty much everyone learns to serve that way, by facing their forehand sidewall, in a pre-sidearm throw prep, with the racquet drawn back. Then they step up, load back, push forward and throw the racquet head out, thru the ball and hit the ball across in front of them. In early reps, players raise their racquet in their windup prep motion and initially they learn to serve by hitting these crosscourt drive serves. A right-handed player serving to another righty’s backhand uses that crosscourt motion. The point is the drive is easier to hit across your body than it is to hit away from your body down along the wall that you face. You have to train up hitting a down the line serve, like when a lefty serves down along the left wall to the left, rear corner or a righty serves to the right, rear corner. It requires an in to out action, striking the part of the ball closer to you and then flowing the part of the strings that struck the ball to directly point at your front wall target spot. That front wall spot, to keep the ball along the wall, is a little under halfway between where you make ball contact and the sidewall in front of you. The basic object is to either crack out the down the line (DTL) serve directly in the back corner or to make the ball bounce twice before it gets to the corner. Eventually learning to hit a serve that just barely clears the short line and glances off the sidewall or cracks out will be in your plans. That crack-out stroke action would be a little more inside-out or further from you on the front wall and by making contact with the part of the ball that’s closest to you.
Serve with Feel
Finding or confirming these angles and sorting out your mechanics is done while playing and definitely during repetitive practice. When it comes to serving in competition, your feel for both your front wall target spot and the stroke that finds that spot from your 1-step motion and its balance, efficiency of action and reliability empowers you to go for it and have many serve options.
The Basic Steps to 1-Step
First, set your back foot by stepping back like you’re about to hit a low contact stroke in a rally. Also, begin to lift your racquet. Here are the individual steps to execute a 1-step, full body serve:
- Set feet a little under shoulder width apart in initial neutral stance
- Load: begin to wind hips away (turn waist), along with initially beginning to lift racquet over back shoulder, with elbow flexed, and also raise hand holding ball waist high
- Load up inside of back foot with piston down or pressing down
- Time ball toss with initial move forward, (as you’ll move in to attack tossed ball after you’ve moved and turned into your set stance)
- Lift front foot, step up, and plant lightly … in stance adjustable to ball contact height
- Finalize pulling racquet hand back and winding back upper body
- Begin to work against front leg with right away key kick back off inside of front foot which brings alive and releases body spring to allow coming, leg drive, hip flip and core turn
- Push forward off inside of rear foot
- At same time as front foot is settling accepting push, loop arm in downswing (to begin to level off and point racquet backwards)
- Turn back knee and flip connected hip starting upward flowing body rotation
- Walk away from racquet hand unweighting racquet, which means slide sideways toward front of stance, as racquet head is fully leveled off
- Drive elbow forward as wrist torques or twists loading up for final explosive snap thru the ball (note that now is when covering opponent will be able to move to cover expected shot. If they move before this, PASS UM!)
- Keep pushing to open via forward turn up thru untorquing hips toward opening waist to front wall
- Core bridges beginning shoulders fling, as non-racquet side crunches, freeing and fueling racquet side rotation
- Racquet head drives forward in shallow arc, as lower body keeps rotating, racquet flows thru butt pointing at target, and racquet arm subtly, but critically begins separating from bend at elbow
- Core-powered shoulder fling, with chest assist, accelerates arm sling created by shoulder action either abducting (arm out from midline) for BH or shoulder adducting (arm moving in) for FH.
- In sweeping, committed motion, arm flow keys serve’s power + accuracy
- Guide racquet out in hand-eye coordinated, strings-to-ball-goal swing arc
- As contact arrives, to snap, arrowing arm begins to roll or spiral first in the elbow and forearm, then adding wrist at last second, as both interweave powering racquet head spiral thru ball
- Racquet face angle and its force thru contact shapes shot trajectory
- Following focused ball contact, with the stroke’s fastest motion so far, by far, the slapping of the racquet face across or completely thru the ball flows into the follow-through first pointing strings to target and going on to point racquet hand knuckles at target wall
- Racquet head keeps turning over post impact, as arm wraps around you finishing low, by turning thru to Palm Down for the FH or toward, though less completely to Palm Up for the BH
- Racquet finishes behind you off-shoulder high
- Extricate yourself from box, as fast as possible
- Shift from front foot to back foot, balance up and gather yourself, as you body pivot ball side, while picking up (seeing) and reading receiver’s return cues (tactics and shot choice)
- Use front foot first step crossover (front over back) or crisscross (front behind back), as either are fastest feetwork start to cover court more than ~6′ to get into coverage or to pursue the ball
- Use downshift-and-go; after tapping on your brakes in center (powering down with knee bend). Get in crouch, readying to improvise tracking down expected ball when receiver’s elbow starts forward (after starting their downswing and racquet point back)
- Racquet shields you as you cover while anticipating: 1) cutting off return thru the middle; or 2) doing two step out to blanket wall, cutting off DTL return (with back foot step to wall and front foot diagonal step up to swing; or 3) either retreat fast to shoot in backcourt or advance even faster to front court to cover low return attempts
Nuances of 1-Step Motion
Due to its simplicity, the 1-step motion is tailor-made for drive serves meant to: (a) dart to the back corners; (b) crackout right past the short line; (c) or, for example, optionally angle to bounce and then graze sidewall at 37′ to take its second bounce right up against the back wall; that serve gets around receiver’s hard charging cutoff of ball angling to back court. The 1-step can also produce an array of drive Z’s, jam serve angles and lobs for tactical placements in both singles and doubles. All that it takes is practice and stick-to-ed-ness to find your favorite serve options.
The 1-Step Backhand
In addition to the routine forehand, the backhand offers two qualities which makes it worthwhile to learn how to serve both hard, with backhand drives that pressure the receiver, and also soft, with less powerful drives and off-speed lobs, too. The lighter hit off-speed drive and off-speed lob can also be hit with cut or inside-out racquet flow to shape a serve angling right along the sidewall and into your backhand rear corner. Serving with your backhand fortifies your backhand stroke so it becomes a weapon you may count upon to return serve or to shoot rally backhands to gain an advantage by occupying lots of space, with its bigger swing arc than the forehand. By capitalizing on its versatile shotmaking, one-wall passes and kill-shots, a multitude of sidewall shots, ceilings and aggressive high Z defensive shots can be struck with your 1-step backhand service motion.
Backhand Power Drive Serve
The backhand drive serve, particularly back behind you toward your forehand, rear corner is very hard to see and hard to read what action the serve stroke puts on the serve. A righty crosscourt backhand is actually powered by the same type of spin as a lefty forehand. And it’s the same type of righty forehand spin when a lefty serves backhands crosscourt to the left, rear corner. Hitting across your body also generates lots of stroking force.
An Aside: Tactical Serving Attacking Receiver’s Strength
It’s counterintuitive that the lefty server would attack the righty forehand with their lefty forehand crosscourt serve. The righty receiver takes it as an effrontery because the serve is directed at their major strength, their forehand. Yet it’s a great challenge to return the lefty forehand serve, which seems to just keep breaking away from the struggling receiver as they pursue the serve angling further and further into the sidewall. The point is that serving with the 1-step and using your forehand or backhand to attack both corners should be in your serving bag of tactics.
1-Step Serving Versatility
The 1-step motion can adapt to produce a vast array of hard and off-speed drive serves, medium speed lob serves and a variety of sideways angles or width and vertical angles from contact at as high as chin high down to shin high.
Crosscourt Tactical Serves
When serving across your body, the serve is both hard to see for the receiver and it’s also the way to hit your serve or rally shot your very hardest. That goes for hitting your backhand crosscourt (like serving a crosscourt forehand to your backhand corner as your most powerful forehand stroking form). A crosscourt backhand (or forehand) is potentially the hardest serve because it calls upon so many sources of force. Here’s how-to engage those forces: pull your racquet from behind where it starts in prep. Loop the arm and racquet down. Then push the arm out into the slot that arcs out and thru ball impact zone. Ultimately the fast-moving outward flowing centrifugal, reaching away force is even surpassed by powerful inwards pulling force, as you finish centripetally pulling in toward you when crushing the ball. And, as you complete the stroke, flow the racquet to finish in toward your body. The racquet continues pulling inward on into your follow-through that flows around behind you after first flowing in the direction of your crosscourt serve. Even an inside-out motion still finishes with an inwards finish.
In to Out Backhand Serve
Imagine grabbing a Smart car small tire and tossing it toward the front wall with all the force you can muster from your backhand, frisbee toss stroking motion. Now that’s a crosscourt motion. Although it’s not as powerful as the outside-in crosscourt serve, the inside-out serve, for instance, as a righty backhand serve to the left, rear corner, can still be hit hard when using the 1-step motion to attack a righty backhand return or to catch a lefty off guard who’s expecting a serve to their backhand side. A really tricky doubles serve and a way to work on racquet control is to hit a backhand serve inside-out aiming to catch the crack on the sidewall in your target zone between the dashed receiving line and about 5′ from the back wall. When to hit inside-out: as the other team’s doubles opponent on the same side as your back to the wall partner begins to tactically, unwisely move up toward the receiving line hoping to crowd your partner’s movement into coverage or pressure your serve, NOW it’s time to attack them. With your backhand, go for that crack on the sidewall next to the doubles poacher and throw a wrench in their works, their team return coverage. That player will probably have to leave your serve for their partner who will start out of position when covering your serve. Of course, hitting that same serve angle with your crosscourt forehand is doable with your 1-step motion, too. Tactically it places the served ball in the middle in deep court and your partner may stay closer to the sidewall in coverage, a formation seen more and more often in doubles positioning. You don’t have to give up the pinch, just the straight in and crosscourt to the far, rear corner.
Now Let’s Pour Over Some More Details About the 1-Step
The 1-Step drive allows you to take a little extra time to produce a powerful, adaptive stroke optionally from higher or lower contact, with lots knee and hip turn that travels up into core untwist, shoulder spin and massive potential arm whip. While the 2-step motion supports a faster, lower lateral move which adds lots of potential force, it’s not as versatile as the 1-step motion. Again the 1-step … 1) allows you to transition from an apparent drive serve to a lob serve motion; 2) allows you to speed up your service box escape when serving from a more upright stroke form; and 3) allows you to make contact with your serve at multiple contact heights to deliver a variety of serve heights to thoroughly test your receiver’s return skills. With the 1-step, you can still create a very low, grass-cutter service angle. Or you can make higher contact looking for a deep corner first bounce to fly the ball out of that back corner along that sidewall. Similarly thigh high to waist high contact can produce higher drive Z and jam fly serve angles that challenge the movement and higher contact shot-response skills of both singles and doubles receivers. For instance, a leaning drive Z that is served into the target front corner to then diagonally cross the court, bounce, contact the far sidewall about 6′ out from the back wall then angle diagonally back to die right up against the back wall about 6′ out from the sidewall. Jam fly serves or as it’s been coined wrap around serves can go into the front wall at a higher level and retain that height as the jam caroms off the first sidewall, veers to the middle in back, contacts and pops off the back wall and flies out to the far sidewall still at waist high challenging the receiver to have to move and shoot medium height to low for a way too tempting kill-shot return; also having to counter jam spin to shoot DTL.
1-Step Test of Receiver’s Return Height Control
A higher incoming served ball tests the receiver’s ability to shoot either the aggressor’s tendency to shoot a bunch of kill-shot returns or to control the shot height and avoid either a back wall setup or a left up ball in mid court when attempting a high contact to lower wall target spot for a passing shot angle.
Rotation Friendly Form
As mentioned earlier, the more upright approach, simpler feetwork by getting your feet organized and then setting the front foot and pressing back starts the back to front highly coordinated lateral turning action. By pressing back with the front foot, as you step up, it releases the trail side to initiate a bottom up, back to front sideways boosted, full body turn into the ball. It creates a very balanced stroking base and builds rotation that is transferred up thru the core into the upper body and the arm slingshot effect out and forcefully thru contact. By setting the legs to allow turn and not over closing the feet, it’s a motion that’s very knee and lower back friendly. It can be done again and again, with less fatigue to deliver precise placements, match after match, even in demanding back-to-back tourney formats. A slightly open stance is optimal to ensure back leg drive and optimal body turn. Even a partially closed, half a tennis shoe further out to sidewall front foot isn’t as body pivot friendly. The in-between parallel feet position or golfer stance, sans cleats, is a poor, imbalanced stance. A 45 degree angled stance is not good form, as it blocks the knee and back turns. Court drilling builds your comfort zone with your feet placement and finding and training up what works best for you.
Freewheeling Arm Motion
The established, solid stroking base sets up the upper body crunching core and augmenting chest and upper back to fling the shoulders and then momentously sling the racquet arm at the racquet shoulder joint. Then the triceps, forearm and wrist unleash and uncork great arm momentum creating extremely adaptive serve options.
Drill Arm Motion
Start by rhythmically drilling your arm motion. From your full backswing, with racquet well overhead, perform a flowing downswing to arc and point back and then sweep in arc out and thru contact. The racquet head flows out toward your sidewall and then continues arcing thru the ball, on to your wall target and then low around you. But, first, before the follow-through, the integral, final, potentially explosive back-to-front forearm, wrist, hand and racquet handle spiral must be perfected so it works like clockwork and is reliable and trusted. Do it in exaggerated super-slow motion. Learn the position of the racquet head throughout its full flow so you can control it thru the impact zone and so that you can recapture the flow should it wander during a match. The racquet head starts by pointing upwards. It flows in the initial arcing downswing to point back and on into a Palm Up position for the forehand (FH) or Palm Down for the backhand (BH), with the elbow still bent. Then, while arcing out to the ball and arrowing the arm, the forearm first spirals, as the racquet face begins turning from facing up for the FH or out to sidewall for the BH. The wrist joins in to spiral, too, and supercharge the racquet head turn. The racquet head points out at the sidewall thru contact. Note that the forearm/wrist spiral action works optimally when the hand is below the elbow. Control over the racquet head’s *spin* is how you manage your racquet head thru ball contact to create the trajectory visualized for your pre-selected serve and felt service motion to achieve your chosen serve placement. A trick I use to train up racquet head control is waist high to low target practice. I drop and hit while shooting from behind the short line toward a spot low on the front or sidewall. You’ll find that once you can control that high to low action, you can develop a flatter swing to produce your felt front wall target when executing medium or lower contact drive serves. Those serves can be hit from contact just mere inches off the floor up to about 3′ high, depending on your pre-picked contact height, your toss, and how the front foot step up sets your contact-adjusted stance width. Being fallible, if your toss or stance isn’t just right, adjust and pick your doable serve angle width-wise. Once you’ve dropped the ball, you have to serve it.
Drill 1-Step Foot work
The interplay between the front and the back foot is what creates balance, stability, stroking power potential and target control. From set back foot, piston down or march in place, and then step up. Press back, release and push off to acceptant front foot, including encouraging turn up thru knees –> then hips –> then core –> then chest and shoulder turn –> into arm slingshot –> to whip arm with body weight predominately on front foot thru contact.
Drill 1-Step Foot work Steps
(1) Turn and face sidewall
(2) Feet narrow
(3) Cock back waist/hips
(4) Piston down back foot
(4) Sneak step up low with front foot
(5) Press back right away
(6) Final load back
(7) Quick push off
(8) Untorque knees on up
(9) Flip hips
(10) Rotate core
(11) Bridge off side
(12) Fling shoulders
(13) Sling arm
(14) With shoulder motion, move arm to midline for forehand or away from midline for backhand
(15) Spiral arm, wrist and racquet
(16) Make contact with forearm and wrist-powering strong hitting platform of arm, wrist joint, hand and racquet
(17) Post contact shift front foot to back foot
(18) Move to D-up using best, practiced feetwork for this serve situation while always being cognizant of the receiver’s movement and shotmaking cues.
Practice Getting into Coverage After 1-Step Serve
After the serve is away, bounce the box (escape) while looking to gobble up any left up slop returned by the receiver you’re closely watching. Train up feetwork to find your best method for principles of balanced movement to center, ready stance to cover and efficiency actions to track and crack their return, with chance taking prioritized because you’re in attack-mode. You’re the server. The ball’s in your court.
The Basics Of The Game
Studying up on Racquetball 101 is your first step toward getting really good playing racquetball.
• Exercise and Mental Diversion – Racquetball is a very fast paced and challenging game. That’s why many make it a big part of their fitness program and many more should. The game provides a great cardio workout and it burns gobs of carbs, too. Racquetball also provides compelling strategic challenges, as fellow competitors share the field of battle together, while occupying the same court and battling for central position. The reason many find racquetball a great way to get exercise is because it keeps you motivated by pursuing and returning a bouncy little ball to the front wall target. It’s alternating skillfully swinging often as hard as you can for purposeful shots, while also playing defense while your competitor return the ball and you either try to keep the ball in play by making lunging gets or you do so by hustling and stretching to spontaneously control the ball with your racquet and, via your shot placements, you seek to turn the flow of the rally and game in your favor.
• Enjoy the Learning Challenge – Learning to play racquetball should NOT be one of the most intimidating things you ever do. The game looks fast from outside the court looking in. Once you are aware of reading and timing the ball and efficient court movement technique or good footwork that intimidation factor will dissipate rapidly. Do know that at full speed in a tournament match, the game can leave even the most athletic person wondering if they are really in top shape. It takes good fitness and efficient footwork to run and move effectively to shoot and it calls upon versatile, highly-efficient movement skills when recovering and covering between shots, after serving, and when returning serve, as well. Without moving well shooting is not the primary focus. First, footwork skill will have to become second nature before shooting becomes the determining factor in winning rallies.
• Racquetball Learning Curve – The learning curve goes a little like this: The first time you get in the court you are there to learn how the ball bounces off the walls and floor and where you need to be when serving, returning and rallying. Your early competitors will gladly give you a free tour of the court, as they hang out in the middle running you. You’ll dash around feverishly returning what you can to the must-hit target, the front wall. You may seem to always be in one of the 4 corners or scurrying up and down along one sidewall.
• You Learn to Adapt – You will learn about the speed of the game. You will learn how the ball rebounds off the front wall and you’ll be glad there’s a back wall so you won’t have to run back any further. You’ll also be glad to have the back wall to shoot setups when your competitor leaves a shot off that wall for you. And, if the ball gets behind you, whacking a well-placed save into the back wall is a good Plan B to protract the rally. In the game are multiple stroking and movement skills and dynamics or variations in those skills that you will add to your skill set, like different sized strokes (which are all shorter versions of your full stroke form which contains the always present, key ball contact snap motion). You must morph your strokes into becoming second nature and almost automatic for you. Then your shot decision-making becomes intuitive, appearing to be almost preternatural due to your stroke’s shotmaking consistency and versatility. Knowing when to use what stroke size and being precise dialing in your form for a specific shot is due to how you see in your mentally imagery your form working for this situation by playing lots, practicing patterns of play (POP), and augmenting visualization as you play and even as you see yourself playing, moving and stroking with your form off court, as well.
• On the Court Training – In the first few games, you will gain some confidence as you learn to extend the rallies by returning the serve of your competitor and getting into a rally. You may even secure some points when you serve with your hustle and thinking your way through the rallies. You begin to understand being patient or waiting for your attack. And you learn the value of strategy, like playing to your strengths, while attacking what you recognize as weaknesses in your competitor. And you recognize weaknesses of your own that you need to improve which you will mask or cover for now until you can make them into strengths. You learn when and how to anticipate or take chances and move. You learn when (and how) to move to get to serves you see (or believe) are coming; as you see returning by just staying in the middle is just wishful thinking. And you read by watching the competitor set up to make ball contact where their rally shot is going to be placed. And, as they release their arm to swing, you make your covering run to occupy that spot and defend or, when able, go in attack mode shooting the response you mentally envision as your best shot available (BSA) for this ball’s POP.
• Things You Must Understand on Court – The full set of official USA racquetball rules is at this link: (http://www.teamusa.org/usa-racquetball/how-to-play/rules). The basics rules are simple and intuitively obvious. You and your competitor take turns hitting shots back to the front wall and giving way to one another to make straight line runs to get to the ball the competitor just hit. Full swings thru must allow both a down the line (DTL) or straight shot and crosscourt angles to the far, back corner on all shots. And a voluntary, “My bad”, when you don’t, followed by, “The rally’s yours, your serve”.
• Game Formats – Racquetball is a game that has 4 formats:
(1) singles or one-on-one competition with one serving, the other returning, the rally winner serves next and only the server may score when the rally is theirs;
(2) doubles where 2 teammates compete against another pair of players where the biggest difference from singles is both players on a team get to hit the ball on offense, but once one partner commits to hit their other partner must give way and let the other team play defense VS block them out;
(3) cutthroat where 3 players are competing for points against each other and in rallies 1 player serves while the other 2 players play 2 on 1 against the server. The server wins rally to point and serve again or loses the rally to return, as another player rotates in, and the former server takes their place to return in back; and
(4) in-and-out where 3 players are on court, with only two playing a singles rally, while the 3rd player stays out of the way by hustling back and forth across the back wall. The rally winner serves and the rally loser is replaced by the 3rd player who then returns serve.
• Basic Rules – The rules of racquetball are simple. Serve when you win the previous rally. When you lose the rally, you return. To serve, you stand between the first 2 lines crossing the 20′ wide court. To put the serve in play, face one sidewall and bounce the ball on the floor in front of you as you also prep or take your backswing for the stroke you use when facing that way. When your racquet arm is away from the front wall, it’s a forehand stroke and when the racquet arm is closer to the front wall, it’s a backhand stroke. Then to put the ball in play, as the ball reaches your contact spot, you swing thru directing the ball to hit the front wall in the air or on the fly. Hit thru the ball so that it carries on the fly to pass the short line which is halfway back in the court (20′), while directing the ball toward your target in the backcourt. Then move to get back into coverage in center court close to the third dashed line. Note that the short line is usually the middle line on courts correctly marked with 3 lines. The first line, the service line is 15′ back from the front wall. You may step on but not completely over the service line as you serve. Again, the second line is the short line and, as server, you can not pass that line until your served ball does first. The third line is broken or dashed and it is the encroachment line or safety zone line. It’s 25′ back. The receiver of the serve may only cross the broken line when the served ball bounces in the five foot wide safety zone between the broken and short lines. Also, a served ball that on the fly carries beyond the broken line can be returned or hit in midair, but the receiver cannot cross the broken line with their feet, arm or racquet before the ball crosses, as they are setting up to swing thru the ball in midair right as it crosses that safety line. A serve may be returned after it bounces or it may be returned right out of midair. A legal serve must strike the front wall and be able to bounce past the short line and before the back wall. A served ball may not strike the ceiling. A served ball may strike one sidewall and, if it does, then the ball must be able to bounce before the back wall. Also, a served ball striking one sidewall must be able to bounce past the short line and before it could carry across the court and strike the other sidewall on the fly. Those 3 examples of serves they could bounce are moot if the ball is returned in midair before it bounces or strikes a wall.
• Return of Serve Rule – To return serve, the receiver must start in the backcourt more than 25′ back behind that broken line. Quite a bit further back is a more effective spot to return because the receiver must protect the corners where the serve is often aimed.
• Return of Serve Positioning – Starting within a stride out from the back wall in the middle while facing forward is a good spot to cover the backcourt when returning even the speediest, most precise of hard drive serves shot into the comers. It’s the serve receiver’s option where to be to return, but hedging over to one side gives the server a green light and opening to attack the least covered side. Taking a step over to one side after the server turns away is a tactical ploy by the receiver.
• Rally Rules – The receiver must return the served ball before it bounces twice. The receiver’s return may reach the front wall by contacting any combination of walls and the ceiling, but once struck it must not strike the floor before contacting the target front wall.
• Skip Ball Result – A struck ball hitting the floor before it strikes the front wall is called a skip ball. The player who skipped the ball returns the next serve. A skip is a point if the player skipping the ball is the receiver of the serve when they skip either their return of serve or, after their successful return, they skip a shot during the extended rally. If the receiver returns the server and then the server skips a ball during the continuing rally, the receiver becomes the server, no point is tallied and the server becomes the receiver. Skips are particularly bad and indicative of poor stroking form or poor shot decision making, like picking and shooting too low when shooting on the dead run or when making contact with the ball at a very high point of contact and attempting to hit an extremely low front wall target.
• How to Score – The primary objective of the game is to win by getting the most points. You win points by hitting either a served ball or shot in the extended rally that your receiver competitor is unable to return to the front wall.
• Scoring Points, Winning and Repeating Rallies – Points are only scored by the server who is the player starting the rally with the ball in hand. There are several ways for a rally to end. Examples include:
1) If the ball bounces more than once on the floor before being hit to the front wall by the service receiver who is offensively playing the ball, the other player (or team) wins the rally and a point as the side serving. If the server allows the ball to bounce more that once after the receiver’s return or after the return in the rally, the receiver wins the rally and takes over serve. That is called a sideout.
2) If an errant or miss-angled shot by the shooter happens to strike the competitor on the ball’s way to making it to the front wall, that is a hinder call and the rally is replayed.
3) If the ball strikes the competitor when the ball is shot and the competitor is blocking the ball from going either straight in or across the court to the far, back corner, that is a penalty hinder and the shooter wins the rally and a point if they’re serving or a sideout and the serve if they’re the receiver.
• Playing Culture – Like touching and moving your golf ball when setting your club down behind the ball before swinging, penalty hinders, two bounce gets and skips should be self-called. Note that there’s no dishonor in causing a penalty hinder. It happens. However, replaying the point is bad for racquetball. The basic premise of the penalty hinder is the hindering player must not take away an offensive opportunity from the shooting player. Penalty hinders are discussed throughout Racquetball 101.
• Game Scoring – Matches are won by taking 2 out of 3 games. Games 1 and 2 are played to 15 points. When the first two games are split, a 3rd tiebreaker game is played to 11 points, with player scoring most total points serving first in the breaker. And, just like in games 1 and 2, it’s win by one in game 3. Professionals play all games to 11 points, with a 3 out of 5 game format, and winning each game must be by at least a two point margin or play continues until one side is ahead by two.
• Basic Strategy and Rules of Play – The games’s strategy requires strength and finesse to move effectively and control your stroking of the ball with repeatable form, intelligent shot placement and smart movement after swinging thru the ball to clear out of the way AND move to cover the competitor’s possible return. As mentioned earlier, the rules mandate that the shooting player be allowed 2 shots at all times from their court position. Those include one shot straight to the front wall and a second shot across the court to the farthest back corner away from ball contact. Movement to give those shots, to allow a full swing and to not move to block those shots is the rule, and it goes for the server after they serve the ball, too. A diagonal shot across the court into the opposite front corner is NOT an angle required to be left open. In fact that’s exactly where to stand in coverage, between the ball and the opposite front corner, while actually toeing that imaginary line between the ball in backcourt and the front corner. From there coverage to all 4 corners is doable. Although taking away the shot into the comer must done by getting there *before* the offensive player is in position to shoot. If the shooter gets in position to shoot first or before the coverage player is in position to defend, it’s illegal to move in late and block the shot into the opposite front corner or any corner if the defensive positioning is too late. If the coverage player gets there second, that blocking of the shot is a penalty hinder.
• Techniques – The sport of racquetball requires a unique set of techniques to contact the ball with body balance which supports the ability to turn and simultaneously swing the arm to a climax of the stroke at ball contact. A large part of mastering racquetball is returning your competitor’s stroked serves and shots and then placing the ball with your own accurately placed shots which ideally your competitor can’t return or must return weakly or defensively. You need not hit the ball faster and harder than your competitor, but you must return their heat and attempt to place your shots so the competitor is:
(a) ideally out of the middle;
(b) rushed to react in their coverage;
(c) straining to reach the ball; or
(d) shooting the ball on the run VS shooting when their feet are set under them.
It should not be regimented that one predetermined shot be taken, like, for instance, all shots must go down the line (DTL) or straight in. The exception to deciding a shot or ball’s direction early is, of course, when serving. Clearly predetermine your serve’s flight by picking your serve before you begin your service motion that starts with the continuous motion to drop the ball and then deliver the ball to your front wall target, while looking to place the ball in your ultimate target area in the back half of the court.
In rallies it’s very tough to mandate one shot or even have two in mind when possible action (angle and spin) on the ball, your competitor’s positioning and a combination of your reaction time, your success tracking down the ball and your stroke preparation all should play big roles in your shot picking and shooting success, while not being distracted by pre-programming any shots or movements either. It’s a spontaneous sport and adapting is a huge part of effective moving, shooting and coverage that takes place when returning serve or after serving or after shooting in rally.
• Strokes – There are basically 2 kinds of strokes that are chosen according to ball contact height. They are strokes for *High Contact* above the chest up to the shoulders and even as high as above the head and *Low Contact* strokes for ball contact from very low at just above the court up to about chest high.
• Low Contact Stroke Basics – A low contact stroke begins with the back swing and setting the back foot. The back swing is with the feet, arms and whole body. The back swing includes lifting the racquet up to shoulder height or even higher above the head for higher ball contact and more potential for power generation in the forward swing. After the back swing, the uninterrupted arm forward swing flows right into the downswing to produce rally shots (and serves) when making ball contact from as low as ankle bone low all the way up to chest high. The 2 low contact strokes are the forehand and the backhand. The forehand is like a sidearm throwing motion that’s begun by pulling the arm cocked back behind you in the same motion used to hurl a ball. The backhand is like a frisbee toss at a fast speed, with the arm drawn or pushed across the body for lots of shoulder turn action in both the prep back and then important shoulder return to ensure solid ball contact while swinging forcefully thru. For either stroke, the final racquet flow thru the contact portion is on a horizontal line to a slightly declining line. The parallel to court swing for low contact and a low wall target or low-to-low is preferable. The racquet takes a slightly declining line for high ball contact (above shin high) down to produce a low wall target. In any case, after contact the arm swings thru to point forward and then flow up to follow-through around you.
• Low Contact Address, Prep, and Swing – For either stroke, the first move after tracking down the ball to is turn-and-face (the stroke’s) sidewall. That turn and face keys the stroke, with facing your forehand wall for your forehand and backhand wall for your backhand. Also, for low contact, start by spacing yourself, for low balls, a 1/2 a step behind the ball and always an arm and racquet reach away when initially setting the back of your 2-step stance. Simply step back setting the back of the hitting stance with the back foot, while also lifting the racquet and also initially drawing back the off arm for balance. Also, begin turning your body away from your wall target. Then, as the ball gets closer, step up or forward with the front foot landing it a half a tennis shoe closer to the sidewall than the back foot. For higher contact, the hitting stance is narrower and a step up may not be necessary. The narrow stance is set as the back foot steps and the front foot is tugged along posting and helping transition to finalizing the stance width. For high contact, that’s where the front foot stays, where it posted. After step up toe first or light touch down on the post, right away press back, piston down on back foot, while loading back and completing your racquet backswing and spreading the arms apart. As the ball is just about to reach your picked contact point (that you set up behind so you’d move into your shot), push off the back foot toward the front, draw the off arm in and loop the racquet arm down in your downswing until the racquet head that was pointing up in prep now points back. The loop out and thru ball contact is just about to occur. About a foot before ball contact, when passing thru the racquet butt pointing to the target and just as your knee drive and resulting body turn is peaking, turn over your arrowing arm and mesh and blend with your wrist, and, in the blink of an eye, whip SNAP the racquet head back-to-front spiraling the elbow, forearm, wrist, hand and racquet head quickly, fluidly thru in a windshield wiper finish projecting the ball off the moving and pointing strings.
• Rally Target Shooting – How the racquet flows and turns to point the strings at contact determines what wall and where on the wall your shot targets. Ideally point the racquet face to place the shot far away from your competitor. Also, usually place the ball away from you, too. You do not want to be where ball and competitor’s racquet may converge. Know that as the competitor seeks to return your shot, you are NOT their primary concern. Consider that for a down the line (DTL) even the slightest of changes in shot angle avoids causing the ball to unsafely come right back at you.
• For Low Contact, Let Ball Drop —> Contact-wise it’s usually best to let the ball drop as low as you can and take the ball lower rather than when it’s higher, especially above the waist. As the ball descends, a low-to-low swing thru contact has a better chance of producing a low target result than say a chest high ball and seeking a low wall target or, again, even waist high contact and shooting down to produce a very low kill-shot target. Note a kill-shot is a ball that bounces twice before the first line. Also, allowing the ball to drop means it’s usually going slower and you’ve had a longer time to take in the situation or pattern of play, while noting: (1) where are you; (2) where is the ball shootable; and (3) very importantly where is your non target, the competitor positioned and where could they be after moving. Of course who’s serving, what’s the score, what’s been working up until now and what tactical shot options do you have all factor into your shot selection, too.
• Low Contact and Require’d High to Low Shooting – Sometimes you’re up closer to the front wall in the mid court and ball pace prevents you from retreating to allow the ball drop lower. Then a truncated backswing powers your compact QuickDraw stroke as a good plan B. Here higher contact after the ball bounces up in front of you is your challenge and high to low shooting is a skill you must develop and own. Another high to low stroking situation is when you’re deep in the court and you can’t back up any further. Say you select a low passing shot 1-3′ high front wall target, an angled down trajectory to your desired wall target to place the ball away from your competitor. Eventually you may develop the skill to shoot high to low and shape a shot for a very low front wall target with an over the top, spiraling, windshield wiper arm and wrist motion, a beveled racquet face flowing thru the ball that’s dropped slightly lower on the strings at contact, a big follow-through first pointing right at target and resulting in an angled down shot vector, with over spin placed on the ball.
• Low and High Contact Strokes and Shooting – First High Contact strokes are listed and then Low Contact strokes:
• High Contact Ceiling Balls – One high contact stroke is the ceiling ball when you swing up and contact the ball usually at shoulder high or higher with the racquet head pointed up (NOT out). Slice up through the lower half of the ball by dropping the head back thru contact and send the ball up to a target on the ceiling about where the first row of lights are located on most courts about 10′ feet out from the front wall. Another option is a faster ceiling where you strike the ball much harder, with less spin, while pinpointing a deeper ceiling target further from the front wall and behind the row of lights closer to you. The fast ceiling will get to the backcourt in a big hurry, running the cover player back. Care must be made to not miss-target the hard ceiling and contact the ceiling too close to the front wall. That would cause the ball to rebound off the front wall at a more acute angle, bounce and rise quickly sending the ball deeper so it pops off the back wall for a fast moving but still dangerous setup situation for your competitor.
• High Contact Overheads – High contact strokes include an overhead which is much like the motion used by a tennis player to serve the ball. An over the head motion is used less in racquetball as a serve, although recently it’s become more popular in club play where serving an overhead is done when looking to bounce the ball very close to the back wall so the ball then rockets out off the back wall from the corner causing the ball to scoot right along the sidewall, too. Overheads are used to return lobs or lob Z’s to quickly pass the server or pressure their reaction time. They’re used much less in rallies because overheads passes are hard to keep down or from popping the hard hit ball off the back wall. Players usually choose to let the ball drop lower before they swing to make contact. Note that contact for an overhead is very high.
That means the overhead stroke for a kill-shot must angle the ball down very low when shooting for either a front wall or sidewall target. The sharply angled trajectory can cause the ball to strike its wall target (or targets), rebound out and then bounce near the front wall and pop up quite high, as well as come back further into middle of the court due to the shot’s angle and pace. An overhead, like the reverse pinch, when shooting across your body into the reverse pinch corner for your forehand (into your backhand side corner) can keep the ball lower coming out of the corner, as the action created is more like a low contact sidewall/front wall opposite corner reverse pinch.
An example is a left-handed overhead pinch into the right front corner. There will be more on the reverse pinch later under kill-shots.
• High Contact Lob Serving – High contact as high as eye high or chest high down to as low as hip level is used to lob serve. For a high lob, for instance from chest high contact, loft the ball up softly to your 12-15′ front wall target looking to bounce the ball behind the short line and ideally well short of the dashed line to avoid the ball being attacked after the bounce. Optionally an off speed lob or junk lob is earmarked for a lower 6-8′ front wall target, again, with ball contact. Again chest high contact is routine and the junk lob is struck with a little faster pace than a high lob. The junk lob is intended to bounce further back in the backcourt than the lob causing the ball to either rise up into the sidewall short of the back wall or the junk is sent directly into the back corner. For high lobs and junk lobs the offensive objective is to pressure the receiver into lifting a weak defensive ceiling ball return or tempt a desperation very high to low return shot.
• Low Contact Passing Shots – A main purpose for low contact is to shoot passes that are meant to bounce once in mid court and take their second bounce right before the back wall. Most passes are aimed for a back corner. Although in doubles a ball up the middle between the two competitor doubles players is a tactically solid shot choice.
• Low Contact Kill-shots – A second purpose for low contact is for several different types of low targeted kill-shots. Again, kill-shots bounce twice before the ball gets to the service line which is the first line back from the front wall. Kill-shots include:
(a) a straight in kill or down the line (DTL) is a shot that must be very low or, in a heartbeat, it rebounds right back into the shooter’s lap;
(b) a near corner pinch hits the sidewall close to the corner in the same side as that stroke, like near corned forehand pinches into the corner on the side where the follow-through flows toward the sidewall behind the shooter. Sometimes the near corner pinch will hit the front wall then sidewall. Note that a near corner pinch is taken when the ball is about 6′ feet off the sidewall shooting into that corner and, for example, a backhand near comer pinch hits the backhand side corner. It’s a near corner pinch even when it’s backhand shot taken from all over the court all the way over in the far, forehand side back corner;
(c) a splat is a shot taken from close along one sidewall with a sidewall shot target just out ahead of the shooter dropping the ball down just a little lower than ball contact height on the wall. The close sidewall contact, the inside out swing motion out toward the sidewall, the ball compressing upon impacting the wall and the ripping action added as the ball deflects off with extra spin all cause the ball to make its very distinctive s-p-l-a-a-a-t sound. A splat ball angles off the sidewall and contacts the front wall retaining its sidespin. That unique spin causes the ball to stay up further in the front court, as the ball angles off and moves sideways almost paralleling the front wall;
(d) a 3-wall shot strikes the sidewall very close to the shooter at about where their front shoulder is and a couple feet up on the sidewall. That’s just in front of the racquet arm shoulder for a backhand or in front of the off shoulder or non racquet arm shoulder. 3-walls are hit extra hard to make the ball angle completely across the court and either strike the other sidewall and then front wall or crack out directly in the corner. A 3-wall shot is less effective if it crosses the court and strikes the front wall first because the ball then hits the sidewall and pops into the center of the front court; and
(e) the reverse pinch is the one shot where it’s okay to say, “Here it is, go get it”. Angle your feet and point them at your sidewall target to make the ball hit close to front wall on the sidewall in the comer on the opposite side away from your stroke’s near corner pinch. Now that sounds like a lot to it. You’re hitting across your body and that stroke motion is your most powerful one, but you wanna hit the planet with your shot. So form is everything. Line up the sidewall in your sights.
The stroke need only be a 3/4’s forward swing after routine racquet lift. After racquet prep and stance work the your smooth, solid contact swing and accentuate the follow-through pulling inwards thru contact by centripetally moving the racquet head in toward you with pronation, via forearm turn over added to wrist to spiral racquet starting before contact and windshield wipe the arm, wrist and racquet face corkscrewing thru the ball controlling both to the front wall and a down shot vector.
As an example of the forces and spin, hit a forehand reverse pinch into the front corner on your backhand side. Due to the physics of the court and the out to finish stroke used, the ball strikes the sidewall, caroms low into the front wall and sidespin keeps the ball way up closer to the front wall in the front court. The ball bounces and veers toward the other sidewall VS angling out more into the middle like a left up (too high) near corner pinch would do. This is the reverse pinch. It can strike the front wall first, but that’s usually when the shot is taken from over on the other side of the court.
In rally play, a reverse pinch may be attempted more often when the pattern is clicked to, as the shot is more often available from over close to the far sidewall to shoot a the way across the court into the far front corner, again, ideally with the feet pointing at the target wall. At times a more closed stance is what you are in, and still the across your body motion works to create the moving to center centripetal action.
Another reverse that can be effective is taking the shot with the off stroke from over on the off side of the court; that’s, for instance, taking a backhand stroke from over on your forehand side and shooting the reverse into the comer on that same forehand side. An angled stance, low contact, a low target and a big follow-through with the exaggerated racquet point into the corner after contact helps add the inimitable reverse pinch spin. Know that, if this off side reverse is left up, your follow-through out toward the sidewall behind you leaves you at a coverage disadvantage both further from center court and finishing the stroke by moving away from center court. So positionally plan A is shoot forehands on the forehand side and backhands on the backhand side. But the reverse is nasty and it can get you a big winner when the ball is right there to execute your inwards pulling reverse pinch stroke.
All of these killshots, when practiced, can be lethal options to be turned to when you have opportunity to shoot them. If they’re not practiced, you’re left with just a passing shot attack. Passes do move your competitor, but they don’t often take the racquet out of their hand.
• Low Contact Serve Drilling – That same reasoning goes for training up your serves, including your Z, jam, crack-out, of course your multi-angle drives and your lobs, too. Not practicing relegates you to hitting drive serves where you say to yourself, “I hope this is good”, as you can only go for a back corner. And, if the first serve is fault, your unpracticed off speed second serve lob may look faintly like just an effort to put the ball in play. Moral: PRACTICE! Drill your serves like you do your shots and the strokes that make them both, while making placement accuracy the primary objective to make your serves and shots trustworthy.
• Low Contact Serves – Low ball contact is used for harder hit serves called drive serves. Simple drive serves are meant to cross the short line and bounce twice before the back wall in a back corner. Also, low contact may used for off speed drive serves which are struck more softly or with finesse. These off speed drives are meant to throw off the receiver’s timing due to the speed change. The main intent is also to keep these touch type serves from bouncing and popping off the back wall for an easy shot or *setup* for the receiver. Their placement and dual corner targeting makes them difficult to return.
Most low contact drive serves are hit directly to a back corner. A drive Z serve is directed into the front wall in one of the front corners to a target about 4′ from the sidewall causing the ball to then angle across the court into the far, back corner bouncing on its way. A drive serve motion is also used for a jam serve. The jam strikes the front wall a little over halfway between ball contact and the far sidewall causing the ball to carom off the sidewall closer to mid court and then veer directly into the receiver’s body crowding and jamming up the receiver’s stroke. One slightly more demanding serve on placement accuracy is the crackout drive. Most crackouts are served from over close to the sidewall targeted. An inside out swing motion and an attempt to angle the ball so that it strikes its front wall target that’s just a smidgen over halfway between ball contact and the near sidewall causes the ball to cross the short line and hit the crack between sidewall and floor. Hit right a crackout rolls out or just bounces way up near the short line. Crackouts further back along that sidewall are rarer. Crackouts behind you on the sidewall can also be effective with drilling and across your body action. A liability of the crackout behind you is it leaves the ball behind you causing you to block the legal crosscourt pass to the back, far corner. Being either quick to move or accurate are reasons to practice hitting the serve and how to clear out of the way as a tendency you want to acquire via many self correcting repetitions .
• Low Contact Swing Volley – Sometimes you must swing thru with your compact motion contacting the ball right out of midair as the ball shoots thru the middle of the court almost passing by you as you turn sideways or as the ball is dropping more softly off the front wall before bouncing. The 2nd low contact stroke for midair contact is called the swing volley. A swing volley is a very short, very explosive Quick-draw (fast prep and faster swing thru) motion producing countering pace and spin, with topspin being a good result, but accuracy being most important. A swing volley is usually used for a one-wall shot playing the ball toward one back corner or the other.
• No Tennis-Type Volleys, But Flick Re-kills Work – The swing volley isn’t like a tennis volley where you see a player at the net knocking off an angles volley. A tennis volley motion is not as effective because a racquetball doesn’t react well to a short, stiff-wristed punch volley motion and the smaller, lighter racquet doesn’t volley effectively except over a very short distance within just a few feet of the front wall. On the other hand, a low, very short flick swing for a re-kill of a left up kill-shot by the competitor is very doable. The flick re-kill skill is worthy of much practice. To drill, get up closer to the front wall, bump the ball low into the front wall or sidewall, move and you take a very shot backswing and flow thru the ball with a short, but solid swing looking to re-kill or roll out the left up missed kill-shot.
• Low Contact Short Hop – A very challenging 3rd low contact stroke is the short hop. A short hop is the very short motion of taking the racquet back very low right behind where you see the ball is about to bounce. Then, right as the ball is bouncing up off the court you hood or bevel the racquet head to angle and close the racquet face to point it down to the court out ahead of you. Take the ball right after it bounces with the short, but non stopping swing thru. A short hop is used in a mid court rally. It’s also used when moving past the broken safety line right after a lob serve bounces to very aggressively attack the lob and short hop your return to place a pass or pinpoint a low killshot.
• Being Well Equipped —> You realize the importance of having your own gear and being very comfortable with your equipment. You must pick your own racquet, glove, court shoes, and goggles or eye protection. You’ll find that beyond the local sports stores there are several racquetball equipment websites that allow you to order gear and also request loaner racquet’s to try out up to three at a time to check out how they feel in your hand and how the racquet feels when swinging and making ball contact for your shots. Also, local, experienced players and teaching pros are an excellent source for equipment advice. Later in Racquetball 101 there’s lots more advice on picking the right equipment.
• When To Practice And Who To Play -Clubs are usually busy right after work weekdays, at lunch, early mornings and on Saturday mornings when it’s tough to get to play other beginners or more importantly, to get court time to practice by yourself. Other times of the day, like weekday afternoons, afternoons Saturday and all day most Sundays courts are more available. By routine on court practicing, investing in a lesson or two, and lots of Internet study you can get ready in a few weeks to start playing. First, you’ll start by playing the club regulars. Try to play players at different levels. Even topnotch players who travel and play other elite players, as well as compete in local or bigger tournaments, will play you, but get ready to take your lumps and learn a lot. Try to avoid it, but don’t be surprised if you hear yourself say, “Take it easy on me”.
As you face tougher competition, you learn lesson in the value and power of playing experience. In the early games that you’ll play you’ll get many tips from your competitors. Be a sponge. Take notes. From the valuable information, begin to build your training plan, your own swing thoughts or keys like, “Watch the ball”. “Move your feet”, and also collect tactical reminders to yourself, like “Get out of the box” (after serving). Also build game plans with strategies you like such as, “Hold in to the middle” and the tactics, like key shots and positioning, to put your strategies into good effect. One biggie often overlooked is practice your serves. Most players don’t. And, if you drill a few serves and get them down pat, you may count upon your deliveries in games and their accuracy will be better. Practicing beats trying new serves or hoping to take and make your regulars with slight tweaks when only under the intense broiler of competition.
• Off Court Train, Too – Racquetball can become your answer to quality exercise and staying in pretty good shape. Additionally, off court training avoids injury from overuse, a common ailment of very frequent play. Also, certain body parts still don’t get fitter on court. Examples include your core, back, the arm that doesn’t hold the racquet and the non racquet side of the body that gets less action from one-sided swinging. Also, additional aerobic exercise augments the anaerobic qualities of racquetball that provinces demanding short bursts of intense activity.
• Game Tactics Scenarios – Here’s how the game works. This is a description of singles where 2 players are pitted head-to-head against each other. Player one (P1) serves the ball while standing between the first 2 lines from 15-20′ back from the front wall. Player two (P2) waits behind the broken 3rd line to return the serve. Once P1 serves the ball, the ball may only be allowed to touch the court floor one time (and that’s optional as midair contact may be made after the ball crosses that broken line on the serve). P2 is responsible for returning the served ball to the front wall. Once P2 connects with the ball their return can hit any combination of walls and the ceiling as long as it touches the front wall before hitting the court floor.
• The Rally – Once the serve by P1 is returned to the front wall by P2, the rally has begun and P1, the server is now responsible for returning the ball to the front wall. P1 may only allow the ball to touch the court floor once (unless, again, P1 optionally hits the ball before it bounces or take the ball right out of midair).
• Scoring – Only the server can score. If the server, P1, faults, a second serve remains. Faults include: 1. (short) serve is where the serve on the fly doesn’t cross the 2nd line, the short line midway back in the court; 2. (3-wall) is when the ball strikes more than one sidewall before being able to bounce in the back half of the court; 3. (long) is when the served ball carries on the fly from the front wall all the way to strike the back wall, including after contacting one sidewall; 4. (screen) serve is when the served (or rally) ball is unseeable due it to passing so close to the shooter that the competitor behind them is screened from seeing the ball until it’s well past the short line. A screen is solely the receiver’s call in a match officiated by the two competitors; 5. (drive serve line violation) is when the racquet, body or ball being served cross the line that’s 3′ out from the sidewall. —> After a first serve fault, should another fault occur, like, for instance, the server not checking the receiver’s readiness before serving, then P2, the receiver serves. With the change in servers, during the ensuing rally, if P1 fails to return the ball to the front wall, P2, the new server earns a point and keeps serving. Now that you know the basics, here’s what it takes to thrive in a rally.
• Where to Position Yourself – Racquetball is a game of much strategy. Geometry, physics, athleticism, and quite a lot of mental intuition all tie in together to make a great player play great. To tap into all of these facets, you must first position yourself well to allow you to cover the court and perform at your very best.
• Favored Center Positions – The two center positions in positional play are center court in the middle of the court during rallies and center deep in the backcourt when returning serve.
• Rallying Positioning – The center position or center court or center is the spot to move to aggressively, as the competitor moves to shoot. After every time you shoot center is your home base and your next stop. Center is between the shooting competitor in the back 1/4 of the court and the opposite front corner into a position which allows the required straight in shot and the shot across the court to the far, back corner, while legally, strategically taking away that cross corner shot that would be very difficult if not impossible to cover. If a player is too deep and off to the far side, that would mean the cross corner shot is open. Getting between the ball and the opposite front corner is a movement high priority.
When the competitor is shooting a ball further up in the court your coverage plan is to move into the part of center court that’s available to be closer to the front to cover the shot by the competitor and to pressure their shooting, top. From center you can move to and reach most any part of the court quickly. As your competitor commits to shoot the ball to the front wall, you release to cover the shot you see happening by watching them cover and get ready to shoot. When 2 players are in the midst of a rally, it is a constant battle to hold on to center. After it’s wrested away by your competitor, your object is to move and shoot to place the ball in the least covered corner of the court and to also move to retake center court.
Every opportunity to shoot is both to keep the competitor from covering your shot and also avoiding shooting shots that are easily covered from the center of the court. That’s why passing shots to the back corners and ceiling balls are tactically chosen to keep the cover player out of the middle. Then, when opportunities to shoot winners arise, the front court should be attacked with your kill-shots or passes pinpointed to pass the competitor by.
• Positioning to Obscure the Reverse -The central position is not just in the middle of the court equidistant from the right and left sidewall. It is between the ball being played by the competitor and the opposite front corner. Simply stated, “Take away the reverse pinch”. The central position is very close to the dashed line at about 25′ back from the front wall in most rallies. If the ball is deeper or the shooter is a power player, positioning just behind the broken line is center.
• Rallying Depth – Because of the velocity the ball usually has when it hits the front wall and rebounds out, being too close to the front wall in the center or too far in front of the broken line reduces by too much the amount of time you need to react as the ball comes back into your field of play. Being slightly back from the middle of the court increases the amount of time you have to react, read, track, shot pick, prep and forward swing. Yeah, that’s a lot to do. Stand at about the dashed line and be ready to dash to where you read the ball is going as the competitor commits to swing by starting their forward swing and then break to the spot you read as where their shot is headed.
• Rallying While Circling to Center Court -> In match play, return to center after each time you hit the ball by moving in a little semi-circle, even to share a part of center court with your fellow competitor when your shot ends up in part of center court. It is best to position yourself to counter the competitor’s next shot by being as close as you can to the center, but not so close as to be within the competitor’s racquet follow-through, especially for the bigger potential swing of the backhand. A 4′ radius swing from the shooter’s body is a good guideline for keeping your safe spacing.
• Controlling the Center – Rallying and good shot placement – Being in central position is how you position yourself to win a rally. Know though that you’re not the only one trying to win the game. In order to execute your keep-the-center strategy you have to be able to make sure you’re the one doing it more often or the one able to consistently take and keep central position. Assume your competitor is tactically experienced and every time you hit the ball expect that they’re in your central position, as you make contact. Your goal is pull them out of that favored position with your purposeful shot-making. Racquetball players covet control of center court. The moment they leave the center, they are no longer in strategic control unless they’re going to the box to serve. Of course when you’re setup to shoot a winner, even with their being in prime position in center court, you can render insignificant when you make-your-kill-shot.
• How to Move Competitor Out of Center – To pull someone out of the center, in the simplest terms: (a) hit a ball that pushes them way forward; or (b) hit a ball that moves them sideways; or (c) hit a ball that jerks them back in the court; or (d) move them sideways AND deep, as just sideways may be too easily covered and punished. —> If P1, the server, has to run to the back of the court to take their shot and they remain in back, where would you think P2 should hit the ball next? … If you answered, shoot a low shot placing the ball in the front court, you are correct. Not only does this cause P1 to take an on-the-run, ideally tougher shot because they began by being out of position in deep court, they also are making their long getting run forward for another benefit for them to have to run more. Once a player runs enough they begin to tire and their level of play may suffer dramatically. As athletic as a player may be, if they run more than their competitor, it’s highly likely they are the less experienced player and they may become the tireder player, too. An exception is when you have two very skilled players playing each other on the same level. At that point, it may seem that nothing either player does will work for one to get the upper hand over the other. Is it now time to get physical? Or is it time to play by using their minds and tactical movement and shooting.
• Change the Rally Dynamic – As an example of controlling the game, think about an experienced player standing in the center controlling the ball while the less decorated player runs to every corner of the court chasing down the placed balls. Are you beginning to see how pure athleticism may just get you a fuller tour de court, as that tourist player, if you play without a strategy other than grip it and rip it? Every shot you take should be designed to pull your competitor away from their comfort zone, even when you are able to just gently tap the ball into an open lane or corner or when cranking a heater up the middle looking to rush the center camper. Know that balls angling off a sidewall into the body of the competitor is a good Plan B. It’s not about sheer power. It’s about strategy and shot placement to use the tactics promote your strategy.
• Attack Weak-link – Every racquetball player loves an opportunity to draw back and give the ball everything they’ve got. To be on the receiving end of a blasted ball is not a lot of fun. Since the ball is moving much faster it decreases the cover player’s reaction time to think and prep. Even if the blasted shot isn’t perfect, the pace alone is numbing for the receiver. It’s mentally daunting to play a flame thrower shooter. One of the best ways to keep your competitor from delivering monster hit after monster hit is to constantly hit the ball to their weaker side which is often their backhand. For example, a right handed player would prefer the ball be to his right where he has the most power to swing his forehand. If the ball is on his left, he has no choice but to reach his right arm across his body and then bring it forward in what is for most (or way too many) a much less powerful stroke. Now, with the Top grip and other nuances, including a bow-shaped arm looped back across the body and the spiral windshield wiper snap form, the backhand can become a vaunted weapon where players will have to spread their shot selections around and go for more move um tactics while using all 4 corners VS an all out isolation attack on the backhand.
• Spread Out Attack – Keep your competitor out of the center, constantly on the run and forced to return balls that jam their backhand (because it’s more jam-able) or moving them to their least covered spot in the court. Optionally move them to a spot in the court where you’ve noted they miss more than make as a result of your paying attention, observing, making mental notes and saving that key knowledge for just the right moment to go to it and place intense positional pressure on the competitor.
• Returning Serve from Deep Center – The central position to return serve is just a step out from the back wall. It’s facing front from the middle where you’re able to turn and almost be able to touch the back wall with your extended arm and racquet.
• Return Positioning – Being deeper behind the broken line increases the time you have to protect and defend the corners as the receiver of even a photon, Super fast drive serve. When returning lobs, sliding forward to attack the lob is tactical aggression and can be balanced with dropping back into the deep corner under the ball and deciding:
(1) lift to the ceiling;
(2) shoot high to low; or
(3) if it will, allow the ball to pop off the back wall to shoot the back wall setup.
• Natural Shot Selections – A factor often overlooked is, “Where does the ball want to go?”. Here are 4 examples of natural shot choices that work:
(1) When the ball hits high on the front wall, bounces, carries to the back wall, pops far off the back wall and floats along an angle directly at say the right front corner, a corner shot into the right corner or near corner pinch is very doable and a natural choice. It’s more natural than say trying to force that ball down along the right wall as a down the line (DTL). It’d similarly be tough to impose a crosscourt passing angle to the far, back left corner.
Also, know your competitor is most likely hedging over crosscourt to your left as you move forward on one side. Simulate the shot by striking a ball that hits a few feet high on the front wall, bounces, then hits the back wall and pops of all the way into the middle of the court and floating toward one corner or the other. Run with it, while picking your shot to shoot. Try the pinch, the DTL and the crosscourt and see which one is natural for you.
(2) Another situation is the ball hit by the competitor crosscourt with considerable pace. It would be much easier for you to move to cover and hit the crossing ball back across the court to where it originated rather than completely change the ball’s angle and force a DTL. You would have to muscle the ball and do some special racquet head control to redirect a very challenging crosscourt into a DTL angle, while keeping the ball from contacting the near sidewall on the way in or coming back out. Tactically the player shooting the crosscourt to you is most likely moving to the center court after shooting their crosscourt. A V crosscourt or 45 degree angle shot across the court to the far, back corner could work. And a wide angle pass (WAP) shot that would hit the front wall and then strike the sidewall beside the crosscourt shooter now turned defender would definitely wrong foot them. Wrong foot means it’s hard to reverse your field or go back the other way after moving in one direction and then having to stop and change direction to go back the complete other way. With a practice partner or a racquetball machine feeder, move from center to field the crosscourt vectored ball and try responding with both crosscourt and DTL shots and learn to do both and note how much more natural it is to send the ball back where it came from.
(3) Another natural shot selection and a stubborn mindset to overcome is to adapt while moving and covering a pinch VS preselecting your response or having a canned go-to shot. The adjustment could be made when either catching up to the competitor’s pinch after:
(a) the pinch hits the initial sidewall, then deflects and caroms off the front wall, and then bounces where you catch up to it as the covering player before it reaches the other sidewall; or
(b) the pinch stays up and after the bounce it carries to and pops off the second sidewall and it’s tracked down by you, as the cover player, by backing up away from the ball coming at you off the sidewall.
The response that works in both situations is to shoot for a sidewall target just ahead of ball contact and a little lower on the lower on the sidewall. In either case, the natural feel choice is to go for this trickle splat. The ball wants to go into a slightly lower, just out ahead sidewall target, with an inside out stroke motion that will make the ball curl into the front wall with sidespin into the front wall causing the ball to hug the front wall. And it’s not repinching a pinch which is a real bugaboo for many 20th century mindsets. The canned response is to shoot an unnatural, forced down the wall shot for a highly probable skip. The spin to overcome is substantial. A backup plan is a crosscourt pass. A reverse pinch into the other front corner is plan C. Drawing the ball in on your strings and powering a DTL pass is a risky, last choice option. Try it and you’ll see by having a practice partner hit pinches you cover.
(4) One more example of a natural shot that sets itself up very nicely for your success is a high slower moving ball popping softly off the back wall and angles to fall invitingly toward one sidewall. Many would say go DTL. That’s possible, although the potential for catching the sidewall on the way to the front wall or on the way back is a very real possibility. A well-practiced, glancing shot deep off the sidewall is very much make-able shot which is very difficult to cover. When your competitor is back deep closer to you and hedging over to cover your possible DTL, the deep court splat is ready made to place the ball far away from their coverage positioning. An inside out stroke motion and selecting a target a few feet in front of contact and a little lower on the sidewall than contact makes the splat action work in your favor.
The moral for natural shot selections is quickly read where the ball wants to go while determining if you’re going to allow the ball to get its way or based on the competitor’s positioning you see they’re covering the natural shot and you adjust and change the ball’s angle with solid contact and racquet face control by angling the strings and adjusting where the strings strike the ball to change the incoming shot’s angle. It takes practice.
Drilling examples include:
a) from over on one side in the middle of the court hit yourself a ball that angles to you from out of the far front corner. To do this, shoot front wall first pinches back toward you; or
b) from mid court on one side, hit a low around the wall ball (ATWB) into the sidewall just out ahead of you so the ball angles into to far, front corner, front wall first and then caroms into the sidewall and then angles towards you bouncing on the way.
c) Fielding either the front wall first reverse pinch or low ATWB requires quick feetwork movement and just as quick mental reactions to produce improvised shotmaking with either that side’s primary stroke or spinning and using the off stroke, like a backhand on your forehand side. As soon as you feed yourself the ball, get on your toes and get ready to move and pick your shot, your stroke, and then prepare the stroke for that shot while you position yourself behind the spot where you plan to attack the ball at your contact point.
Assess your shot and then repeat the drill. Try some trickle splats, 3-wall balls, near corner pinches, reverse pinches, cross-court passes, and changing the angled, spinning balls into shooting DTL’s.
• Choose Your Gear Very Carefully – One of the most important things you can do to be a topflight racquetball player is to invest in good gear. Typically your racquet gets the most focus, but other things play a vital role as well, like a sticky glove (or gloves), sticky shoes, a pair of goggles that help your vision and confidence, and clothing that stays dry and makes you feel good when you’re styling it.
• Picking a Racquet – Racquets come in all weights and grip sizes. They’re all 22″ according to the rules. Racquet weights are measured in grams. It’s important you find a weight that is best for you. If you’re a big power player, a 180 gram racquet may be your stick. If you’re a will of a wisp junior player, a 170 gram may be your best racquet weight. If you’re a fast swinger, and you like a head heavy option, maybe a head heavy 160 gram racquet could be your solution to the equation of racquet mass times swing acceleration = power.
Weight distribution plays a big part in how a racquet works for you, too. Players with very strong wrists may be comfortable with the weight mostly in the bottom of the frame or the sensation of weight in the grip handle or a bottom-heavy racquet. Control players may like a top heavy racquet with the weight more out toward the top of the strings. The weight up in the racquet head allows a little quicker swing to generate more power due to the heavier part of the racquet being in the head when ball contact is made. As plan C, some players use an evenly balanced racquet. Finally, for the grip size, the smaller handle usually allows a quicker wrist motion than a big bulky tennis racquet sized handle.
• Racquet Pricing – A top quality racquet can run over $200. For a brand new recreational player, starting less expensively you can get a starter kit with a racquet, goggles or eye protection, sometimes a glove and a ball for about $50. There are numerous racquets made by a little more than a handful of racquet companies to choose from with a wide range of prices and a few racquets in each of their current product lines. Know that, like most things of quality, you get what you pay for. Request loaner racquets from a website retailer or borrow a racquet from a player you know to find the best choice for you and your game.
• Racquet Butts Vary – One little thing that actually is BIG is each company make their racquet handles and especially the very bottom or butt very differently. Try them out. Of course, one aspect of gripping is where your hand is placed on the handle. You may dangle your pinky finger completely off the bottom of the handle. There you’d have more leverage, but also a less secure grip on the racquet. You may place your pinky on the very bottom of the racquet butt. Or you may place the pinky inside the butt. Some handles are thinner running from the top of the head to the bottom and parallel with the strings. Others are more rounded in their shape. It’s ultimately a feel thing, although the grips you use to hold your handle also is significant in determining how the handle feels best in your hand and fingers for your two grips, the suggested handshake forehand grip and about a 1/4 turn grip change to your pointer knuckle on top backhand.
• Eye Protection – Note: Don’t ever open the court door without donning your eye protection. Also, have an extra pair of goggles with you. Hand your spare over to a player without goggles who wants to play you. Just say you can’t play against anyone not wearing eye protection, even if the competitor claims they’re made of cement.
• Peripheral Vision – The best kind of eye protection to buy has a wide field of vision. Thick plastic borders around the lenses tend to cause distractions as the speed of the game increases. Find a pair that allows you to see with your entire eye socket without picking up any plastic borders in your important peripheral vision as you pan your head around tracking the ball with both eyes and your moving feet. Also, it’s good if your eye protection has ventilation holes where the lenses meet the frame. This keeps your eye protection from fogging up once you start moving around and sweating a little.
• Goggles Pricing – For less than $20, you can have quality eye protection that won’t interfere with your vision and performance. For a bit more you can get goggles with prescription lenses to correct nearsightedness were that to be a concern for you. Perfect vision, even corrected perfect vision is huge in a game where seeing, reading, tracking and playing the ball is so important.
• Use a Glove – Play with a glove. Gloves come packaged individually. Leather gloves work with leather handled and rubber grips, too. The importance of a glove is to create strong friction between your hand and your racquet handle. When you take a swing, it is imperative that the racquet remains sturdy as you make contact with the ball. If there is not enough friction between your hand and the racquet, the racquet handle will rotate in your hand. The ball will adjust accordingly, as the racquet head will tweak or angle at contact causing possible mishits, miss-angled shots and real personal frustration. Also, as you prep and begin to forward swing, have a looser grip and bear down or tighten your grip slightly right before contact.
• Racquet Grip to Order – When Internet purchasing a racquet, you can also have your racquet re-gripped to a grip material that experience tells you increases friction between your gloves and handle.
• Glove Pricing – For around $10, you can get yourself a glove for a good palm grip. For a little more you can buy a softer glove that’ll last longer, too, and give you an even better grip.
• Shoes Made for Racquetball – There are a few shoes made specifically for racquetball. Those are available on the racquetball equipment websites. There are also really good shoes for other court games like squash, badminton and volleyball that are also available on the Internet and found by searching by those sports.
• Shoes with Gum Rubber – Gum rubber soles or bottoms is a common feature of top quality court sport shoes. It makes the shoes more sticky on wood floors where squeaky little adjustments steps, hard pivots, and fast stopping are a must to be a great mover and shooter.
Shoes cost from $50-$150 and it’s useful to know how the shoe maker sizes their shoes so you order the right size. You don’t want to play with a shoe with edges like a training or running shoe. And you want a shoe that gives you good support for cutting and stopping.
• Maintain Match Equipment – Playing with a wet glove is a brain dead move. It reduces friction and that’s bad for a good grip at contact. Change gloves when the one you’re wearing gets even a little bit wet. And wipe your goggles when they fog up or you get drips of perspiration on the lenses, even if your competitor seems put out by your short, although necessary delay.
Leather care your gloves by drying them out after playing, wash them very gently after a couple months of constant use. Mink oil the gloves with just a dab to keep them supple and also do the same for your new leather shoes and they’ll last much, much longer.
Don’t wear court shoes into or out of the club. You want them to last and you want them to have their best traction qualities.
Help Goggles Stay Dry – A headband keeps sweat out of your eyes. If you perspire heavily due to your hustle, invest in a headband. The headband helps with drippage. You don’t have very much time between rallies to remove your goggles and wipe your lenses. Also, if your hand also catches sweat from your arm, wrist bands control that, too.
• Self Pep Talk Before Playing —> Racquetball is a game of many strategies and tactics to bring those strategies to life. Also, it’s tactics to rip the competitor’s strategies asunder. And racquetball is a game of vast experience, both good, when the lessons are well learned with adjusted tactics and form to apply those lessons, and less good, when a bad experience causes avoidance of a similar experience or when repeating a disaster shows little was learned from previous struggles because zero was practiced in preparation for that next time. Prepare yourself as best you can before each battle mentally reviewing your game plan and the strategies you plan to use and your tactics that experience tells you will make those strategies successful.
• Be Thick Skinned —> In order to get good, you have to be ready to take your lumps. If you learn to play with your buddy who has no intention of every mastering all of the skills of the game, that’s fine. Know though that you must move up to better competition to get the greatest benefit of the mental battle and the best in exercise qualities available from the game.
• Be Challenged with Different Situations —> The key to becoming a better racquetball player is to face more unfamiliar situations or different patterns of play (POPs) and invest in learning how to adjust to the unexpected. It’s a matter of how to compensate or correct your responses, tactics and shots with just little wrinkles, like pace changes, added spins, angle tweaks, and court positional adjustments to make a situation easy for you; notice I said easy VS easier. On the practice court try to match or simulate match POP’s to practice how to respond and find the best tactics and shots to call upon when the score is called and that POP pops up.
• Playing the Grass Cutter —> If you have never played a person who consistently manages to keep the ball no higher than a half a foot off the court floor, you will never learn to counter those types of players and shots. And you want to know how to make even the grass cutter player uncomfortable when they’re fielding slightly higher passes, ceilings and higher serves which all will require higher contact making the grass cutter low to low shot undoable and requiring a high to low shot vector be done. And high to low is tougher for anyone to make than a low to low, sweeping stroke motion.
• Facing the Wizard —> If you have never played against a sage senior player who barely moves, but alternates between feathering touch winners and swinging like Babe Ruth, you will never learn how to hit the ball to prevent him from being in position to take and make such devastating shots. Basically nothing thru the middle and well placed DTL’s and primarily wide angle passes crosscourts avoid, again, the wizard’s mid court cutoffs. Serve directly to penetrate the back corners or hit extremely crisp drive Z’s to take away the wizard’s poaching returns. Simply, move um.
• Playing Experience Is Invaluable —> The more challenges, adversity, and variety you face on the court, the more experienced and able to improvise you become. With experience comes thirst for knowledge which encourages training, which provides preparation, which eventually leads to intuition or the ability to react with second nature skills that are almost automatic and foster spontaneous tactical brilliance and effective consistency.
• Be Ready, Welcoming the Unknown —> Once you can predict what will happen next, while also being prepared for even the unknown, you brim with confidence and express your skills with readiness and bravado.
• Long Live the Rally —> Now that you have an understanding of what you’ll be getting yourself into, tick off developing the basics of the game …
1) perfect your grips –>
2) then track down the ball –>
3) then approach the ball –>
4) then set stance and prep –>
5) then push off –>
6) then full body downswing and off arm fold in –>
7) then pivot into ball pulling trailing racquet –>
8) then loop swing out —>
9) then impact zone snap and produce shot shaping magic –>
10) then post stroke recover –>
11) then flow on court with your feetwork –>
12) then center up –>
13) then counter competitor’s shot, as well as their serve, with your contra intuition, using antici-pation and feetwork –>
14) then contraflow competitor (against their druthers) thru stratagem, court savvy, action, patterned repetition, and devastating thoroughly practiced and fire-tested shotmaking, returning, and serving to control the ball, the rally and the game strategy —»» • Be Inspired —> Play Hard! Play Smart. Keep learning and improving. Reach and teach others to share and also to confirm and reinforce your always evolving skills.
Tips To Play Your Best Racquetball —>
also add to these your own key tips to boost your play
(1) Prepare To Play Well —> Warm-up before you play. Combine both off and on court activity to warm up your joints, muscles, and game. Ideally get your internal body temp up with, for instance, stationary biking or walking in place. Warm-up on court with the drop-n-hit drill very briefly. Then quickly hit yourself balls where you must move to stroke, which better simulates live play. Also drill a couple serves that are in this match or day’s game plan. Then, change gloves, and add in, for example, calf and wrist stretches or more stretches before you play. Also, as you are going through your warm-up, go over your game plan through mental imagery seeing yourself take and make shots and hit aces serves using your imagined strokes to make them accurate. Review past experiences with this competitor and how you need to play to be successful. Drink lots of water that day before you play and exclusively drink water during play. You shouldn’t eat anything except perhaps a “Gu” or carbo load fuel to keep up your energy during a long match or series of matches in today’s common one-day-shootout format. Avoid bonking (energy loss) and muscle cramping by eating several hours before you play and carbo load the day before you compete. Electrolyte drinks replenish after playing, not during. Food and most drinks eaten while playing or between back-to-back matches (other than water) draws away fluids meant for your legs, arms and brain as your body redirects it to your digestive system.
(2) Keep Your Eye On The Ball —> Even when your competitor is behind you, watch them over your shoulder to read their shot and avoid ever being in a penalty hinder blocking position or where the ball might feed right back to you. Hold your racquet up and look thru your strings when you hit a tough shot that you think might force a wild return by your competitor. That knowing where the ball is going is invaluable in your movement in coverage, your reading where the competitor is shooting the ball and your getting a jump start on moving to shoot VS just make saving get.
(3) Stay In Your Crouch —> Play in your athletic body position. In the athletic body crouch you’re shorter than your full height, with your knees and hips flexed, feet a little wider than shoulder’s width apart, hands at waist level for balance, and weight on the balls of your springy feet. Crouch as you return serve. Crouch as you cover from center court. Crouch when your back is to one sidewall in the serve box as your partner serves; then as your partner’s serve is crossing the short line, open the gate by pivoting with the foot closest to back line pointing it at the backcourt and then crossover with trail foot moving yourself off the sidewall to quickly move into coverage in center court.
(4) Rally With Soft Eyes —> Play with soft eyes tracking the ball with your eyes and moving feet until you’re set in your hitting stance and the ball is closing in on your pre-selected contact point. At that point be focusing intently on the ball, even watching the ball through the back of your racquet strings as you make contact.
(5) Read Their Shot —> As soon as you can, find out where your competitor has in mind to place their ball. Do that as you quickly take up your cover position. For example, move to cover before they can set up to shoot a reverse pinch when they and the ball are behind you in either back corner. After you read their mind by checking out their court location, contact height, stance angle, and prep size, move from your coverage spot to get to the ball where you read it’s being placed by moving right as they commit with their elbow flying forward.
(6) Hit And Move! —> Move quickly to center court after serving, returning or after cranking your shot during a rally from along the court perimeter. If your shot were to leave the ball near center court, still try to take up the part of the center that’s left. Usually cover the competitor’s shot from the wide side of the court. Ideally stand in their blind spot behind them as they shoot and well out of the 4′ radius of their swing. Just say to yourself, “They might miss”. And hustle into coverage. Then your job is actually only halfway done after you’ve moved into center court. You must leave there to run down most shots. It’s wishful thinking to count on the ball kindly funneling right back to you in center court. The same reasoning goes for moving to return serves. Waiting in the middle in the backcourt for your return of serve (ROS) is not going to be successful against strong servers who key on placing the ball in the back corners with their serves. Read any tells they may have in their service motions that reveal where the serve is going. Recall their situational tendencies or when they serve where. Watch thru their legs trying to pick up the ball early and watch closely as the ball passes by them on one side or another. Take chances by anticipating. Move to aggressively return both serves and rally shots. One thing though is don’t preplan your return of serve, as a simple wrinkle like a slight angle or pace change may throw you completely off and ruin your perfect plan. Read, react, and tactically respond. When closer up in the court in rally coverage, do mentally picture what shot and target area you might hit were the ball to come right at you. There’s no time to decide. There’s just time to reflex the ball with a QuickDraw stroke toward your shooting target zone.
(7) Take Big First Step —> Take a big first step to track down each ball (crossover steps count). Then power down as you approach the ball with squeaky little adjustment steps, as you read the bounce of the ball and narrow your shot options to your best shot available (BSA).
(8) Open Gate And Crossover —> As your ROS feetwork, a very doable move is just like the one mentioned earlier to get out of the box by moving off the sidewall as your partner’s serve is clearing the short line. Stand in your ROS spot. As soon as you recognize which corner the serve is headed to, pivot with the foot closer to that corner opening the gate or opening (meaning facing) your hips and chest to that corner. Then crossover with the far or trailing foot as you also begin to lift your racquet. A diagonal crossover move is best. Going left it’s … pivot with left foot toward the left sidewall and crossover with right foot into about a 45 degree angled step forward. Here are 4 feetwork options to respond to different serve situations: (1) if you read the incoming serve is a howitzer of a drive serve, the immediate pivot and crossover allows you to cut off the ball as angles into the back corner; (2) to attack a moderately paced ball, you may follow up the crossover with a crisscross (behind the foot crossover) with the foot that first pivoted. Crisscross past the first set crossover foot stepping further out toward the sidewall. Then take one more step up court with the initial crossover foot which sets the front of your hitting stance; (3) if you were to read the serve is quickly heading directly into the back corner and you read that it will crack out and fly off the back wall a short ways along that sidewall, after the first crossover take a little split step hop out along the wall. Here’s how: after the pivot and crossover, crisscross step to the wall with the pivot foot, land and split or spread both feet apart as you take your backswing. And then load back and swing focusing on keeping the ball in play; and (4) sometimes, after the first pivot and crossover, a pivot with crossover step to point forward and a follow on crossover with the pivot foot going forward along the sidewall gets you on the move very quickly going forward to keep pace with an unusually long back corner flyer that comes in hotter, strikes the back wall higher and scoots out further along the sidewall. After the two crossovers, takes one more step up of court with the front foot (the original crossover foot) setting the impromptu stance. This last example is seen more and more due to overhead serves and upright, high contact drive serves meant to bounce the ball near the corner, carom off and jet out along the sidewall. These 4 are options for covering the corner with your ROS feetwork. Work on your ROS feetwork like you do your racquet swings. It’ll pay huge dividends in key situations when you return serve. Drill your pivot, ball bounce and crossover move to start. Also toss the ball a little further from you to train up using the follow on optional steps after the initial pivot and crossover so you prep to return serves further from you, too. To drill, start by standing facing forward and checking your spacing so you’re within a spin and racquet reach back of almost bring able to touch the back wall. Bounce the ball off to one side as you also pivot to that side with the closer foot. Then, as you begin to prep with your racquet and body, also crossover with the trail foot. After it lands, swing thru the ball pretending there’s a server up ahead of you who you want to move out of center court with your well-placed return. Start with ceilings and crosscourt pass returns and work up to DTL’s. The return situation is the best time to shoot a DTL from deep court because after serving the server drops back into center court. And, if they’re ripping a drive serve, it’s hard for them to rebalance and retreat in time to cover your DTL that can be almost a bunt when feeding off the pace of their drive.
(9) How To Move After Shooting —> When you’re setup up in mid court along one sidewall, a DTL pass is a percentage play when the competitor is behind you, and you can hit a pass that gets by you to bounce twice before the back wall. A low shot that hits the front wall, bounces and still is up when it gets back to your legs can be a penalty hinder on you. Hit and move. Escape feetwork: (a) hit low, back up and then curl into center court; (b) hit higher or shoot a pass and semicircle forward making an arcing run back into center court.
(10) Stroke Sensations —> Your backhand stroke feels like a frisbee toss. Your forehand pass is the motion and sensation of a sidearm ball throw or like skimming a flat rock on a smooth lake for your low-to-low killshot stroke.
(11) On-Time Prep After Keying On Ball Bounce —> As you read, track, and pick your contact point, get ready with your racquet lift when you could just about reach out and pluck the ball right out of midair like an baseball infielder. Too early prep before you’ve read the ball is imbalanced Statue of Liberty play. That is far too robotic, as having the racquet lifted before you’re ready to swing robs you of the best body balance needed to make the key little steps to adjust to the ball’s bounce because your hand is up VS down supporting and balancing 2-arm, 2-foot flowing movement. And it also robs you of the ability to smoothly loop your backswing in prep to build a fluid stroke tempo. A routine looping backswing, even a little bit lower one for a fast paced rally, transitions right-away to your resulting rhythmic forward swing. Raising your racquet too early can freeze you early in the wrong prep. Say you’re prepped for a backhand when the better stroke would be a forehand. Say an oddly bouncing ball ends up being behind you on your backhand side. Having the racquet up for a backhand would eliminate your being able to save the ball to the back wall. Very importantly stroke in one smooth motion. As you pick contact, step back to set the back of your stance, as you join that move with your initial racquet lift motion. Then step up, set the front foot, complete your prep, and then swing thru with no delay between your up swing and downswing. Avoid hopping into a double foot plop with racquet already up high leaving you just a feet dug in hatchet whack at VS thru the ball.
(12) Move Into Your Shot —> Get behind the ball an arm and racquet reach away. Approach the ball and set up facing the ball (and sidewall) behind the ball so you step up (forward) with your front foot for below waist high contact. For higher contact from a narrow stance, still set up a little bit behind the ball so you sway sideways moving into the ball. Avoid setting up directly in front of the ball leaving yourself just arm swing at the ball. Get your legs, core and upper body all working together fueling your peaking arm swing. Set up behind the ball and move into the ball in a combo of sideways and smooth arcing body motion.
(13) Play Keep-Away —> Have a reason for every stroke you take. Hit em where they ain’t. Keep the ball far away from your competitor with your shot picks. Were your options limited to having to hit at your competitor either stroke a ball off the sidewall at them or shoot a heater right at their forehand hip.
(14) Shrink Or Expand? —> Choose your shot by first picking a side of the court to attack (yet don’t point with your feet to reveal that angle). Then decide, “Shrink Or Expand the court?” As you see that the ball will be in your wheelhouse to shoot, be very observant as you track and prep for the ball. When you see the competitor is up closer to the service box, pass them deep (expand). When the competitor is deep, kill or pinch leaving the ball up in the front court (shrink). Play keep-away, run um ball. For less easily aggressive situations, like for example when fielding a deep court lob or ceiling ball, quickly retreat from center court (by turning, taking a crossover and running VS shuffling back). After you get back well before the ball optionally find the back wall with your fingertips, your racquet tip or by being familiar with your positioning close to the back wall. That hustle gets you back early enough to attack a dropping ball. Only lift a ceiling on a high ball (above your chest) when you have to stretch up to almost be up on your tiptoes to shoot. When you can, go in attack mode. This is an aggressive tactic knowing that when you don’t shoot first, even by placing an error forcing pass, rest assured your competitor will.
(15) Own A Vast Shot Arsenal —> Practice so you have many different shots ready so your competitor hasn’t a clue what you’ll do next. Quickly parse thru your owned options, pick the best one for this ball bounce and pattern of play, and then mentally see your shot and stroke to make it, commit, prep and flow. After shooting, rebalance by pushing from your front to your back foot and move to D-up.
(16) Own An Artillery Of Serves —> Like having lots of shots, also own an unpredictable set of serves for the many game situations you’ll face to keep your receiver guessing what’s coming next. You want them to have to stay in the center as you start your motion and make them have to guess sometimes just like you would VS Kane.
(17) Follow Your Shot —> Do not relax because you play a good shot. Maybe the competitor will retrieve it. Get ready for your next stroke by moving to position in the best available coverage position in center court. Get between any ball behind you and the opposite front corner as you are in your crouch positioned at about dashed line court depth. Yet still guard your primary cover, the DTL. The DTL is the shortest, most dangerous shot. Yet the DTL can still be covered with 2 quick, well-drilled steps. Step with back foot closing in on the sidewall and then crossover with the front foot as you prep and swing intercepting the pass along the wall and temporarily trap your competitor behind you as pick and execute the shot they’ll have the most trouble running down. This DTL coverage emphasizes the good tendency to be ready to leave center court to cover the competitor’s shot for whatever shot you read.
(18) No Back Wall Setups Allowed! —> Keep the ball low and off the back wall when you shoot the ball. When the competitor doesn’t and they set you up, show them why. To avoid having your ball bounce and pop off the back wall, let the ball drop low when you can to shoot low-to-low. Also learn to shoot high to low by swinging over the top of the ball while optionally dropping the ball down slightly on your strings’ sweet spot and also optionally beveling or angling your racquet face slightly pointing downwards, too. Practice develops these shooting skills reserved for balls in mid court when you can’t back up or deep court contact at chest high or lower.
(19) Move With Back Wall Setups —> When shooting a set up by your competitor that bounces and springs a ways off the back wall or pops just a little way off the back wall on a softer, higher bouncing ball, move back with the ball just a little bit further behind where you estimate you’ll be making contact. Then, as the ball is popping off the wall, move out with the ball. As the ball is arcing into your contact zone, set your feet and allow the ball to pass your hitting shoulder as it drops low, and ideally shoot low-to-low for your highest percentage shotmaking. Do this dance back and out with the ball VS darting right to where you predict the ball will rebound out. Moving back with the ball and behind expected contact honors the bounce of the ball. It develops rhythmic swinging and ensures the contact point is your choice, not the ball’s. Mistakes and unaggressive shots result from being forced to hit a ball that ends up being behind or in front of your contact point when you dash to your guessed at spot and you don’t honor the ball’s bounce by moving with the back wall set up.
(20) Feel Your Wall Target —> When it’s your turn to serve, go through your pre-serve ritual and pick your serve before you go into your service motion. As you get ready to serve and execute your form *feel* your front wall target and the resulting angle of the ball off the front wall, as you prep and swing thru using this imagery assist. For each serve, have a mental image of the stroke you’ll take and your front wall target to achieve your serve based on where you *feel* you’ll place the ball after it contacts the front wall and heads for one corner or at them if it’s a jam serve. For instance, for a crosscourt drive, mentally see your front wall spot a little under halfway between the ball and the far sidewall for your serve to Robin Hood the crosscourt back corner. You know your front wall and deep corner targets from your practice and competitive experience. As you drill your serves (or passing shots), know your target is neither as low as you think it is, nor is the front wall target as far over toward the sidewall as you think it is either. Your second nature feel is built during practice and confirmed in competitive success when you seal your feel with visualization and muscle memory programming.
(21) Don’t Look At Your Wall Target —> Don’t look at your front wall target for your serve (or ever look at your target for your rally shots). That includes not even looking in your pre-serve ritual unless you were doing say the Kane front court open stance wall bump ritual. To just turn and blatantly stare at your front wall target clearly telegraphs your serve for your competitor. One example of how that backfires is your competitor could plan a sneak attack on say your revealed drive Z serve that could eliminate both your element of surprise and maybe your best serve’s usual, counted upon effectiveness.
(22) Play, Review, Tweak —> Review your play mid game and between games in a match and in between challenge court games. Ask yourself questions like, “How am I doing? Is my form good? Am I moving my feet? Am I setting the best stance I can, while watching the ball and swinging my swing? Are my tactics effective? Do I have some skill (serve, positioning, feetwork, shot, tactic) that I’ve yet to unveil that could be very raise my level?” Self coach and self correct. Be optimistic. Prod yourself on. This isn’t judging. It’s boosting. BE A NUDGER, NOT A GRUDGER. Raise your game each and every rally. Be playing your very best at winning time. Peak your effort, focus and execution as you close out each game and match.
(23) Play In Your *Flow State* —> Get in the state of mind where you play your best and constantly return to that zone. Center yourself after any breaks in play or breaks in your concentration. Have little cues, like tapping your sternum to clear your eyes or taking a soft, deep breath or two between rallies or give yourself one little fundamental tip, like move your feet. To pump yourself up, say, “I got this”. Have a well defined pre-serve, pre-return and also pre-game ritual that puts you in your best, clear-minded focus and self belief. Don’t rush. And don’t <be> rushed. Always have a plan A and a plan B, C … and review your plans as you take on any new challenge or challenge that’s been tough on you today.
(24) PLAY LIKE A CHAMPION —> Subliminally pat yourself on the back when you do well. Also tap yourself on say your racquet shoulder to get you back on track when you briefly stray from your game plan or you make an error, like a skip. That’s better that staring at and blaming your racquet. A verbalized “Come on!” is very much okay, as is a slap on your thigh which ups your adrenaline level. Move your feet quickly in place to get yourself revved up. Or walk about slowly and count to 5 to calm down yourself down when you feel rushed or too wound up. Those are upbeat things and done in lieu of ever making a racquet attack on a wall or using foul language. Be a good sport. Make calls on yourself for hinders, skips, 2-bounce-gets and faults. Enhance our sport. How you play says so much. Show someone how to play by how you approach the game, how you comport yourself, how you handle adversity and how you stay grounded when it’s all flowing your way. Show that it’s good natured fun and play together VS being at odds with your competitor. You can’t compete and truly test your skills without that competitor sharing the court with you. Respect the game, your competitor and yourself. Avoid trying to control everything. It’s a reality game. The result is unknown. Your performance is self motivated and based on your choices and responses. Tanking (pool shark missing), patronizing (playing soft) and half invested effort (dogging it) all are easily recognized and mutually non beneficial for you and your competitor. Know it’s always respectful when you play hard. You can attack the competitor’s strength and make your job harder. You can work on your weaknesses. You can try something new you have been developing. Although inventing say a new shot real-time in a game is at best wishful and at worst disrespectful. Know your game and theirs and how to compete and control the scoreboard with your skills and your solid decision making. Walk with your shoulders back, your head high carrying yourself like champion. When you’ve read the ball, the pattern of play, approached the ball and then picked one, take that shot.