By Ken Woodfin

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.