By Ken Woodfin

Guide to Game Planning in Racquetball!

Guide to Game Planning 

The Importance of Game Style Development Through Planning, Practicing and Then Playing Like You Plan

Make sure you develop strong fundamentals and tactics, while you develop  your own game style or how you prefer to play. As you work into the upper levels of play, it’s really important to FIND YOUR OWN PERSONAL GAME STYLE. Game style building helps in shortening and even preventing training plateaus and speeds up your assault on the skills ladder while elevating your level of play. And having a game style arms you for battle knowing how you want to play and how you sense you play at your very best. So build your technical fundamentals and tactics, as you also build your own playing style

Write It Down…Building Your Game Plan Sheet – The purpose of the written down game plan sheet is to help you define your game plan for a particular match. Game planning also helps you build your overall playing style. As you train and get better, it starts to become important to build your own style that includes things that work for YOU vs how anyone else may play. That is what true racquetball “art” is. Once you build your own style and get good at things that work best for you, then you’ll truly start to excel by playing the game your way, trusting your skills and imposing your will and talent on the game. 

Don’t be a Master of None  

– A very common thing that happens is a racquetball player just gets focused on learning and adding everything their Coach teaches them or what they see and want to mimic. You want to avoid this regimentation because it’ll cause you to start becoming a “Jack of All Trades, but Master of None”Find what you like, what you feel comfortable with, what you want to add, (and even what you want to avoid) and go from there. Build the Bedrock of Your Game Style. 

DON’T ONLY BE A COLLECTER OF TECHNIQUES. TECHNIQUES SHOULD STRING TOGETHER INTO SCHEMES TO PLAY AND ADAPT TO PATTERNS OF PLAY OR GAME SEQUENCE SITUATIONS THAT YOU ROUTINELY SEE, RECOGNIZE, DEVELOP YOUR RESPONSES FOR, AS YOU TRAIN AND SOLVE THE PATTERNS WITH YOUR SECOND NATURE SKILLS AS YOU PLAY. 

1. Start with Standing 

– When you start your game plan sheet, in the middle of the sheet start first from Standing or the standing position and then work your way around the game plan sheet from there. The reason for this is because all rallies and games start from a standing position when you’re either serving or you’re returning. They’re both integral to game planning. For example, you should have a standing Return game plan and put that at the very top or bottom in the center of your sheet. REGARDLESS whether you are good at a return of a certain serve or not, include that serve as an item in the Return section when you see it’s routinely used in play. You can list a return you like or one you are just starting to like. Then define different items or ways to control the return, including…your return positioning, serve reading, movement, prep, shot selection, shot placement, stroking, stroke recovery and coverage. If you have no return for that serve yet, that’s a gap in your game you must and will fill it.


2. 
Build from Standing 

– Once you have your list of things you like to do starting from standing in your return of serve situations then build each list with items in that section. For example, one thing you have in the standing Return section might be your return position or where you position yourself for certain specific serves. For example, stand a step and turn and “racquet head reach away” from the back wall. As you get in position to return, you get ready to return. Then “drop into a crouch”, as the server is going into their service motion. That means reminding yourself to get off your heels, bend your knees, lean forward and look through the server’s legs to see the serve’s width or side where the ball is headed by studying the front wall. Also, you might add “double pivot ball side”, meaning, after picking up the serve’s angle, pivot on balls of both feet in that direction readying you to move to return (and then open the gate pivoting ball side ready to crossover toward intersecting with the ball). Fill the Return first moves section because that’s where you begin to make your move to return any and all serves. (And note that how you practice that move makes it second nature and subliminally available vs having to over think it in match play.) As an example, if you were to always use a turn and jump out toward the side under attack, you’d end up close to the sidewall in a parallel stance limiting your return options because any balls requiring a retreat would be extremely hard. An item you have in the standing Return section for a serve that you read you can attack might be “jab step closest foot”. When you read the ball is corner bound, add “crossover trail”, in your 2-step return move. You’re listing your items there, as you end up in a closed stance ready to move into your return for a pretty pedestrian serve to the corner which allows two steps and the ball isn’t too far into the corner. You can also add a 1-step return and include both “crossover trail leg” or even “lead leg open lunge”, as those are 2 possible positions you might end up in a 1-step return for very fast corner bound drive. Those last two are for very fast serves to the corner when there’s just not enough time for two steps. For less pressed returns, you might add “half step lead leg”, as trail leg joins for sidesteps, meaning step sideways with beginning with closest foot. For a back wall rear corner setup (or low jam shot or serve), add “pull trail leg back” in retreat to adjust and shoot the setup. Then you would go and fill in the “I have back wall setup” section that crosses over to rally situations, too. THE PURPOSE OF DOING IT THIS WAY IS TO HELP YOU ACTUALLY THINK ABOUT HOW YOUR GAME PLAN WILL PAN OUT AND PLAY PATTERNS OUT IN YOUR MIND, WHILE YOU ARE WRITING IT DOWN, INSTEAD OF JUST RANDOMLY FILLING IN SECTIONS. 

3. Build Off the Other Position 

– Once you have filled in the sections that stemmed off of all games start from standing Return section, define and include your Serve section where you start there from standing, too. Then build the section to the side called Rally and fill in its lists and items. One side may be the rallies that start when returning the other when serving. You move differently from your ROS position to cover than you do when serving. And you may have different levels of aggression when you serve when you take more chances than you normally would when you return. It’s based on when you serve the worse case is loss of serve while when you return it could result in dropped points or games. Look at it and see what section may stem off of an item in the list, like the pattern for back wall setups or follow on movements after getting into good coverage position. Then add in lists and items for movement, tracking, ball approach, selecting various shots, stroking a back wall setup, recovery after (or rebalancing), moving, positioning and covering. For example, if you have the “I Have Rally Left Up Shot Option” section to fill in and one of the items in that section may  be “trail foot cross-over”. That’s working out how-to move most efficiently to track down the ball. In turn, include the finish or “sweeping swing” thru ball in big contact zone for a low contact stroke after reading and tracking down the left up ball. Then the section you may want to fill in next would be “Responding to Left Up Pinch” section because with that sweeping swing you’ll be looking to end up rekilling there into one target among several options, while adapting to the incoming shot angle and ball spin.

4. Add only things you like to do, things you are getting good at, or things that you feel may not be perfect at yet but they have potential for your game (as you are working on them and ideally getting close to owning them) 

 The purpose for doing it this way is so you prevent writing down a H-U-G-E list in each section that’s pretty much just a wishlist. You don’t want things you don’t even try or that look cool but you’ve never even tested them in practice to see if they would really work for you or not. Don’t worry if you can only think of one thing to put in a section or if you can’t even think of even one thing yet that you can do. If either of those is the case, then you know you have a hole in your game or that you’re weak in that one area. You need to focus on that area in practice to find what appeals to you or matches your game style, what works for you and then build that area up with options you feel are RIGHT FOR YOU. Don’t just add something to fill the space. An example would be say short hopping lob serves. You’ll need to get on court and practice the skill either with a practice partner or by designing solo drills that simulate the lob serve bounce and timing of moving in, taking your QuickDraw stroke’s very compact backswing and hooding or closing your racquet for your short, very focused swing contacting the ball right after it bounces to hit the ball first cross-court and work up to DTL and eventually learn to hit front corner shots. 

5. ADD COMPLEMENTARY ITEMS FOR MORE OPTIONS AND DECEPTION 

– A reason you don’t want to have just one thing is because if you just have one thing listed in a section you are predictable. You want to find something that complements that one thing so then you can build off of them into a system, including disguise or creating an ability to be unpredictable and avoid where your competitor could guess with certainty your lone option. An example of two complementary shots are looking like you’re going down the line, but instead you shoot crosscourt; or looking like your going DTL, but you’re hitting a splat or pinch low and placing the ball cross-court to in the front court.

6. You Can Add New Systems 

The lists don’t need to be written in complete detail because you should be able to know and recall what you wrote down and that it’s something that’s part of a greater whole that you feel good about. Include things that you see great potential in its execution or adding it to your system by practicing. Now let’s say for example there are a few very closely linked things that you know you like to do and you are good at them from a particular position, such as in deep court shooting off the back wall, for example. There you develop types of balls you’ll field, continuously watching the ball, moving back as you’re tracking the ball with diligent movement and then you move out, set your feet and execute your stroking form. Then you list many shot options in your system for shooting from 38′ or close to there. Similarly, for other spots in the court, work out your system of coverage, reading, movement tracking, setting your stance, selecting your shot and shooting. 

7. Tactical is Philosophical, Too 

– Begin to add a calmness about your playing style by defining your self assured attitude that allows you to play at your very best. Allow your assertive thoughts to power your efficiency actions, like “A shot created is taken”; or “aggression with precision” or “get rhythm of ball’s bounce and match it to your own swing tempo”. 

8. Brevity Helps Jog Memory 

– You can write down an item in brief, like “Jam Fly Return = Splat” on the list instead of writing down each separate technique or details that combines to make that tactic work. A jam fly splat could include details, like, (1) turn and face other sidewall, as jam serve caroms off sidewall at you; (2) drop step with back foot that becomes lead foot with jam as the ball pops off the back wall; (3) shuffle and flow angling out with ball toward sidewall; and (3) return hitting deep sidewall spot for splat return. Now, if one of those details has become a bugaboo, add details of that technique and, via training, a tip to produce the form which improves your skill and execution. As an example, “step back and then flick feet off back wall” gets you moving with ball to be able to shoot aggressively vs only moving with the ball down to only play it defensively, like saving it to the back wall.

9. You Don’t Need To Fill in All of the Spaces, But Fill in Some 

 In relation to “Step 4” above, you don’t have to fill in all of the spaces just because there are blanks. Work with things in your wheelhouse. As a general rule, you want to try and have at least 2 to 3 feetwork and shot options in each section. However, make sure you don’t force it by putting down just anything in those spaces or things you aren’t familiar with just yet. You’d be defining a plan you can’t achieve. Study what’s needed, develop the tactic and technique to perform the full skill set, and then drill it to a fine edge. Then add an item in your list filling in the area with what you can do to respond effectively. An example is learning how to quickly track down a overhead serve that bounces and squirts out of the back corner flying down along the sidewall. How would you catch up to a flyer? Write something like, “Step out early” or “Crossover and move as ball is being served”.

10. Make a Separate Game Plan for Each of Your Game Styles 

 If you train and play zero ceiling rallying, make a game plan for just that style. If you train and play keep-away shooting, then make a game plan for that style. If you train and play both ceiling rally style and keep away style, then make a game plan that combines the two of them into a ceiling and keep away attack. As a for instance, I like to keep both my return and serve playing styles similar. Most tactics, including movement, coverage and many shots are shared. However, there is usually something that is different per each style for your purely offensive (serving) and defensive (returning) game. You want that to be reflected in each game plan. For me, when shooting low straight in or pinching my rule for contact height is to take the ball a little lower, like waist height or lower for my Return game. Alternatively, when I serve, I shoot chest high on down when it’s a shot I routinely take and make; as I take many more chances from usually, initially much better court positioning after serving. 

11. Keep It Simple 

– Keep it Simple, Succinct (K.I.S.S). Take notice that with the game plan there should be no huge, long descriptions. The lists are filled with simple descriptions, along with acronyms (first letter abbreviations), like, for example, DTL or WAP for down the line or wide angle pass. Also, for example, using swing thoughts or reminders of your stroking helps make your plan more easily memorable. Just like your training you don’t want to make your learning and planning harder then it needs to be. Since you are the one writing down these sections the things in the lists are aspects you like or you are working on to incorporate them into your game. You’ll remember them much better when they’re simply described in words having great meaning to you.


12. 
Flow Them Together 

– Create lines to link each section together with other sections. A good idea is to use colored pencils or highlighters to make things easier to read. Study how each section flows together with the full game plan. An example is how you routinely “First Step Cross” or crossover step with trail foot after serving or returning to most efficiently and quickly move to center court. 

13. ACTUALLY PRACTICE Your GAME PLANS! 

– Don’t just do all of this work and not use your plan. That is the #1 thing that happens. It’s written down, but not drilled in practice or used to develop a game plan tailored to today’s match or really tailored to how you actually do play in competition. In practice (and mentally) drill the situations that the plans cover over and over and over again. Breaking your game plan down into sections, DRILL only one section at a time or even one item. As you get used to each section or pattern or tactic and its skills and connect it to other sections it will all come together. For example, “shoot ceiling from deep corner” linked to “follow in ceiling along sidewall” and link it to “curl into center” in coverage. 

— Also…self analyze or, if you have one, talk to your Coach – let your Coach look at your game plan and analyze it with you to see if it matches your skill set, playing personality and game style. 

— Practice new things to add new tactics and skills.

— Go through the flow of a playing pattern or section when you are drilling, as you see it in your game plan and mind. If the plan needs to be adjusted based on having done it, re-write that list or item. Always seek improvements. Always tweak and learn how you play now vs leveling off at one plateau or using a weak form or outdated tactic. 

14. Systemize 

– The goal is to create a racquetball playing system that will work for you over and over again. Once you feel very good with the system then build off of it. Add to each section. And you can also break it down more such as breaking down each individual list item under each section. Write down answers to any obstacle you may encounter with each individual list item in each section. For example, your forehand grip may not be producing near corner pinches like you’d like it to do. You could work on a new grip or instead you could adjust your stroke to make that grip work by adjusting your swing flow, for instance, to be more inside-out, placing useful shotmaking spin on the ball into the target wall by placing your racquet face on the inside of the ball. 

15. Your Game is Built Upon Technique and a Game Plan of Owned Tactics, Skills and Upper Level Overarching Strategies That Those Acquired Talents Support and Implement

– Think of your fundamentals of movement and stroking as the trunk of your tree. Your game plan sections are the branches that grow out from the trunk. Little branches that grow from each bigger branch are your game situations or patterns of play and then the list of items are the tactics actions that are powered by moving, positioning and stroking. The canopy of leaves are your overall aims or strategies. 

16. Revisit Game Plan 

– Constantly revisit your game plan. While you’re not going to completely change your game there are always adjustments to be made. The players who are great at racquetball have options and movements they’ve used since they were beginners, and they are still successful at them because they never stop doing them and keeping them fresh with minor variations. And they create SYSTEMS around those tactics and skills by adding adjustments. That adding never ends. Your game style may change as your skill set expands. Also being able to play with different styles of your own allows you to attack an opponent’s weak skills. Or, by playing another player’s style, you hang tough with them in their style until you can turn the tide in your favor to play your preferred playing style and do the things you always do best and steal from them their thunder and their mojo. 

Game Plan and then … DRILL, DRILL, DRILL for Skill and Tactic Grooving to Instill Self Belief and Have a Well Rounded Game Where You Play in Style or Styles You Enjoy

One on One Lessons
Ken offers one-on-one lessons to true students of racquetball. Based in the Houston area, Ken can assist you with your game and strategy.

713-557-3176

KenRB54@Gmail.com

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