By Ken Woodfin

Racquetball Strategies and Tactics

Strategy and Tactics Defined

Your play on the ball begins as either strategic or tactical. If you’re the server, you start the rally with your pre planned strategic serve and also planned move to center. If you are the receiver, you depend on dialing in your chosen tactics on the fly after you see the ball, as you move and improvise your return of serve. After a good return of serve by the receiver, play by either side in the continuing rally is taking turns returning the ball to the front wall also depending strictly on tactical actions. When one player moves to cover, the other makes their play on the ball. As the player playing the ball shoots, the covering player tactically moves to track down and play the ball themselves, while the other player who just shot tactically moves to position themselves to cover.

• Tactics Are in the Moment

Tactics are the spontaneous efficiency actions you use to position, move, and track down the ball to stroke and then recover to cover that you take during rallies, when returning serve and after releasing your service. Ideally those tactical actions are based on well planned, predetermined overall aims. Those aims are the game strategies that you set up well in advance of play and keep ever-present in your mind. Tactical actions are taken in the moment during play, while adapting to the ever-changing ball and actions of your competitor. Tactics are meant to achieve your strategies. It’s invaluable to spend time in advance of today’s contest against this competitor planning your strategy and drilling your tactical options that will respond to patterns you routinely see in play and any specific patterns you expect to see *today*.

• The Serve’s Significance

The serve and return together comprise by far the biggest strategic and tactical situation because it’s a situation that is a scoring opportunity and, very importantly, either the server’s or receiver’s actions could decide a point. In racquetball the serve is even more key than in other racket sports because of the unique scoring system where only the player with the ball in hand may score a point. Even when successful in a rally, the receiver, by winning the rally, only gets to take over the serve. Although preventing the server from scoring a point is a solid strategic aim and highly desirable result for the receiver, too. Once the serve is returned rally play begins and efficiency actions or tactics of movement, positioning, covering, tracking and shooting (or just getting) drive rally play by both competitors until one is unable to return the ball to the front wall.

• Serving is a Set Play

When you serve, it’s ideally a designed set play kind of like a pitch signaled by a catcher in baseball or a uniform toss tennis serve. As server, you define the ball’s placement in the back half of the court, with your practiced, executed ball drop and then service motion. After the swing, you make a routine rebalance push from front to back and then move into the center. Before you go into your service motion you decide (or you should) on which serve to use. There is also as much as a prediction of what sort of return the receiver will make based on past results from this serve and factoring in the receiver’s other returns of this serve. So there is a realm of possibilities factored in to how the receiver could return and what your shot #3 could be, with a range of your tactical response options at the ready for the different potential moves and shots you could respond with to the return.

• As Server, It’s If – Then or Else

If your serve is there and they return over there, then you move over there and shoot a shot you select from your shot repertoire. Your shot puts in effect a basic tactic like move the competitor, while planning for your next shot. Or your shot may be meant to leave them no resort to cover your shot at all, as your shot is intended to be a winner. If they don’t return over there, then it’s else. You move elsewhere and take a picked tactical shot at that spot. It’s — if x, then y, else z, and so on. As server, that predicting the pattern is your biggest advantage after being able to begin the rally serving from a position in front of the receiver. From experience, you know the serve situation, including your serve’s placement, their return options and your responses to many of their returns and how the whole pattern could play itself out. The better prepared you are tactically, the better your scoring chances because you have more responses to move and effectively shoot in response to a large number of return patterns.

• Commanding the Court

By being the player standing less than 20′ feet from the front wall, the server commands the court, while hitting the ball to the back half of the court where the receiver stands no closer than 25′ back from the front wall behind a dashed line. From the perspective of the server, starting the rally is a huge strategic advantage. Again, you’re in front and the receiver is behind you waiting to return your serve. You’re closer to the target front wall, and ideally you’ll still be closer to the front wall after the receiver’s return of your accurate serve.

• Serving Passes

Serving is often much like hitting a passing type shot that strikes the front wall so that the ball clears the 20′ middle or short line on its way to the backcourt. How you place the serve in the back half of the court determines what type of rally will be played. Serving from the middle leaves you very close to the center of the court after serving. Center court or center is a floating zone located between a small step past the dashed encroachment line and a step inside of it. That’s exactly where you want to be when the receiver is setting up to return or the opponent is shooting during a rally. Exactly where in center you locate depends on where the ball and the competitor are located. From center you are well positioned to cover any of the four corners of the court where the receiver could place their return. When serving from well off to one side or the other in the 20′ wide service zone or service box (or box), you temporarily leave open the opposite side of the court to returns that could be very tough to cover. That opening requires that you quickly close the gap to cover the receiver’s possible return by moving efficiently to center ready to cover the open side, as well as ready to retreat to cover the side you just left. That means you may have to reverse-your-field should the receiver return crosscourt. If the receiver does return crosscourt, you’re prepared to move back to cover and field their wrong footing or hitting behind you return. So, as seen here, flexibility in coverage is one strategic objective.

• Using Serving Disguise

Taking advantage of disguising your serves greatly increases your serving success. Appearing to potentially attack either side of the court is a very solid way to keep your receiver honest and glued to the middle in the backcourt until they either can see your serve’s angle or they guess the serve’s direction and then move. One way to appear to be ready to attack both back corners is by serving between the two 3′ drive serve lines that are on each wall which you and the ball must be inside of when serving down along that wall. If you (or the ball or racquet) are outside of that line you cannot hit a low drive serve along that wall. So that side isn’t under fast serve attack and it wouldn’t need to be initially covered which would allow the receiver to move or position to cover the other side where you are serving.

• Look Twice Before Serving

When you (or the ref in tournaments) calls the score, look back at your receiver to see how deep they are and whether they’re in the middle. When they’re off to one side, serve to the other. If they’re in the middle, as you go through your ritual ball bounces or standing, balancing rhythm, right before you go into your service motion (with your 1-step or 2-step motion) sneak a little peak peripherally to see if they’re cheating over toward one wall to protect that corner, which perhaps is the one you’ve been bombarding with your serves. If they are moving or they’ve moved and you have an opposite side serve teed up, strand them going the wrong way or run them to their least covered side with a drive serve into that less covered corner. Also a drive Z serve or even a surprising off speed lob could work, too. That’s taking what the opponent gives you as server and its tactical.

• Serving Accuracy and Coverage

After you serve, it’s key for you to position yourself early to cover direct passing shot angles to the front wall, as either a straight in down the line (DTL) or as a V cross-court angle to the far, rear corner. Unintentionally off angle serves that either deflect off a sidewall into the middle or bounce and carry to rebound off the back wall are very susceptible to those one-wall passes into deep court. Off angle serves could also result in low shots (killshots) placed short in the front court either along that wall where the ball is contacted or crosscourt. A very accurate serve to a back corner or optionally a serve that cracks out off the sidewall just past the short line are the most sought after strategic results. They are the result of technical skills or technique built by solo on court training and reinforced by success in match play. Simply said practice turns your serves into reliable offensive weapons. Off speed or soft lob serves produce fewer winner aces, but they do tempt high to low misses or lifted defensive ceiling ball returns.

• Control Center as Server

As a strategic server, keep the center while attacking the furthest reaches of the backcourt with your serve. Or, at times, you deliberately jam up the strokes of the receiver by directing a serve to the front wall that angles off a sidewall into the receiver’s body. Or, from off to one side, you could serve right down the middle into your singles receiver’s body (or into the space between the two doubles partners, like when attacking the 2 backhands in the middle). After serving, your strategic goal is to maintain center control until you win the rally and point and get to serve again. First strike attacking is good, but keeping the receiver on the run and out of your middle is your shooting strategic objective, too. 

• Tactical Attacking as Server

After the receiver’s return, on the attacking side of the ball, smart, winning shotmaking by the server means taking chances when you sense the tactically aggressive shot has a rapport of strength matching your technical movement and stroking strength in your tactical response to the pattern you see. As tactical shot examples, pinches from the backcourt or splats and 3-walls from close along a sidewall are calculated risk shots that may be counted upon after having honed the shotmaking skills in practice patterns and by building trust in the tactical shots when they’re consistently successful in similar patterns in competition.

• Returning Serve is Responding

The receiver’s return is realtime reacting VS predetermining any one tactic or shot. Deciding in advance would be forcing the decision before the ball and server can be seen and before you are sure where the ball will be. Deciding beforehand on ONE return would create too much pressure and possible tactical and technical conflict because the exact bounce of the ball and yours and your competitor’s movements and positions are too hard to exactly predict. Although shot thoughts do begin as the serve is hit, while still no one shot is predestined. Once you read the ball, with your ball tracking movement and shot picking you decide your tactical option, like, for instance, attack a certain part of the court; or play keep-away from the server; or go for a winner; or just get the ball to the front wall. Even as you return you’re thinking, “Now how will this rally play out?”. Once you’ve picked your shot and swung and your return shot is headed to the front wall turn your attention to observe the server’s movement. Factor in their responses to -this- return  this match, and lessons you’ve learned from past matches, as all that input guides your immediate movement into coverage in the center. The rally has begun.

• As Receiver, D-up

As receiver, you want to be very hard to score upon. Your tactics as receiver first start as defender by strategically seeking to keep the served ball in play by striking the front wall with your return either directly or after first striking another above the floor surface, like the ceiling, one or more sidewalls, or less eagerly the back wall because a back wall save is a last ditch tactic to whack the ball to the back wall to get it back to the front wall. The main focus, as you return, is one bounce. After the ball is served and it crosses the short line it may not bounce more than once before it’s returned to the front wall. A serve can be returned on the fly or right out of midair after it passes the broken line. As receiver, your ideal strategic objective is for you to move the server out of the middle, while you look to capture both the center and control of the rally with your return. Realistically your spontaneous tactical response is to turn the pressure back upon the server by moving them so they cannot end the rally in their favor on shot #3 (the serve being shot #1 or the return shot #2). They could end the rally with shot #3 should your return be vulnerable to attack. One example of a vulnerable return is a ball that goes thru the middle where it can be cutoff and placed far from you. Also, if that happens, often the server firmly entrenches themselves in your way as they shoot and they may remain there even after shooting. Another at risk return is to allow the server to move to cover your shot where they can allow your return to drop low and shoot the ball very low and out of your coverage range. One example of low dropping shooting includes when you hit your return too high or too hard so that the ball pops off the back wall. Or it can be shooting for a low killshot and missing or leaving the ball up to be open to being rekilled in the front court or mid court. Either error could result in a point for the server. Tactically picking the right return shot and having the form to produce it avoids attackable shots and ideally results in a defensive shot or no return at all by the server. After your return and however they hit their shot #3, your movement into coverage in center helps determine whether you can be offensive or defensive on your follow on rally shot. So don’t just stand and admire your return handiwork. Back up your return by moving forward into center.

• Capture Center Tactic as Receiver

Your second tier receiver tactic (after returning aggressively) supporting your strategic aims is to move into center when the server must move out of center to cover your return. After you return, hustle to center ideally before the server can set themselves to shoot.   

• Be Opportunistic When Returning

One main strategy as receiver is to be opportunistic and take what the server gives you. If you can, shoot aggressively a pass or even a killshot. Or, when it’s time to defend, lift a ceiling ball, hit a high Z, even resort to lofting a lob or to whacking a high, hard back wall save to hopefully move the server back deep into the backcourt. Accepting that as receiver you start at a major positional disadvantage, great care must be taken to pick a smart shot that, first, you feel certain you can make and that you not try a shot that chances giving the server an easy shot in a dominant position in the middle, in the front court, or, due to your overhitting, as a setup popping off the back wall. So 2-bounce passes are quality choices and a ceiling ball is a solid Plan B. If their serve bounces and pops directly off the back wall (or after hitting a sidewall) and it’s in your skill set, shoot a straight pass, crosscourt pass or corner killshot away from the server off that back wall setup.

• Receiver Still Defends in Rally

On one side of the ball, when returning serve and in the follow on rally after your good return, defense needs to play a major role in your tactical shot choices. That defensive mindset is because overzealous shooting errors equate to easy, confidence building points for the server. However, go in attack mode to capitalize on attackable shotmaking chances that occur due to a weak serve, a follow on weak rally shot by the server, or a well-practiced, attack on a pattern you’ve got in your (I’ve practiced this) hip pocket. Your attacking can either be placing a pass deep in a less covered back corner or shooting a super low ball left short in a front court corner. Attacking could also mean ripping a ball at the server directly off the front wall or after angling the ball off a sidewall and then at them.

• Rally Tactics and Switching Roles

After the receiver’s return and the server’s shot #3, the server quickly assesses both their shot’s placement and the receiver’s possible response based on the shot’s accuracy and the receiver’s starting cover location and then movement. The roles have changed. Already as server, they set their tactics, like their move into coverage and cover move, as the configuration for where the pieces are placed on the board, er court, are set for this pattern. Tactics abound. For example, does the server  now turned cover player get in the new shooter’s blindspot behind them so the new shooter can’t factor in where the cover player is (or can be) into the new shooter’s shot selection choice? Or does the (new) cover player let the (new) shooter see them, and then plan to move after the shooter commits to swing? Committing to swing is when the racquet arm fires forward. Moving before is raising a sign saying, “Please pass me”.

• Tactical Positioning

Say in a rally (or with your return) you’ve set your competitor up and they’re behind you in the court, with a ball they can let drop low and shoot low. Before they set up to shoot, you could move way up early, let them see you and encourage a pass and discourage a killshot. The more tactical options you have and have you’ve used to that point in the competition, the harder you are to read. A key is to always be in position before they hit. That is a valuable tactic reducing their target options. For example, for that ball behind you in the backcourt, move early and block the opposite front corner, while you temporarily give up the 2 required angles, straight in DTL and crosscourt to the far, rear corner. Tactically you don’t give up the opposite front corner or the whole front wall. Doing so would give up: (a) that danger shot into that cross front corner that’s so hard to cover; and (b) also a wide angle pass (WAP) around you striking the sidewall beside you on the fly runs you to the backcourt while you you trail the ball. Do know that wherever you locate in coverage you should still plan to move from there when the competitor turns their attention to hitting the ball. Although, from that coverage, you can’t move (early) and block either the DTL or crosscourt on the shot’s way into the front wall, but you can move and take a shot on a ball after it comes off the front wall. You also can’t block a shot into the cross corner or a WAP unless you are in coverage before the shooter is set up to shoot. So tactically be in coverage before they make their final approach on the ball to shoot. Then “Freeze”, crouch, lean in, read and ready to move to track down the ball you expect.

• Active Coverage in Rallies

Assertive coverage beats staying home in center hoping against hope the ball will funnel right to you in the middle. By seeing the result of your shot, the competitor’s approach to the ball, their prep, stance, and contact point, your movement can be paired with your expectation of what shot to cover. Rally tactics continue until you’re either holding the ball to bounce and serve or you’re figuring out how to improve your tactics or form, by beginning as the receiver who plans to win the next rally.

• Strategies = Game Aims

Strategies are your overarching aims for how you play that you set up prior to play. Your strategies are based on your set of skills and how you prefer to play, as well as your experiences in prior play what is tried and true or successful for you in general and very specifically –what works against this particular competitor–? Your strategies are a simple as to score more points and as complex as to isolate one part of the court (usually corner) with all of your serves and your full out assault on the corner in your rally attack.   

• POP Recognition

Using a picked tactic in the moment from among planned tactics is done in response to a previously encountered and drilled pattern of play or POP. A POP is a situation you recognize and how you react tactically should be guided by strategic aims you keep uppermost in mind.

• Restarting After Breaks in Play

Some actions start following a break in play after a serve and unsuccessful return or after a successful return and the back and forth rally or after one game ends and before the next one begins. After a short break and ideally some planning thinking (like what serves or moves should I unveil? And so far which ones have been money?) a new beginning starts with a serve. Again, strategic, planned actions would be those taken by you, as server, with your serve and retreat into center court. Unpremeditated tactical actions would be taken by you were you the receiver, as you return the server’s set play serve and play out the ensuing rally when your return is successful. Controlling those breaks in play with relaxation, introspection and planning allows you to restart afresh and in control. That and reviewing your plan and game-style centers you and prepares you to start again.

• Rally Rules

The same one bounce rule holds for all rallies that are in force for the return of the serve. After a successful serve return and when the server’s rally shot is also returned to the front wall, their shot must be returned by the receiver after no more than one bounce. The rally continues that way, while taking turns returning the ball to the front wall until one side is unsuccessful. The successful side serves (or, if they served and scored the final point, they win that game).

• Rally Improvising

Rally play is based on spontaneous reactions that ideally call upon tactical actions matched with your practiced form in response to familiar, trained patterns. Your tactical actions are also ideally aligned with your strategic game aims.

• Rally Unreadably

Rally harmony between tactical action and player skill determines your success based on recognizing the pattern of play and both making good tactical choices and matching those to your owned motor skills to move and shoot. Of course the more skills you have, the more options you have at the ready. And the more familiar patterns you can recognize and have well disguised, complementary response options, the more versatile and deceptive your available tactical actions. Complementary means appearing to make a play on the ball one way, but you may, for example, actually select a totally different placement so you’re both difficult to read and versatile. For shot changeups, even slight variations in angle, pace or spin can defeat the competitor when they expect one thing and something just a little different challenges them.

• Smart Tactics + Matching Technique = Winning Strategy

Good form and strategic tactics collaborate to produce your serve or return and, of course, they power your rally court movement and court locating, as well as your ball tracking, shot choices and set up and stroking for your shot shaping. Without one the other is ineffective, meaning tactics must be implemented by performing effective, owned technical skills.

Sometimes a very lucky shot happens. Sometimes a strategic action or game aim happens based on just pure luck. Instead having an overall game aim, efficiency actions to meet that aim, with the skill and timing to bring those actions to life, makes your game a very formidable one. By developing adaptive stroking form, your form can produce several shot options from nearly any court position. Your tactical action plans can and should be built in skill drills when practicing your favorite and less than favorite patterns, with varied strokes and shots, and then confirming those tactical actions in practice games; and finally verify them with competitive success.

• What Is Your Game-style?

The first step is to determine your game-style or game styles. A game-style is the way you can and prefer to play. You decide if you’re a power or touch player. Or you could be a combo control player. And you are a rabbit or a turtle or you’re a hybrid sneaky quick player with really good, hustling feetwork and fast hands. Match your game tactics to your game-style and its strategies. Simple high level goals, like scoring points when you attack as server and making it very difficult to score against you, when you receive, are strategies to build around. Other basics include target-oriented tactical shotmaking. What that means is that with each shot you pick and play where to place the ball in the court or its width and depth based upon both where the competitor is (or can be) and how you control and place the ball. By width, first determine on which side of the court to place the ball. Then, by controlling the ball’s height on your target wall you determine shot depth or how far back in the court you’ll place the ball. By knowing what is strong about your shot pace and court movement and what is weak, you know what sort of shots to shoot and whether to prolong a rally or keep it short. Also, you factor in your what is strong and weak about your competitor and that feeds your tactical decisions and shot choices, too. Your game-style is how you choose to play and the ways you respond to patterns of play and game situations with your serves and how you make your returns and rally shots dictate play in your favor.

• Racquetball Momentum

In a sport like racquetball, comebacks are always possible. By chipping away at the scoreboard when serving and being very stingy allowing points when receiving, any deficit may be overcome. By constantly tweaking your tactical options, you can arrive at a formula that works against this competitor and the momentum will shift your way. Simply keep battling, searching and believing.

• Hit Em Where They Ain’t

Obviously playing keep-away from your competitor is one possible strategic aim. However, at times, hitting the ball directly to the competitor is a tactical option when either looking to either jam their stroke or to entice them to take one stroke in preference over another. For instance that includes encouraging a backhand as the strategy either to expose a weak technique or tactical weakness or it’s to attack a strength hoping to prompt their overhitting by catching them off guard.

• Taking Shot Chances

Granted attacking with a passing shot that produces a very tight ball along a sidewall or a highly aggressive, unrushed low contact low shot are examples of best case shotmaking. With a good pass that’s tight along a wall, the next return shot you cover may be a good chance worth taking to shoot a low 2-bounce short in the front court killshot (killshot = 2 bounces before the first, 15′ service line). Always when serving the trade off is that worse case taking a chance and coming up short of scoring a point means only the serve is lost. Points are hard to score, especially against strong opposing shooters and movers. So chances are worth taking when your appraisal of your tactical response and an assessment of your skills dictate it’s a risk worth taking to go for a winner pass or irretrievable killshot. When receiving, taking tougher to make shots must be balanced with giving up points. Be on balance, with your feet under you, and shoot at contact below high-to-low or below chest high as smart shot taking. Shooting when on the dead run or when backing up or from shoulder high or higher are examples of less savvy shotmaking choices.

• Like Shooting, Train Moving

In addition to shotmaking, movement is made for practice training and developing form that works for you. Movement includes: serving and then moving to center; returning serve and moving to cover when combating the server’s shot #3; recovering balance after rally shooting; locating to cover; and moving to track down the ball and approach it for rally shooting. All court movement skills depend upon efficient feetwork. That movement powers your tracking down skills and approaching the ball to shoot and then recover and move into coverage. Also hustling with adaptive feetwork just to make a good get importantly keeps the rally going. Covering effort to locate best in coverage requires specialized court movement flow. Without being there in coverage and then moving and tracking the ball from there, shotmaking becomes moot. So that’s why players train, study positioning and time their court movements to and from where they locate in coverage. Once drilled efficiency feetwork is used when moving to track down a ball, approach it, set the feet, flow to shoot and rebalance to cover. As an example, when practicing your serves, after hitting the ball, shift from your front to back foot and make the move to get back into center coverage. That’ll form a good habit you’ll practice in match play to serve and always center up to capitalize on the receiver’s weak return or hustle for their more challenging return.

• Control Center in Rally

While it’s obvious placing your shot in the sweet spot in the middle or center court between the 1st and 3rd lines is not ideal, but being there, in  center, as the competitor pursues, approaches and contacts a ball outside of  center, IS ideal. Even sharing part of center, when the opposing shooter is also there returning and shooting your ball, is better than being too deep, too far up or stuck off on one side pinned up against a wall. Again, center court or center is generally between a step behind the broken line and a step and a half inside that dashed line, depending on where ball and competitor are and where they appear to be shooting the ball. If they appear to be hitting a ceiling, coverage from behind the broken line is best. If you’ve set them up, fight. Get on or slightly in front of the dashed line and get ready to dash up to get their shot you read by observing and predicting it.

Center is the best place to start to move to cover all 4 corners or to move out from center to cover shots along the sidewalls. So that is a basic defensive strategy. Control the center by moving there after serving, returning, or rally shooting. Definitely prioritize moving to center and being set just as the competitor is getting to the ball and about to swing. Already moving while they’re shooting opens you up to being wrong-footed by a shot back behind you, stranding you where you’re unable to get the ball or unable to recover effectively to be a shooter vs just being a getter or poker who feeds or sets up the competitor.

• Adaptive vs Programmed

Knowing how you may react or having a variety of efficient tactical actions in your hip-pocket allows you to adapt to situations you encounter based on your reading the familiar pattern of play in the game AND the bounce of the ball, too. That knowledge gives you both many options and it doesn’t regiment your play where you premeditate or preprogram your play. Self limiting your choices is too hard to do and consistently be effective. Don’t limit your choice until you are able to read the bounce of the ball and understand its angle, pace, possible spin and where best to make contact (or where you must make contact). Adapting means being flexible. The more doable tactics you possess and the more shots you have, the more your adapting is able to succeed in a wide range of game circumstances or patterns and in key game timing, like game point or when looking to break their run of points.

• Disguise and Flex Shooting

When you get out on the practice court and learn flex target acquisition with both versatile shooter body positioning and flexible stroking form, then you know how to look like you may be shooting there, but you’re actually shooting here. Then you have both the ability to adapt and you have deception going in your favor, too.

• Practice the Patterns

Players can only perform what they know how to do. Of course, there’s one off situations where you can do a special, creative thing once, but you can’t do it consistently until you drill it and you can repeat it consistently. That’s what practicing is for, to learn and then know how-to do more. It’s how you learn to move to best set yourself to shoot and then recover getting into position to cover a possible return of your shot. Success is defined by making an appropriate, speedy choice from among numerous available tactical options, with technical skills that you do well. And, by practicing situations, your pattern responses become picture perfect because you’ve trained and visualized how to play the pattern and you know how-to make your play when the pattern pops up. To practice patterns, feed yourself balls that make you move so you simulate game situations. Work on tactical responses to move and shoot tactically to: (1) take the rally with a winner; (2) force a competitor mistake; or (3) craft a defensive reply that extends the still winnable rally.

• Rules to Make Tactical Changes

Strategic choices can change in the heat of battle. Self imposed constraints determine the efficiency of your physical skills and the rules of your game organization, like, for example, tactically you choose where to locate after serving, returning or shooting. That locating may be in slightly different spots in center, as it must also accommodate where the ball and competitor are, as well as when or the time you’re given (or make) to relocate. A physical efficiency rule may be as simple as *always* track the ball behind you to read the competitor’s set up and shot. Then the rule is to ready the feetwork to move most efficiently to the spot you read for their shot to be in position to approach and take your stance to recover the attacking side of the rally. That means that from center you are ready to move out of center to recover the ball. The most slight of adjustments in positioning can determine whether an attack or a defensive action can be taken. After your play, a quick inner dialogue should be going on inside saying, “What strategy did I use on that rally over (or shot)?”. If it was successful, reinforce and repeat. If the strategy or tactic to support it wasn’t effective, tweak it and adapt it to be improved next time.

• RULES

Speed Decisions — Although the following quote may sound a little negative, think of it as helping you understand the immediacy of setting your tactics for moving, covering, tracking and shooting based on prior decision making and rules you set for making decisions and changes to your tactics. It sums up how you choose your efficiency actions tactics to make them their most effective in the spur of the moment. “The truth is that many people set rules to keep from making decisions.” — Mike Krzyzewski. Don’t be frozen in thought. Act as you planned. As soon as you recognize the pattern and the signals you pick up from the pattern prompt your action, according to your preset rules, make your tactical play on the ball. Those rules help you speed up your decision making and even skip steps.

  Pattern Perceived is Tactic Achieved

Tactics for live ball play, when returning serve or in the midst of a rally, rely heavily upon your perceptions. While observing, you go through your considered options that draw on lessons learned this match, similar past patterns of play in prior matches and valuable situational drilling you’ve done before this match. Deciding and deciding fast is tactical efficiency, but there must be a storehouse of tactical solutions to call upon to make those quick decisions very good ones. Take in the situation with your senses, notions and intuitions to define the unexpected situation so your quick (and almost auto) decision and responding action can respond to the pattern efficiently and effectively in the blink of an eye by nearly freezing time to do it because of your prior knowledge of the pattern. As familiar situations unfold, physical actions become nearly automatic muscle memories brought to life. For example, in a mid court rally, you may even spin away and begin to swing even before the competitor has hit the ball … or you may crossover step, as you coil away and unleash a 3-wall shot intercepting and redirecting a hard hit DTL, caroming off the near sidewall into the far, front corner … or you may pick up the most minor of serve cues from the server and then jab step and crossover into your well-read and now well covered back corner to bunt a winner return DTL, capitalizing on the heat of the competitor’s hard drive serve.

• Progression of Strategic Growth

Practice a stroke so often and its motion becomes a natural reflex. Repeat and sharpen responses to a pattern of play so much that the answering designed tactical actions become second nature. Join movement, stroke and tactic so that technical application of your combat competitive powers produce strong, trustable tactical actions and their matching effective movement, coverage, tracking, approaching and shots.

Tactics result from judgment and also creativity. Technique and series of actions or schemes throughout the game are performed until they become repetitively routine. Technical advantages are only effective when you know how to apply your technique, while understanding your competitor, the court and oneself. A rapport of strength of responding technique and tactics makes your grand scheme or strategic goals and objectives attainable and worthy of advance planning and tactical preparation thru pattern practicing movement and shotmaking. It’s good to practice the really hard, less seen situation reasoning that, if you can do that, you can do most anything. But it’s also really valuable to practice the layups or shot setups patterns you’ll see each and every match so you’ll be thoroughly prepared and find them nearly unsurprising and your responses almost instinctive. Although do include movement challenges, like stroking from different stances, making contact at different heights, less favorable ball contact depths, while using variable stroke sizes adapting to situation, timing and shot. That means test your abilities and increase your range through training.

• Time Matters

Timing is everything. Selecting on-time the timely shot is big. Also, control the game’s timing. Control game pace you keep between rallies faster when you’re on a roll. And things are slowed down when the opposite is true and the opponent is on a roll. Simply never be served until YOU are ready to make a decisive return. Walking slowly to return (or serve) calms things down and redirects pressure on them. Using the racquet raise or spinning to face the back wall can eat up about 7 seconds leaving the server 3 to get the ball in play. Also, if they hit a ball and it bounces into a back corner closer to them and they turn and walk away, you don’t have to be the ball kid. Go to the other back corner and decompress. Now if you’re playing well and the opponent seems rattled, sprint to the box to serve. Also, when you need a little recharge, between points hop around a little or run in place to get your motor revving. Always take the time to take a few (unseen) deep breaths between rallies. Use little rituals before serving or returning to get you in the moment, calm, collected and ready.

• Patterns Change and, in Response, Tactics Should Too

Patterns are very dynamic and by that it means they change constantly. The serve or shot you initially read may be slightly different than expected. The ball bounces funny or unpredictably sometimes and the competitor moves and covers differently shot to shot. Other than when a server uses their nearly robotic form to serve, once a serve starts on its way to the front wall the ball the server and receiver may vary, if even ever so slightly, from a previous pattern to this new pattern. Patterns vary rally to rally and even within the very same rally. Your strategy is to keep pace with the changing patterns by adapting your skill set to meet new challenges and seek tactical actions that’ll be tough to read and hard to be solved by your competitor. If your current set of tactics are left wanting and a situation is getting the best of you, it’s back to the drawing board. It’s time to train up new responses thru increasing your skill set and expanding your mental and physical limits. Ultimately make changes to your philosophy and techniques. Then reflect those changes in changes to your tactics and matching shots, with ideally reliable, highly effective new results. 

• Summary of Significance of Strategy and Tactics

Strategizing is planning – It’s prior preparation. You prepare when you set your strategic goals and objectives in advance of play. And, when you practice your skill set in game-like situations, you prepare to achieve those goals. Know that “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” — Ben Franklin. And “The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender.” — Vince Lombardi

Tactics = efficiency actions

Tactics are your philosophical and technical efficiency actions you use to move to cover while the competitor shoots and when you move and track the ball to shoot yourself, while keeping your composure and drive, as you achieve your strategic goals. You may not be able to do everything you’d like to do, but “Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.” — John Wooden. Know well what you do well. To raise your level of play, expand your limits to challenge yourself and increase your ability to adapt and be successful in more patterns of play. Although know that “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” — John Wooden. Use your powers of perception to give you what you need to know, by reading ball, competitor, court + factoring in serving or returning situation + tactical and technical options = tactical action response.

Wrap Up

• Rules, Responses and Rapport of Strength

Every time you Return or Serve or battle in a Rally after a good return of serve, your personal playing style, game aims with their related action tactics, and your covering and shooting reflect the set of rules for your play and sense of urgency you train up and play with (or plan to play with) every time you secure the tether to your wrist. Those rules are your code of competitive conduct. It’s a code you set in advance for your system of effort, behavior, and intensity. It’s how your calm logic allows you to reason out what you perceive and conceive as the ‘current’ pattern of play which, when defined, allows you to rapidly sort through your options to quickly design your best, familiar response. Your game-style is how you interpret and uniquely respond to the observed pattern, with selected game pace and ball pace, self locating and ball placement and your physical presence on the court and strength with which you play. Your game control is a constant measure of the relationship of your tactical choices to your technical forms.

You always seek a rapport of strength between your tactics and your skill set’s technical responses and their execution in each pattern you confront. The more difficult to counter that your choice from among your manifold tactics is for the opponent, the more likely you’ll eventually impose an insurmountable challenge upon them.

The more skilled techniques you possess for: (1) changing court locations; (2) reading ball bounce; (3) tracking with vs after the ball; (4) picking the optimum contact point or where best to play this ball, and then the more consistent your game. And, when you stroke with a uniform form for your: a) back foot step back; b) racquet lift; c) step up (or push into front foot); d) arm loop down; e) leg drive; f) smooth, personal stroke tempo; g) eye on the ball contact and h) full, flowing follow-through, you find precise placements via purposeful shooting.

When a tactic, like say turning your back to your opponent as you get set to shoot is starting to be countered by their run around you move or one shot is being taken away by they’re overplaying it because it’s been so damaging, your rules give you the ability to adapt, adjust, improvise and not get rattled. You’ve got multi-tactics, a vast arsenal of strokes and shots and a 6th sense when the two, tactics and techniques, are in rapport with one another for this pattern. And your sense of your rapport of strength allows you to relax and just respond to the pattern by playing in the zone, moving efficiently and selecting and shaping your artistic shot, while just oozing brimming confidence.