By Ken Woodfin

Racquetball Techniques you can use today to improve your game!

Tips To Play Your Best Racquetball —>

also add to these your own key tips to boost your play

(1) Prepare To Play Well —> Warm-up before you play. Combine both off and on court activity to warm up your joints, muscles, and game. Ideally get your internal body temp up with, for instance, stationary biking or walking in place. Warm-up on court with the drop-n-hit drill very briefly. Then quickly hit yourself balls where you must move to stroke, which better simulates live play. Also drill a couple serves that are in this match or day’s game plan. Then, change gloves, and add in, for example, calf and wrist stretches or more stretches before you play. Also, as you are going through your warm-up, go over your game plan through mental imagery seeing yourself take and make shots and hit aces serves using your imagined strokes to make them accurate. Review past experiences with this competitor and how you need to play to be successful. Drink lots of water that day before you play and exclusively drink water during play. You shouldn’t eat anything except perhaps a “Gu” or carbo load fuel to keep up your energy during a long match or series of matches in today’s common one-day-shootout format. Avoid bonking (energy loss) and muscle cramping by eating several hours before you play and carbo load the day before you compete. Electrolyte drinks replenish after playing, not during. Food and most drinks eaten while playing or between back-to-back matches (other than water) draws away fluids meant for your legs, arms and brain as your body redirects it to your digestive system.

(2) Keep Your Eye On The Ball —> Even when your competitor is behind you, watch them over your shoulder to read their shot and avoid ever being in a penalty hinder blocking position or where the ball might feed right back to you. Hold your racquet up and look thru your strings when you hit a tough shot that you think might force a wild return by your competitor. That knowing where the ball is going is invaluable in your movement in coverage, your reading where the competitor is shooting the ball and your getting a jump start on moving to shoot VS just make saving get.

(3) Stay In Your Crouch —> Play in your athletic body position. In the athletic body crouch you’re shorter than your full height, with your knees and hips flexed, feet a little wider than shoulder’s width apart, hands at waist level for balance, and weight on the balls of your springy feet. Crouch as you return serve. Crouch as you cover from center court. Crouch when your back is to one sidewall in the serve box as your partner serves; then as your partner’s serve is crossing the short line, open the gate by pivoting with the foot closest to back line pointing it at the backcourt and then crossover with trail foot moving yourself off the sidewall to quickly move into coverage in center court.

(4) Rally With Soft Eyes —> Play with soft eyes tracking the ball with your eyes and moving feet until you’re set in your hitting stance and the ball is closing in on your pre-selected contact point. At that point be focusing intently on the ball, even watching the ball through the back of your racquet strings as you make contact.

(5) Read Their Shot —> As soon as you can, find out where your competitor has in mind to place their ball. Do that as you quickly take up your cover position. For example, move to cover before they can set up to shoot a reverse pinch when they and the ball are behind you in either back corner. After you read their mind by checking out their court location, contact height, stance angle, and prep size, move from your coverage spot to get to the ball where you read it’s being placed by moving right as they commit with their elbow flying forward.

(6) Hit And Move! —> Move quickly to center court after serving, returning or after cranking your shot during a rally from along the court perimeter. If your shot were to leave the ball near center court, still try to take up the part of the center that’s left. Usually cover the competitor’s shot from the wide side of the court. Ideally stand in their blind spot behind them as they shoot and well out of the 4′ radius of their swing. Just say to yourself, “They might miss”. And hustle into coverage. Then your job is actually only halfway done after you’ve moved into center court. You must leave there to run down most shots. It’s wishful thinking to count on the ball kindly funneling right back to you in center court. The same reasoning goes for moving to return serves. Waiting in the middle in the backcourt for your return of serve (ROS) is not going to be successful against strong servers who key on placing the ball in the back corners with their serves. Read any tells they may have in their service motions that reveal where the serve is going. Recall their situational tendencies or when they serve where. Watch thru their legs trying to pick up the ball early and watch closely as the ball passes by them on one side or another. Take chances by anticipating. Move to aggressively return both serves and rally shots. One thing though is don’t preplan your return of serve, as a simple wrinkle like a slight angle or pace change may throw you completely off and ruin your perfect plan. Read, react, and tactically respond. When closer up in the court in rally coverage, do mentally picture what shot and target area you might hit were the ball to come right at you. There’s no time to decide. There’s just time to reflex the ball with a QuickDraw stroke toward your shooting target zone.

(7) Take Big First Step —> Take a big first step to track down each ball (crossover steps count). Then power down as you approach the ball with squeaky little adjustment steps, as you read the bounce of the ball and narrow your shot options to your best shot available (BSA).

(8) Open Gate And Crossover —> As your ROS feetwork, a very doable move is just like the one mentioned earlier to get out of the box by moving off the sidewall as your partner’s serve is clearing the short line. Stand in your ROS spot. As soon as you recognize which corner the serve is headed to, pivot with the foot closer to that corner opening the gate or opening (meaning facing) your hips and chest to that corner. Then crossover with the far or trailing foot as you also begin to lift your racquet. A diagonal crossover move is best. Going left it’s … pivot with left foot toward the left sidewall and crossover with right foot into about a 45 degree angled step forward. Here are 4 feetwork options to respond to different serve situations: (1) if you read the incoming serve is a howitzer of a drive serve, the immediate pivot and crossover allows you to cut off the ball as angles into the back corner; (2) to attack a moderately paced ball, you may follow up the crossover with a crisscross (behind the foot crossover) with the foot that first pivoted. Crisscross past the first set crossover foot stepping further out toward the sidewall. Then take one more step up court with the initial crossover foot which sets the front of your hitting stance; (3) if you were to read the serve is quickly heading directly into the back corner and you read that it will crack out and fly off the back wall a short ways along that sidewall, after the first crossover take a little split step hop out along the wall. Here’s how: after the pivot and crossover, crisscross step to the wall with the pivot foot, land and split or spread both feet apart as you take your backswing. And then load back and swing focusing on keeping the ball in play; and (4) sometimes, after the first pivot and crossover, a pivot with crossover step to point forward and a follow on crossover with the pivot foot going forward along the sidewall gets you on the move very quickly going forward to keep pace with an unusually long back corner flyer that comes in hotter, strikes the back wall higher and scoots out further along the sidewall. After the two crossovers, takes one more step up of court with the front foot (the original crossover foot) setting the impromptu stance. This last example is seen more and more due to overhead serves and upright, high contact drive serves meant to bounce the ball near the corner, carom off and jet out along the sidewall. These 4 are options for covering the corner with your ROS feetwork. Work on your ROS feetwork like you do your racquet swings. It’ll pay huge dividends in key situations when you return serve. Drill your pivot, ball bounce and crossover move to start. Also toss the ball a little further from you to train up using the follow on optional steps after the initial pivot and crossover so you prep to return serves further from you, too. To drill, start by standing facing forward and checking your spacing so you’re within a spin and racquet reach back of almost bring able to touch the back wall. Bounce the ball off to one side as you also pivot to that side with the closer foot. Then, as you begin to prep with your racquet and body, also crossover with the trail foot. After it lands, swing thru the ball pretending there’s a server up ahead of you who you want to move out of center court with your well-placed return. Start with ceilings and crosscourt pass returns and work up to DTL’s. The return situation is the best time to shoot a DTL from deep court because after serving the server drops back into center court. And, if they’re ripping a drive serve, it’s hard for them to rebalance and retreat in time to cover your DTL that can be almost a bunt when feeding off the pace of their drive.

(9) How To Move After Shooting —> When you’re setup up in mid court along one sidewall, a DTL pass is a percentage play when the competitor is behind you, and you can hit a pass that gets by you to bounce twice before the back wall. A low shot that hits the front wall, bounces and still is up when it gets back to your legs can be a penalty hinder on you. Hit and move. Escape feetwork: (a) hit low, back up and then curl into center court; (b) hit higher or shoot a pass and semicircle forward making an arcing run back into center court.

(10) Stroke Sensations —> Your backhand stroke feels like a frisbee toss. Your forehand pass is the motion and sensation of a sidearm ball throw or like skimming a flat rock on a smooth lake for your low-to-low killshot stroke.

(11) On-Time Prep After Keying On Ball Bounce —> As you read, track, and pick your contact point, get ready with your racquet lift when you could just about reach out and pluck the ball right out of midair like an baseball infielder. Too early prep before you’ve read the ball is imbalanced Statue of Liberty play. That is far too robotic, as having the racquet lifted before you’re ready to swing robs you of the best body balance needed to make the key little steps to adjust to the ball’s bounce because your hand is up VS down supporting and balancing 2-arm, 2-foot flowing movement. And it also robs you of the ability to smoothly loop your backswing in prep to build a fluid stroke tempo. A routine looping backswing, even a little bit lower one for a fast paced rally, transitions right-away to your resulting rhythmic forward swing. Raising your racquet too early can freeze you early in the wrong prep. Say you’re prepped for a backhand when the better stroke would be a forehand. Say an oddly bouncing ball ends up being behind you on your backhand side. Having the racquet up for a backhand would eliminate your being able to save the ball to the back wall. Very importantly stroke in one smooth motion. As you pick contact, step back to set the back of your stance, as you join that move with your initial racquet lift motion. Then step up, set the front foot, complete your prep, and then swing thru with no delay between your up swing and downswing. Avoid hopping into a double foot plop with racquet already up high leaving you just a feet dug in hatchet whack at VS thru the ball.

(12) Move Into Your Shot —> Get behind the ball an arm and racquet reach away. Approach the ball and set up facing the ball (and sidewall) behind the ball so you step up (forward) with your front foot for below waist high contact. For higher contact from a narrow stance, still set up a little bit behind the ball so you sway sideways moving into the ball. Avoid setting up directly in front of the ball leaving yourself just arm swing at the ball. Get your legs, core and upper body all working together fueling your peaking arm swing. Set up behind the ball and move into the ball in a combo of sideways and smooth arcing body motion.

(13) Play Keep-Away —> Have a reason for every stroke you take. Hit em where they ain’t. Keep the ball far away from your competitor with your shot picks. Were your options limited to having to hit at your competitor either stroke a ball off the sidewall at them or shoot a heater right at their forehand hip.

(14) Shrink Or Expand? —> Choose your shot by first picking a side of the court to attack (yet don’t point with your feet to reveal that angle). Then decide, “Shrink Or Expand the court?” As you see that the ball will be in your wheelhouse to shoot, be very observant as you track and prep for the ball. When you see the competitor is up closer to the service box, pass them deep (expand). When the competitor is deep, kill or pinch leaving the ball up in the front court (shrink). Play keep-away, run um ball. For less easily aggressive situations, like for example when fielding a deep court lob or ceiling ball, quickly retreat from center court (by turning, taking a crossover and running VS shuffling back). After you get back well before the ball optionally find the back wall with your fingertips, your racquet tip or by being familiar with your positioning close to the back wall. That hustle gets you back early enough to attack a dropping ball. Only lift a ceiling on a high ball (above your chest) when you have to stretch up to almost be up on your tiptoes to shoot. When you can, go in attack mode. This is an aggressive tactic knowing that when you don’t shoot first, even by placing an error forcing pass, rest assured your competitor will.

(15) Own A Vast Shot Arsenal —> Practice so you have many different shots ready so your competitor hasn’t a clue what you’ll do next. Quickly parse thru your owned options, pick the best one for this ball bounce and pattern of play, and then mentally see your shot and stroke to make it, commit, prep and flow. After shooting, rebalance by pushing from your front to your back foot and move to D-up.

(16) Own An Artillery Of Serves —> Like having lots of shots, also own an unpredictable set of serves for the many game situations you’ll face to keep your receiver guessing what’s coming next. You want them to have to stay in the center as you start your motion and make them have to guess sometimes just like you would VS Kane.

(17) Follow Your Shot —> Do not relax because you play a good shot. Maybe the competitor will retrieve it. Get ready for your next stroke by moving to position in the best available coverage position in center court. Get between any ball behind you and the opposite front corner as you are in your crouch positioned at about dashed line court depth. Yet still guard your primary cover, the DTL. The DTL is the shortest, most dangerous shot. Yet the DTL can still be covered with 2 quick, well-drilled steps. Step with back foot closing in on the sidewall and then crossover with the front foot as you prep and swing intercepting the pass along the wall and temporarily trap your competitor behind you as pick and execute the shot they’ll have the most trouble running down. This DTL coverage emphasizes the good tendency to be ready to leave center court to cover the competitor’s shot for whatever shot you read.

(18) No Back Wall Setups Allowed! —> Keep the ball low and off the back wall when you shoot the ball. When the competitor doesn’t and they set you up, show them why. To avoid having your ball bounce and pop off the back wall, let the ball drop low when you can to shoot low-to-low. Also learn to shoot high to low by swinging over the top of the ball while optionally dropping the ball down slightly on your strings’ sweet spot and also optionally beveling or angling your racquet face slightly pointing downwards, too. Practice develops these shooting skills reserved for balls in mid court when you can’t back up or deep court contact at chest high or lower.

(19) Move With Back Wall Setups —> When shooting a set up by your competitor that bounces and springs a ways off the back wall or pops just a little way off the back wall on a softer, higher bouncing ball, move back with the ball just a little bit further behind where you estimate you’ll be making contact. Then, as the ball is popping off the wall, move out with the ball. As the ball is arcing into your contact zone, set your feet and allow the ball to pass your hitting shoulder as it drops low, and ideally shoot low-to-low for your highest percentage shotmaking. Do this dance back and out with the ball VS darting right to where you predict the ball will rebound out. Moving back with the ball and behind expected contact honors the bounce of the ball. It develops rhythmic swinging and ensures the contact point is your choice, not the ball’s. Mistakes and unaggressive shots result from being forced to hit a ball that ends up being behind or in front of your contact point when you dash to your guessed at spot and you don’t honor the ball’s bounce by moving with the back wall set up.

(20) Feel Your Wall Target —> When it’s your turn to serve, go through your pre-serve ritual and pick your serve before you go into your service motion. As you get ready to serve and execute your form *feel* your front wall target and the resulting angle of the ball off the front wall, as you prep and swing thru using this imagery assist. For each serve, have a mental image of the stroke you’ll take and your front wall target to achieve your serve based on where you *feel* you’ll place the ball after it contacts the front wall and heads for one corner or at them if it’s a jam serve. For instance, for a crosscourt drive, mentally see your front wall spot a little under halfway between the ball and the far sidewall for your serve to Robin Hood the crosscourt back corner. You know your front wall and deep corner targets from your practice and competitive experience. As you drill your serves (or passing shots), know your target is neither as low as you think it is, nor is the front wall target as far over toward the sidewall as you think it is either. Your second nature feel is built during practice and confirmed in competitive success when you seal your feel with visualization and muscle memory programming.

(21) Don’t Look At Your Wall Target —> Don’t look at your front wall target for your serve (or ever look at your target for your rally shots). That includes not even looking in your pre-serve ritual unless you were doing say the Kane front court open stance wall bump ritual. To just turn and blatantly stare at your front wall target clearly telegraphs your serve for your competitor. One example of how that backfires is your competitor could plan a sneak attack on say your revealed drive Z serve that could eliminate both your element of surprise and maybe your best serve’s usual, counted upon effectiveness.

(22) Play, Review, Tweak —> Review your play mid game and between games in a match and in between challenge court games. Ask yourself questions like, “How am I doing? Is my form good? Am I moving my feet? Am I setting the best stance I can, while watching the ball and swinging my swing? Are my tactics effective? Do I have some skill (serve, positioning, feetwork, shot, tactic) that I’ve yet to unveil that could be very raise my level?” Self coach and self correct. Be optimistic. Prod yourself on. This isn’t judging. It’s boosting. BE A NUDGER, NOT A GRUDGER. Raise your game each and every rally. Be playing your very best at winning time. Peak your effort, focus and execution as you close out each game and match.

(23) Play In Your *Flow State* —> Get in the state of mind where you play your best and constantly return to that zone. Center yourself after any breaks in play or breaks in your concentration. Have little cues, like tapping your sternum to clear your eyes or taking a soft, deep breath or two between rallies or give yourself one little fundamental tip, like move your feet. To pump yourself up, say, “I got this”. Have a well defined pre-serve, pre-return and also pre-game ritual that puts you in your best, clear-minded focus and self belief. Don’t rush. And don’t <be> rushed. Always have a plan A and a plan B, C … and review your plans as you take on any new challenge or challenge that’s been tough on you today.

(24) PLAY LIKE A CHAMPION —> Subliminally pat yourself on the back when you do well. Also tap yourself on say your racquet shoulder to get you back on track when you briefly stray from your game plan or you make an error, like a skip. That’s better that staring at and blaming your racquet. A verbalized “Come on!” is very much okay, as is a slap on your thigh which ups your adrenaline level. Move your feet quickly in place to get yourself revved up. Or walk about slowly and count to 5 to calm down yourself down when you feel rushed or too wound up. Those are upbeat things and done in lieu of ever making a racquet attack on a wall or using foul language. Be a good sport. Make calls on yourself for hinders, skips, 2-bounce-gets and faults. Enhance our sport. How you play says so much. Show someone how to play by how you approach the game, how you comport yourself, how you handle adversity and how you stay grounded when it’s all flowing your way. Show that it’s good natured fun and play together VS being at odds with your competitor. You can’t compete and truly test your skills without that competitor sharing the court with you. Respect the game, your competitor and yourself. Avoid trying to control everything. It’s a reality game. The result is unknown. Your performance is self motivated and based on your choices and responses. Tanking (pool shark missing), patronizing (playing soft) and half invested effort (dogging it) all are easily recognized and mutually non beneficial for you and your competitor. Know it’s always respectful when you play hard. You can attack the competitor’s strength and make your job harder. You can work on your weaknesses. You can try something new you have been developing. Although inventing say a new shot real-time in a game is at best wishful and at worst disrespectful. Know your game and theirs and how to compete and control the scoreboard with your skills and your solid decision making. Walk with your shoulders back, your head high carrying yourself like champion. When you’ve read the ball, the pattern of play, approached the ball and then picked one, take that shot.