Racquetball Techniques

By Ken Woodfin

Game Thoughts

Game Thoughts

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.

Strategize Mentally

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.

The 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!”.

Game Thoughts

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.

The In-Between

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…

Thought Control

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-Talk Optimistically

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?
In Final
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…

You Gotta Play Naturally… in Your Own Attack Mode Way

Racquetball Techniques

You can’t just guide the ball around the court or aim your shots. You must prepare and then flow your racquet head thru the back of the ball, with deep meaning. What that means is you must have a plan for each ball you field and a matching stroking form that consistently produces THAT plan. As you read the bounce, move with the ball and pick your shot, while having a short movie clip running inside your mind on your inner screen of YOU pinpointing your shot. That movie runs in your mind from reading the ball to shot pick to setting, prepping and shaping your shot with the stroke you’ve picked to deliver the goods.

Serve is Shot #1 of New Rally

To simplify things, think of your serve as the very first shot that starts a rally. So have an image running in your mind for how you’ll place each serve, too. Keep that image running until the serve is heading past the short line. THEN switch to playing defense. ALWAYS get out of the box and into center court. Pivot toward the side you’re heading, while sneaking a peak over your shoulder at the receiver defending your serve. There in center court prep to move and play the receiver’s return, in attack mode.
Repeating Strokes Best Shape Shots
You must shape your shot’s trajectory with a long, fluid, trained up, repeatable stroke.
First, Picture Shot
As you play the bounce of each ball, begin to mentally form a picture of your potential shot path. As you read the bounce and narrow down your options, make your best shot choice. See your shot’s angle side to side and up to down, which is your chosen shot trajectory or shot path. From your options, pick the ONE shot in this situation that you “see” that fits, with this stroke…
(a) where the ball wants to go or where you read it CAN go;
(b) where your placement will strain the opponent’s ability to cover its angle; and
(c) where you know, from experience, you CAN hit a ball like this one based on your training reps and match play rallies much like this one.
—> Having chosen, picture this shot’s path throughout your stroke and keep picturing it until you complete your follow-through and you switch from shooting to defending. There rebalance to move and cover the court, as you focus on protecting your shot’s placement.
Back and Forth Swing
Fully form your shot image, as you initially prep your feet and repeat looping your racquet upwards and back, like YOU do. There you have already read the bounce of this ball. That includes even when reading your ball toss for THIS serve. Although your ball toss should be very solid because you train it up and plan a repeatable ball toss. Sometimes your ball toss may not be perfect. With a similar concept, to hit your shots, set the ball right where YOU want to make contact. As you set your feet, get behind your contact point. So…for each rally ball, after moving to play the ball as you read its bounce, with your moves get behind planned contact. You decide when, what height, and ultimately where or what contact point where you WILL strike THIS ball. As you begin to prep your stroke and as you continue on throughout your forward swing, keep picturing your shot trajectory at THAT chosen contact-point-of-emphasis. Keep THAT image of your contact point and shaping that shot path uppermost in your mind, in both your Back and Forth swings. For the Back, picture your shot, as you set your feet and swing Back (backswing). Then, when the ball is coming into range and entering your contact zone, as you’re still focusing on both ball AND shot, swing Forth (forward swing), with your shot seeking, sweeping, fluid contact swing. Flow thru the ball at your contact spot with your racquet head. There optimally set your racquet face, as you make contact at your contact spot, while ideally shaping the shot angle or path you picture from pick thru hit.
Picked Contact Point = Set Feet and Windup Begun
WHEN you get down this ball’s bounce and you’ve picked your attack zone (including most importantly your contact point), set your feet a little behind where you’ll move in and contact the ball. Simultaneously begin looping your racquet head back just like clockwork, while using YOUR adjustable to time and contact height, trained up windup.
Be a Contact Hitter AT Your Contact Spot
You want to be a contact hitter. That means you want to make consistently solid ball contact. Know racquetball is not a slice game outside of when you must lift a ceiling ball. In racquetball, you often look to hit the ball flat and very solidly. Adding Topspin can be good stuff, too. That’s because Topspin keeps the ball down low and the spin adds to the ball bounce challenges for the opponent. Sidespin can also be imparted to aid shot angling and opponent challenges…so…focus on making solid contact right at YOUR preselected contact spot, with your well-prepared, unrestricted stroke, just how you plan contact, with or without spin. That solid contact is especially required when you serve and for all of your rally setups when you can let the ball descend and and you can swing thru and shoot low-to-low. Play the ball to attack your chosen contact zone and ideally flow the racquet thru the ball right at that planned contact spot. There time sweeping your racquet head thru your contact spot. You read contact is right…THERE…as you swing thru THAT contact point, while setting your racquet face’s angle to form your shot path. After contact, flow the racquet head on toward your mentally pictured wall target to ensure solid contact and guarantee shot accuracy.
Fine Tune Your Ball Contact Focus, with Spins
In addition to picking your contact point, select the part of the ball to strike for each shot to create your shot angle. Optionally you could select the direct center in back of the ball. There you’d be striking a flat ball without spin. To fine tune your contact, you may create your shot angle by adding spin to the ball.
Inside Out Focus
If you strike the part of the ball closest to you or the inside of center of the ball or inner half of the ball, you’re stroking the ball with inside out sidespin. Also your swing motion could flow in to out. For example, you could cause the ball to strike the front wall halfway between contact and the sidewall you face to make the ball rebound off and tail out along that sidewall all the way back into that rear corner. There swinging in to out and striking the inside of the ball makes the ball spin in to out toward the sidewall. So, with an inside out swing, you can hit THAT cursive “i” ball angling back into that rear corner, as the ball breaks away from you back into that rear corner. Optionally you could angle the ball in to out off the front wall so it will angle back and crack-out on the sidewall past the short line. Another option is to hit an in to out spinning ball into the sidewall you face, as a sidewall shot. From a few feet off the sidewall, you could hit a sidewall splat (with your wall target just up ahead of contact and slightly lower than where you strike the ball). From 5 or more out from the sidewall, you could hit a pinch (into front corner, while usually going sidewall first).
Outside In Focus
On the other hand, you could hit the ball to the other side of the court, with one option striking the other side of the ball or the part furthest from you, as you swing out to in across your body. That makes the ball spin toward the far sidewall, as you hit a crosscourt shot, as a cross-court pass or a reverse pinch into the cross front corner.
In to In Spin
As a big wrinkle to your cross-court serve, you could strike the inside of the ball just on the inside of the center in back and still swing out to in across your body. Then you’d still flow your racquet head toward your front wall target that’d be a little over halfway over from where you make contact to the sidewall behind you. That will angle the in to out spinning ball toward the far, rear corner. That ball contact focus and in to in swing creates a very unusual spin. The inside out spin causes the cross-court ball to angle back more tightly along the far sidewall. Often a cross-court ball will rebound off the front wall and catch the far sidewall on the fly or after it bounces. Some cross-court shots bounce, graze the sidewall and then pop off the back wall. If an inside of the ball contact cross-court shot were to bounce and glance off the sidewall, it’ll more hug the sidewall, as it heads backwards, than an outside in spinning ball that would ricochet out further off the sidewall. Even if a ball were to bounce, glance off the sidewall AND carry to rebound off the back wall, the unusual in to out spinning serve will more hug the far sidewall and corner than a cross-court serve struck with regular outside in spin. A hot or overhit out to in spinning ball will bounce, catch the sidewall and pop out into the center in back, not staying in so close along the sidewall. And the out to in spinning ball could create a juicy setup situation for the industrious covering opponent. Train up the inside out spin when going cross-court and when hitting up along the sidewall you face.
Add Top
One more spin keeps the ball down lower. Striking the top half of the ball above its equator or its middle creates over the top spin or Topspin. Topspin causes a ball to come out lower as it rebounds off the front wall. A Topspin ball caroming off the front wall dives down and takes its first bounce sooner or further forward than a ball hitting at the same height on the front wall without Topspin, as a flat ball. After rebounding off the front wall, a Topspin ball retains that Topspin going backwards, which causes it to stay lower. A topped ball also takes its second bounce earlier. That way a Topspin kill-shot will optimally bounce twice before it reaches the first line. A Topspin passing shot will take its second bounce before reaching the back wall.
Top + Side Spin = Spiral
Adding Topspin AND sidespin spirals or corkscrews the ball. Spiraling spin causes a sidewall shot to stay down even lower than just a side-spun ball. A cross-court spiraling ball can go very fast and bounce very erratically for the covering opponent. Note that an overhit cross-court corkscrewing ball can carom very hot out of the far, rear corner. Again, that happens when the ball bounces, deflects off the far sidewall and goes on to carom off the back wall. There it angles out as a rear corner setup when the ball angles out into the center in back. There the player who hit the setup can’t be in the center unless they’re airborne when the returning player is shooting. Usually the hitter has to slide over to the far wall, as they should to give up the rule-required V cross-court shot to the far, rear corner.
Use Spin to Fine Tune Your Focus and Pressure Them
Imparting spin is extra special focus. It works wonders for down the wall serves, sidewall shots, and powerful, though under control cross-court passes or serves. That contact focus and control can make the ball spin AND angle very challengingly for the opponent when they attempt to return your spinning shots and serves.
Your Muscles Remember How
It works like this…as you stalk down the ball to shoot, while you read its bounce…in your mind’s eye you begin to “see” yourself shaping your shot angle right as you first pick your contact and you finalize your “best shot available” (BSA). Then, as you feel for that angle, your muscles remember exactly how YOU DO IT.
Make Space, Set, Then Whip
As you ready to hit each shot, your body follows suit. First, get your spacing (by how you space yourself from the ball, not crowding the ball). Set yourself initially behind and beside the ball. There set your best possible striking stance in the moment. Ideally arrange a stance that offers you balance and an opportunity to move into the ball so you can exert force. Setting your feet starts as you first Turn and Face (the sidewall). Setting the toes of your front foot out closer to the sidewall than your back foot produces an optimal, balanced, and importantly rotation-friendly stance. Also, at the same time as you set your feet, begin looping your racquet up. Continue looping your racquet throughout your prep so you’re ready to change gears and optimally loop down and forward, as the ball is arriving in your contact zone. After the full loop back and as the ball is arriving at your contact point, start the forward swing with an racquet throwing motion. Push off the back foot, as you toss your racquet head pointing back behind you, with your elbow beginning its small arc down and driving forward until it will just trail your shoulder. When the ball is almost right at your contact point and your weight has moved forward (or you’ve moved into the ball), violently whip your racquet head out, around and thru the ball. The climax is how you set your racquet face angle thru contact, which translates into shaping the shot angle you imagine throughout.
Prep Matching Time
A sufficient backswing is a must have. Although often racquet prep is one of the first things to be left out in match play, when tensions rise. Also the tendency to under-do moving your feet to set your best effort stance can occur, too. Instead focus on moving your feet and sizing your prep to match the time YOU MAKE. Do that by how you move your feet to track down the ball and approach it, as you’re reading and playing the bounce of the ball, by adjusting the position of your feet. There the goal is to efficiently get your feet under you to swing on balance. Also, while initially setting your feet, begin to loop your racquet up. Then you’ll be ready to down-loop and strike the ball at your contact point and shoot the shot you’ve been picturing. Move Your Feet, Pick, Picture, Set, Loop Up Then Down and You Make More Shots!
Shape Mentally, Then Feel Your Swing
Subliminally you shape your shot path. In the moment get in-the-zone, as you watch the ball, pick your shot, and choose your swing’s contact spot. Then flow your racquet head back, as you get your feet under you, before beginning to move into the ball and sweep your racquet down and thru the ball. Feel for your picked ball contact point, using your chosen stroke to achieve your picked shot path, completing your contact with your racquet face maneuvering thru the ball. Swing thru with feel and the ball will tend to mind you.
When Rushed, Move Quicker
Even when time is squeezed down for you due to a faster moving ball or your proximity to the front wall (closeness), slow down time by making your moves fit into the moments you DO have. MAKE time by how you quickly move your feet, set them as best you can here, and how you size your stroke to match the time you quickly recognize you have. As you make your approach moves, use an adaptive, time-sensitive compact backswing, starting with a shorter version of your full prep.
The QuickDraw Prep and Rip
To speed up your backswing, QuickDraw the racquet back. Here’s how…for your forehand, thrust your elbow back…and, for your backhand, punch back your racquet hand across your body. For both strokes, flow your racquet head across your chest. For your forehand, loop your arm up into a 90 degree angle. There your arm is drawn back behind you and lift the racquet head above your shoulder. For your backhand, loop and coil back into a bow-shaped arm (>90 degrees). There pull your racquet hand back level with your non racquet shoulder. Your QuickDraw prep transitions right away into your timed, contact driven, compact forward swing to produce ample power and form the shot you feel and you KNOW works right–>HERE!
Be comfortable. Have no doubt.
Don’t play it safe.
Don’t talk yourself out of a shot. Believe you can.
Let your creativity bubble to the surface.
Build “Almost” Instinctual Strokes
Although your moving and stroking is not instinctual or innate where you’re born with it, your feet-work and stroking CAN become as close to instinct as possible…WHEN you practice your moving and stroking forms both Physically AND Mentally, as you build them up thru…(a) moving, stroking, and shooting; (b) off court visualization; (c) active, courageous shooting in practice and tournament games; and (d) post play hitting or next training session making recognized form touch-ups and drilling to perfect your moving and stroking forms and build up highly-developed shots.
From Reps to Crunch Time…
Your moves and stroking, when they’re trained up, become muscle memories or second nature moves. You perfect YOUR form thru reps. There on the practice court assess your off the ball moves and your strokes, as you train them up and they become trusted skills. Make minor self corrections in practice (and even as you play). When you’re comfortable, lean on your form in rally play. After you play, make it a habit to assess your moving and stroking form. Then, in follow on training, tweak your forms until you fully trust ‘em. They become moves you do without conscious thought. Build up your form over time in a series of practices and games. Reinforce and fortify your forms in the heat of exciting rally play. By moving and shooting in rallies, you quickly see and learn what works in a “crowd”, when you share the court with other competitors in singles or doubles games. You also see what works in the clutch during the Big Points in match play.
Keep Up
Always continually tweak and evolve your playing forms. No Open or Pro player allows their game to plateau. They keep improving their form, serves and shots by keeping up with the current Zeitgeist of the game. By keeping up a player at any age can hang tough with even more physically gifted players by having great form, nuanced tactics and no tendency to stretch the rules in a gamesmanship way. Don’t just play. Play within the spirit of the game to be a fair player and a good sport. Be a good egg and you’re the a winner. Don’t take advantage of the opponent. Take advantage of your opportunities…I digress…
Shoot with Deep Rep-Based Belief
Sure you might skip a few, but know you’re gonna hit your fair share of kill-shots, too…when you use your trained up, solid form, as you patiently allow the ball to drop into your optimum contact zone where you hit out or take your best cut at the ball. Definitely go for kill-shots when you can set your feet under you and let the ball drop extra low. Best case set your stance, prep in a smooth loop, and then ideally sweep your racquet head thru the ball at knee high down to ankle bone low, while setting your racquet face thru ball contact to achieve the designed shot angle side to side and vertically you train up. Although you must also train up and be ready to shoot a ball from chest high down thru thigh high and be able to kill the ball, too, at 6 inches high or lower. Although choosing sidewall targets can work at those higher contact heights. So make it a goal to expand your contact zone. Increase your shot arsenal by training up more shots. Make it a goal to shoot from all over the court to make, with shots as… (a) front corner pinches; (b) deep sidewall targeted splats; (c) 3-wall kill-shots or boasts angling into the faced sidewall level with your front shoulder to zip across into the cross front corner; (d) Twooze shots, when you face the far sidewall and crush the ball into the sidewall at your back to diagonal the ball into the cross front corner that in part you face; and (e) kill-pass angling away the ball as a keep-away from the opponent. Train up shooting from spots all over the court. There, as you drill, “see” your shots, use both strokes all over the court and Go for Winners!
Learn YOUR Loop
A key starting point is always your almost machine-like, repetitive racquet loop up and back, as you set your feet. Draw your racquet back and up for setups and near setups. Learn YOUR loop and how to time looping your racquet up and learn how to switch to looping down according to the bounce you’re fielding, when striking the ball at different contact heights and in an improvised stance. After you loop up, then swing thru without a hitch or delay. Getting ready too early you insert a pause before your forward swing. With a delay, your rhythm suffers. It can cause a choppy swing and unreliable contact.
Shooting at High Contact…
…when you have a “near setup”, for example you could go for a chest high splat, while feeling for your sidewall target spot up ahead about 7 feet and slightly lower than where you strike the ball. There you shear the ball off the sidewall, by using a cut, in-to-out, exaggerated swing motion where you impart inside out spin. From there at chest high or from lower contact, go for your felt sidewall splat target up ahead that’s a little lower than where you make contact. As you face the sidewall and strike the ball into the sidewall, you swing spins the ball in to out into the sidewall. After the ball ricochets off the sidewall it continues spinning in toward the sidewall. Then the inside out spinning ball flows on toward its low, noisy, front wall splat ending. The splat rebounds out off the front wall veering wildly across the front court toward the far sidewall. A splat comes out at a much narrower angle than a pinch that’s struck into the front corner. A pinch goes in to the front corner at a 45 degree angle, usually sidewall first, and then a pinch rebounds out at matching 45 degree angle.
Self-Inspired Stroking
When using YOUR form and performing your mental plan, your shooting becomes self-inspiring, as you’re making shots and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Play Your Style
There’s a style of racquetball only YOU can play. That’s the way you want to play once you have put in the time to build your style of moving and stroking, after you do your forms as an integral part of your training and after you’ve used them successfully in play. Then you play at your tempo, while making your moving and stroking the keys of your game strategy. Put your strategy’s tactics, that you preplan, into effect in your match play rallies. Swing at your tempo and move at your own personal rhythm, with well-trained up feet-work moving skills.
Dial Up Pace
If you like power, wind back big. If you like finesse, still loop back large. Then, to hit with touch, smoothly flow thru contact, with just a little less racquet head speed, but still a full follow-through. There your still sizable stroke prep still will freeze the opponent, making them wonder, “What shot IS coming?”. Will you hit your shot hard or will you hit a change-up, when dialing down your pace? By playing with YOUR form and dialing in your chosen shot pace and spin, your game brims with versatility and confidence. Then your opponent’s uncertainty confounds THEM.
Imagery Freezes Time
As you play, you make decisions in mere nano seconds. Trained up moves and confidence in your ball read, ball tracking, feet setting and picking your stroking form depends on your imagery of a successful performance, which prepares you to correctly perform YOUR form in a vast array of rally patterns, even when time seems to be almost too little for you to have enough of it to swing; but you do because your form is conditioned to time.
Swing Almost Unconsciously
At times it may even seem like you’re beginning to swing before the opponent’s shot has even made it to the front wall. In the moment, on command, you seem hardwired to do it. In reality, you are! You’ve trained up your form with frequent physical reps and even mental rehearsals. You drill consciously on and even off court. And you even shoot subconsciously in your mind’s eye.
Release your swing.
Play free. Be yourself.
Take risks.
Play so YOU create something special.
Play YOUR way.
If you play with fear, you play not to lose. Instead play fearlessly. Play to express yourself.
Take calculated risks.
Play Like a Pirate!
Play with swagger. Make yours a buccaneering style of play. Take chances. Hustle down balls. Impress yourself. Shoot hard and low when you have any attackable opportunity. That means even shoot “near setups”, when making thigh high up to chest high contact by choosing from shots you’ve practiced up and trust. Use touch and spin, when you read it’s soft skills that are needed. Use that finesse vs forcing a hard shot when you’re stretching, off balance, and especially when the ball is coming at you really fast or when you’re literally on the run as you play the ball.
Play Smoothly
Play free, risk-taking, creative, surprising yourself racquetball. Seek a naturally silky stroke and a flowing, smooth game.
The Crux of Natural Shooting Is Timing Your Racquet Head Spin Thru Contact = “Seen” Shot
Your racquet loop up and then loop down sets as a goal sweeping your racquet head thru the ball, while setting your racquet face angle at contact to shape your exact picked or “seen” or pictured shot. The leap is you naturally swing back and then, as you loop down, you time your forearm and wrist roll which spins your racquet face to point precisely where actually do angle the ball to set your combo sideways and vertical angle. Plus you have spin control based on what part of ball you strike and where you flow your racquet head AFTER contact. Trained up skill is very brave, very rep-based, and imagery-based belief exhibited, as your form meets the ball at your contact point. The more confidently you sweep thru the ball, the better you shape your “seen” shots. It comes down to how you commit to hit, as you focus both on ball and pictured shot. The more you do the reps and just as importantly the more you play when your adrenaline is flowing and your heart pumpin’, the better shooter you become in match play and the more shots you take and make with your form-based strokes, when the score is called before a rally begins.
Finish on Balance
Make it a point of emphasis to end up on balance as you finish each stroke. Work on that swinging on balance in practice. That ending up on balance allows you to start your defensive stand much faster. 60-40 front to back foot at contact is about ideal for your striking stance balance at contact to max your striking power and balance, which translates to shot accuracy. After swinging from a balanced stance, then push from front to back foot and move to defend. If you lift your back foot and finish all on your front foot or if you lean back and hit off your back foot, your balance is lost, you risk poor contact, and recovery after contact would be a struggle at best. There your stroking power may be compromised, your accuracy iffy, and definitely your ability to quickly rebalance and move quickly is significantly reduced. Your defense will most likely suffer. Optimally set your feet with your front foot toes ideally out further toward sidewall. Wind back or load your back leg and foot. That allows you to move into the ball as you rotate your body. Swing forward moving back to front, keeping your back foot down, while swinging thru and finishing on balance…then you’re ready to move…
From Hitting, Move into Defense
After contact, dovetail your stroke right into your court coverage. Champ at the bit to hit again. To do that, prioritize getting into center court. Just as importantly be hungry to move from OUT of center court to cover “their” shot that you read or expect. That way you can leg out the ball and shape your next artful shot by how efficiently you move off the ball to track down and set your feet best and adjust your prep to aggressively play that next ball.
Hit and Counter Back
After swinging, physically shift from front to back foot. That empowers your defensive move with the least amount of waisted motion. Then takeoff either to seek optimal center court position or bolt right to where you see their shot is going. Be prepared to make that immediate run, especially when you’re playing against a cutoff artist. A cutoff artist cuts off your shots when they’re further forward than most and they often flick a left up ball you CAN cover, WHEN you hustle really hard to get to the ball. Also inspire your defense with tactical risk taking to move from out of center to cover the opponent’s shot. That way you get to shoot more often. You want to play keep-away or even hit put-away kill-shots, when you read you can. When you hit the ball, you don’t want to just…
(a) flick back a weak, killable shot; or
(b) weakly push or bunt the ball back to the front wall; or
(c) be relegated to lifting up a purely defensive ceiling ball; or
(d) have to toss up a high lob; or
(e) be forced to turn and whack the ball into the back wall high and hard, as a desperation back wall save…
—> You want to shoot assertively by getting there early and on balance.
As you field the NEXT ball…
Use your court sense that’s a combo of reading the bounce of the ball, your positional awareness or court savvy, and your feet-work when tracking down the ball, approaching it and best effort setting your feet to stroke this ball, while prepping your body and racquet, too. To move your best, include crossover steps to cover more court quicker. Focus on the ball and your adaptive shotmaking for your picked and pictured shot, as you play each ball assertively by aggressively setting your feet and looping your racquet.
Hit and Center Up
Be a shooter starting by getting in good center court position every time after you hit your shot that ideally moves the opponent to field your ball out of center court or after you strike your serve. That first move after serving or after returning serve and very often after taking your shot in a rally is best done as a crossover step. That crossover step most quickly and efficiently begins your move to center court or to sprint when you must make a longer run. Cross with the foot furthest from the direction you’re heading, as you also pivot with your body. Stay low and hustle into center court or go directly to the ball. For example, as your doubles partner serves, to help cover the back corner on your partner’s side, crossover with your front most foot to cross the short line, touch and then go from center court when you need to hustle diagonally back all the way into the far, rear corner.
Center Court Moves
From center court, be positioned ready to move while watching the opponent’s moves. Try to read or even guess exactly where you’ll be going next to cover their shot. Then, when you either see their shot or you read their shot, right as their racquet arm flies forward, flow straight to intercept the ball along its retreating angle off the front wall. Start that move from a balanced, upright, not leaning or drifting one way body position. Freeze as the opponent is setting to contact the ball. Be ready with your feet a hip’s width apart, your knees flexed and your mind saying, “Get it!” or “Hustle”.
Take Direct Line to Ball
Don’t allow yourself to be blocked or made to run around the opponent to take a less desirable, less direct, less effective line to intercept their shot. As you track down each ball, look to move to the ball on the line you feel is best to aggressively shoot EVERY ball, but DO respect their follow-through.
Curve Your Approach
For a back wall setup or a ball you can let bounce and drop to its lowest, take a low, curving approach into the ball with your feet to set your optimal striking stance where you can rotate your whole body into the ball AND make a very aggressive sweeping arc with your racquet head thru the ball to confidently shoot your best, in the moment, shot.
Rhythm and Style
Play with a rhythm and style all your own.
Be a Deadly Shooter!
Make the opponent worry you’re going to shoot every ball because, HEY, YOU WILL! Then you’re dictating play. Then you will often catch the opponent positioning too far forward, as you set to shoot, and you can see them out of the corner of your eye. Or they may move to cover your shot toooo soooon, expecting you’ll shot low. Then your passing game or power ceiling ball game opens up so you can hit into the open court or hit behind them or where they just were, as you shoot behind them, as you wrong-foot them. At best it’ll lead to a winner with your keep-away shot. Or the expectation you’ll shoot can force the opponent to make an error or try a wish shot they leave up. Pressure can cause them to hit a defensive return to the ceiling. Their error or defensive return can give you just the opening you need to go for your kill-shot or your winning passing shot, as you cover their shot the opponent CAN’T play offensively. Make THEM guess wrong, pick wrong, or move prematurely. Make them think you will kill every ball, IF they don’t kill theirs first. Then you’re making THEM play unnaturally. As shooter, hit ‘em where they ain’t. Don’t force a kill-shot when you should hit a passing shot, a ceiling ball, a High Z or even whack a back wall save. Be a selective shooter, but be very aggressive. Be a deadly shooter when they set you up and you can let the ball drop low, as you get your feet under you to shoot low. Even from higher contact, search out offensive opportunities when you can show your stuff and conclusively end a rally. Go with a shot you own, as you unfold your familiar, matching the bounce stroke, while you consistently look to place the shot you picture that you see capitalizing on this situation. Play in YOUR natural, attack mode way.

Have a very Meta (my way) Racquetball shooting experience!

Racquetball Shooting Experience

As a player, set the reference point for how YOU compete. Make it a “Meta” shooting experience. There optimally play racquetball on YOUR own terms.

Attack Mode

A fundamental part of your game should be playing in attack mode. If you have a setup or familiar shooting situation, confidently take your favored, matching the pattern shot. The worst playing style is beating yourself. When you pick the wrong shot or stroke or you try for a target you can’t hit (or haven’t hit before) or when you force the ball into a shot angle it can’t go…then you are whooping yourself… Take and make YOUR shots. Pick from shots you take and routinely make. If you can’t shoot low, go high…

Improv

Your aim is the ability to improvise tactically. Play without losing your concentration. Play by hitting where THEY ain’t. Your being comfortable is the opposite of the way you want them to feel. You want THEM to keep guessing “What shot will THEY hit next?”.

Mistake Release

If you ever make a mistake, make sure to quickly adapt. Adapt rather than stubbornly retry a failed form or force an incorrect shot placement for THAT same pattern of play or pick the wrong stroke for the moment. DO WHAT YOU DO WELL.

Grind and Adjust

The thru line throughout your whole game is your push, your will, your drive, your willingness to grind out each rally. Battle. WHEN YOU make a mistake, own it. Adjust.

Composite Shooter

Be yourself. Use familiar feet-work form, a routine looping backswing, along with an uninterrupted typical, flowing forward-swing, all while using tried and true tactics you know well that work well.

Warm-Up Shooter Mode

Start with a good warmup before you play. Choreograph where in the court and what you warm up. Include fielding ball off the front wall, returning a ceiling ball, and even whack a ball into the back wall and field that ball rebounding off the front wall. As soon as you start rallying there’s only gonna be a drop-n-hit when you serve. You have to field balls coming off the front wall many ways. First, always have one, a warmup. Get into YOUR own personal moving, swinging, and thinking rhythm. Get your feel for the ball coming off your racquet face…THEN play. Don’t allow yourself to be rushed. Warm up your shots or your body and most of all your skill making good contact.

Feet-Work Fuels

Learn ALL of the playing skills. Movement-wise…be able to crossover step to return serve, with a jab step to sidewall and then crossover step diagonally along the sidewall.  Expand that crossover stepping to how you move throughout the court in rally play, such as…

Court Steps Include…

1- crossover: after hitting the ball, be able to start your run with a crossover step with your far foot anytime you’ve got more than a couple yards to cover;

2- drop step: to return an overhit drive Z serve, be able to drop step away from the corner with the deeper foot stepping away from sidewall. After the Z bounces, rebounds off the sidewall and is angling off the back wall right into the middle opening up, drop back quickly with back and tag along front foot to prepare, for example, a down the wall return;

3- make space: for back corner setups, drop step away from a back corner, as the ball bounces, deflects off sidewall, carries to back wall and pops off the back wall. You could step into the corner and spin to hit with your off stroke, like a forehand in your backhand rear corner. The objective is to make space, for instance, with a drop step, as you drop step away with your back foot, as your front foot drop hops away tagging along. Then, when the ball comes into range, step back in with your front foot and light up the ball with power or control your placement with cagey touch;

4- center court: after hitting, conscientiously crossover step to quickly flow into center court after you serve or shoot from deep court;

5- touch-n-go: touch in center court with a touch-n-go split step, while readying there to move to cover THEIR shot. A split step is done when you step in with one foot, take a little leap up off that foot, with the other leg’s knee rising, and then land when spreading both feet apart. Then, when you see or read the ball, go hit the ball;

6- sidestep stop: if it’s close enough to shuffle there as a sidestep, be able to quickly stop by bending your lead knee and then trail knee to put on the brakes, adjust and aggressively hit the ball;

7- no back pedaling: don’t BACK PEDAL in the court because you’ll be facing the wrong direction (forward) and moving back awkwardly, which encourages hitting while facing the front wall;

8- no jumping: don’t jump for a ball you can drop back and take off the back wall or one where you can retreat in the court and field the bounding high ball, as it drops down, for preferred, easier low ball contact.

Raise YOUR Level…

Scale up to use ALL of your physical AND mental skills. Set your feet as best you can. Turn and face the sidewall, as you loop your racquet back, and load your back foot. Then, to swing, drop down into the ball by bending your knees and turn into the ball, swinging thru with a sweeping, flowing, attacking swing making contact at chest high down to ankle level.

Versatile Shot Contact Height

Although usually you SHOULD let the ball drop low, for instance, be able to turn and swing volley at a ball when taking it out of midair. There you’re taking advantage when there’s an opportunity to slide up and hit the ball into the open court when you read the space can’t be filled in time by the stranded on one side opponent. Also, when higher contact is required, be ready to crank up your pass to bounce the ball right at the opponent’s feet. Another option is to whip the ball all the way around them, while looking for your pass to catch the sidewall beside them in mid court, placing the ball well wide of them, as a wide angle pas (WAP), when you can’t go low in front of them.

Chill

Don’t make a big deal about anything. Be immune to pressure. Maintain your mental focus on only the task at hand that’s right there in front of you. Don’t get upset, discouraged or disconcerted, even if YOU just made a bad play. If something doesn’t work, don’t let it show. Reorient yourself after any lapse and refocus to show YOUR game. Allow a strange thing by the opponent go when, for instance, they call out right when you’re in the midst of hitting the ball. Play through it or just call hinder. If you’ve made them vocalize their frustration, that’s on them. Let it go. Refocus.

Get NEW Skills

Add to your armory of shot options and your moving skills. And add to your tactical plays by picking Where, When and then train up How to be able to do *What* you want matching your tactics and meeting your strategy goals.

The More Skills, The Better

From an open base or front wall facing stance or from a partially closed stance, with your front foot toes out closer to the sidewall, or less preferably when you’re fully closed stance, with the front foot way out much further to the sidewall than the back foot, focus on being able to turn into ball to hit horizontal shots, when deciding and placing the ball on your side or THEIRS.

Optimal Stance Shooter

Play kill-shot ball from your best stance, ideally with your front foot’s toes out just a little closer to the sidewall than your back foot’s toes, in a partially closed, easy-turning stance. Make preferably thigh high on down to ankle high contact. Although expand your range from making ankle bone low contact all the way up to upper chest high, when shooting the ball down low and going for low front wall targets or sidewall targets. Also, throughout your wide contact range, be able to hit passes down along the wall on your side of the court or cross-court to the other side. Include in those crosscourt targets a wide angle pass (WAP) that veers the ball all the way around the opponent in the center.

Find Horizontal Angles

Select side to side targets, when you shoot…

(1) DTL…as you swing, be able to cut the ball or swing in to out when contacting the part of the ball closer to you and targeting less than halfway across over on the front so the down-the-line pass rebounds out paralleling the faced sidewall so the pass goes right into that side’s back corner;

(2) Reverse pinch…be able to spin and quickly angle your feet from anywhere in the court to shoot across your body into the other stroke’s front corner, as a reverse pinch. Especially go for reverse pinch when the opponent doesn’t block that long diagonal shot from deep court and you’re shooting caddy corner into the far, front corner BEFORE YOU set your feet. A reverse pinch is NOT a stroke to its corner, like stroking a backhand into your backhand side’s corner. It’s an off stroke to the other corner. It’s like when you hit a backhand from anywhere in the court, even when you and the ball are along your forehand sidewall, and you shoot into your forehand front corner usually selecting sidewall first;

(3) Sidewall shots: when shooting into the sidewall you face, be able to cut the ball, as you impart heavy inside out sidespin, for your sidewall shots. That makes the ball spin in toward that sidewall as the ball deflects off and flows forward toward the front wall. That “cut” action keeps the sidewall shot down lower, as it rebounds out as a pinch or splat. The spin results in a lower, closer to the front wall carom;

(4) Cross-court: be able to hit a V cross-court to the far, rear corner by striking a 45 degree angled ball halfway over on your front wall target so the ball rebounds out veering directly toward the furthest rear corner;

(5) WAP: be able to hit a little over halfway over on the front wall from the ball at 34 feet on in to angle the ball off the front wall to the far sidewall, as you hit a wide angle pass all the way around the center to strike the sidewall in mid court so the ball then ricochets off the sidewall to bounce twice in the middle in the backcourt.

Topspin

To keep any driven ball lower WHEN coming off the front wall, impart Topspin or overspin. That Top causes the ball to dive down when rebounding off the front wall. Then a topped ball bounces first further up in the court by retaining that “Topspin”. That keeps the ball lower and makes the ball tougher for the opponent to scrape back, as they have to counter that tumbling over spin. When topping the ball, you’re dropping the ball slightly on your strings or picture it as placing your racquet sweet spot on the upper half of the ball and swing thru THAT part of the ball you designate. Find Top in drilling AND when visualizing making contact. It’s just a little tumble, but the results are MASSIVE! A ball struck with Top has less drag as it flies to the front wall and after it rebounds out spinning going backwards, too.

Rollercoaster

Learning in racquetball is a rollercoaster ride. Set your bar to stay on the ride, but enjoy taking the curves, the fast drops and patiently take the more plodding rides up. You’ll have some tough learning curves and some long, (when-will-it-end?) plateaus. Keep your balance on the ride and do your best to keep building and sharpening your skill set when moving, shooting, and serving, while seeking rally dominance and weak returns from the opponent with your serving attack, as you receive serve how you move them to recapturing center court, and also attack or move them with your rally shot attack.

Flex-ability

Be fluid. Move between roles. From striking the ball, transition into positioning to defend YOUR shot placement. Include being ready to move from center court to move to get to the ball and productively place your feet and then the ball. As you play keep-away with the ball from the opponent, use your best moves, stance setting, and racquet looping back, and then down and thru, while tactically placing the ball where, based on its bounce, it’ll be most challenging for THEM! and doable for you.

Be Thick Skinned

Let it go if you miss. It’s okay. Do better next time.

Swing Free

There’s no impediment or immediate defense that waves a hand in your face as you shoot in racquetball, like there is in basketball. You get to move and take the ball at the best contact height your moves, reaction time, stroke timing and patience can afford. If you can take the ball lower, you CAN shoot lower and win more. If you must take the ball higher, normally shoot a pass or parse thru your splat or 3-wall shot options where high contact is routinely, effectively done.

Control your body and control your shot picking. In addition, control your racquet face by mastering your contact point that’s off shoulder or just out in front of your racquet arm shoulder. And effect that final racquet flow as you optionally bevel, which means angle, your racquet face to point down where you want to shape most of your shots. Optionally you may drop the ball on your strings or make contact on the upper half of the ball. It’s like the grip, it’s a player choice how YOU make contact.

Every Shot Chance is Simply Unique

Margins are so, so slim. Don’t try too hard. Do what YOU do well. If you want a really versatile contact range, practice contacting lots of ball at different contact heights, from the same off shoulder contact point. Set your feet to balance and use your feet and legs, while you also diligently prepare your racquet with a repeating loop to swing the best you can in THIS situation that’s a one-off, happening here only once. Know that other patterns may be similar, but this one is a snowflake, a unique shooting pattern, a one of a kind. Make it a special one.

Make Yourself a Shotmaker

Be a shotmaker. Be decisive with your kill-shot shooting. Be aggressive with your shots intending to strain the opponent’s coverage. When a ball isn’t killable, be able to place the ball outside the opponent’s coverage range with your passing shot, deeper targeted ceiling ball, or High Z shot.

Make It YOUR Project to Become a Great Shooter

Make it your project to develop your stroking, shot selections and versatility with a array of shots to become a fierce shooter from stroking at multi-height, from a multi-stance, multi-prep-sized mechanics. Have no stroke you circle around to crank the other, more favored stroke. With that goal, you’ll then develop adaptive stroking forms. There you either make contact out front of your deeper racquet shoulder, as you face the sidewall (forehand) or up front (backhand) at contact with equal, effective ability. Having that versatility and belief allows you to avoid the wrong choices at the wrong time or a shot directed toward a wrong, unattainable placement. An example would be where you take a ball above your shoulders and still try to shoot with an over your head contact to a very low target. Want to shoot when making contact from chest high down to waist high and as all the way down to as low as your ankles when you go for a kill-shot or passing shot. Flexibly shoot WHEN, and not BEFORE, you have trained up how, when and where by doing the reps, grooving your stroking form, and perfected controlling your racquet face with your looping swing.

Compensation Theory

That training is WHEN you use compensation theory to angle your racquet face down slightly (or drop the ball on your strings or contact the ball above its equator) to shoot high to low, even when making contact from as high as chest high on down to contact as low as shin high. If your shot is too low, compensate and raise your target slightly. If it’s too high, picture and go for a little bit lower target. The corrections make you find your “just right” racquet flow and racquet face control thru contact. To shoot high to low from ankle high on up, find your reference point to contact the ball…

(1) Ball spot: contact the upper half of the ball just above the equator or its middle;

(2) String spot: picture contacting the ball on the lower half of your string-bed’s sweet spot; or

(3) Racquet face control: by feel, angle your racquet face strings … as YOUR image produces your desired declining shot trajectory.

Racquet Face Control

Racquet face control requires loads of trial and error. To gain that desired control, adjust your swinging form UNTIL your different shots become refined with contact at many heights. By being able to do the same motion over and over, your shooting WILL improve. Then it CAN be counted upon over a fuller contact range and from adaptive, earnestly set striking stances, when going for your variety of front and side wall target spots.

Bounce = Live Feet

When reading the bounce of the ball, move your feet. Be able to pick an adaptive, doable stance and then doable shot from your versatile technique and flex shot choices, using your stroke’s form, as its level-raising coveted, adaptive skill.

Take Straight or Cross Shot

Decipher the shot angle quickly. Again, when no defense can be played save positioning in center court and taking off early anticipating your shot, the opponent must consistently give up the shot angle range to the front wall from straight in on over to the middle of the front wall to cause a ball to rebound out and angle cross-court to far, rear corner. That’s ALL THE TIME, even when the defending player is the server. That’s where both crack-outs and jam serves require the server either move to the far side of the court or jump as you return goes under them. As receiver, hit the return where IT wants to go. Don’t hit it where THEY want it.

4-Corner Placements

From virtually anywhere in the court, be able to place the ball tight in any of the 4 corners of the court with your shots. Be able to go for the front 2 corners or the back 2 corners. With your shotmaking versatility and improv shooting skills, play full court keep-away. Best case play put-away ball with a kill-shot placement, along with an untouchable pass when a pass is better than a kill-shot option, especially when the opponent is way over on the far side or stranded in the front court.

Have a Very Meta (My Way) Racquetball Shooting Experience

As a player, set the reference point for how YOU compete. Make it a “Meta” experience. There optimally play racquetball on YOUR own terms.

 

Attack Mode

A fundamental part of your game should be playing in attack mode. If you have a setup or familiar shooting situation, confidently take your favored, matching the pattern shot. The worst playing style is beating yourself. When you pick the wrong shot or stroke or you try for a target you can’t hit (or haven’t hit before) or when you force the ball into a shot angle it can’t go…then you are whooping yourself… Take and make YOUR shots. Pick from shots you take and routinely make. If you can’t shoot low, go high…

Improv

Your aim is the ability to improvise tactically. Play without losing your concentration. Play by hitting where THEY ain’t. Your being comfortable is the opposite of the way you want them to feel. You want THEM to keep guessing “What shot will THEY hit next?”.

 

Mistake Release

If you ever make a mistake, make sure to quickly adapt. Adapt rather than stubbornly retry a failed form or force an incorrect shot placement for THAT same pattern of play or pick the wrong stroke for the moment. DO WHAT YOU DO WELL.

Grind and Adjust

The thru line throughout your whole game is your push, your will, your drive, your willingness to grind out each rally. Battle. WHEN YOU make a mistake, own it. Adjust.

Composite Shooter

Be yourself. Use familiar feet-work form, a routine looping backswing, along with an uninterrupted typical, flowing forward-swing, all while using tried and true tactics you know well that work well.

Warm-Up Shooter Mode

Start with a good warmup before you play. Choreograph where in the court and what you warm up. Include fielding ball off the front wall, returning a ceiling ball, and even whack a ball into the back wall and field that ball rebounding off the front wall. As soon as you start rallying there’s only gonna be a drop-n-hit when you serve. You have to field balls coming off the front wall many ways. First, always have one, a warmup. Get into YOUR own personal moving, swinging, and thinking rhythm. Get your feel for the ball coming off your racquet face…THEN play. Don’t allow yourself to be rushed. Warm up your shots or your body and most of all your skill making good contact.

Feet-Work Fuels

Learn ALL of the playing skills. Movement-wise…be able to crossover step to return serve, with a jab step to sidewall and then crossover step diagonally along the sidewall.  Expand that crossover stepping to how you move throughout the court in rally play, such as…

Court Steps Include…

1- crossover: after hitting the ball, be able to start your run with a crossover step with your far foot anytime you’ve got more than a couple yards to cover;

2- drop step: to return an overhit drive Z serve, be able to drop step away from the corner with the deeper foot stepping away from sidewall. After the Z bounces, rebounds off the sidewall and is angling off the back wall right into the middle opening up, drop back quickly with back and tag along front foot to prepare, for example, a down the wall return;

3- make space: for back corner setups, drop step away from a back corner, as the ball bounces, deflects off sidewall, carries to back wall and pops off the back wall. You could step into the corner and spin to hit with your off stroke, like a forehand in your backhand rear corner. The objective is to make space, for instance, with a drop step, as you drop step away with your back foot, as your front foot drop hops away tagging along. Then, when the ball comes into range, step back in with your front foot and light up the ball with power or control your placement with cagey touch;

4- center court: after hitting, conscientiously crossover step to quickly flow into center court after you serve or shoot from deep court;

5- touch-n-go: touch in center court with a touch-n-go split step, while readying there to move to cover THEIR shot. A split step is done when you step in with one foot, take a little leap up off that foot, with the other leg’s knee rising, and then land when spreading both feet apart. Then, when you see or read the ball, go hit the ball;

6- sidestep stop: if it’s close enough to shuffle there as a sidestep, be able to quickly stop by bending your lead knee and then trail knee to put on the brakes, adjust and aggressively hit the ball;

7- no back pedaling: don’t BACK PEDAL in the court because you’ll be facing the wrong direction (forward) and moving back awkwardly, which encourages hitting while facing the front wall;

8- no jumping: don’t jump for a ball you can drop back and take off the back wall or one where you can retreat in the court and field the bounding high ball, as it drops down, for preferred, easier low ball contact.

Raise YOUR Level…

Scale up to use ALL of your physical AND mental skills. Set your feet as best you can. Turn and face the sidewall, as you loop your racquet back, and load your back foot. Then, to swing, drop down into the ball by bending your knees and turn into the ball, swinging thru with a sweeping, flowing, attacking swing making contact at chest high down to ankle level.

Versatile Shot Contact Height

Although usually you SHOULD let the ball drop low, for instance, be able to turn and swing volley at a ball when taking it out of midair. There you’re taking advantage when there’s an opportunity to slide up and hit the ball into the open court when you read the space can’t be filled in time by the stranded on one side opponent. Also, when higher contact is required, be ready to crank up your pass to bounce the ball right at the opponent’s feet. Another option is to whip the ball all the way around them, while looking for your pass to catch the sidewall beside them in mid court, placing the ball well wide of them, as a wide angle pas (WAP), when you can’t go low in front of them.

Chill

Don’t make a big deal about anything. Be immune to pressure. Maintain your mental focus on only the task at hand that’s right there in front of you. Don’t get upset, discouraged or disconcerted, even if YOU just made a bad play. If something doesn’t work, don’t let it show. Reorient yourself after any lapse and refocus to show YOUR game. Allow a strange thing by the opponent go when, for instance, they call out right when you’re in the midst of hitting the ball. Play through it or just call hinder. If you’ve made them vocalize their frustration, that’s on them. Let it go. Refocus.

Get NEW Skills

Add to your armory of shot options and your moving skills. And add to your tactical plays by picking Where, When and then train up How to be able to do *What* you want matching your tactics and meeting your strategy goals.

The More Skills, The Better

From an open base or front wall facing stance or from a partially closed stance, with your front foot toes out closer to the sidewall, or less preferably when you’re fully closed stance, with the front foot way out much further to the sidewall than the back foot, focus on being able to turn into ball to hit horizontal shots, when deciding and placing the ball on your side or THEIRS.

Optimal Stance Shooter

Play kill-shot ball from your best stance, ideally with your front foot’s toes out just a little closer to the sidewall than your back foot’s toes, in a partially closed, easy-turning stance. Make preferably thigh high on down to ankle high contact. Although expand your range from making ankle bone low contact all the way up to upper chest high, when shooting the ball down low and going for low front wall targets or sidewall targets. Also, throughout your wide contact range, be able to hit passes down along the wall on your side of the court or cross-court to the other side. Include in those crosscourt targets a wide angle pass (WAP) that veers the ball all the way around the opponent in the center.

Find Horizontal Angles

Select side to side targets, when you shoot…

(1) DTL…as you swing, be able to cut the ball or swing in to out when contacting the part of the ball closer to you and targeting less than halfway across over on the front so the down-the-line pass rebounds out paralleling the faced sidewall so the pass goes right into that side’s back corner;

(2) Reverse pinch…be able to spin and quickly angle your feet from anywhere in the court to shoot across your body into the other stroke’s front corner, as a reverse pinch. Especially go for reverse pinch when the opponent doesn’t block that long diagonal shot from deep court and you’re shooting caddy corner into the far, front corner BEFORE YOU set your feet. A reverse pinch is NOT a stroke to its corner, like stroking a backhand into your backhand side’s corner. It’s an off stroke to the other corner. It’s like when you hit a backhand from anywhere in the court, even when you and the ball are along your forehand sidewall, and you shoot into your forehand front corner usually selecting sidewall first;

(3) Sidewall shots: when shooting into the sidewall you face, be able to cut the ball, as you impart heavy inside out sidespin, for your sidewall shots. That makes the ball spin in toward that sidewall as the ball deflects off and flows forward toward the front wall. That “cut” action keeps the sidewall shot down lower, as it rebounds out as a pinch or splat. The spin results in a lower, closer to the front wall carom;

(4) Cross-court: be able to hit a V cross-court to the far, rear corner by striking a 45 degree angled ball halfway over on your front wall target so the ball rebounds out veering directly toward the furthest rear corner;

(5) WAP: be able to hit a little over halfway over on the front wall from the ball at 34 feet on in to angle the ball off the front wall to the far sidewall, as you hit a wide angle pass all the way around the center to strike the sidewall in mid court so the ball then ricochets off the sidewall to bounce twice in the middle in the backcourt.

Topspin

To keep any driven ball lower WHEN coming off the front wall, impart Topspin or overspin. That Top causes the ball to dive down when rebounding off the front wall. Then a topped ball bounces first further up in the court by retaining that “Topspin”. That keeps the ball lower and makes the ball tougher for the opponent to scrape back, as they have to counter that tumbling over spin. When topping the ball, you’re dropping the ball slightly on your strings or picture it as placing your racquet sweet spot on the upper half of the ball and swing thru THAT part of the ball you designate. Find Top in drilling AND when visualizing making contact. It’s just a little tumble, but the results are MASSIVE! A ball struck with Top has less drag as it flies to the front wall and after it rebounds out spinning going backwards, too.

Rollercoaster

Learning in racquetball is a rollercoaster ride. Set your bar to stay on the ride, but enjoy taking the curves, the fast drops and patiently take the more plodding rides up. You’ll have some tough learning curves and some long, (when-will-it-end?) plateaus. Keep your balance on the ride and do your best to keep building and sharpening your skill set when moving, shooting, and serving, while seeking rally dominance and weak returns from the opponent with your serving attack, as you receive serve how you move them to recapturing center court, and also attack or move them with your rally shot attack.

Flex-ability

Be fluid. Move between roles. From striking the ball, transition into positioning to defend YOUR shot placement. Include being ready to move from center court to move to get to the ball and productively place your feet and then the ball. As you play keep-away with the ball from the opponent, use your best moves, stance setting, and racquet looping back, and then down and thru, while tactically placing the ball where, based on its bounce, it’ll be most challenging for THEM! and doable for you.

Be Thick Skinned

Let it go if you miss. It’s okay. Do better next time.

Swing Free

There’s no impediment or immediate defense that waves a hand in your face as you shoot in racquetball, like there is in basketball. You get to move and take the ball at the best contact height your moves, reaction time, stroke timing and patience can afford. If you can take the ball lower, you CAN shoot lower and win more. If you must take the ball higher, normally shoot a pass or parse thru your splat or 3-wall shot options where high contact is routinely, effectively done.

Control your body and control your shot picking. In addition, control your racquet face by mastering your contact point that’s off shoulder or just out in front of your racquet arm shoulder. And effect that final racquet flow as you optionally bevel, which means angle, your racquet face to point down where you want to shape most of your shots. Optionally you may drop the ball on your strings or make contact on the upper half of the ball. It’s like the grip, it’s a player choice how YOU make contact.

Every Shot Chance is Simply Unique

Margins are so, so slim. Don’t try too hard. Do what YOU do well. If you want a really versatile contact range, practice contacting lots of ball at different contact heights, from the same off shoulder contact point. Set your feet to balance and use your feet and legs, while you also diligently prepare your racquet with a repeating loop to swing the best you can in THIS situation that’s a one-off, happening here only once. Know that other patterns may be similar, but this one is a snowflake, a unique shooting pattern, a one of a kind. Make it a special one.

Make Yourself a Shotmaker

Be a shotmaker. Be decisive with your kill-shot shooting. Be aggressive with your shots intending to strain the opponent’s coverage. When a ball isn’t killable, be able to place the ball outside the opponent’s coverage range with your passing shot, deeper targeted ceiling ball, or High Z shot.

Make It YOUR Project to Become a Great Shooter

Make it your project to develop your stroking, shot selections and versatility with a array of shots to become a fierce shooter from stroking at multi-height, from a multi-stance, multi-prep-sized mechanics. Have no stroke you circle around to crank the other, more favored stroke. With that goal, you’ll then develop adaptive stroking forms. There you either make contact out front of your deeper racquet shoulder, as you face the sidewall (forehand) or up front (backhand) at contact with equal, effective ability. Having that versatility and belief allows you to avoid the wrong choices at the wrong time or a shot directed toward a wrong, unattainable placement. An example would be where you take a ball above your shoulders and still try to shoot with an over your head contact to a very low target. Want to shoot when making contact from chest high down to waist high and as all the way down to as low as your ankles when you go for a kill-shot or passing shot. Flexibly shoot WHEN, and not BEFORE, you have trained up how, when and where by doing the reps, grooving your stroking form, and perfected controlling your racquet face with your looping swing.

Compensation Theory

That training is WHEN you use compensation theory to angle your racquet face down slightly (or drop the ball on your strings or contact the ball above its equator) to shoot high to low, even when making contact from as high as chest high on down to contact as low as shin high. If your shot is too low, compensate and raise your target slightly. If it’s too high, picture and go for a little bit lower target. The corrections make you find your “just right” racquet flow and racquet face control thru contact. To shoot high to low from ankle high on up, find your reference point to contact the ball…

(1) Ball spot: contact the upper half of the ball just above the equator or its middle;

(2) String spot: picture contacting the ball on the lower half of your string-bed’s sweet spot; or

(3) Racquet face control: by feel, angle your racquet face strings … as YOUR image produces your desired declining shot trajectory.

Racquet Face Control

Racquet face control requires loads of trial and error. To gain that desired control, adjust your swinging form UNTIL your different shots become refined with contact at many heights. By being able to do the same motion over and over, your shooting WILL improve. Then it CAN be counted upon over a fuller contact range and from adaptive, earnestly set striking stances, when going for your variety of front and side wall target spots.

Bounce = Live Feet

When reading the bounce of the ball, move your feet. Be able to pick an adaptive, doable stance and then doable shot from your versatile technique and flex shot choices, using your stroke’s form, as its level-raising coveted, adaptive skill.

Take Straight or Cross Shot

Decipher the shot angle quickly. Again, when no defense can be played save positioning in center court and taking off early anticipating your shot, the opponent must consistently give up the shot angle range to the front wall from straight in on over to the middle of the front wall to cause a ball to rebound out and angle cross-court to far, rear corner. That’s ALL THE TIME, even when the defending player is the server. That’s where both crack-outs and jam serves require the server either move to the far side of the court or jump as you return goes under them. As receiver, hit the return where IT wants to go. Don’t hit it where THEY want it.

4-Corner Placements

From virtually anywhere in the court, be able to place the ball tight in any of the 4 corners of the court with your shots. Be able to go for the front 2 corners or the back 2 corners. With your shotmaking versatility and improv shooting skills, play full court keep-away. Best case play put-away ball with a kill-shot placement, along with an untouchable pass when a pass is better than a kill-shot option, especially when the opponent is way over on the far side or stranded in the front court.

Develop YOUR own “Meta form”, with great shot-making versatility, by putting in the reps in solo drilling, on the warmup court experimenting, and even include off court visualizing shooting. Then groom it, groove it and ultimately prove it on the challenge court and in your pickup games. Eventually travel test your meta, versatile keep-away shooting form and your shooting times put-away shots on the tourney tour.

Meta Racquetball

Develop YOUR own “Meta form”, with great shot-making versatility, by putting in the reps in solo drilling, on the warmup court experimenting, and even include off court visualizing shooting. Then groom it, groove it and ultimately prove it on the challenge court and in your pickup games. Eventually travel test your meta, versatile keep-away shooting form and your shooting times put-away shots on the tourney tour.

The object of your distraction: Rules Called

The Object of YOUR Distraction: Rules Calls

Rules Covered

Rally Calls:
First, Skip Balls
Last, Two Bounce Gets

Serve/Return Calls:

Foot Faults:

Starting Outside Box

Service Line Cross

Drive Serve Line Cross

Non Serving Partner leaving sidewall Too Soon

Other Fault Serves:

Screen Serves

Short Serve

Bouncing Ball Outside Box

Side Out Violations:

Safety Zone Cross

Point Scoring Violation:

Receiving Line Cross

There’s the chance in racquetball that there’s gonna be a bizarre call. Almost always there’s gonna be some level of controversy in competitive play. That’s just the nature of a sport that’s being played at such a fast pace and one where you share the very field of battle with one opponent or potentially 2 doubles opponents, as well as YOUR own partner, too! On court you’re NOT separated by a net. As an example of uncertainty and potential controversy, one player or the other might not even SEE the ball hit the front wall or what the ball did on its way in before it struck the front wall. That unsighted player might be blocked out from seeing the front wall by the opposing player(s) or they might only be staring at the front wall and not see the ball being struck from behind them until they pick up the ball after it’s already coming off that must-hit target front wall that they’re so fixated upon … or one player might just blink.

Look Back

The not so subtle hint there was to sneak a peak over your back shoulder at the hitting player who is behind you or beside you BEFORE they make contact. Although, for safety’s sake, do turn when they’re actually contacting the ball so you’re less prone to being beaned. By looking back, you have a much better idea both where they might hit the ball on the front wall and also you know whether you’re in the way of their straight in or cross-court must-give shot angles. When you’re in the way, you must move or you could get popped. With a ref, if you block their shot, you could and probably should get called for a penalty hinder. That would be a rally forfeiting hinder for not moving or for having moved and blocked their offensive shot. Don’t just be a front wall starer. Also, in self officiated play, call a penalty on yourself rather than replay the rally, then luck out and get a possible crack-out, which could only give your opponent just one more reason to get more pumped up to whoop you.

A Rally Call – The Skip Ball “illusion”

We’re gonna start by talking about one of the calls or non calls made or not made by you or the opponent or the ref, when a ref is assigned to officiate your match. The first topic we’re gonna talk about is a skip ball. A skip ball catches splinters after being struck by the hitter before the shot reaches the front wall. Those skips occur when the ball that was just struck makes contact with the floor anywhere between contact and when the shot must reach the front wall. A skip can happen many, many, many ways. Here’s a bunch (nine) to give you the full picture on How Skips may Occur …

(1) serve->skip->front wall — sometimes a served ball may be hit very, very low, and, when it’s too low, it may catch the floor on the way in to the front wall. Then it’s non-front wall serve, which is a “…served ball that does not strike the front wall first”. There the call is “side out” or “out serve” and that means a loss of serve;

(2) ceiling->skip —> a ceiling ball is lifted up to the ceiling and it may hit the roof anywhere from 1 foot out to even 10 feet away from the front wall, with the intent for the ceiling ball to then angle down, strike the front wall, and then rebound out, bounce and go deep in the backcourt. But sometimes the ceiling ball angles down and comes up just short of making front wall contact, as a big, “How DID I miss that?” skip ceiling ball;

(3) back wall save not quite saved->skip — a ball saved into the back wall may travel 39 feet or a little more or little less and unfortunately catch the floor on the way and skip before making front wall contact. That’s why back wall saves must be hit very hard and lifted up high (~7 feet) into the back wall so the back wall save will carry forward (over you) to strike the front wall on the fly. Ideally and tactically a back wall save will catch the ceiling on the way to the front wall. That makes the save very difficult for the opponent to intercept the back wall save ball right after the ceiling ball bounces up vs. taking the ball out of midair, so they must back up to play the ball after the bounce deeper in the court;

(4) along with skip skip sound or no skip sound->front wall — a ball hit directly to the front wall might make a funny sound when it strikes the floor right before the front wall, as a skip ball. Although some balls that hit the front wall catch the floor first before front wall contact and they do so silently making no sound, but the ball still made floor contact. In either case, the fact that it struck the floor is only fully revealed visually;

(5) floor->sidewall->front wall shot appearing good — a ball could hit the floor, then the sidewall, and then, when the ball strikes the front wall, it could rebound out looking good coming off, although the ball skipped IN to the sidewall. It should be called as a skip ball, again, when it’s seen;

(6) sidewall->floor->front wall appearing good — a sidewall shot could hit the sidewall, glance off, skip on the floor before hitting the front wall, and then it might look good caroming off the front wall. Again, it skipped and the skip must be confirmed visually;

(7) floor->front wall->pop up — a ball may hit the floor and then front wall to then obviously pop up higher than it went in to the front target wall as it’s rebounding out indicating most clearly that that the ball hit the floor first. THAT situation is often THE most obvious type of skip ball and usually the least disputed or argued;

(8) floor->rollout — a ball may hit the floor right before the front wall and then the front wall and come off the front wall looking like a rollout, but it skipped in. Again, the skip must be visually confirmed; and

(9) power skip->front wall appearing good — as an unusual kind of skip, some hitters are able to hit a “power skip”. A power skip occurs when the player’s stroke is made with such great force that, as they make mishit contact, the ball almost immediately strikes the floor right at the crusher’s feet just in front of where they made contact – and then the power skip shot goes straight in to the front wall (or into a sidewall and then front wall) where the power skip looks like a kill-shot coming out flat or extremely low off the front wall as an apparent (to most) winner. 99% of the time The Power Skipper knows THEY skipped their shot in. But do they call it on themselves? Hmmm. We’ll get to that players making calls on themselves situation in just a sec. First let’s talk about some balls called as skips that just aren’t.

They May Look Bad, But Some Called Skips Aren’t…

A ball could hit low on the front wall and rebound out with a very unusual spin, while taking a very strange angling bounce coming back, yet it didn’t skip in to the front wall at all. The ball’s spin and it’s resulting angle off the front wall or sidewall might cause a witness to think or even feel certain the ball must’ve skipped in. It’s odd bounce is often due to the ball being mishit or not cleanly struck by the hitter’s racquet, like when the hitter catches the ball with their frame instead of their strings. Some balls with funky topspin go in to the front wall with lots of overspin and similarly they come off the front wall continuing with funky Top where the ball comes off the front wall lower than may be expected. Then the topped ball bounces first closer to the front wall, and it stays low and keeps overspinning until its second bounce; just as a Topped ball is won to do. Or a side spinning ball may come out changing its spin all together, as the ball takes a very funny bounce heading off in a completely unexpected direction. As an example of how spin and an unusual resulting angle happens, a hitter faces a sidewall and they hit a ball with cut or inside-out action targeting the front wall way over close in along that faced sidewall. After the ball contacts the front wall further over along that sidewall on that side of the court, the ball then rebounds out unusually paralleling that sidewall due to the heavy cut spin action imparted on the ball by the hitter’s in to out swing motion and contacting the inside of the ball. That down the wall shot is very tough to intercept anywhere along on its way back along that wall, as it hugs the wall traveling all the way back into that back corner. That cut shot can be hit very low or much higher, too. A low cut might skip, while a higher one wasn’t necessarily carried or flung by the opponent’s racquet despite its odd angling retreat off that front wall.

“Good” Splats Make Skip-like Sound

As a non skip example, but one that often gets called as a skip, a ball could hit the sidewall further back from the front wall and then safely make it to the front wall without skipping in. Although the ball might make a very distinctive, funny splaaaaat sound, as the ball sheers off the sidewall just like how a “splat” shot is often won to do. But the splat shot didn’t skip either in to the sidewall nor before it struck the front wall. A splat’s sound is due to the shot’s angle into the target sidewall close to contact up ahead at a spot only a little lower than where you make racquet to ball contact, along with considerable imparted sidespin based on a splat shooter’s inside out swing motion with routine cut and inside of the ball contact closer to the hitter. So, due to the swing motion, inside of ball contact, and its wider splat shot wall angle the resulting heavy splat sidespin and that funky sound result. A splat can sheer off the sidewall, carom off the front wall, while spinning IN to the front wall causing the ball to hug the front wall bizarrely and traumatically for the defending opponent who might wistfully say to themselves or aloud, “Please tell me THAT was a skip?”.

Only If They’re Called On It…

Unfortunately, while some players call any kind of skip (or other infraction) on themselves when they know for sure they skipped their shot in or they erred in some other way, like when they block ANY offensive shot to the front wall. Many don’t call skips on themselves, well, ever. They wait to be called on it, even in a quote-unquote “friendly” game. THAT type of play WON’T “Save Racquetball”. Being a stand up player will.

Should You Believe Your Opponent ?

In an ideal, integrity filled game, if you didn’t see a ball hit the front wall with or without skipping in first and your opponent DID see it, and you’re playing in a game that is self officiated, normally go with the call of the player who SAW the shot as good or skip. Likewise THEY should honor YOUR call if you saw it and they were blocked out by your position between them and the front wall or between them and the sidewall when you hit a sidewall shot before it went on to fairly strike the front wall. Of course, if you find the opponent less than upfront about their calls based on your shared experience (you’ll know), you may become more skeptical, and you may only selectively accept their calls. With that type of player, expect a few superfluous replays. Also they may be unwilling to accept your calls when they don’t see the ball themselves. You may ask how do players who don’t own up and who wait to get-called-on-it get others to play them, but those gamesmanship motivated players do get asked to play practice games because the player asking them may want to get ready to play against other players who are like them in tourney ball where many, many players play THAT way or who let the ref make ALL calls and who divorce themselves from the judging process, even when “they know” they caused an infraction or even when they know your serve, shot, or get was good but called bad. It’s a black eye on the sport and sport in general, but it’s up to the integrity and karma of the player how they want to play the game and be known for how they play. Note how players in the NBA don’t point their way when there’s a turnover when they know it not to be true, but in high school and at some colleges they do. By the way, both the refs and the opponents don’t like that player trying to play them or fool them. In racquetball, when making a call swaying march to the box in unison with the true rally winner or celebrating when that player knows their shot or get or serve wasn’t good, well, that just isn’t good form.

Appealing Skip Calls

In tournament play, you may be lucky enough to have a referee. When you are certain the opponent’s shot skipped in OR when you’re sure your shot that was called as a skip was good, then you can appeal the ref’s call, if (and that’s a BIG IF) you have also previously taken the very important pre step to request and be granted 2 overruling line judges. Note that, of the 2, only one judge needs to signal thumbs down, WITH you, for you to retain that appeal (of the 3 you are allotted), even if the other line judge signals thumbs up showing they agree with the referee’s (bad) call. In that instance, that ref’s call would stand. You have unlimited appeals when you get that one (or more) thumbs down signals. You lose one of your 3 appeals when you get no thumbs down signals. Of course, overruling the call you disagree with is your immediate goal and why you make an appeal. When you appeal to the ref, you’re betting on BOTH line judges reversing the ref’s, in your estimation, “incorrect call”. That’s usually why you made the appeal, although sometimes you just need a break and an appeal gives you a breather. You hope to get 2 thumbs down signals which overturns the ref’s call. One thumbs down and one flat palm, with the palm down signaling that line judge didn’t see the play, means you get a replay of the previous rally and it starts with a first serve. More times than not the player who hit the ball has a very good idea whether their shot skipped in or not … but let’s approach it in a different way …

Call Your Own Skips, Duh

Just out of sheer fairness, when YOU are the player who skipped, simply fess up. For the opposing player or the ref judging a skip or from the viewpoint of a spectator outside the court, the key thought process SHOULD simply be … “Did <I> see the ball hit the floor before it reached the front wall?”. You can’t just depend on the sound of the ball or its funny bounce or you can’t even be completely certain when a ball rolls completely flat coming off the front wall or especially you can’t be certain just based on when the ball veers strangely off the front wall. It may have skipped in first or it might not have. Now that was just about skips. There’s many, many, many more potentially heated or unusual calls in the game of racquetball…let’s look at covering the ball after it bounces no more than once… 

Two Bounce Gets

Under the “2 bounce” rule it’s stated under … “Failure to Return … a failure to make a legal return during a rally … 1. The ball bounces on the floor more than once or else “rolls” before being hit”. A ball that hits the front wall and bounces once must be returned before it can take a second bounce. Now there’s numerous scenarios for that one bounce and return or it’s a 2 bounce or more return and loss of rally. As an example, a ball that hits the front wall and then angles to and off a sidewall to then bounce once must be returned to the front wall after NO more bounces. Again, one bounce is always the maximum allowed. That goes for these scenarios where … (1) a ball hits the ceiling, front wall and then bounces … or (2) a ball hits the front wall, bounces and pops off the back wall … or (3) a ball that hits the front wall, bounces and deflects off one sidewall on the way to rebound off the back wall … or (4) a ball that hits the front wall in one corner then directly ricochets off the adjacent sidewall to carom out and carry on the fly (in the air) diagonally across the court to strike the far sidewall as a Z shot that parallels both the front and back walls and, after its first bounce, the Z shot must be returned before it can take its second bounce. One extremely unusual bounce situation occurs when a ball is struck very, very high and very hard into the front wall so the ball carries all the way back to strike very high and hard on the back wall causing the ball to rebound way out very far and then bounce. Left untouched the ball will go all the way back to make it to the front wall yet again and rebound off. It’s had just that one bounce so far … so what’s the play? You actually don’t have to beat the ball to hit it before it can make it back to the front wall again. You may return the ball after it goes back and strikes the front wall again and field the ball as it rebounds off. There you must return it as it pops off the front wall BEFORE the “b-b-back wall” shot can take its second bounce. When covering a passing shot, a direct kill-shot to the front wall or a sidewall shot in a rally, sometimes, as the defensive player is in pursuit of the ball that bounced once, the player gets over top the ball when they’re hustling hard to make a get or return and they may flick the ball to the front wall by striking it right after its SECOND bounce; yet they think or they’re just certain they got it. Usually the player knows, but sometimes they just don’t. Depending on the opponent, less frequently on an onlooker outside the court or even counting upon the perspective of the referee to make the 2 bounce (or more) call is often catch catch can. That’s especially the case from the ref’s perch behind the glass when they’re well off to one side to accommodate a microphone jack that’s located there or they’re over there so they’re not standing behind the service receiver in the center where then the ref’s vision of the the 2 bounce get is on the far side. If they took up position in the center, swing the serve may be blocked by the receiver in back. Also, in the rally, one or both players might block the ref’s line of sight to see the first or second bounce. It’s not always certain about 2 bounce get calls. Like skips, your appealing a 2 bounce get, when you’re sure you got the ball on 1 bounce or when you clearly saw the opponent did NOT make a one bounce get, is a worthwhile appeal, especially WHEN you feel it was obvious, AND you have line judges. If you either think you got it or you’re pretty darn certain the opponent didn’t make a one bounce get and you think it was plainly obvious to the eyes of the line judges who are watching, first, raise your off hand to signal when the two bounce contact happened. Now note that you may either keep playing the rally, which is the commonly accepted “racquetball way” or, when you’re pretty darn certain, you can just stop and appeal to the ref. Although, IF YOU STOP and the line judges don’t go along with your “correct call”, you will lose that rally. But let’s look at it different way. Say you play out the rally with the plan to appeal if you lose the rally, which, by playing, would let you right the wrong, WHEN you win the rally. But let’s say you lose the rally. That could be due to the rally’s length and the judges might just forget the 2 bounce situation. In that scenario, you’re doubly penalized because your energy, your sense of fairness, AND your patience are all sapped a little or a lot. Note that in tennis you must stop immediately if you want to challenge the call. In racquetball asking for the appeal is a risk worth strongly considering when you’re sure and you feel VERY confident it was obvious to the line judges that the perhaps unsighted ref just missed that one. As you turn to appeal to the ref, it’s a good move to signal while wagging your thumb from level with the court to thumbs down, like you’re a Roman Cesar. With that signal, maybe you’ll hypnotize the 2 line judges into their own thumbs down signals indicating they disagree with the ref’s incorrect call, too. Again, though, those line judges must’ve been arranged for in advance by asking the ref for them. Usually, after a missed call or 2 by the ref or based on past experience with THIS particular ref or when you have previously played against THIS opponent and you’ve suffered through controversy before or, when you’re just factoring in the sheer pace of the game or your past experiences in general in highly competitive play, you might consider requesting line judges. The hope is you’ll get experienced players to be line judges. When you’re in Semifinals and Finals rounds you should have line judges because there’s a lot on the line and the pressure is heightened on both the players competing and the ref officiating. Also among the 2 line judges you’re hoping one is NOT your opponent’s doubles partner, one is NOT their best friend, and one is not a relative of theirs, as racquetball can be quite a partisan game. Pulling for their bud or charge is routine when everything THEIR player does is good and everything the opponent does is bad ala any away game at any stadium, gym or colosseum (unfortunately) in sport. Although, no  racquetball, integrity still does matter, right?

Serving Calls

Now another area of great controversy is often the serve. When serving and returning serve, THAT is the only time the court lines matter, and, Oh Boy, do they matter! First let’s talk about where you must serve. The serving player must start their service motion inside the “box” or within the first 2 lines in the service zone which is also referred to as the the “service box” or “box”. For example, the service motion can NOT begin with the server having one foot in the safety zone behind or past the middle “short line”. Even their heel over the short line is disallowed. Also the server must not bounce the ball on the court outside the 2 lines. Now, when starting with one foot outside the box, the server could be using their initial further back position as a runway to build up a head of steam, as a head-start to boost their service motion. Kudos for tryin, but ugh-uh. They may just do it unconsciously and unknowingly out of (bad) habit. If you or an opposing server starts with one foot on the floor outside the lines of the box behind the center line, it’s a “foot fault” and second serve unless it was already the second serve; in which case, it’s a “side out” or loss of serve, WHEN there’s a ref. Now that ref reference is because, in self officiated play, it’s just a time to point it out to the server that they’re starting too deep and it’s just a replay. Note that the foot faulter may not like for it to be pointed out. So don’t be surprised if they resort to doing it again soon after out of habit or possibly just out of sheer orneriness. It’s not suggested you demand a second serve or side out were it to be the second serve unless you just LIKE confrontations.

Front Line Foot Faults

When making that big stride forward to strike their drive serve, the server isn’t permitted to completely surpass the front “service line”. Some part of both feet, like the heel of their frontmost striding foot, must still be in contact or touching the leading edge of that first line that is 15 feet back from the front wall. That on the line position must be held UNTIL the served ball crosses the second, middle, 20 foot back “short line”. If that foot goes all the way past the first line, it’s a foot fault. As a server yourself, work on your own service motion so you don’t foot fault because in competition it’s a real bummer and momentum killer to be called for foot faulting. Of course, when you’re pumped up, sometimes it just happens. Then the call is “second serve” and you just move on. So, if it’s a foot fault on the first serve, then a second serve is allowed. Have one at the ready. If it’s a foot fault on the second serve, it’s an out serve or side out, and it’s the receiver’s turn to serve. In the 4 player game in doubles when it’s the first server who foot faults on their first serve, it’s then their second serve. If they foot fault on their second serve, it’s a “hand out” and the second server on that team takes over as the server. Extending the scenario, if there’s been a “hand out” and say now it’s the second server hitting their second serve and they foot fault, even when say they’re serving up a drive Z serve, it’s a loss of serve and side out for that team, and the other doubles team gets to take over as the serving team, which is bad, and it’s unforced error playing form. When “… At the end of the service motion, the server steps with either foot on the floor beyond the service line (with no part of the foot on the line or inside the service zone) before the served ball crosses the short line” the call is (usually) made by the referee in officiated play, but it’s a much tougher call for the receiver in self officiated play. That’s because the receiver’s plate is already pretty full. The server is trying to see the served ball and watch to see if it was good (not short of the middle line) and then the server is all about returning the ball to the front wall. A “good” serve is when the ball strikes the front wall and it rebounds out and crosses the second, “short line” or was it “short” and “fault serve”. We’ll get to short serves LAST because they’re just such a tough call for all concerned.

Safety Zone Violation Side Out

When a singles server or a doubles server or the doubles server’s non serving partner beats the served ball past the “short line”, which is the 20 foot back middle line, it’s not a foot fault it’s much worse; it’s a “safety zone violation” which is an “out serve” and loss of serve. In singles, it’s a loss of serve and the receiver takes the ball. In doubles, the player serving loses their serve. For example, when the first server of the doubles pair is serving and say their doubles partner hustles back too soon and that partner both leaves the wall (which is itself a “foot fault”) AND then the partner also crosses that middle line BEFORE the ball passes that 20 foot back short line, and it’s not just a fault serve; it’s actually a loss of serve! Then it’s a hand out and the second server takes over serving. By rule, it’s a safety zone violation … “if, after the serve has been struck, the server or doubles partner step into the safety zone BEFORE the served ball passes the short line” … so beating the ball back is an immediate loss of serve for the singles server or that doubles server. So, again, if the first doubles server is serving their second OR first serve and if either the server or their back to the sidewall partner beats the ball out past the short line, it’s a safety zone violation and “hand out” where the second server of that pair takes over serving. So, when the first server of the pair or their partner steps out early on either their first or second serve, then the second server of that team gets to serve. The team does NOT forfeit their entire serving opportunity. Of course, if it’s the second server’s first serve and they or their partner crosses the short line before the ball passes it, it’s not a second serve; it’s still a team side out. Of course, if it’s their second serve, it’s also a side out. The rule for the partner’s position reads that … “the server’s partner shall stand erect with their back facing the side wall and with both feet on the floor within the service box from the moment the server begins the service motion until the served ball PASSES the short line. Any violation is called a “foot fault” UNLESS the server’s partner (ALSO) enters the safety zone BEFORE the ball passes the short line in which case the server (that server) loses service”. Calling that type of foot fault on the back to the wall doubles partner or a safety zone violation on the singles or doubles server often is the source of much consternation on the part of the called foot faulter or short line crosser. The doubles partner on the wall would rather hear “Foot fault” than for the ref to wait a beat until that partner also crosses the short line causing a safety zone violation and then hear “Hand out” or “Side out”. In that case, the server (or partner) thinks they didn’t cross, but the call is made when the ref clearly sees the infringing player beat the ball back. As a telling example, when there’s a short lob serve and BEFORE the serve is called short, both the server (and even their partner) are already both standing back there behind the short line in the safety zone it’s clearly a short lob serve. That’s pretty clear evidence that it’s a loss of serve for that server because that server or their partner or both beat the ball out. When YOU are the lob server, to avoid causing a Safety Zone Violation, it helps if you make your first move along the back of the box by moving just inside the short line toward the side where you serve your lob. THEN, AFTER the ball crosses the middle 20 foot line, back up quickly into center court. (But still make sure you give up a cross-court return to the far, rear corner). Now, before we get into calls regarding the little lines by each sidewall, the screen serve, and the whole short serve thing, first let’s talk about the 3rd line back, the dashed line, which is “receiving line” or encroachment line. That’s the line that ideally separates the server from the receiver’s swing as they return serve.

Encroachment

For lobs and lob Z’s, it’s commonplace to see aggressive receivers quickly slide up early, often right as the server is initially lofting their lob up onto the front wall. That way the receiver can attack the softer struck ball either right AFTER the serve’s bounce or right as the lob serve is passing the dashed “receiving line” in the air when the serve is going to take its first bounce beyond the broken line. By the by, when you lob serve, bouncing your lob ball inside the dashed line is good form. Now the main point here for the receiver is timing their cutoff which is crucial.

Receiving Line Scenario…

…the receiver moves up in a blink and hovers right behind the dashed line, looming like a vulture, ready to pounce on the high lob, half lob, or Z lob serve. Controversy begins when the server points down at the dashed receiving line BEFORE they even serve. There they’re indicating that they feel the receiver has crossed BEFORE and they might again or they might do it this time. Or, after dropping their serve, the former server points right after a rally has been played when they feel the receiver definitely crossed the broken line tooooo early. When they point before they serve, the server is sure that either the receiver passed the dashed line before in a prior rally or they want the ref to pay particular attention because they THINK the receiver may pass the line BEFORE the ball bounces. Or the server may be looking to just place extra pressure on the receiver to either NOT cross or to cause them to hesitate to cross or to think before they act, which in a racquetball is a BIG no-no. If the receiver steps into the safety zone too early (before the bounce or crossing in the air) that safety zone is the area between the short line and dashed “receiving line”, it’s a “receiving line violation” or “encroachment”. Note that the serving side NOT beating their serve past the short line and the receiver not crossing the receiving line before the serve’s bounce or before the serve completely passes the receiving line in the air establishes that 5 foot  wide 20 foot long area as a safety zone for the server so they don’t get popped by ball or worse case to avoid the receiver’s swing catching them. By not crossing the line too early that way the receiver won’t be as likely to hit the server with their return. When the receiver DOES cross the line early and it’s a “receiving line violation”, it’s a BIG call. The Receiving Position rule reads … “The receiver may not break the plane of the receiving line with the racquet or body until the ball either bounces in the safety zone or else crosses the receiving line. For example, if the receiver steps on the dashed receiving line with either foot (with any part of the foot contacting the line) before either of the two preceding things happen, a point shall be called for the server”. So it’s point for the server WHEN the call is made. So THAT violation gives the server a free point without playing out the rally. When there are line judges, an appeal may be made. The rule reads “Receiving Line Violation (Encroachment). If the referee makes a call of encroachment, but the call is overturned, the serve shall be replayed unless the return was deemed irretrievable in which case a side out (or possibly a handout in doubles) should be called. When an appeal is made because the referee made no call, and the appeal is successful, the server is awarded a point”. That “irretrievable by the server” is as seen in the impartial eyes of the ref. In that case, it’s a side out. Or, when it’s the first server, it’s a hand out in doubles and the second server takes over serving. That irretrievable return or deeming it so is in the rules, but timing the call or sound matters a lot. When the ref is already making the call of “encroachment” and THEN the receiver makes an (unreturnable) return, the rally should be replayed. When the call is made AFTER the receiver’s return and the appeal was that there was no safety zone violation, when the return was ungettable for the server (or server’s team), then it’s a side out. Now, on the other side of the ball when an appeal is made (by the server) because the referee made NO receiving line violation call, and the appeal is successful, (when the line judges say there was a violation with 2 thumbs down), then the server is auto awarded a point. So crossing that dashed line one way or not crossing it is a huge call when there’s a receiving line violation (or when there’s no violation called when there actually should have been one). Note that the receiver encroaches when … (1) they slide in too early with their toes; or (2) they lean past the receiving line with their lead shoulder or even their head; or (3) they swing past the line with their racquet before the ball has bounced; or (4) they cross the line before the served ball has completely passed the dashed line in the air when it’s going to bounce beyond the line. So the receiver encroaches when the vertical plane of the receiving line from floor to ceiling is broken. Often the ref is very leery about making an encroachment call just like they hate calling penalty hinders when a defensive player completely takes away an offensive shot from the hitter. In part that hesitancy by the ref to call encroachment is probably due in part to the controversial nature of making a point deciding call, as the offending party who is being called on it is generally NOT going to be a happy camper, and they usually let their disappointment be clearly known. However, encroachment is an appealable call. Once a served ball bounces in the safety zone the receiver CAN move in past the receiving line. But do note that there’s little time to move in very far past the line, even when the ball bounces further forward in the safety zone and then it’s going to be bounding up even higher when it can be contacted. Often it’s a tough read for the ref to see or read whether the chicken or the egg came first. Did the ball bounce and THEN the receiver crossed? Or did the receiver barely pass the broken line right BEFORE the bounce occurred? Or did the receiver swing past the line or lean past the dashed line or step past right BEFORE the ball completely passed the dashed line in the air without a bounce? By pointing at the receiving line before they serve, the server is making both the ref and the receiver think. When a player thinks and they don’t react concurrently, they’re often a full beat late acting. 

Not Passing Receiving Line Tactics

If as receiver you are intent on making contact with a lob that will bounce past the line or you’re intent on attacking the server right after it bounces inside the line, NOT crossing the line too early is your receiver’s role first requirement. Also that should be the ref’s observation point of emphasis for the receiver to NOT pass THAT line. To cutoff a bouncing served ball, some receivers slide in and get up on their tippy toes to take a lob on the rise right after its first bounce. The receiver may similarly get up on their toes when looking to field a high ball when taking a ball right out of midair as it’s passing the receiving line before the server has had a chance to get back into good defensive position in center court. Note that, when you take the ball on the fly or out of midair, the main deal for you is to not to lean in tooooo early, as you set yourself to swing volley thru the ball by your FOCUS on starting with your lead foot BEHIND the dashed line. When planning to take the ball after it bounces in the safety zone, you must take the ball on the rise. You may either take the serve very low as either a short-hop or you may take the serve higher up

as an overhead. A short-hop is when you strike a deep safety zone bouncing ball right after its bounce as you swing thru with a low hooded, slightly pointing down to the floor racquet head swing thru contact. So the racquet face often angles with the strings partly pointed downwards at the floor, as you swing thru with a smooth, compact keeping-it-low motion. Practicing and perfecting short-hop cutoffs takes lots of reps when timing your slide up to initially set yourself BEHIND the line. There set your front foot behind the line as you also quickly get sideways. Then move in right AFTER the bounce and time the hooded swing (or short racquet face control swing) for solid contact which allows you to accurately hit your short-hop return ideally AWAY from the server, as a passing shot or even as a flick front corner pinch. As an on the rise higher take, field a lob ball as it bounces up by either using a baby overhead motion at head height or even a full overhead motion for a bigger, higher bounding ball where you reach up way overhead to swing high to low. To take a ball after the bounce as it’s bounding up high takes lots of drilling to prep and take your overhead and usually shoot a passing shot return. Usually go cross-court and less often go down the wall. Only attempt a more straight in option after having practice that skill, which usually will require changing the ball’s incoming angle. Also, for that down the wall cutoff, make sure to follow your shot forward. That way the opponent must get to the ball behind you while you slide over laterally into center court to “cover down”, which means to position well to play the server’s next ball. For a ball passing the dotted line in the air, it takes practice to slide up, be turning sideways, and then take the ball right out of midair, as a swing volley often at waist high up to chest high or even a little higher at shoulder high without prematurely passing that dashed line BEFORE the ball does, except after contact when you may pass the broken line with your follow-through. Now, as server, if you’re being hurt by the receiver’s return or uncalled encroachments, there are good Plan B’s. A serve that can’t be short hopped or taken as overhead is a nick lob. Note that off speed lobs and high lobs are generally meant to speed up the rally and encourage an overzealous returns by the anxious receiver. Are you looking to up the volume or make them loft up a defensive ceiling ball? Either lobs very tight to the sidewall or nick lobs are tougher to attack so then your chances go up to make the receiver often and ideally defend by hitting a ceiling ball, which best case, for you, is an inaccurate one.

Shrunken Safety Zone

**Note that in international play, crossing the short line before the ball crosses just became legal again for the serving side. Still the receiver must adhere to the receiving line violation rule. To be safe, the server (or their partner in doubles) had better not wander back into the swing radius of the receiver, as now the safety zone has been shrunken by new hit and drop back quick rule, which allows the server or server’s partner to get back quicker and retreat before the serve passes the short line. As the serving side, think and play safety first, last and always. Although the receiver needs to not hit a server who does wander into say their cross-court overhead passing shot angle.

Drive Serve Line

That innermost line on either side of the box has a major significance in the rules of serving. When a player is serving over just inside both of those 2 lines by the sidewall in the service box and serving up along THAT wall, the server may effectively, tactically obscure the ball from the receiver. There, as server, you may either face the lines or you may stand with your back to the lines. There the server can legally drive serve up along THAT wall, IF they (or the ball) don’t cross that second line in from the sidewall. Concerning that inner line there’s actually 2 lines. Let’s discuss those.

Doubles Service Box

First let’s point out that there’s a doubles service box, which is the first line closest to the sidewall. That’s where the partner stands with their back to the sidewall while their partner serves. Although the non serving partner doesn’t have to either touch the wall with their back nor do they have to have both feet inside that first line – feet on the line is okay – the doubles partner on the wall is not allowed to face forward. AND facing back is both not allowed and not safe because the partner would be facing the ball being returned. As the partner on the wall, you might consider using your racquet frame to cover your head when the receiving team is returning. You may even put the racquet up on the front side when say your partner has popped you before! Then you could switch the racquet after the serve clears the short line to the receiver side to cover your noggin. There in the doubles service box the partner stands with their back to the wall waiting right up until their serving partner’s serve COMPLETELY passes the short line. If the partner moves off the wall before the serve passes the short line, it’s a foot fault. If that partner moves AND beats the ball out past the short line, it’s much worse; it’s a “safety zone violation” AND side out.

2nd Line In From Wall Is Drive Serve Line

The significance of the second line in, the “drive serve line”,?which is inside of the service box and is 3 feet in from the sidewall at its inner edge, is aspect of serving right along that wall you may not cross that line. Note that there are 2 drive serve lines on each side of the court in the box. The ball and server must start inside that drive serve line WHEN the server is serving a drive serve (or any well struck ball) up along THAT sidewall into the rear corner on that side of the court. Also, at no time may the server’s serving swing cross that drive serve line. If any part of body, ball or racquet crosses the drive serve line during the serve and as the ball zips back to the rear corner on that side, it’s an “illegal drive serve” and fault serve. In addition to serving from inside that drive serve line, when the served ball either angles either outside that 3 foot line closer to the server or when the serve passes so closely by say a stationary, not dropping back away from the drive serve line drive server and it’s determined that the service receiver can’t clearly see the ball as it’s passing by that server, THAT is a “screen serve” and fault serve. If the ball ends up within 2 feet or closer to the sidewall going back toward that rear corner, it probably should not be called as a screen serve. But it’s a borderline call for receiver in self officiated play or ref in officiated play. When the ball passes closer than 2 feet to the drive serve line, it’s a marginal call and it’s left up to the ref in officiated play whether to call a screen or not. In self officiated play, it’s totally up to the receiver for them to decide whether they believe they were screen served or not. Note that we’ll go in depth into the screen serve call next. There, in unrefereed play, the server must quickly decide if they could clearly see the ball as it passed by the receiver or not, especially as the serve was passing by the server at the short line. There the receiver must quickly calculate whether they can make a move to make a good return of that drive serve on its way back to the rear corner or, when it’s higher, whether they can play it after it bounces and rebounds off the back wall. Part of that calculus is “Can I control this return?” despite perhaps seeing it late. The receiver may also be considering whether the next one may be even tougher to return, like where it may crack-out and rollout off the sidewall, as unreturnable. The receiver shouldn’t return the serve and then wait and see their return and how the server is playing their return and THEN sheepishly call “Screen”. Also, in officiated play, the receiver shouldn’t return the ball and hope that they can THEN ask the ref for a screen call; that’s too late. Getting back to the drive serve line … A ball served tighter into the rear corner that’s, again, within a couple feet or closer to the sidewall shouldn’t usually be called as a screen, by ref or player. Both where the receiver lines up and where the ref stands affects this (and all) screen serve calls. As the rules state, the receiver should start in the center in back when returning serve to get a screen call. Of course, in this specific serving and receiving example, if the receiver were to hedge over closer to THAT drive serve line where the server is serving, the receiver could both be screened when the ball passes very close by the server, and they could call it in self officiated play or ask for a screen call by the ref when it’s initially uncalled, in officiated match play. Note that when line judges have been requested and their spots filled, a screen serve appeal may be made at any time after the serve has been put in play, even at the end of a very protracted rally. When the receiver feels they were screened (or they sense any infraction was committed), they should first raise their off hand to signal WHEN the screen occurred. When the ref is positioned with mike in hand or scorecard in hand on the complete opposite side of the court behind the glass away from THE drive serve line in question, that may affect that ref’s perspective when calling screen serves way over THERE by that far drive serve line. The ref should put themselves in the shoes of the receiver (showing empathy) and see how closely the ball passed by the server AND how close the served ball is to that rear corner should it not be returned. If the ball is closer in along that sidewall, no screen may be the right call. If the ball is 2 feet out or further out from the sidewall or much closer to that 3 foot drive serve line, a screen call may be warranted. The ref may wait until the ball is at the back wall before making the screen call. But, by watching closely as the ball is passing the server, the ref should consider how close the ball passed by the server and whether the receiver may or may not have had a <clear view> of the ball at its critical juncture, as it passes the server at the short line. If the ball is close and even the ref has trouble seeing it, they ought to factor that in, as well as where the serve ends up when it’s contacted or where it bounces or where it heads in relationship to the back corner when it’s unreturned by the perhaps unsighted receiver. Again, for emphasis, a served ball close to the 3 foot line probably should be called as a screen serve when the drive serve is struck from right along the drive serve line, when contact is made just inside it. Now, extending the situation, after the ball passes the server and if the receiver is returning the serve, the server should make sure to give the receiver a cross-court angle to the front wall so the ball could strike the front wall and rebound out and angle back to the far, rear corner. If the server doesn’t move and they block that rule-required cross-court shot angle, a whole new category of calls occurs, “hinders”. In that case, the much dreaded penalty hinder (by ref and “hinder player”) could or probably should be the call. Hint: hit and move to center, when you serve (or rally return). Don’t hang on the line and risk getting popped on a straight in or on a simple V cross-court pass.

Where in Center Court

As a tactical point about center court positioning, make note that, although you must give up the V cross-court passing shot angle, you don’t have to give up a “wide angle pass” (WAP) angle. The WAP is a wider angle pass hit to the front wall farther over so the ball would rebound out and angle back to strike the sidewall in mid court. So the WAP is a bigger angle than a V pass. As defender, when you’ve placed the ball way back deep in a rear corner, get between ball and cross-front corner. There, in between, you give up the cross-court and straight in angles that you must, but not the WAP and very importantly you don’t allow a diagonal shot into the cross front corner, which, when hit low, is extremely difficult to retrieve.

Screen Serves

As you know, when a player is standing on or swinging over a drive serve line, they may only serve a direct drive serve cross-court to the far, rear corner. They may hit a Z drive serve to the rear corner on THAT side they’re on when they’re serving from on top of that line. The advantage of hitting drive serves BETWEEN the 2 drive serve lines is due to the logic that it forces the receiver to have to cover both rear corners to guard against the placement of a possible drive serve into either back corner. The drive serve lines magnify the screen serve situation. Let’s say the server is over serving from right along one sidewall just barely inside that drive serve line where a serve between the server and the sidewall can be tough to see for the receiver the closer the ball is angled by the server as it passes by them. So, of course, it’s tougher to see the closer the server starts their motion by THAT line. That placing the ball logic when serving carries over to when the server moves over and is serving drive serves from closer in toward the center of the service box on that side of the court and box. From wherever THEY serve (or from wherever YOU serve) when nearer in to the center of the box and on over to the drive serve line on that side where the ball is being served, if the ball passes out closer to 3 feet out from the sidewall, the odds go WAY UP that THAT particular serve is a screen serve and very hard if not impossible for the receiver to clearly see right as it passes by the server. From wherever THEY serve (or from wherever YOU serve), when the ball is not clearly seen by the receiver as it passes by player serving, it’s liable to be called a screen by the receiver in self officiated play and it’s more likely it’ll be called as a screen by a ref, especially when the receiver quickly, alertly raises their off hand indicating they feel certain they were screen served. Yet some guidelines for WHEN to make the “Screen Serve” call by a ref are worth considering. When a served ball passes dangerously close by the server, but the serve is higher and it’s going to bounce and then pop kindly off the back wall as a back wall setup for the receiver, it could be allowed to pop off the back wall without a screen serve call so long as the receiver does NOT raise their off hand signaling they were screened. Then the receiver can capitalize on THAT sweet back wall setup that’s due to the server’s error only, again, WHEN the receiver’s off hand stayed down. Note that, when the server raises their off hand and they immediately get the screen call, then they can NOT ALSO return the ball and hope to win the rally with THAT return. Also a serve passing precariously close when it’s passing by the server may still angle back and get within a couple feet or even closer to the targeted rear corner. That serve may be extremely tough to see as it was passing by the server. So then the question or tough decision by receiver or ref or fan or even line judge would be, “Is THAT a screen serve?”. Server applied ball spin or a disguised service motion delivery or their serving stance can all conspire to produce just such a curving, very accurate, tough to see serve as it’s passing by the server. At one time in the rules there was an 18 inch rule for screens where when a ball was passing closer than 18 inches to the server it was supposed to be called as a screen serve. Today the screen serve is a much more subjective call that’s left up to the perspective of the ref in officiated play or it’s totally left up to the discretion of the receiver in self officiated play. In ref-free play, it’s up to the receiver. The screen serve rule’s exact wording for a screen 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…”, then it’s a screen serve. So a serve could pass very close, especially when the server spreads themselves out with a front foot lunge out to the sidewall into a very closed stance or when they swing from a very open stance facing the front wall or when the server strikes their drive serve or even off speed serve from a more upright stance, from say a one-step service motion. Both the ref taking on the mindset that it’s them returning the server’s serve and strongly factoring in the off hand raise by the receiver when the receiver seems frozen by the ball passing so close by the server SHOULD both be folded into the screen serve call equation, as the ref decides whether a screen serve call is warranted. Having requested line judges and then appealing to the line judges is a good backup plan for you as the receiver, IF you have had the foresight to request the lines. And, with line judges, when YOU feel certain you were screened, you should appeal, while quickly raising your off hand to signal WHEN you were screened. That appeal may even be made after a rally is played out, by the receiver. Note that even the server may appeal that THEY screen serves when they drop the rally. If the serve is beyond 2 feet out from a rear corner closer in to the middle and you’re receiving by starting in the center in back, you have a good argument for a screen and winning the appeal. Then point out the placement of the “screen serve” by pointing exactly where on the back wall the serve ended up (and don’t fudge it because you want the benefit of this and future calls, not resentment or for them to question your truth telling or veracity). That pointing is a good place to start when making your point verbally to the ref and, by your demonstration of where the screen serve hit the back wall, also to the lines who are looking and listening, but not by directly addressing the line judges (because, by rule, you cannot directly talk to line judges). Of course you have those line judges to appeal to by having alertly asked for them BEFORE you were screened or make sure to ask for them BEFORE you get screen served again!

Ref-Free Screen Calling

In ref-free play (self officiated games), calling the screen is the sole prerogative of ONLY the receiver. According to the self-officiated rules … “The screen serve call is the sole responsibility of the receiver” … “The server may NOT call a screen under any circumstance and thus, must always expect to play the rally unless the receiver calls “screen serve””. *Note that many times a receiver is caught going one way, when guessing, and then, when the serve goes the other way, even when it would have been a screen serve, no screen serve call may be made. The receiver took themselves out of the play by going the wrong way and away from being able to make a screen serve call in self officiated play. (The server also would surrender the ability to make an appeal for a screen serve then to a ref either). Note that in self officiated play the server may not raise their off hand to signal THEY think they screened because first it’s not their call to make and second they can’t unfairly distract or influence the receiver with their “I think my serve was a screen” signal because that is in fact making a call, and really it’s an intentional distraction, which is a penalty hinder … I digress.

Hand Raising … Un-Distracted

Note that in refereed play, make sure to keep your focus despite the server’s hand raising signaling throughout a game in many situations. They may signal that THEY hit a screen or you made a 2 bounce get or you hit a short serve or they feel they were hindered … as they signal trying to get the ref’s attention, they may intend to distract you, too. Keep your focus on playing the ball when hitting or on defending when you’re on the other side of the ball in coverage.

Short Serve Call

Now let’s talk about what is often THE toughest call for receiver or server, the short serve call. The “Short Serve” call is ALWAYS a tough call. Short serves may be THE toughest call because they’re just so hard to see, and we don’t have a tennis challenge system yet with a matrix of cameras confirming line calls (one day though…). The short serve call is often a point of consternation and even confrontation between ref and server, between the two sides playing without a ref (and on 4-wall glass court concerning those 2 poor, well-intentioned line judges standing right on that short line but still struggling to see line-bounce or bounce-line). The ball AND line can play tricks on your eyes. A short serve call could also easily become a bone of contention or argument between 2 players who are competing without a ref in self-officiated play. When the server is facing one way and they drive serve behind themselves to the rear corner behind them, they often don’t physically have enough time to be able to turn quickly around in time to actually see whether their fast drive serve DID pass the short line or not. Yet the server may believe the serve barely passed the line. There they are doing so based on feel, not by visual confirmation. Yet, even when they face the side toward where they’re serving, the server can even then mistakenly see the ball thinking it wasn’t short when it was or thinking it was bad when their serve WAS actually good. Also, as another potentially contentious situation, when a player hits their serve very close to the crack between sidewall and floor INSIDE the short line in the box where the ball then angles back off the sidewall toward the safety zone, the ball COULD pass the short line before taking its first bounce. BUT more often than not a crack-out attempt that hits low on the sidewall INSIDE the short line is more often than not called as a short serve. There it’s anticipated that the low ball was so low it MUST HAVE caught some piece of the service box before it crossed the short line. That’s based on the serve having hit the sidewall before the short line or it can be it was visually confirmed by the receiver or ref. In part, that’s why you should only go for a crack-out serve as your first serve. That way you still have a second serve left. Also, as a wrinkle, drill and target YOUR crack-out just PAST the short line and then you may avoid the “imagined” short serve call. As a backup plan for when you go for first serve crack-outs a lot in your attack, make sure you also have a practiced-up, very nasty second serve, like a deep nick lob, a wicked drive Z or another trustworthy 2nd serve delivery chosen from your regulars. Then you can select that killer second serve from your service arsenal and confidently count on that one you choose when your 1st serve “good” crack-out was called, “Short!”. Let that “short serve” call go and forge ahead with your attacking second serve.

… the Crux of the Matter: Be undistracted by ANY Call

Don’t let calls or non calls affect your will and hustle. Don’t let replays of rallies, players demanding they’re right, that you’re wrong, and only their call must stand, or even a player who just does NOT make calls on themselves when they-know they did something like hit a skip or they made a 2 bounce get or they took away a clearly offensive shot from you … of any form of gamesmanship affect your future. It’s basically best to not let ANY bad calls or arguments become the object of YOUR distraction and affect the ensuing point or points. It’s tough to keep up with the game from outside the court and you can imagine (and you probably already know) it’s tough to keep up with everything going on inside the court, with the speed of rallies, funny bounces, close quarters when having to share court space, and when judging super low shots where both your view and the opponent’s viewpoint may be, “Was THAT good?”. Then there’s the controversial calls by the opponent or the ref, too. Outside the court there may be a player watching or even a non player spectator and you know they have never lost a rally from out there; so they’re often just certain THEY saw it best and often much better than you possibly could have. It’s far more challenging scurrying around out there after that bouncy little orb or dodging out of the way so the opponent can take a direct line run to make a get or to move out of the way to allow them to hit an offensive shot (cross-court to far, rear corner or straight in). Of course, it’s tough at times to even see skips, 2 bounce gets, screens, receiving line crossings and short serves, even when you ARE out there. It’s especially challenging to see skips and one bounce gets in the midst of the fray, when there’s 1 in singles and up to 3 other bodies to see around in doubles. And then there’s the reticence by some players to make calls on themselves, as they continue into the call making as if they’re still competing or fighting the point when they know they unintentionally or willfully erred. It lacks moral fiber. Know that the intensity of competition and shooting aggression in the game of racquetball go hand in hand. Your best mindset is to be a good sport and both make calls on yourself when you err and allow that there are going to be opponent’s replays vs. going ballistic and getting mad or ever going away psychologically by not engaging in the next rally or even series of rallies. Simply put ALWAYS FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT. As long as there are more points to be played, you have time to make your own impression on the outcome of the rallies that are yet to be played by being fully immersed in the moment, giving your full attention, and giving your best effort when meeting YOUR Performance Goals in the great diversion and tough competitive challenge that is racquetball. Note that THAT level intensity should even be present when participating in invaluable practice reps in your drilling because THAT carries over to play. So it’s a given that effort in training transfers over to success at play. When it comes to the calls, try your best to let go of a past call, no matter what. As an example or a pill that’s tough to swallow, when you are receiving in ref-free play and you call screen in the situation when you’re sure you were screened because you simply couldn’t see the ball as it was passing by the opponent in a rally or when they were serving. Then say you get the serve back and in the next rally the opponent calls an imaginary screen serve on you. What do YOU do? Talk about it. Say you’re sure your call was based on having definitely been unable to see their serve because it passed right by them. Say you think your serve passed much further away from you, as exhibited by where it bounced in the back corner. Hopefully they’ll see reason or you may have to consider the trade-off of playing them and dealing with retaliatory calls or not playing them, finding another playing partner, and having peace of mind. Making up calls is just really tough. It’s like a player who doesn’t make a move to cover a shot and they make an zip code hinder call which is basically when they’re not even in the same zip code where the ball bounced twice. Here’s what the rule says and note the bold print … “While making an attempt to return the ball, a player is entitled to a fair chance to see and return the ball. It is the responsibility of the side that has just hit the ball to move so the receiving side may go straight to the ball and have an unobstructed view of and swing at the ball. However, the receiver is responsible for making a reasonable effort to move towards the ball and must have a reasonable chance to return the ball for any type of hinder to be called.” Note that a ref infrequently if ever changes a call and buggin ’em can affect the next time you should get a call. So make your point courteously and then move on. Pointing out where you sensed there was a infraction is okay, but overplaying your hand and creating an argument can backfire on you. You may suffer more distractions due to more gamesmanship by the opponent. Or you might wake a sleeping giant and they might play better than they normally do. Some players play better when they have a surge of adrenaline. Some don’t. Do you?

Distraction Optimizing

Control YOUR arousal level so you both bring it and so you keep your cool so you can focus on YOUR game, its strategies and the tactics that you do well. If you sense you’re being distracted, resettle yourself and soldier on. Your composure is too significant to lose and it’s invaluable when you exhibit it. The key is not to allow anything to preoccupy your mind beyond playing your game your way, while constantly, kindly evaluating your efforts and making constructive, familiar adjustments versus making judgments on your play that may freeze you. Depend upon your experience and training-based

belief systems. Focus, but also free flow. If the antics of the opponent, ref or peanut gallery watching from outside the court preoccupy your attention, then you can’t play in the zone. You wanna tree and, when you’re not in the flow, you want to get back in the zone, soon. Bad calls, controversy, and gamesmanship by the opponent is just noise. Let the only distraction be the diversion of sport. Empower yourself to play in flow, your flow, while playing a driven, rhythmic, competent, grinding, imperturbable and self affirming game. Simply put stay with the program. You have a game plan, strategies you expect to use and tactics that implement them. Let nothing that goes on after a rally affect your efforts in the next or following rallies. Ideally no call affects your mindset going into the next phase of the game, even when you must repeat a rally you may have felt you already won once. Just do your very best in the next rally. And if need be, move on into the next game should a call come down in way you wouldn’t have preferred in the previous contest. If you get a “bad call”, right it in the next rally thru effort and skill. If it doesn’t work out, it’s okay. Soldier on…

You are a pattern recognition machine!

Pattern Recognition Machine

YOU are a pattern recognition machine. Between reading the bounce of each and every ball in a rally and formulating your attack or defense, start by taking a mental Polaroid which determines how you will realtime self assess YOUR capabilities, as you select your best response to this observed pattern’s variables. You take the snapshot of both the ball’s court location, with its unique action on that ball (angle, pace, and spin) PLUS, out of the corner of your eye, include in your lens and make special note of player positions now and estimated ranges (theirs AND yours). Ideally it’s a realistic view of what you CAN do. Your very brief look before you actually play this ball to hit or as you ready to get THEIR hit finds your in full-fledged pattern recognition mode, playing each rally ball while crucially competing HARD on EITHER side of the ball, when shooting or when defending their shooting.

While actively observing, in attack mode track the ball visually AND also track it with your active feet that don’t stop until you’re set to optimally shoot, while you’re picking out possible shot targets and estimating your opponent(s) coverage range, as you quickly parse thru and narrow down your options to THE tactical best one.

Your powers of observation and identifying the routine patterns, as well as the unusual and hidden patterns, turns into acting upon them, as you manipulate each pattern to YOUR very powerful effect.

The quality of your developed physical and tactical laws triggers you to perform the right operations in the right order to either attack OR defend each encountered pattern of play.

One defensive law is off the ball movement where, after you hit each of your shots, ALWAYS move into optimal defensive coverage and definitely don’t be where ball and opponent’s racquet could be. Once you’re there in center pause (or freeze) as the opponent is addressing the ball and setting themselves to hit. That makes them pick instead of wrong footing you by hitting behind you. Critically follow thru tactically after moving into coverage by making a break on the ball. That means don’t just get to center court and grind your feet into the court hoping somehow THEY will feed the ball right thru the center to you. Don’t keep drifting as they set themselves to hit … nor be seen starting to move too early where they can clearly see you breaking early when they still have the ball on their racquet. That would mean they CAN change-up and plain play keep-away from you with their shot placement. If you guess and move too early or if you’re drifting, the hitter can simply hit it where you were just a second ago. And it’s always very tough to change direction and go back. When to turn better is as they commit to swing forward by letting their arm fly forward. Then you can take off and dash to track what YOU see or track what you read based on their stance, their shot history, or by placing yourself in their shoes and relying on your own strategy insights, i.e., as you think to yourself, “What would I do?”. Even making the move to cover and being wrong still puts the thought in their mind that you’re a moving, anticipating defender. That uncertainty by them may breed errors and ideally left up kill-shots or over-hit passes that turn into back wall setups.

As a defensive tactical example, the further forward in center court you set yourself, the more pressure you place on the opponent to make their low kill-shot, even if you’ve set them up. Also, when you start further up in center court, if they rethink the kill-shot, they have to hit their pass either thru you or they must find a way to hit it completely around you. Defensively from center court be ready to jab step ball side and crossover to the near wall to cover their shots along the sidewall when they and the ball are on that side. Or be ready to drop step backwards with your front foot and then crossover with far, deeper foot to spin and cover the far sidewall for their cross-court placements, especially because you should have in your coverage the ones to the far, rear corner which you should be able to cutoff, and you will, with trained up feetwork skills.

When you play the ball, the right operations of reading the action on the ball, tracking it down with your efficient feetwork, and approaching the ball, as you turn and face the sidewall while assuming your familiar, strong striking stance setting your back foot then front foot is also matched by timing your stroke’s repeating, bounce-matching racquet prep. That readies you to be a stroker not a poker; nor be just a premature racquet raising poser. A poser is a player who floats around the court racquet raised way, way, way, way too early and it takes away from their moves tracking, approaching and setting themselves to most effectively play each ball. Prep when you’ve picked contact spot and height. Then, when already prepped as the ball (almost) enters your contact zone, switch gears right away, without a hitch, into unleashing your arm whip vs. hammering and stopping right at contact with the ball. Your swing image is flowing your racquet face fully T-H-R-U contact gearing your fluid swing to placing your shot where they ain’t, while finishing each stroke pulling inwards and following-through around behind you. Then right away change hats and defend your placement by moving quickly into center court while watching the new hitter. Or, when you see the ball is already being placed by the opposition, take off directly pursuing the ball right after you complete your stroke. Don’t under swing or short arm your shot even if you see the opponent already breaking early. Finish, THEN D-up.

Sometimes you have to think outside even YOUR own rules or laws. Then offensively improvise and be ready with Plan B either pattern shot making or moves hustling on steroids playing defense.

Plan B’s Shots

Offensively your imaginative, wrinkle Plan B shots could include … High Z’s; Twooze shots; 3-wall boast kill-shots; wraparounds; deep target (power) ceiling balls; even touch lobs; and off speed spin placements … which are ALL outside the routinely chosen standard shots.

Standard Shots

Standard shots include … direct to the front wall passes; even lower kill-shots that when they’re left up (should) become passes that were designed to be directed away from the opponent (as a kill-pass); wide angle passes (WAP’s) around them hitting sidewall even with them in mid court; touch ceiling balls, which risk being cutoff right after they bounce; and large variety of sidewall kill-shots, including both corner pinches and splats, when you, the splattable ball and the target up along the sidewall and slightly lower than contact plus a cut swing creates splat shot action. Note splat shots can be Plan B unexpected shots when the defender is positioned to cover the direct pass or kill-shot.

Having Plan B improv choices doesn’t lock you down to just those Standard options. Standard shots are more predictable or easier to read by the defender. Many straight shots end up angling dangerously close by you where you’d better be hitting and moving to clear out of the way. Cross-courts veer right toward them or thru them, as attackable unless they roll flat or the cover player is leaning to cover the line you’re on or your cross-court is a pinpoint, accurate, ideal WAP around ’em. Note that standard shots are often way too tough to do or control when you’re not optimally positioned in YOUR best balanced stance due to having to be on the move for this ball or when you’re confronted by an especially high ball or when you’re rushed by the speed of the ball you’re returning. So Plan B is a change-up and going with a wrinkle, creative, tactical shot placement, as you adapt to being slightly off balance, rushed or having to make high contact under timing duress or due to your court depth being right up against the back wall.

Improv Defense

As you defend the pattern, sometimes you must improvise defensively. For instance, one move is step in front of the opponent and time your jump where they shoot under you from their contact when they and the ball are (only) in the middle in back. As you land, you cover what you see. That moving in and jumping is for when you leave your shot back there by the central door. There you didn’t leave yourself in the most optimal position. There you’re either in midair or you’ve had to move off to one side, while not jumping, and there they are in the middle in back choosing where to run you next. Note that you should NOT jump and you do NOT have to when they’re in a back corner and you’re in the middle, UNLESS you got there AFTER them, as they spun in a rear corner; which, being second, should be a very abnormal. Defense should ALWAYS get there first covering before the hitter sets their feet to hit. Other times, as they face the sidewall and you’re about to D-up, while you’re hidden in their blindspot behind them, you ought to look to take off a heartbeat early. Right BEFORE their arm flies forward, as they begin to swing forward, from springy legs take off and run down what you read as their low shot or move to fill and cutoff their passing shot angle that you’ve read so you know where to move. Watch their feet point and contact point because those both reveal you gobs of Intel about their shot angle.

Even during today’s games you can learn a lot by seeing and taking in the patterns and noting what’s working, what’s untried and what’s drawing board material to be added to your next practice session, but perhaps best tabled for today. Then tabling that shot or tactic is best unless you have a quick fix or curve or recognizable time when to make it work now.

By being aware of your surroundings and aware of your mind and how patterns are playing out in your mind, it allows you to play with consciousness, resolve and game discipline, while picking and making cagey shot placements and making time saving court moves.

As you play, you even do some things subconsciously. Although ideally the things you do are only to the good and not ever self sabotaging your own efforts. An example of bad would be like deliberately under prepping for a shot to place the ball safely into a wide open court.

Subconsciously good learned instincts and moves become second nature actions thru reps and realized successes. For example, second nature court moves include … (1) a drop step (with deepest foot in the court) to back away quickest from any ball angling at you off a sidewall or out of a rear corner; (2) a crossover step to slide sideways with bigger moves than just heel clicking, shorter sidesteps that only work for easy, very close balls, which are infrequent in real rallies for tougher to cover balls; (3) a pivoting turn and go move, with a full crossover, as you turn your chest to face the new direction you’re sprinting toward to cover the most court fastest where you’ve sensed you need to bolt; (4) a pop of your toes to the side where you see the ball is going right before you body pivot to crossover step with your trail foot, like when you take your 2-step receiving serve move into a back corner under attack or as a quick way to cutoff a ball flying by you from center court; (5) a split step as you step up (forward), leap up low off that stepping foot, and land on spread feet and springy legs before you right away bolt to where you see the ball is heading; or (6) a slide sideways with sidesteps to then quickly put on the brakes by bending first the furthest outside knee and then bend the trail knee to brake quickly to play the ball you’re seeking from an on balance, attacking stance.

Staying involved mentally and aroused emotionally in rally patterns is a mind control skill you must groom, maintain, and then have at your beck and call, not THEIRS (your opponent’s). Review each just past rally mentally and then quickly reorient yourself for a fresh start before you take on each and every new rally.

Everybody has their own purr level where they flow best. Let that be within your pattern recognition machine where you’re aware how you play the right way and perform the right operations as YOU routinely perform well. Do things familiarly, comfortably and reliably in-the-zone which is there in YOUR own comfort zone where you sense YOU consistently play your very best. That zone is more often than not found thru patterned drills on the practice court and by playing at YOUR own pace in match play, reasonably relaxed as you confront and deal with recognized patterns. If you find yourself playing one off racquetball, being electric at times while inventing lots of shots on the fly, make sure instead to take advantage of YOUR mental learning machine so you allow your creativity and human intellect to stay in-the-moment, while you look constantly for familiar patterns and capitalize on the opportunity reliably depending more on YOUR own shots you select from YOUR repertoire AND by counting on YOUR feetwork moves that set you faster to make full, effective swings, and that allow you to move more efficiently to tactically cover more court, better.

Play deeply involved, relentless and unstoppable. What turns on the light in there (I’m pointing at your head)? Whatever spurs YOU on to do your best within your own calm, relaxed state and performing with deep resolution constantly needs to be patterned and re-patterned, as you compete and reason tactically, while YOU purr…

Constantly look for a solo isolated sequence or even several sequences within a pattern and have a personal set of instructions which answers each noted sequence. That’s what match play experience and situational practice drilling do together as they combine to arm you with more instruction sets for the operations that drive your stroking forms and court moves combating more encountered sequences. That developing and having MORE skills gives you far more pattern response options and fewer times when you just have to wing it. The more gym rat you are, the more you escalate your level of play with owned shot options and feetwork moves galore so you can be naturally adaptive instead of captive to tough, challenging patterns. Be that pattern recognition machine and pattern response savant. Demonstrate court savvy and constantly physically, mentally AND observantly be a HUSTLER.

When you do that hustling, for now, no robot will beat ya. And, although one day there may be artificial intelligence robotic players, now depend on YOUR own extraordinary innate AND learned intellect and depend less so on just gut feel.

One thing to avoid is being cute or trying to outwit yourself or an opponent. Do the simple shot when done with full form to make the easy winning placement. For example, don’t force a 3-wall boast shot when a deep target ceiling ball or touch passing shot would be better, surer, catch the opponent out, of position.

As you recognize a pattern, note that it’s not a bunch of fuzzy calculations all going on at once in the background. It’s what YOU clearly identify from what you observe that you crunch as you problem solve. Then it’s YOUR solutions that coalesce into the answer you seek for THIS pattern, for this ball strike, or for this calculated move you make from coverage or when you select and execute this insightful serve. Thru competitive and training reps, your quick analysis tackles problems new players couldn’t even attempt to fathom let alone touch. With your quick selection of stroke, side of court and how low can you go, play out each rally ball as you execute your rally pattern response system (RPRS) that you groove, improve, keep fresh and constantly evaluate to maintain strokes and moves that power your game’s tactics, which bring YOUR strategies to life. Defend with your own trained up defensive moves to attack the opponent’s placements, pressure their shooting with your positioning and then strain THEIR coverage positioning and their moves to track down your own dastardly placements.

In Review…

Be a learning pattern player. As you play, look at the large sets of patterns you face and learn from each and every one of them. Look at patterns as chances you look forward to deal with as you see them when employing your inspired best observing and playing processes that are self mending or self correcting, as you minimize your errors, especially by modifying your techniques to match each exact situation (or to do better the next time in another pattern very similar to this one). By being a pattern recognition machine, you self magnify your skill set. Make YOUR own skill set an ever evolving, innovating, well-drilled, well-sharpened, mentally boosted one where your desire is to inner fist pump each clinical technical execution. Be powered in patterns you play by YOUR skill set, as you confidently shoot AND then scoot (or serve and D-up).

The Mental Game of Racquetball!

The Mental Game of Racquetball

Every Shot Angle Starts Mentally

—> In your mind’s eye (or on the screen in your mind), see yourself controlling the starting line of each shot (and each serve). There you’re controlling the ball’s trajectory as it takes off toward your initial wall target. Do that through visualizing the SHAPE of each shot. Use your mentally internalized vision as you set your feet, prep your stroke, and flow into your swing. Approach, pick and prepare, while seeing yourself achieving your shot’s take off angle toward its wall target and on to the shot’s ultimate placement in the court quadrant you choose.

Pick Go-To Shot Matching Time

—> Have a go-to shot for each shooting situation you face. Quickly settle on your go-to shot. And, in bang-bang plays, often whatever shot chooses you. Then make THAT your go-to shot!

Develop Your Routines

—> Create and get into your routine or ritual before you serve. Also get into your routine before you return serve. ALSO, have a routine approach you make on every drivable ball. On a drivable you can hit a pass or kill-shot. Have your own mind and body routine as you approach each attackable ball that you play in a rally. Depend on those routines for comfort and familiarity. Use your routine as your vehicle to eliminate or handle the key shotmaking factors:

(a) action on the ball;

(b) your court location;

(c) challenger’s location;

(d) score; and

(e) game situation, including intangibles like crowd, court conditions, and fatigue.

—> Also use your ritual to eliminate any self-imposed, semi-imagined pressures or demons.

—> Use your routines to promote physical responses from within your owned skill set that match the pattern of play you’re in. Use your routines to calm yourself, play with great spirit, and fully focus on your shot or serve’s purpose and how you’ll do it. Then, as you prep and as contact point nears, transition into go mode as you flow into your tailored swing matching and actively shaping your target’s intentions for trajectory, pace, spin and your magical feel for placing the ball.

How to Play Holistically

1- Embrace the pressure

2- Accept where you are be it good or bad as manageable and winnable

3- Commit to what you want to achieve in the intent of your shot with your court movement and your known form how to perform it

4- Have a clearly understood strategy with this tactic to move and shoot to achieve it as keep-away or put-away

5- Trust your swing

6- Be all-go, with no hesitancy or indecision

7- Trust your playing skills and always be about building more and better skills

8- Play with short term memory loss to immediately let go of any bad ones or even brilliant ones

9- Wear blinders or block out disruptive thoughts or sights or even side comments while you’re hitting

10- Play with flow, in your own well trodden flow state producing YOUR superior performance. 

Be one of the C-L-O-S-E-R-S…

C-omfortable in chaos

L-eaning on your known strengths

O-ne purpose, o-ne goal, o-ne mind, o-ne thought at a time for shot or to D-up

S-low down thinking, as you s-low down between each rally and also for each rally setup

E-xecute without fear

R-espect the challenges you place upon yourself and respect the fun you have by playing RELENTLESSLY, with great enthusiasm and self belief

S-tay the course and battle hard, and, if your mind wanders or whenever your effort may wane, renew your belief and level of effort for next rally by being mentally, emotionally and spiritually strong, as a resilient hustler hungry to get to the ball to make the tough get or striving to lay the wood to ball you can crush or deftly place when it’s highly attackable with your finesse, as you play enervated, motivated, mobile, agile, and just the right amount  hostile.

Coach, Ken

Practice Bounce Situations

Bounce Situations

Practice

—> Get on court solo or better yet drill with a hitting partner and practice all of the  situations or “patterns of play” you can design where you read and react to the bounce of the ball. Work on your ball read as you track down the ball with both your court movement and your eyes. Pay very close attention to your feetwork as you approach each ball to set your stance and work your legs to produce your stroke. Spend time developing shotmaking versatility to beat a wide variety of ball bouncing patterns based on how the ball reacts and how to best react to the bounce to capitalize on each pattern. That versatility also develops complementary shots so you disguise you shot intent and you’re less predictable.

Steps to Reading, Approaching and Ripping

—> Here are steps to learn how to read the bounce of the ball, as you move to attack the ball…

Steps to Learn the Bounce:

(1) focus on your ball read by moving and initially just flicking the ball with your racquet strings. Were it to be by moving and just catching the ball that it’d be a real challenge to both read the bounce of the ball and catch it, too. Instead learn as if you’re catching the ball on your strings. Contact or shot results aren’t your objectives quite yet;

(2) As your second step, make sure you turn and face the sidewall as you arrive where you’ll play the ball;

(3) Next read and describe the action you read on the incoming ball, including angle, pace and spin;

(4) As step 4, work, as you turn and face, on setting your feet initially behind and beside the ball, as you get ready to hit the ball that-away forward toward the front wall;

(5) Finally call your shot or define your “corner pocket”. Call whether you’re placing the ball in one of the 2 front corners or in one of the 2 back corners; and

(6) Develop your own set of shots for all of the match play ball bounces, as you drill. Your goal is to have many, many viable, well-practiced, doable shot options to choose from to respond to the many, many patterns you regularly see in match play when you look to place the ball in one of the 4 corners of the court.

Bounce Helps Define Shot

—> Based on the bounce of the ball your objective is to know which shot to use when. After having practiced exactly how the ball bounces, with your different practiced responses, then you build a successful history you may call upon.

You Don’t Need to Stick to Bad Choice

—> Pick your shot, but still check it twice. What that means is, as you’re making your final approach on the ball and you have already selected an initial shot choice on the move, know you still have ONE more chance to adjust and pick another shot. On your final approach to the ball, it’s your prerogative, as a malleable shooter, to change your mind. There you’re re-reading or making your final read on the ball and situation, as you see if that is THE shot. Or should you change up and pick this other shot that better reacts to the ball’s incoming bounce or its angle, pace or spin. Or should you decide select a placement that controls the challenger’s ability to cover your final selection. That’s because where you are going to place the ball and how you are going to strike it with angle, pace and spin and particularly height is best adjusted to your goal of playing keep-away from your not necessarily stationary challenger.

Drill at All of Your 9 Spots

—> In solo drilling from all over the court, drop and hit and toss the ball in the air and strike it. Also, feed the ball to yourself at the spots for all of the shot situations you can design in those spots. This pattern (and spot) specific training gives you an appreciation for all the shot angles how you can be best positioned as the ball comes at you. Also it prepares you for the varied stroking forms you’ll need to have to produce your different responding shots. Pick 3 spots along each sidewall and down through the middle. Then, with each specific final contact phase of your stroke as you swing forward before, on thru, and flowing on with flare after contact into your follow-through, the meat of your stroke which is right at contact is improvised or settled upon realtime to find the shot angle you read will accomplish your chosen shot that you’ll shape and you imagine working for this spot, this ball and this situation. Those 3 spots are…(1) just in front of the dashed line; (2) about 5 feet behind that broken line; and (3) just short of the back wall.

Develop “Your” Form in Moves, Strokes and Shotmaking

—> Let me give you the basics. Make note that to be adaptive your mental game manual should read much like stereo instructions. Define your own parameters…first, focus on what YOU can exploit in this pattern of play? What shot option do you pick and how do you shape that shot option with your picked stroke? Quickly answer…where do you shoot when? Then, after swinging, how do you move into coverage? Then, as you anticipate their shot or see their shot, how do you move out of your coverage to hit the next ball on balance and with apropos force. Then how do you recover as a tactician once again into coverage? Basically hit and move to hit again.

Train Your Contact

—> From rally to rally things happen very, very fast. To shoot, it all comes down to mastering the key part of your forward swing that is at its crux or center. There swinging thru contact you turn your racquet head side to side, from pointing back, at throw motion cast back, to pointing forward in the blink of an eye. Also you’re turning your racquet head over or spiral it thru contact. So your goal is to train turning the racquet head over and side to side thru every contact. How the racquet head angles slightly down, directly forward (or infrequently up) on the front wall is dependent on how low you shoot with both your racquet flow before and thru contact and how much you close, as you swing thru the ball at contact. Closed means slightly facing downward at contact. By practicing, with lots of repetitions and experimentation plus adjusting to perfecting, you learn how you make small corrections. You develop control or mastery over your racquet face at the crux of the matter, ball impact.

Contact Defines Angle

—> How you set the racquet face as you make contact with the ball defines your shot’s direction up and down on your target wall. Also whether it points straight ahead or out or in defines your shot’s sideways angle. To angle your shots, the racquet head may optionally point out to the sidewall sending the ball outwards, in toward you sending the ball across your body or straight ahead for at a direct angle that also would usually require you hit and move or be in the way. The racquet head may also may point slightly downwards at contact when shooting the ball lower than contact on your target wall. The higher you make contact, the lower the racquet face point. Infrequently the racquet strings face upwards thru contact. That would occur when you slice under the ball to lift it say a slice ceiling ball or a slice junk lob. In addition, your racquet arc or flow thru contact is an additional factor in your shot angle and defining what kind of ball spin you add. For example, flowing your racquet head in to out, adds to inside out spin causing the ball to spin in toward the sidewall you face. Spin contributes to your shot angle and the action you place on the ball.

Forearm Plus Wrist Roll

Primarily the racquet head turn happens as you overlap your rolling wrist as you turn your palm over, too. That forearm turning over begins before contact in the back to front and arcing contact zone. Along with your forearm and palm turnover, the racquet head mimics and turns over, too, as you spiral or corkscrew your strings thru when contacting the ball.

Racquet Head Point

—> The racquet head dangles down, points straight out or points slightly up at contact. So the tip of the racquet may point down slightly or straight out at the sidewall or up slightly when you make contact. It depends on where you make contact in relation to your wrist. For contact above your wrist, the racquet head points slightly up. For contact below your wrist the racquet head points slightly down. You may also think of it in relationship to your waist. For instance, the racquet tip points straight out at the sidewall when you make contact right at waist height. Below waist height, when you bend your knees, your racquet head may tip down slightly. When you’re making higher, usually more challenging contact your racquet head tips up requiring an over the top swing motion.

Collect Shots That Work for YOU

—> Optimally, systematically develop your own set of shots and the stroking form for the most shotmaking situations you can define. That training and your player knowledge with what you train up literally loads you for bear to shoot from anywhere in the court to place the ball virtually anywhere in the court. For instance, from all over the court develop a high Z shot that parallels the back wall. Also design a 3-wall kill-shot that bounces twice way up catty-cornered into the cross front corner when making contact along the far sidewall when facing the sidewall or even when facing the other sidewall. From positions along the sidewall, learn to shape numerous splat shot shot angles picking out close, medium and far target spots at different heights (IAW contact height and sidewall distance).

Develop Shotmaking Versatility

—> Include shotmaking for patterns like these…

(a) an attackable ball where you step up and either just to your right or left where you can literally lay the wood to the ball by shooting extremely aggressively;

(b) a ball veering cross-court where you can step over to cutoff the V angle by moving diagonally forward and sometimes less favorably by moving directly sideways when rushed;

(c) a ball down the wall where you can step out while ideally moving diagonally forward to offensively play the ball and sometimes by moving directly sideways when time is very short;

(d) a gettable ball going by you either DTL or cross-court where you can (and do) drop diagonally back to better time and adjust to the ball as it’s going backwards when capitalizing on your diagonal drop to better see the ball, better prepare your backswing, get a better view of what’s going on in front of you (and around you) and select and shoot more aggressively and tactically when playing the ball;

(e) when covering a ball that was shot into the far sidewall, as a pinch or splat by the challenger that you move to catch up to before the ball bounces twice and before both of you reach the near sidewall;

(f) covering their sidewall ball after it bounces and pops off the second, near sidewall, as you ideally back up away from the sidewall to aggressively and adaptively play the ball;

(g) a ball directly up through the center at you where you can step back with your back foot to clear out of the way to hit the ball ideally where the challenger will be most strained in their coverage often to the other side from where they made contact;

(h) a ball where you move with it as it bounces into a back corner and…

(1) play it as it pops off the sidewall and then back wall; or

(2) moving with the ball as it pops off the back wall and then sidewall to ideally play it as a setup;

(i) a direct ball that bounces and rebounds off the back wall as back wall setup when the ball is either going…

(1) straight in to the back wall; or

(2) the ball is going in to the back wall from a cross-court angle, and, as the ball caroms out, it comes up short of contacting the far sidewall. Also take note that these back wall setups can be as a result of a passing shot, a ceiling ball, a drive serve or a lob serve;

(j) a ceiling ball (or lob serve) that you track down in deep court as it’s falling just short of the back wall;

(k) a High Z ball you track down that goes back to take a tough bounce deep in the back court sometimes paralleling the back wall just short of the back wall requiring a back wall save;

(l) a High Z ball that comes out off the second sidewall as an attackable ball very deep in the backcourt, as the Z ball caroms off the 2nd sidewall at an angle toward the back wall where it then pops off as setup or as a ball testing your placement of a deep pass or other improvised return; 

(m) a ball that’s a wraparound shot or wraparound serve (or overhit WAP) that hits the front wall, one sidewall, bounces, strikes the middle of the back wall and caroms out toward the far sidewall where it may turn out to be a setup or an on the move return; and

(n) a rocket right at you where you fend off the ball with a body shield, racquet in front, backhand grip flick or super QuickDraw stroke when you can’t even turn and face due to the incoming ball speed either up close or even when returning a jam serve.

Practicing with Ball Feeds

—> Along with feeding yourself balls, add a partner feeding you practice balls or a ball machine set to repetitively feed one certain shot or serve or work with an instructor who feeds you multiple sample repeating or slightly varying serves or shot patterns. Any of those give you more angle practice than you can do by yourself. Also, as you play points in pickup games, challenge court games, or arranged practice matches, pay particularly close attention to all of the basic patterns of play you encounter. There note and learn your solutions how you move, set your striking stance for the pattern, and execute your stroking form to adjust to this specific situation. This also reveals what shots are most effective when both for you and against them. Your objective is to develop great versatility so that you have shot options that work, as well as multiple shots complementing each other. For example, in one case you look like you’re going down the line. From that same spot, alternatively you could go cross-court from your same ball approach, striking stance and swing form. Or optionally you look like you’re shooting straight in, but instead you shoot the ball into the sidewall as a splat shot. With more options, you own disguise and the ability to change when, for instance, the challenger moves too early. You also have more of a comfort zone when selecting your best pattern response in the now to react to the this specific ball’s bounce, the challenger’s potential movement from where they start in coverage, and adjusting to how you react and move as you prep and attack this ball. Ultimately you select and shape the best shot angle and action on the ball you can manage.

React or Impose?

THE main philosophical question, as you react to each and every ball, is…do you hit it where it wants to go or do you select and impose upon the ball your best keep-away angle and ultimate placement in the court when looking to catch the challenger out of position? Sometimes the ball may be angling right into a front corner. Sometimes the ball you’re tracking may be already veering cross-court. Sometimes the ball is flowing out along a sidewall from off the back wall. Then the natural shot is into those angles, like a ball flowing out along a sidewall you turn into a sidewall trickle splat. But know that your challenger may read your angle and camp on it. Then you must choose whether to go for it or go with backup plan B. You could hit a complementary shot that looks just like the sidewall shot, but instead you hit a DTL angle. The trick is drilling and match practice play teaches you what and where you can place the ball when it’s coming to you from many, many different angles, with varying pace and spin. There your training allows you to develop how to adjust and place this ball from also your different, versatile stances you use, with different sized time-based strokes. Games teach you where you have to place the ball in relationship to the challenger’s position in coverage AND factoring in where the challenger could potentially move. Sometimes you just have to go for it and execute your shot. Work on and own a wide range of rally ending shots including…a low, direct kill-shot; a super low, tight pinch; a wicked splat, with angle control and touch; a front wall first targeted pinch; a 3-wall kill-shot; or even a front wall target spot that angles the ball out a few feet into your felt sidewall crack-out target, too!

Play Like You’re Watching Yourself Playing From Up Above the Court

—> Play from a bird’s eye view of where you are (and where they are, too). Plus depend on your relational recall of well-trained, familiar patterns just like this one, as you see the pattern develop. Then you will feel the shot and stroke to perform as you execute your feetwork and track down, approach, and address each ball. There deal with setting your most productive striking stance. Wind into your stroke’s tailored, time-based backswing. Then right away flow into your fluid downswing. Take and make what you feel. Drilling chisels great ones, like great moves on and off the ball. Drilling instills indelible, good muscle memories of your most brilliant stroking form that you chisel and refine into honing and making optimal shots. Then you choose, in the moment, to match the moment, what you’ll perform according to your performance goals and belief system. Without that drilling you’re always improvising and reacting at the very last second. Then you’d play more rushed, less sure and dependent on too much whim and luck.

Have Performance Goals

Performance goals include:

(a) your ball read determines where the ball is going and where best to intercept it, while you prioritize and often looking to make an unhindered straight line run to play each ball where you sense it’s the best intercept point;

(b) approaching the ball on balance and optimally spacing yourself to aggressively play the ball starting always from behind it;

(c) for balls going into the back corners, you move backwards into the corner with highly active feet, as you adjust to the bounce to optimally play the ball offensively;

(d) allowing the ball to drop or play it at its ideal height for each situation, with very low contact often your goal, while sometimes  (infrequently) higher contact may expose the challenger’s positioning frailty;

(e) setting an optimized stance for the stroke selected and in concert with the position and shot selected you see yourself taking and making (imagined success);

(f) prepping your racquet and eye to ball brings together your form to address this ball with apropos racquet face control thru contact;

(g) fluid forward swinging creating appropriate angle, force and spin to find your target;

(h) recovery to not hinder and move to get ready for the very next ball when there is one, while always taking a snapshot of that prior shooting situation to make sure you make any next shot like this one or even better.

Tough Deep Target Ceiling Balls

The Deep Target Ceiling Ball

A shot perhaps practiced less than any other in racquetball is hitting a ball to the ceiling when on the run or on the move. There, in that semi-desperate or somewhat urgent situation, it’s best to try to hit your ceiling to a new target, which is a  deeper target on the ceiling. That deeper target is further back from the front wall on the ceiling behind the first row of lights in a target area from 10 to 18 feet back from the front wall depending on where you lift your ceiling from in the back third of the court and how hard you swing up to your ceiling target.

The geometry of this ceiling is the ball hits further out on the ceiling than usual touch ceiling balls and then the ball angles down lower on the front wall to then bounce further out from the front wall to then rise up quickly and travel back much faster into the backcourt than a conventional ceiling ball. The deep target ceiling is often hit when you’re on the run, but it’s also a good plan B to pull the challenger back deep in the backcourt when lower target shot options, including passes and kill-shots, seem too challenging to effectively place in their respective court depths deep or short.

When

—> So “When?”, is the first question to ask yourself to determine the right time when you should lift your deep target ceiling ball. When you’re moving or not on balance or you’re rushed and you quickly judge a passing shot will not be easy to keep down, meaning it’ll be prone to attack in the middle of the court…or when you read it’ll be difficult to avoid leaving your passing shot off the back wall…or when you sense you can’t play keep-away from the challenger with your passing shot where you sense you may (have to) hit through them…those are good times to strongly lift your deep target ceiling ball.

—> Also, when you find yourself getting desperate and you’re even tending toward going bottom board and you know that would be massive stretch to make that kill-shot at that time because…

(a) you’re hitting off your back foot or when leaning back;

(b) you’re running hard and your time is cut short to prep and swing high to low or running and hitting low to low; or

(c) you’re sorta panicking and trying to end the rally with an overly ambitious, speculative, impatient kill-shot;

(d) you’re returning a tough serve and a kill-shot (and even a passing shot) seem uncontrollable as you near the ball and it’s return time…THOSE are all good times to lift yo to a deep target on the ceiling.

Lift Return to Ceiling

—> Oftentimes coach-speak to their player, who is struggling returning a certain tough serve is, “Hit a ceiling ball”. Lifting to the ceiling is both right and it can also, in part, be wrong. First, we’re not talking about attempting a touch ceiling like you’d use to return a lob serve or one when time is no issue. Now there’s just not enough time nor do you have enough angle control when cutting off either a tough drive serve that’s darting low into a rear corner or when you step up and intercept a Z drive serve before can get to the sidewall. There’s not enough time and it would be way too tough to lift the ball softly to its normal tight to the front wall target for a conventional ceiling. Yes, it is right to then go to the ceiling, but it’s not wise to go for that tight to the front wall ceiling target. It’d be too difficult to find that close to the front wall ceiling target spot and keep that on the move touch ceiling from, in turn, popping off the back wall as a big time setup for the server. Instead, when returning direct drives or Z drives and you read hitting a quality pass or a kill-shot isn’t doable, lift to your deeper target on the ceiling back closer toward you. Go for your spot well behind the first row of lights. Those lights extend back about 6 feet out from the front wall on most indoor court ceilings.

Where

—> Where on the court in rallies do you attempt deep target ceiling balls?  When you’re in the back 15 feet of the court from on the dashed line all the way back to the back wall, go for your deep target to lift your rally shot ceiling ball. From there you can find your ceiling target spot 12-18 feet out from the front wall. Targeting there, the deep target ceiling ball will angle down low on the front wall and bounce far out from the front wall where the ball will then jump up high and zip back deep into the backcourt generating a very tough ball for your challenger to have to play, as they’re pulled back quickly and usually on the move as they play your tough ceiling ball.

How

—> Let’s discuss the method to hit the…

(a) running;

(b) on the move;

(c) last second chosen; or

(d) shot option picking out a deep target on the ceiling when looking to capitalize on this shot’s extra pace and placement depth in the backcourt.

—> Let’s be complete and realistic. First, this isn’t a time to wallpaper the sidewall with your ceiling ball where you mean for your deep target ceiling to hug tight up against the sidewall on the ball’s way back into the back corner. In fact it’s not the time to go for a ceiling ball aimed to go right into the back corner at all.

When hitting on the move or basically when hitting the ball hard to your deeper ceiling target, your lateral control over your shot’s side to side direction or placement usually is less expansive and not nearly as sure as when you loft a touch ceiling ball, with its further forward targeting on the ceiling and its finesse stroke. So go for a bigger back left or back right quadrant target for your deep target ceiling.

As you approach a candidate ball, imagine hitting your deep target ceiling to the side of the court you read you can place the ball best. Look to leave your deep target ceiling ball off the sidewall a ways to avoid having the ball contact that sidewall and pop out. One option is to pick the side where you calculate you can get your deep target ceiling ball deepest. Or, when you have dual options to hit into either rear corner, go for the rear corner where you sense the challenger is less proficient fielding high balls. That’s usually high to their backhand side because backhand overhead skills usually aren’t as solid as a player’s forehand overhead and, as a general rule, a backhand overhead shot isn’t nearly as pacy as a forehand overhead.

Prep to rip as you move to play the ball you’re going to lift. For low contact strokes and its low up to chest high contact zone, draw your racquet back lower emphasizing pulling it back instead of lifting it way up high, as you do for routine low contact strokes. That’s because it’s a swooping upwards and forward motion that powers lifting a deep target ceiling ball vs. a down and arcing out low contact, low wall target stroke. Also note that instead of striking an overhead the deep target ceiling can be your plan A when returning a high ball while you’re running or moving fast as you make contact or you’re less well balanced than you’d prefer where a soft ceiling or an aggressive, though control-required overhead wouldn’t be your wise plan A. Tactically stroke a deep target ceiling when you read your touch ceiling would be too tough to target closer to the front wall.

When you read it’ll be easier to find the deep target on the ceiling that’s further back from the front wall, when making either low or high contact, assertively lift up to your felt deeper target on the ceiling. Also, as a change up shot option, go for the deep target ceiling when you note the poacher challenger lurking and looking like they might sneak up and attack your touch ceiling ball on the rise right after its bounce. Their intent may be to take the soft ceiling as it softly bounces up after dropping off the front wall. As a soft ceiling ball rises up, poachers poke away ceiling shots with their pokey overheads. The deep target ceiling eliminates that surprise poaching move. The deep target ceiling bounces much harder and further out, as it’s going back too fast to take it on the rise. When making low contact, the decidedly upwards stroking flow for the deep target ceiling is as close to a sky high tennis lob as you’ll see in racquetball. Practice projecting your deep target ceiling up into orbit. That’ll place the onus on the challenger’s movement and defensive skills.

The Swing Motion and Spin

—> The motion is all about finding your deeper ceiling spot AND applying force to your upward swing motion to lift the ball up with a little extra oomph than you’d use for a touch ceiling ball. The deep target ceiling isn’t a touch shot as much as it’s a light torch shot. Spin isn’t a big factor, although a deep target ceiling can work with different spins, too. Any kind of spin or none at all may be used when lifting a deep target ceiling ball. When hitting a flat, spin-free ball that can work, but it’s a major key NOT to hit the spin-less deep target ceiling ball too close to the front wall for this harder hit ceiling ball. That too close to the front wall targeting matters because a back wall setup would most likely result, when factoring in the greater stroking force and the tighter angle into the front wall. That would cause the ball to bounce higher and go back deeper in the backcourt, often dangerously close to the back wall. Optionally a slightly off target deep target ceiling striking closer to the front wall that’s hit with slice or under spin, with the ceiling’s added pace, still can drop and bounce while avoiding popping much distance off the back wall. That’s because how the deep target ceiling drops off the back wall is very unusual…it has a sheer drop off…

Deep Target Ceilings Drop Sharply Off Back Wall

—> The very good news is that even when your deep target ceiling hits too far forward on the ceiling or when you overhit it (as you strike it just too hard) the ceiling pops off the back wall at a much more acute or sharper downwards angle than an overhit touch ceiling ball. That drop off is much more directly down than an overhit touch ceiling ball that bounces and carries to pop off the back wall at such a friendly, parabolic arc, often as a big time setup for the challenger.

More Spin on Deep Target Ceiling Balls

—> Experiment with imparting spin to your deep target ceiling balls. Although adding spin is not as important as is targeting your spot deeper on the ceiling extra spin can work at times for you, too. First, work on developing your spot on the ceiling different from the one you use for routine touch ceiling balls. Note that a Topspin deep target ceiling ball does makes the ball bounce more challengingly for your challenger. Due to its spin, the Topspin deep target ceiling initially bounces further up in the front court. Then the topped ceiling ball bounds higher and retreats even faster than other deep target ceilings pulling the challenger way back and way faster than a softer hit ceiling. That Topspin type of deep target ceiling ideally places the challenger in a very defensive mode. A deep target ceiling ball struck with Topspin, when making contact with the back wall, drops off the back wall much more sharply making it less vulnerable to back wall shooting by the challenger. A slice or under spin deep target ceiling adds a spin wrinkle of its own. The under spin reverses itself as the ceiling ball drops off the ceiling and deflects off the front wall where the under spin actually switches into Topspin. Then, as the ball drops off the front wall and bounces, it spins with light Topspin turning over as the ball arcs toward the backcourt. Although that Topspin is not as hot or spinning quite as heavily as a deep target ceiling that’s initially struck with Topspin or overspin a slice ceiling is yet another variable for the challenger to have to contend with defensively.

Benefits of Deep Target Ceiling Balls

—> First, THEY have to run. The challenger is pulled back deep to run extra hard often having to hit on-the-run when fielding your tactical deep target ceiling ball. An ability to bail to the ceiling with this shot gives you great flexibility, even in the toughest of rallies or when you’re returning even the most demanding of drive serves or lob serves. A deep target ceiling is like a back wall save in that it consistently keeps you in the point and competing. Beneficially, as the ball rebounds off the front wall, a deep target ceiling moves back much faster and bounces much higher than does a back wall save after the save makes it back to the front wall. Here, with the deep target ceiling, you aren’t drawing the challenger back with your whack attack into the back wall as a back wall save, which usually produces a soft ball dropping off the front wall that bounces and then can be allowed to drop extra low where it’s then very vulnerable to attack by a patient challenger. And you won’t have worry that your back wall save might carom off the front wall to bounce and carry to pop off as an extremely attackable back wall setup. When you lift a harder struck deep target ceiling to run the challenger back it’s often faster than the challenger is prepared to retreat. In that way a deep target ceiling is much like a high Z rally shot that makes the challenger have to run back very rapidly deep into the backcourt, while you get to D-up by moving to occupy good center court positioning. So, after striking your deep target ceiling, make sure you take that opportunity to center up. As the challenger hustles back, use your own best feetwork to move quickly into center court. That seals the deal because, from center, you can cover both what they might return tactically well and you also get to attack what they might gift you should they leave up a return of your ceiling that you can move to and aggressively shoot, as a passing shot or even as a kill-shot winner.

Drilling Deep Target Ceiling Balls

—> Get on the court and move and hit deep target ceilings from all over the court in as many game-like situations as you can replicate. First drop

-n-hit and work up to feeding yourself low balls all over the court that you can lift up. Even better, take turns feeding balls to each other with your hitting partner so both of you get lots of reps lifting deep target ceiling balls from different spots in the court with the ball coming at the lifter from many different angles. That’s invaluable training because it’d be hard or impossible to reproduce all of those angles in solo drilling. Partner drilling puts you in most any pattern of play that you regularly see in competition. With your hitting partner, practice returning different serves with deep target ceiling ball returns of serve. In a rally-like practice drill, stand side by side (a little ways apart) as both of you toe the dashed line. There howitzer (or place) cross-court balls at each other. Every few balls, instead of going with another V cross-court pass, lift a cross-court deep target ceiling ball. Notice how tough it is for your hitting partner to retreat and return your deep target ceiling ball as a cross-court shot (or to return it anywhere). As a solo drill, from 3/4’s court, drive balls right back at yourself. Also, strike the ball so it’s placed a jab step and a long stride away from you so you have to lunge and lift to your deep target ceiling ball. As you adjust and step to cover the ball coming back toward you, prep with a deep, low backswing. Then lift the ball up strongly to your behind the lights ceiling target spot. Work on your targeting and adding spin to augment your ceiling shot.  In another rally-like solo drill, stand deep in the court on one side and loft yourself a cross-court slice ceiling ball. Then cross step with your far foot (in front or in back of your near foot) to most quickly slide over and camp under the slower moving slice ceiling ball. As you approach the ceiling ball, be turning to face the far sidewall. Prep by pulling your racquet up and back. Respond when hitting on the run or from your quickly set ceiling ball striking stance by lifting up to your deep target ceiling spot with your high contact form making contact above shoulder level. For most of these drills, try to leave most of your deep target ceiling balls short of the back wall or so they hit very low on the back wall. For some ceilings, intentionally overhit the deep target ceiling ball by hitting the ceiling either a little too close to the front wall or by just overcooking them by adding just a little bit too much pace. In either case, the ball will pop off the back wall a little higher than the set of little vertical lines at the bottom of many glass back walls or above about 3 feet high. Going back to partner drilling, note how your training partner tries to play the “setup” ball as it drops downward off the back wall at its sharply declining angle. Now it’s your turn. Field the quasi-back wall setups. All of this training is set to give you an impression of…

(a) what it takes to run down these fast moving deep target ceiling balls;

(b) how varied the technique is according to contact height, your court position and your spin control;

(c) just how hot the deep target ceiling ball pops off the back wall; and

(d) this gives you an appreciation of how abruptly the ball drops off the back wall, as compared to how a regular slice, touch ceiling arcs out further forward when it pops off the back wall, as a much easier, though still challenging setup.

—> Note in rally play an overhit deep target ceiling is still a marginal back wall ball setup, when you get on your horse early and get back a little more quickly behind expected contact so you can then move out with the ball, as you read and react to its sharper drop off the back wall. Then, as the ball passes your hitting shoulder, sweep your racquet through the ball at your selected contact point.

—> For one more solo drill, hit straight in deep target ceilings and field them yourself. Return them to the ceiling as another deep target ceiling or as a touch ceiling with its closer to the front wall target on the ceiling and its slice, touch swing motion. For the ones you overhit, move and try to shoot the ball as it drops off the back wall as a setup when it’s attackable. For the deep target ceiling balls that come up short of the back wall, move up quickly, as they’re going to drop faster than a touch ceiling. All of this training prepares you in every way for what you will face in competitions dealing with deep target ceilings. It will indicate to you how to react to them. Part of the lesson for you from drilling is the difficulty covering them both defensively and even offensively. And this training builds your appreciation for folding deep target ceiling ball shooting into your shot options so you can impose them upon your challenger when you determine you can’t play keep-away: (a) with your passing game; (b) you see you’re having a tough time hitting a touch ceiling ball; or (c) drive serves are tough to return. Also look to lift a deep target ceiling when you quickly realize your kill-shot attempt would be foolhardy, your pass would be wishful, or you just recognize a well-targeted ceiling ball would relocate the pressure and place it right back on them.

Tactically Run, Hit Deep Target Ceiling, Then Center Up AND Also *Move* from There

—> After you crank your running (or stationary) deep target ceiling ball, keep playing hard. Don’t just watch your challenger struggle, although admittedly that’s part of the fun, too. Tactically move to get between the ball in deep court and the opposite front corner. That move is because that angle is THE most dangerous shot angle to give up. The angle from the ball cater-corner diagonally to the cross front corner is dangerous to give up because shots like reverse pinches or long near corner pinches into that far corner are so hard to cover when you leave them open to be hit. Block that angle with your coverage positioning, which is perfectly legal. Between ball and corner still allows the required straight in and V cross court angles for the challenger. If that diagonal angle were to be available, the challenger can hit a shot into that cross front corner, even when it’s by accident, as either…

(a) a reverse pinch that the challenger strikes with the other side’s stroke across the court into the opposite front corner, like when shooting with their backhand from their rear backhand corner and pinpointing their forehand cross front corner going sidewall first or front wall first, or…

(b) as the challenger strikes a long near corner pinch, like when hitting with their forehand from their backhand back quadrant diagonally into their forehand cross front corner while usually striking the sidewall first.

—> You can’t easily cover those diagonal shots, if you can at all, when you start either deeper in the court than center court or when you’re positioned too far off to the far side of the court. From where you should be in the center, between ball and opposite front corner, first, be ready to blanket the line to cover their straight in shot. That’s because that straight in shot is so direct and tough to cover especially after it gets by you. Although even a down the wall shot that’s getting by you can be covered with trained, adaptive feetwork movement, when you start in center court and you’re ready to angle your run backward to catch up to the ball deeper in the court. The message here is, “Don’t be passed”. First, hedge over to cover the line. There be ready with your choreographed cutoff feetwork. When you read you can intercept the ball in the middle of the court from 15-30 feet back, first, jab step out with your back foot toward the sidewall you partially face. Second, crossover with your front foot to cover the line. Optimally cross step move diagonally forward and make contact with the ball out in front of your body. As a backup plan, you may cover the ball going behind you when you see it’s moving too fast to cutoff in front or when it’s level with you. Right away diagonally drop back by starting with a crossover step with your lead foot or the one closest to the front wall when striding past your back foot. That gets you started dashing back at a diagonal angle into the backcourt right as you read the ball is going to getting by you. That move gets you back where you get to play the ball when…

(a) the ball is going slower;

(b) the ball is further back;

(c) you have had an opportunity to see much more of the whole pattern of play (including the challenger’s moves); and

(d) you are able to prep more and pick your best return playing keep-away, including optionally striking a deep target ceiling ball to place heavy pressure on the challenger to defend its difficult pace and ultimate placement in one or the other back quadrant, even when you’re returning a very tough ball. You may hit your deep target ceiling right down the middle of the court, like how super high lobs in tennis are lifted deep middle because that’s THE biggest target for the lobbing player, as it places the ball in from the sidelines on either side…tactics, tactics, tactics…always play tactically and deep target ceilings are highly tactical shot options.

Shot Selection IS Voodoo Magic (almost)

Racquetball Shot Selection

The Nuts and Bolts of Shot Selection

In racquetball, you gotta know your limitations. So, as a player, you need to broaden your limitations. For a racquetball shooter, it’s invaluable to own a great hitting range as a shooter by expanding these related skills…(1) lots of shot options; (2) a wide contact zone height-wise; (3) several effective, situational contact stances; (4) an ability to change your swing size; (5) finesse and power; (6) spin control; (7) fast Quick Draw and longish setup strokes; and (8) broad ball reading skills to take advantage when advantage can be taken by moving in concert with the ball.    

Shotmaking Skills Include

(1) Offensive shots…own a wide array of shots from all over the court that include…

(a) straight in kill-pass;

(b) cross-court kill-pass;

(c) near corner pinch;

(d) reverse pinch into cross front corner;

(e) splat with deep, slightly lower than contact sidewall target;

(f) 3-wall shot hit into sidewall you face when targeting cross front corner;

(g) twooze shot when facing far side and hitting with other side’s stroke into sidewall beside you targeting cross front corner;

(h) front wall first pinch;

(i) wrap around shot that hits one sidewall, bounces, and caroms off the back wall toward far sidewall;

(j) high Z shot hit high into front corner, front wall first looking to parallel back wall;

(k) wide angle pass striking sidewall next to challenger to go on and bounce twice in deep court;

(l) baby overhead cross-court; or

(m) overhead DTL;

(2) Big contact zone…when looking to find a low wall target, you want to have a broad range of contact heights from ankle bone low to shoulder high, which allows you to go for the bottom board or to go for slightly higher passing shot target spots on the front wall;

(3) Many stances…to be versatile, so you have a massive ability to shoot from multiple stances because the speed of the game requires it, while consistently looking to find your own straight in striking stance that hides your angle choice when it’s other than a DTL–>additionally the ability to hit from an open stance inside to out away from you and straight in is irreplaceable, although outside in for a cross-court angle from an open stance is that open stance’s meat and potatoes shot angle or the easiest way to turn on the ball;

(4) Flex swing size…it’s adaptive to have different sized racquet backswings that accommodate the time you make with your efficient movement to (and with) the ball so you may call upon the stroke version that fits the time you make;

(5) Pace control…to adjust to the situation, it’s useful to have touch and torch swing tempos, with enough oomph to make the finesse soft shot get there to your target spot or a hard shot pacy enough to shock um with your ball speed usually as a pass;

(6) Spin control…it’s important to adapt to incoming ball spin and to impart your own ball spin on demand to turn the ball spinning three basic ways, along with combo spin, too…

1) flow your swing in to out or for an inside out shot angling out away from you, like for sidewall shots;

2) flow out to in or outside in for cross-court shot angling;

3) swing over the top or Topspin so the ball tumbles over as it flows forward and it retains that overspin post contact with your wall target spot, adding an extra challenge for the cover player; and

4) plus have the ability to do a combo sideways and Topspin to corkscrew the ball into your sidewall target—>as that combo spin spirals the ball creating a funny bounce for the challenger to have to react to, as well as a very low rebound bounce coming out of the pinch corner or after splatting off the sidewall into the front wall and then veering off at a more parallel angle;

(7) Different swing speeds…it’s key to have the ability to prep with a racquet arm elbow thrust back for your forehand or a fist punch back for your backhand for your fastest, compact stroke preps or your QuickDraw strokes, as that shorter version for fast paced play compliments your routine full, looping windup when time is a luxury when you have a setup;

(8) Ball read skills…it’s invaluable to be able to read the ball’s bounce, as that reading is key to timing your swing. Until you read the bounce of the ball and you critically know (on which side of your body) and where your contact point will be, only then, right as you’re first setting your back foot, should you start your tempo-based backswing. Earlier prep than that and you are unable to produce your swing tempo to smoothly take your backswing and then smoothly flow, without delay, into your rhythmic, flowing downswing. Herky jerky pokey strokes produce erratic shot results.

Shooting Swing Timing

Time your prep so it’s not too early where you’re movement is impeded nor too late where you swing in emergency mode, like you’re trying to beat an imaginary shot clock. When you’ve read ball bounce and your contact point and you can just about reach out and pluck the ball out of midair, just as you’re setting your back foot, begin to wind back. Actually don’t wrap up your prep until you’re setting your front foot and connecting both legs. Then push off and swing forward to shoot. Another liability of getting ready too early is it’s hard to move or make final key positional adjustments when the racquet is the lifted up. Also, too early prep can lock you into one stroke when in reality the other stroke may be needed for a shot when you need to spin with the ball or when you must make a back wall save and you need to use the other side’s stroke.

Self Taught or Influenced by Others or Both?

—> Building all of those stroke and shotmaking factors into your wheelhouse, which is based often initially on emulating others, starts your own unique learning curve (or skill improvement curve) that should include…

(1) practice, via drop and hit which expands to feeding yourself balls;

(2) experimentation;

(3) self assessment;

(4) feetwork and stroke grooving;

(5) repetitions;

(6) testing best of 5 or, for example, or up to 10 in a row before you practice a new skill;

(7) many game-like pattern repetition drills; and then

(8) competition christen or rollout of your new skill, which includes new strokes and shots they power. 

—> Then post play reassess how well you did. When needed, get back on the practice court and make tiny corrections to sharpen plus fine tune your form for your different stances. That includes your prep timing or time you buy with your accurate ball reading, flexible ball tracking and efficiency actions ball approach, as well as setting your best case striking stance to shoot the ball, while timing your prep AFTER you have a definite shot plan and you visualize burying the kill-shot or placing the pass by them. Practice is when you develop strokes and it’s when you learn how to make sideways and vertical shot angles work consistently in response to bounce of the ball, the positions you take and those o the imaginary challenger or what is the “pattern of play”.

Shoot for Open Court or Best Kill-Shot

It’s been mentioned various and sundry ways and times in other Lessons and Techniques topics how playing keep away with your shots to tactically keep the ball away from the challenger is a great place to start with your attack plan both as you preplan your shotmaking planning before this match and then realtime in rallies when you make your shot choices. Then it’s key to see your shot as you’re setting up for it. Then let your drilled stroke execute that vision. Passes have a great power over controlling your challenger’s court positioning. Well hit deep passes push the challenger back so they have to hit the ball from deep in the backcourt or in the back 10′.

For all shots, both pace and angle control is big. That’s because avoiding hitting the passing shot (or kill-shot) either too close to challenger, up through the middle, or a pass off angle and overcooked so the ball comes off the back wall (or a low sidewall shot off the other sidewall) are totally unwanted results. So side to side and height control are both major and they should factor heavily in your mental shot imaging AND then your rally-time shooting, as you flow and angle your racquet thru face thru and select the part of the ball to strike at contact to shape every shot. That shot shaping is part muscle memory, part flexible feet and body movement and a big part artful ball control that depends heavily on your learned racquet skills that are found when drilling and even rewound when warming up.

Improv Shooting

Even as you close in on the ball to shoot your initially preselected shot, have your peripheral side view mirrors and mind alive so you can change up at the last second to find that perfect shot which will capitalize on the challenger’s movement and positioning. The basic thing is the snapshot you took could change because of player movement or an unusual ball bounce. As a pattern example, you’re closing in on a ball off to one side in center court, when initially let’s say the right corner may be your target. If you see one opposing doubles partner off to the left sidewall, but in your rear view mirror you don’t see the right side player flowing in with you. Instead of your righty backhand reverse pinch into the cross front right corner, change up.

Angle your racquet face and flick an inside out pinch into the left front corner by how you control your racquet face and open it up to face the left wall, as you swing in to out, while contacting the inside of the ball or the part closest to you. That’s one example of improv shooting. Another is going for a bigger angle completely around the challenger instead of a V pass right through them. The main point is to be ready to change based on the pattern and what

you see as you make your final approach on the ball and as you’re adjusting with your stance and racquet prep. When you can change, it makes you very hard to read and difficult to defend your shooting flexibility.

Help Ball Along on its Way

For example, when the ball is flowing toward a certain front corner, a pinch angle is an intuitive decision that becomes an easy and natural shot choice. Also, a ball flowing off the back wall out along one sidewall opens up multiple splat shot angles. There your inside out swing toward your selected spot up ahead of you on the sidewall depends on the height of your ball contact and the ball’s distance from the sidewall, as your sidewall target is measured by how your inside out swing is meant to glance the ball off the sidewall a little lower than where you make contact to cause your ball carry and find your imaged very low front wall target spot, with its particularly knarley, unpredictable rebound bounce. A splat carom angle off the front wall is characterized by an across the front court trajectory, making it tougher for the challenger to get um, while pinches angle out more toward the center of the court, when they’re left up just a little. Hence, with very low contact and a spiraling swing and corkscrewing ball spin result, good ball striking and targeting  keeps both the pinch and splat down.

Factor in Where You Make Contact

There’s a big schism between cross-court placements when you shoot from deep court or when you’re shooting from off to one side in the middle of the court. As you’re selecting your side to side shot angle from deep court and you note the opponent is hedging over to the far side of center court, reconsider a down the wall placement option. Then hit the inside of the ball with a little inside out “cut” to angle the ball into the near, rear corner. Optionally, as you’re making contact further up in the court, the wider angle around the middle of the court to the far sidewall should be considered when looking to place your cross-court pass. That’s a wide angle pass around the challenger. Now that’s for a ball that wants to want to go cross-court or you want it go with your strong across your body swing motion. As a ball is veering cross-court or as a ball closing in on the near sidewall where you run it down, the across you swing is easiest. When you’re up along sidewall, a down the wall kill-pass is always a viable option. Although plan to hit and move to avoid being in the way of a left up down the wall ball. The key is to pull the in on your strings to control the ball and place it on the front wall closer to you than halfway to the sidewall while finishing with an accentuated in to out swing.

Have Short Term Memory Loss

Now you know you’re gonna make mistakes. Even world class players miss. The thing is to not let a miss define you. First, don’t repeat the error. Don’t force a shot or don’t pick a shot you don’t own. Also mechanically correct errors. For example, if your feet were glued to the court so you didn’t set your topnotch stance for the situation, fix that. If your prep, was too tucked up or drawn in, wind back fuller and better by using your time well to prep as fully, as you can. If you took your eye off the ball at contact or you looked at your wall target before you made contact, stop that. Moving your feet is a great place to start. By moving them efficiently and softly as you make your final approach on the ball, you get to finish this stance to balance and power your best stroke for this one situation. For instance, even when time is less and an open stance would be best, commit to it. Step back or load back onto your back foot to wind back. Then make it a smooth, balanced turn on to your front leg and foot which trails the back foot away from the sidewall.

Note that your upper body can and should face the sidewall in your prep phase, even in an open stance. So, with that as an example if you under prepped or you didn’t work your legs, correct your form. The objective is to consistently find your rhythm with your feet. It’s step back, as you post on your front foot that you drag along. That posting includes the step up when you take a key, little step in place on the back foot that charges up your feet to set a live front foot to accept powerful back to front push that adds to the looping arm swing. That’s as opposed to form done with unoptimized mechanics for the specific situation which puts you at a disadvantage. Use technique you actually own and comfortably use with regularity for patterns just like this one and your shooting and making odds go way up. When the ball wants to go there, add to its natural momentum. When you need to change the angle the ball is heading, exaggerate the angle of your racquet flow and pull the ball in on your strings.

Move Your Feet as You Prep

Like you wind your racquet back, wind up and spring load your legs as you prep, too. A very common circumstance repeats itself numerous times in match play. The ball is hit by your challenger back into a back corner and, as you close in on the corner quickly, you may loop your racquet back automatically, but are you really ready to hit the ball or are you just in auto-prep? The ball is generally going to bounce one of two ways…(a) the ball will bounce, catch the sidewall and then deflect off the back wall into you; or (b) the ball will bounce, catch the corner and shoot out along the sidewall. You’re really not sure which one and doing the auto-prep restricts your ability to adjust. When you’re uncertain, first, always take a short jab step to the corner with your back foot. Hold back with your crossover step and don’t just automatically turn and face the sidewall too early with both feet or you can’t back off a ball jamming you off the sidewall or you won’t be able to scoot out along the sidewall for a ball that catches the corner and zips out right along the wall. Look at this corner situation as an opportunity. You want to shoot the ball. It’s literally a back wall setup.

Getting to the corner with feet ready to move and knees bent ensures you can adjust to the ball so you can go on the offensive. Both freezing your feet and straightening your legs early eliminates your ability to adjust. Go in with light feet and very alert ball read and your chances go way up to reach your goal of offensively shooting the ball. For a ball deflecting off the sidewall and then jamming you off the back wall, shift your balance onto your trail, non-jabbing foot and drop back with what is the back foot of your final striking stance. That move buys you space to shoot. As the ball drops, set the front foot, shift back and work your feet in your stance. For a ball catching the corner crack, after the jab step, crossover quickly with the trail foot and be prepared to even take a second or third step starting with a cross step into a short sprint with the jab foot to scoot out along the sidewall for a big flyer off the back wall. For either the jammer or the flyer, when you move with the ball and read where you’ll best make contact, right then prep to shoot the ball into your best shot choice to ideally capitalize on this back wall ball shooting pattern. Commit to your low sidewall or front wall target. Practicing this situation makes it timed on auto-drive in match play.

Pick Shots You Can Make

Now here’s a concept that may perhaps appear to be theoretical, but its actually empirically evident “it” happens in match play with all the skips and back wall setups players hit on neutral or un-pressured patterns or those patterns when they could hit and make their shot even when they’re on-the-move. When time is theirs to shoot, with solid feetwork and apropos striking form, the object is to hit winners or error forcing shots by the challenger. There are many times when what it looks like is simply a choice wasn’t made. What I mean by that is make sure you pick a shot you can make. Pick something out of your bag of tricks, your toolbox, your repertoire, your shtick from your owned, routine dance steps, as you select THIS shot which ideally should be your most familiar one for NOW! If you find yourself leaning back going for kill-shots, relax and instead hit the best pass you can. Hence the more experience you have in this and any pattern of play in competition and in simulations in practice where you remodel this situation when you’re molding your form to make it malleable, repeatable and easy, then the more often you’ll pick your right shot and you’ll tend to do it right, too.

So if you make a mistake on a shot as you play or drill, quickly assess, “Was that shot mine?”. First, decide if the ball was in your wheelhouse contact height-wise. And did you reproduce your best form in the time you were given or more accurately in the time you made with your efficient moves when setting and then putting your body into it. That means did you move with and to the ball efficiently and did you commit to your swing and use a full body swing. Also tactically was it a shot that takes advantage of your challenger’s positioning vs. stubbornly choosing a shot you’d have to rollout when another shot could strand the over-committed challenger with any easier to find angle for you?

Develop Shots from Spots

From 3 key spots up and down along each sidewall and also at say 3 spots down through the middle (where players actually drill less) get on court and receive the ball in multiple, realistic ways as it’s coming to you from out of all 4 corners of the court to one of your 9 spots. There find your form for shots when directing the ball from there to place the ball in all 4 corners of the court. Of course, make sure that you can direct this ball into that target spot you choose. As mentioned many times, it’s intelligent to hit the ball where it wants to go. And it’s invaluable practice time spent placing the ball anywhere in the court from one of those 9 spots to have the versatility to place the ball away from the competition and importantly where you and the ball can work together as the ball comes to you from different corners. As you practice, pay particular attention to both moving with the ball so you flow forward and look to set your difficult to read, attacking stance to disguise your shot and still make your shot easy to make after you’ve worked on your ball read, ball approach, flowing striking stance setting and executing shot shaping that you know works for this pattern you’ve trained. 

Ball Control in Cross-Court Pattern

Here’s a working example of a pattern of play and your three, basic pattern responses to cross-court balls. If you’re hitting the ball that’s coming to you as a cross-court pass or likewise when you’re fielding a sidewall shot that hit the far sidewall and you’re catching up to the ball as you’re closing in on the near sidewall, the main point is you must control both the incoming ball’s angle AND its ball spin, as well. There you must make sure to alter the angle and either kill and remove the spin or use that incoming spin to make your shot. Here are three possible options and how:

(1) Hit the outside of the angling ball or the part of the ball furthest from you with the center of your sweet spot and swing across your body sending the ball strongly cross-court, as that’s often the easiest reply angle to find responding to the crossing ball angle, even when going for a very low kill-pass target; or…

(2) Contact the ball just a little under halfway away from you on the back of the ball with your racquet’s center and flow your racquet toward your straight in target spot that’s under halfway between where you contact the ball and the sidewall and you create an angle change to strike the ball down along the near wall veering it as it comes off the front wall directly toward the rear corner. To hit cross-court you may consider it as drawing the ball in on your strings vs. striking the ball on the outside or the part furthest from you, as you must control and change the incoming ball angle to go cross-court or you’ll miss your angle just like pushing the ball away from you on the strings and hitting straight in cross to direct angle change; and

(3) To accomplish perhaps the most natural angle to produce when covering a cross-court angle, perform an inside out swing and contact the part of the ball closest to you to veer the ball out into the sidewall up ahead of you with the sidewall target spot nearer to you, as a mid court splat shot. Granted going right for the corner as a tight pinch would be a tough angle to produce, but completely discouraging sidewall shooting (as in don’t re-pinch a pinch) leads you away from this very makable sidewall target out ahead of you just a little lower than the ball contact. This “trickle splat” angle capitalizes on the ball’s incoming spin by just countering it and deflecting the ball off into the sidewall near you with an embellished in to out swing toward your sidewall target.

—> Those are examples of how to handle that very familiar situation when fielding a ball angling across the court and how developing your form to produce those angle changes, with racquet head control, spin management and your shot shaping racquet flow, turns into shotmaking that you’ll be very familiar with when making the shot based on your valuable experience you have both in practice and in lots of rally play. Now don’t stop there. With lots of practice open up your shot range to consider, for instance, a reverse pinch into the cross front corner to place the ball primarily into a sidewall target first. The reverse has lots of cross-court angle so lots of outside in spin when contacting the outside of the ball or the part farthest from you. Get on the practice court and find that angle. It’s a killer angle.

Choose BSA

Eventually and ideally it becomes second nature to pick the right shot, which is your best shot available (BSA) for the pattern at play. In actuality you need to hit a shot you feel highly confident is a shot you can make that best capitalizes on the ball’s bounce, your reactive play on the ball, the challenger’s coverage zone, and even the score or scoring situation in a match. For example, take a few more chances when you serve or you have a big lead. And you may shrink your shot options, like NBA coaches shrink or shorten their bench for the playoffs, when you return serve and as you go to shot options or skills that brung ya. Of course, here we go again back to reps.

The more drilling and playing and success you have playing, and the better you think on the move, the more chances you can take and the more effective options you have at your disposal. It becomes a self fulfilling prophecy of increasing your trusted set of shots you can count upon, and then, like voodoo, you just know what trick to do or what play to run or what move to make that’ll a direct impression on the point. Then you prep to craft and flow into your striking stance to shoot, with balance and easy form, with both precision and trust in equal aplomb, which makes your attacking game something your challenger must avoid and something to behold.

Train Patterns

Train every pattern you can develop that simulates what you observe and experience in match play, theirs and yours. Also watching top flight racquetball increases your practice areas. Of course playing challenging competition reveals situations worth drilling. Here are a bunch of situations. Owning them will help you have more shots you can reach for in competition. In shooting patterns you must respond to…

(a) an attackable ball where you step up (forward in the court) to your right or left, from your spot in center court, to simply lay the wood to the ball. There, although it’s an easy shot, be complete, focussed and smooth vs. complacent and underwhelmed;

(b) a ball veering cross-court where you can step over to cutoff the V angle by moving diagonally forward or sometimes, though less often, by moving directly sideways toward the sidewall where perception of the ball, the onrushing wall and an over closed or wide open stance makes it much tougher or challenging–>Note that when facing the opposite front corner and tending toward covering the line back behind you where the challenger and the ball are in that back corner, a frontmost foot drop step behind you and then crossover step with your trail foot gets you there set to cut off even sharply struck cross-court passing shots;

(c) a ball down the wall where you can step out and ideally move diagonally forward when you offensively play the ball, by taking the ball out front with a back foot jab step out to the sidewall and then a crossover front foot step up as your prep, gears you to attack the ball out in front of your body;

(d) a gettable ball going by you DTL or cross-court where you can and do drop diagonally back to better time and adjust to the ball’s pace, allows to better play the ball. When the ball and you are going backwards, your angle drop allows you to much better see the ball, prepare better with the more time you have for your backswing, and have a far better view of what’s going on in front of you to more aggressively, tactically, and intelligently play the down the wall ball, even though you’re on the run;

(e) a ball shot into the far sidewall, as a pinch or splat, you can catch up to after the ball bounces once and before you and the ball reach the near sidewall;

(f) after a far sidewall ball bounces and carries to pop off that other, near sidewall, back off the ball to give yourself space and time to tactically shoot, while you pick the best shot you read you can make;

(g) a ball directly up through the center of the court at you where you can get yourself out of the way with a step back with your rear foot with your selected stance to hit the ball ideally where the challenger will be most strained in their coverage, and for a ball at you, it’s always a solid tactic, as you are there in coverage, think to yourself, “What will I do if the ball comes right at me?”;

(h) fielding a ball where you move with the ball as it bounces into a back corner to…

(1) deflect off the sidewall and then carom off the back wall; or

(2) the ball pops off the back wall and then angles to deflect off the sidewall to…in either case, drop as a setup when you move and play the ball effectively and aggressively;

(i) a ball that bounces and rebounds off the back wall as a setup when the ball is either going…

(1) straight in to the back wall; or

(2) the ball is going into the back wall angling cross-court, but, as the ball caroms out it angles off, but comes up just short of contacting the far sidewall making these balls very attackable in a pattern that brings in sidewall splat targets as a doable option, along with down the wall shots–>note that these back wall setups can be as a result of an overhit one of these…a passing shot; ceiling ball; drive serve; lob serve; or off speed lob serve;

(j) a ceiling ball (or lob serve) that you drop back quickly and track the ball down in deep court where it falls short of the back wall when you retreat quickly and patiently allow the ball to drop down low, giving you multiple shooting options;

(k) a high Z ball you track down that goes back taking a tough bounce deep in the back court sometimes paralleling the back wall just short of the back wall where you respond often with a flick, though explosive back wall save. Other times the high Z may either come out not as deep off the last sidewall or the ball may bounce and pop off the back wall as an attackable ball deep in the backcourt, when you’ve moved back quickly, while moving with the ball, then look to be very aggressive; and

(l) a ball that’s a wrap around shot or serve that hits the front wall, angles on the fly to strike one sidewall, pop off, bounce, strike the middle of the back wall and then caroms out toward the other sidewall turning into a setup or at least an attackable ball, when you move in circular pattern with the ball to intercept it as it angles out toward the second sidewall. You can drill this wrap around shot by yourself. Hit from deep in your mid court on one side looking to hit the ball with your off stroke so it angles off the front wall to catch the far sidewall high enough so the ball will carom off the back wall, as you drop back and to turn the ball and take it aggressively as it pops off the back wall, which is always a tendency you want to have to be THE shooter with practiced options you own and you use imagery for a shot you see happening successfully and then you shape it confidently.