The opponent within your head is far more daunting that any player you might face or the one with whom you actually “share” the back half of the court today. What that means is your THOUGHTS BEFORE you play (and AS you play) really matter. Know that you can leverage those thoughts to your advantage. They can be very powerful in deciding HOW you play the game or really how you approach and play each ball on either side of the ball, as shooter or defender.
Focused Mind and Focused Action
Purposeful thoughts spur you on to focus and pay rapt attention vs allowing your mind to wander. Those well directed thoughts allow you to avoid crippling thoughts of insecurity or uncertainty that could freeze you up mid rally or even mid service motion. Instead constructive thoughts free you up to act.
Strategic thoughts push you to play tactically. Those thoughts spur you on to take shots you routinely take and make. Thoughts also bear on how well you defend your shot placements from the best spot you quickly pick and move to in center court (or, as you move thru center directly in pursuit of a ball). While there in coverage, mentally be ready to move. Also, be loose, but bent. Knees flexed, hands low. That way you’re poised to aggressively track down and play the opponent’s shot. As they play the ball, get on balance. Stay alert. Study the opponent’s setting up moves. By observing, you often get a really good hint into their shot placement and where to make your follow on ball tracking run by studying THEIR body language. From the size of their prep or windup to even their facial expressions, you can read lots about their shot intent.
Belief and Shot Thoughts
Self-talk that says “I got this”, strengthens your will power and motivates you to play with tactical discipline. Offensively then it’s all about picking a good shot. First pick a shot where the ball CAN go. There you’re making a quick binary decision… put-away or keep-away? Plus my side or their side?
(1) Put-away?… as option to…
(a) pinch into selected front corner; or
(b) deep sidewall target splat; or
(c) direct shot to front wall (although aware that’s an easier angle to intercept)… or do I play…
(2) Keep-away?… as you decide… where can I (best) place this keep-away shot? … locating it deep in backcourt, while optionally deciding down the wall or cross-court toward far, rear corner?…with…
(1) passing shot… my side… or…theirs?;
(2) deep target ceiling ball, pinpointing spot on ceiling further back from front wall (while placing power ceiling with good depth, but not trying to squeeze ball into a back corner and risk catching sidewall with your harder hit, tougher to aim ceiling ball);
(3) regular touch ceiling ball, targeting ceiling closer to front wall and looking to bury finesse ceiling ball tight in rear corner (when unpressured by ceiling ball short hop cutoff artist);
(4) High Z into cross front corner (12-16 feet high);
(5) around the wall ball (ATWB), although know an ATWB is less used because it’s often cutoff by opponents after its bounce in the middle of the court; or…
(6) under duress, loft up high lob and move quickly to d-up.
After your shot, shift your thoughts right away to moving into center court to defend your shot’s placement. From center, be positioned in a ready stance. Be balanced and ready to move quickly and familiarly to cover THEIR shot. Face front corner ball side. Look over your back shoulder when ball is deeper than you. Cover your head with your racquet after you’ve hit a particularly tough serve or a move-them rally shot. Face ball laterally when ball is on one side of the court. When they face the ball, get in their blind spot behind them where they can’t see you. From wherever you are, move to where you read (or think) they’re hitting keying your break on the ball when you see (or feel) they’ve begun their arm swing forward.
Think Tactically, Not Critically
Allow yourself to focus your intentions on making good, quick, tactically familiar decisions. Take actions that back ‘em up. Keep up your motivation. Control your often noisy inner voice. Definitely wrangle in your inner critic. If you err, let it go, even following a short self chew out. Then plow forward. Those tactical thoughts all press you forward to make strategic plays and plans.
Voice in Your Head
The voice in your head has tremendous influence over what you think, what you feel, and ultimately what you do. Your inner voice in many ways decides HOW well you will perform today. Your inner voice tells you how or influences how you’re going to play in your very next action, your next task. Think: focus only on what’s right up ahead. Then your focus will follow thru into your imagined and acted upon tactical efficiency action.
Inner Voice = Action
Since your inner voice often dictates how well you’ll act next, believe you are ready. BELIEVE in what YOU can do. Your action reflects what you tell yourself about your skills, attitudes, and the serves and shots you’ve trained up. You will lean heavily on what you feel justifiably confident in when you get setup opportunities, even when pressure is at its very greatest. As an example, in a doubles rally, stay mobile. For instance, when you see a ball drifting back that you see you can cover behind your partner and you see they’d struggle just to lift it to the ceiling, call out, “Mine” or “Me”. Hopefully your partner will defer to you and they will move over to your side. But, in any case, take charge and take the best team shot you can manage in this situation.
Control Inner Dialogue
As you play and even right before you enter the fray in each rally, you often have a running dialogue with yourself. That discussion can often fill your mind with a barrage of thoughts that even spill over into the coming rally. Those thoughts CAN go on throughout play. Some will be good, some will be bad. The dialogue is especially strong in the breaks in between rallies, but, when it spills over into the rallies, it’s important to steer it to “can do” or “I got this” or “Hustle!”.
Play hard, but not tricky. That means don’t overthink it. Don’t get in your own head. Don’t react. Proact. Read the game, constantly.
That in-between time after the last rally connects you to the very next rally. It’s huge. That in-between time is a critical time to make little minor corrections. It’s also time to pump yourself up to compete strongly, tactically and calmly. Thoughts can continue on until the next serve is put in play, when it’s served up by you or by them. That in-between time is an invaluable time you can beneficially use to…
(1) boost your own morale;
(2) quickly review your game strategy you’d preplanned;
(3) parse thru available tactics, and even open up as an yet unused apropos tactic, like something special you have saved up just for this foe;
(4) real-time assess and, when needed, tune up your moving or stroking form or technique;
(5) when serving, allow your thoughts to go to picking and mentally placing THIS serve, as you do what you consistently repeat with your form and serve placement, while focusing laser-like on contact;
(6) if you’re receiving serve, get in position according to this serving situation in singles or doubles. Get loose and ready to play the ball you see, while ready for the bounce you read and also ready based on past rallies, plus be aware of time and score. At times even be ready to make your best guess and pick a side to move to defend the serve location you anticipate;
(7) shake it out with your arm, your brain, and check glove + goggles. Don’t start rally with unready equipment or slow acting mind.
In Rally Thoughts
Your thoughts also may go on between hits even within an ongoing rally. Then you may think to yourself in the first person…
(a) “I’ll defend better from here”, as you move to this spot in center court;
(b) “I WILL track down THIS ball”…by keeping my feet alive, while ideally not facing front and swinging from an open stance;
(c) “I‘m moving” my feet to hit this ball… to optimally set my best striking stance;
(d) “I‘m looping…” my racquet back”…
(e) “I will let it ‘er rip”, with my rhythmic loop forward”, while depending upon My True Form, as I commit to the hit.
I Do NOT Embed
This isn’t a multiple choice test. It’s combo of self defense AND Tai Chi. Don’t go with your gut. Go with what you see, read and know how to do by rote. Watch, read, and proactively move and play offense with an elevated sense of keep-away/put-away. Don’t fixate or implant an idea based on only what you initially expect. Don’t embed or pigeonhole yourself into only one action. Always put it ALL in perspective. What is the ball doin? What can I do? What has happened so far today? What usually happens for me right here? What’s MY best shot available (BSA)? …or… defensively what’s the best shot to take away from them?… Don’t use a tactic that’ll show ‘um up. You’re not out here to embarrass them, or yourself.
Pick a shot that’ll either outright win or the one that’ll extend the rally, while you’re able to center up, when you see you can’t hit that untouchable winner. Tactically d-up positioning wisely, but be ready to take chances from there. See it before it happens, and proact. So the hint there is be ready shoot or scoot. But also watch, adapt and adjust, tirelessly.
When it’s hard, make it look easy. When it’s easy, make it look hard by being so technically complete. There are no shortcuts. There’s big moments and big hearted effort. Also, don’t get stuck in your one game plan, your Plan A. Be ready to make adjustments on the fly. Have a Plan B, a Plan C, a Plan D…
Since you have dozens of thoughts floating thru your noggin EVERY game you need to be ready to corral them. Some thoughts are going to be positive, some are going to be negative. Allow for that. When YOU decide to swing your thoughts, swing them in a more constructive, familiar vane. If you believe in your shot, good things are bound to happen for you. Know that YOU get to decide which thoughts YOU believe. You even get to decide which thoughts you’ll repeat or lean upon, as each rally initiates and even as a rally progresses, while you’re shooting or defending. Also you get to decide which thoughts you’ll abandon or steer clear of. Steer your thoughts toward fostering YOUR best form, toward executing YOUR best tactics, and toward affirming YOUR strength and full effort.
No Self Sabotage
At times, you might find yourself saying something to yourself, like “I’m not good enough”, in a moment of self sabotage. Know THAT is just an opinion. And it’s a bad one because it’s not even really realistic, and it’s not really useful. You don’t have to believe THAT stuff. As it turns out, you actually don’t even really know HOW well you will play until you take action in the very next rally or with your very next swing of your racquet or with your next run to track down and return their shot or you’ll pressure them with your looming defense.
Self affirming talk helps you call upon your…
(a) game skills;
(b) physical talents;
(c) personal motivators, like wanting to play well or you may even just want to whoop ‘um;
(d) your ability to call upon your fun center (you ARE having fun, right?); and most importantly your…
(e) belief system in what YOU do well and what you know well. That belief system is based on past (similar) experiences in match play. Also, most importantly, your beliefs depend on the foundation YOU have built. It’s what stroking and moving forms and tactics you have trained up and perfected and rely upon. It’s what you’ve repeated on the practice court. It’s what you polish up on the warmup court right before you play today. It’s ultimately what you free yourself up to execute under the fire of competition.
Thoughts = Actions That Count
Via your effort, decide whether YOU will get to THIS ball based on how pumped up and energized you are to hustle down this ball AND how efficiently you move with your best feet-work moves you’ve drilled, too. Likewise YOU decide whether you will make THIS shot, by how you focus, pick, prep, believe and maneuver your racquet face. For example, YOU decide whether you’re going to serve up a nasty crack-out serve that barely crosses the short line to hit the crack at the sidewall/floor. Also, YOU decide whether you’re going to hustle forward after you shoot from deep court to begin your defensive stand from center court.
YOU decide which thoughts YOU will believe.
Lead with Thoughts
(1) you control your thoughts get over being dazzled by an opponent’s good shot…
(2) you decide to let it go when the opponent gets in your way, but you’re primed to be particularly aggressive next rally, so YOU right the wrong and take that very next rally…
(3) you forgive yourself when you skip, although you also try (and do) fix your technique or shot choice the very next similar pattern you play;
(4) you know it’s okay to pat yourself on the back when you make a brilliant play, but you know not to get too full of yourself because there’s just no hubris in racquetball. Stay humble and you’ll stay hungry;
(6) you know THAT was just one rally;
(7) you give yourself license to move on, knowing it’s going to take a series of successful rallies to achieve what you want; and
(8) you know there’s NO knockouts in racquetball, as one ace or one rollout by YOU or THEM isn’t gonna matter unless it was game point or match point.
Performance Not Outcome Goals
You can’t/shouldn’t consume yourself with thoughts or concepts about winning or losing this game or even this point. Think about full effort. Think about making good decisions. Think about playing using YOUR form. Think about hustling off the ball. Think about self belief. Those thoughts all conspire, in a good way, to decide whether you will win or whether you will lose… not a fleeting momentary thought about the score or that boner play you just made or that lucky shot your opponent just mishit. Laugh it off when some lucky thing by them or even by you occurs. Refocus your attention onto what’s just up ahead. Focus on what’s going to happen next.
For instance, mid rally be ready to run forward into center court when your shot gives them a killable ball, as you then tend toward straddling the dashed line. There pick your cover lane, while you intentionally avoid running thru their follow-through. In your mind, see yourself legging out their shot and making a good get. From center court, when you’re ready to move, it’s then much more likely you’ll move. There you give yourself agency. Then you have a much better chance to make a good get or hit a hustle re-kill or move and attack their pressured left up setup.
Always Return to Center… “I’m back”…
Note that however it happens to go in that last game or even THAT last rally or even that last ball strike or that last get, it’s big to return to the fray immediately. Be ready to play, open to anything, and fully aware of what all has transpired up until now. As you play, arm yourself with a clear game thought. Be ready to go full bore. Be motivated to hustle hard. “Play Your Game”. Give it YOUR BEST SHOT in each and every rally with each shot you pick and with each defensive stand you take. Battle and play hard and alertly. Play even better as each game progresses. Finish playing at YOUR very best as your day draws to a close. Finish strong.
Focus on Self-Belief
One more thing before we cover a bunch of GOOD game thoughts you can place in your mind as you play… know that you can get well in a moment by seeing yourself relaxing and playing YOUR way. Play both hard AND up to YOUR capacity. See yourself making that good get, making that prescient, you know where they’ll be shot pick, serving up that solidly placed, wall-hugging serve. Always focus on GOOD thoughts…
Here’s a List of Good Game Thoughts
Here are some good thoughts to select from and carry uppermost in your mind right into match play. Have a thought before the very next rally starts or latch onto it in mid rally or even think on it mid swing. These are tactical thoughts, swing thoughts, and self boosting THOUGHTS… Some are self explanatory. Others are explained followed after the …
(a) “Watch the ball”;
(b) “Move your feet”;
(c) “Pick your shot”… then stick with your pick;
(d) “Get behind the ball”… as you start behind your contact point where you will then move forward into and thru the ball
(e) Routine… contact point;
(f) “Get racquet back”… in YOUR timed, rhythmic, routine, stylish looping backswing;
(g) “Follow-through”… with your stroke and on your plans;
(h) “Hit and Move!”… to defend your shot’s placement or your serve, especially by placing great emphasis on following your shot forward when you hit from backcourt;
(i) “Get to center”… after hitting in a rally or after you serve, prioritize moving into center court where you set yourself to be able cover more angles;
(j) “Angle off to ball”… when ball is in a back corner behind you being struck or even in mid court off to one side, face THAT side’s front corner, as you’re there ready to move to blanket the line the ball is on, which is THE most dangerous, fastest, shortest shot, down the wall and one that can be covered WHEN you move;
(k) “Head on a swivel”… spin and watch opponent track down and prep to hit to pick up shot clues in their prep, and then turn forward right as they’re making contact;
(l) “Read shot”… so you can then take off where you visualize their shot is heading or where you already see ball rebounding off front wall or as ball bounces and caroms off back wall, while you move in concert or in rhythm with the ball, while reading and playing their shot;
(m) “Read ball’s bounce”… as you visualize ball’s bounce, move in rhythm WITH it by taking little, adjustment steps… don’t freeze your feet…
(n) “Hit optimal shot”… first, hit ball where it wants to go based on where ball is heading or angling, how it’s spinning, and based on where you sense you CAN place THIS ball best, while you factor in what YOU familiarly do right HERE, while looking to best strain the opponent’s coverage with your shot placement or where you sense you can render their defense completely moot by hitting an ungettable shot with YOUR shotmaking magic;
(o) “Let that go”… move on to next rally, no matter what just occurred, whether great or less than great, as you say, “let go” to yourself so you move on;
(p) “Stay tough”… stay the course;
(q) “Grind”… play one point at a time;
(r) “Battle”… tooth and nail for every rally;
(s) “Just play”… let any untoward stuff go, as no past rally or “discussion” with the opponent or ref should affect the next rally or series of rallies;
(t) “Now”… which means give yourself agency to take action right now and bear down hard, while not forcing a shot or making a too early a run to cover where you could be caught out or wrong footable;
(u) “Take off”… when you see their arm fly forward. Make your move to cover shot you “see” or anticipate by reading the signs: their prep, game history, bounce, and what would YOU do here?…and, as you interpret the signs, calculate your run and then take off thataway;
(v) be… “Calm, cool, collected”;
(w) “You got time”, which can be said inwardly or to your partner to let them know they have plenty of time to shoot this fat setup and that you believe in them;
(x) “Relentless”… be dogged and determined and ready to take YOUR SHOT vs being caught unable to hit the ball because you’re gun shy or forced to hit a shot you didn’t want to take because you’re snookered by an opponent’s “illegal” positioning or shot blocking… which means hit or hold fire, but don’t bunt;
(y) “Ruthless”… hit ‘em where they ain’t AND take YOUR shot;
(z) “Tactical”, which means play with tactics from your actual strategy and do NOT just hit willy-nilly nor defend sloppily;
(1) “Thoughtful”… play thoughtfully and tactically just like you strategically game planned for this matchup against this opponent or how you had planned to play today, with familiar game thoughts;
(2) Cover your head… as your partner serves, while you’re temporarily glued to the sidewall, put your racquet up and cover your head; and also do the same when you hit a particularly tough serve or shot to a wild hitter, and, by the way, they are ALL wild hitters, so look back thru your strings; and…
(3) “Freeze!” … as opponent sets to hit, ala Simon says, because, by freezing right in place where you are, the opponent can’t hit behind you where you just WERE, so therefore you avoid being “wrong-footed”.
…The Mind is an Extremely Powerful Tool
Do NOT pre-plan your shot… Note that you shouldn’t allow your mind to think about the innocent Marshmallow Man; yeah that IS a Ghostbusters reference. Don’t pick prematurely. Do NOT predetermine or pre-decide or preplan a return of serve. Don’t pre-ordain a rally shot until AFTER you have seen and begun to read the bounce of the ball. By then, you’ve taken in the whole situation. You’re on the move to attack. You’re training on the ball, picking your impact point, timing your contact. So…wait until after the ball has been served or after it has been struck by the opponent, as their rally shot.
Although it’s great to have loads of options, which prepares you to pick and choose from among several viable options to take advantage of this pattern with your best shot or your best available shot where you’ll either outright capture the rally or you’ll get to hit again… still, as you adjust to the bounce of the ball, move your feet and prepare to optimally capitalize on this ball’s action.
A big thing is BELIEVE YOU WILL capitalize. Allow game thoughts to lead your actions to shoot and to then d-up. More often than not your familiar game thoughts that you have as you do your reps in drills, even as you warmup to play, and what you do as you stalk the ball lead you to playin’ in a self-encouraging way because You Have a Plan. What are YOUR game thoughts? What is YOUR plan?
Make paradoxical statements to yourself that transcend rational thought. Say things to yourself like… “I got this”, “This is easy”, “One at a time”, “Not in my house”, or “Just win, baby”. For example, if you sense panic… say “Get ahold of yourself”. Say to yourself, “THIS is fun” (even when it recently wasn’t)… But trust it WILL be, when you think tactic into action. Don’t simmer to a boil. Know your opponent is often going to give you a ration of… trouble. That’s THEIR job. Let it go. Move on. Return to your center. Get back to YOUR game thoughts. Hit and Move! Watch the ball, move your feet…play and think your way…