By Ken Woodfin

The Serve and Return Game and the 10 Seconds Rule After Score Calling

Racquetball Strategy – Doubles

What Can Go on Between Rallies, BOTH Before and After the Score is Called? and …

How-to Time and Share the Max 10 Second Interval Between Score Call and the Serve

What’s the Big Hurry?

 It’s funny how quickly players want to put the ball in play after they get in the service box. It’s almost seems like they wanna get it over with. In clubs, maybe they’re trying to keep their VO2 Max level up so they get a great workout. My concept has always been I’m not there to make sure my competitors gets a good workout or to play at my competitor’s pace of play.

Score Calling: What Really Happens in Ref-FreePlay

In ref-free self officiated play the server often bellows out their own score to grab their receiver’s full attention (especially if the receiver(s) is talking or jellin). Then the server champs at the bit until they get to bludgeon a drive serve or flick up a lollipop lob. Instead, as server, play at a more deliberate pace, your own personal playing tempo. Don’t go faster than you can handle just hoping to rush the receiver when in fact you’re actually just rushing yourself. One basic mental tactic is to NEVER start your service motion without first making your serve choice and having a good internalized view of the ball flight and your felt stroke, all by using mental imagery how you’ll place your serve and hustle into coverage. Then execute. As receiver, it’s simple; “The server doesn’t serve until I’m good and ready”.

Use the In Between Time Tactically and Technically – Uncommon Sense

If you get quick served, it’s on you. If you begin to play a rally with a wet glove, foggy goggles, or messed up strings, it’s all on you. If you don’t know the score both literally  and figuratively, figure it out. If something’s been working, hammer on that. If you’ve been screwing the pooch on one serve with one return by making error after error over and over change up and even call a time and figure out why and what you can do better. If it’s above your current skill set today, it’s okay. Schedule a solo drilling session and figure out “how”. Also, use that invaluable time interval between rallies to plot their destruction and your victory. Be prepared mentally and equipment-wise, and be stiffened against what the opponent has been doing and ready to improvise to counter whatever they’re going to spring on you next by using things you KNOW how to do (vs just winging it). An example of equipment-wise thing and being a stickler for having the necessary items to play is to make sure to not play with a snot slick dog ball. Play with a ball with some grain on it, some texture, a ball that’s not completely lost its cover. A slick ball doesn’t bounce right and it can take bad, unpredictable bounces that may affect play harmfully. After about 5 games, switch.

How Score Call Affects Play

The Rule: Once one rally ends and both players are preparing to return to their respective positions to either serve or return, the score is called by the tournament referee or by the server in self officiated play. The rule is for the server to first call the server’s score and then also call their receiver’s score. Some rec players only call their score, and then there’s the wondering *what IS the receiver’s score* when they start the next rally as server. Both server and receiver can share up to 10 seconds before the ball must be struck by the server and the receiver must be ready to return. When one player tactically delays, the other player still must be ready (should it be required) to begin play at no later than 10 seconds after the score has been called.

10 Seconds is an Eternity

From here on we’ll discuss how the interval between score call and serve works in a period of time just a little longer than Usain Bolt’s consistently under 10 second sprint times in the 100 meter dash. So, if a human can run 100m in less than 10 seconds, there’s plenty of time to get ready for the server or player returning before the ball is struck by the server’s racquet.

Server Checks Receiver

As server after you call the score, one tactic to use is to right away take a quick gander at the receiver to preemptively check the receiver (and let them see you see them). You just heard the score (from the tournament ref) or you’ve just voiced it yourself in self officiated play. That early look after the score call actually wrests away any right to any control over the 10 second interval (or less) by the receiver between your score call and your timing of when you’ll serve. That’s a tactic worth considering. Then, as server, with the full 10 at your disposal, you could either go thru your long version full 10 second ready and serve thing or you could use a shorter, less than 10 second pre-serve ritual and serve to pick up the pace of the game or the tempo you play at. Against a tired or antsy server that upping the tempo is worth considering, but only if it’s in your wheelhouse. In any case, when you choose your serve, it is your set play, well-chosen serve scenario. And as long as you put your serve in play before the count of 10, you’re golden. That’s one way it can be played.

Do Serve Ritual, Then Check

Alternatively you could go through your relaxation and ball bouncing or bumping the ball up against a wall and then your visualization ritual, and then you could subtly check the receiver after they’ve held their racquet aloft for a while. When you check them and their racquet is still up or they’re facing the back wall, stick to your 10 second internal clock. Wait a second or two, and then it’s go time, SERVE! It’s 10 seconds, not 12. One thought here is you should expect retaliatory delaying once you do it. Just be ready and be ready that they may not know how or they might stretch the rules just a tad bit.

Server Tactically  – Checking Your Receiver

You could check the receiver early, tactically using the look back to take a careful appraisal of their position in or out of the middle behind you. That positioning in the middle or off to one side or the other could help you select a serve, as you opportunistically set your serve’s width or which side you’re going to attack with your placement based on your receiver’s location. Also, right as you go into your service motion peripherally sneak one last peak so you get one more check to see if you have an opening they’re giving you to exploit and you can wrong foot or hit behind them. That could include more than just whether they’re in the middle. A server that is positioned very, very deep could be unable to handle a crackout serve that just passes the short line and hits very low on the sidewall. Then, once they move up, the sidewall opens up and angling the ball off the wall can jam up their stroke. The big advantage of starting deeper is the receiver gets more time to take advantage of any served ball that pops off the sidewall and theoretically it gives you time to see and move to a corner to cover a howitzer drive into it. Either in a ready position very deep or one big step away from the back wall, a very, very fast drive serve that Robin Hoods the back corner will work against either of those ready position locations. Tactically if you make the receiver change spots in search of a better location to return, you’re imposing your game upon theirs and hopefully they’ll leave an angle open you can find with your serve. Now all of that was from the server’s perspective. Next, the receiver’s viewpoint.

Receiver Returns Only When They’re Ready;

The Receiver’s Pre-serve Timing Actions and Options

As receiver, if you’re not ready yet to return and if you either don’t have your racquet raised or your back turned before the score is called, racquetball your racquet frame quickly. If you need a moment and they’re checking you, make very sure you are (definitely) in the midst of doing one or the other of those signals right as the server is literally looking back at you. That way you’re clearly letting them see you signal that you’re not ready, yet.

How Long Can the Receiver Really Delay?

Now logically you can’t gobble up the whole 10 seconds, as receiver, by signaling the entire time. Realistically you could use no more than about 6 seconds signaling because the server still must have time to go through their 2-step or 1-step service motion and make contact at the count of 10.

Be Careful When Being Checked

If you are already turned around showing them your back as the server calls the score AND they check you then, while your back is turned, when you begin to spin back around at say count 5, make sure to have your racquet raised. Do that so you won’t get quick served. I’ve seen it happen many times where the receiver turns around and is settling into their ready position stance or hunkering down like Sumo when all of the sudden, “BOOM!”, the ball is in a back corner before the digging in receiver can even look up. And were this to be a competition when this happens a ref just might not side with your he-done-me-wrong plight. After you turn back around, ready your feet, get down in your crouch or athletic body position, and THEN drop the racquet you’ve raised and turn all of your focus to watching and returning the ball. You’re ready at between 6 and 7 seconds. They’re serving when you’re ready. Goal #1 is met.

As Receiver, Do You Have Housekeeping To Do?

If you’ve got strings to straighten to make them work better and last longer or goggles to dry (or even a coach to check and get their serve signal, like its suggested direction), turning your back to the server is your best bet because doing those things one handed, facing forward just isn’t easily doable.

What Are Receiver’s Ultra-Purposes?

As receiver, use those 10 seconds (or less) wisely to get yourself raring to go. You want the serve back. You need the serve back. You’re ready. Now back to server viewpoint…

As Server, When You See a Delay Signal, Still Say the Score

Part of the 10 second rule is it could possibly be used for ulterior motives by the receiver in ref-free play. So be aware. When the receiver is holding their racquet up or when they’re turned to show you their back, as server don’t wait to call the score until you see them take down their signal, which would mean you’re waiting for an indication they’re ready. Until the server calls the score the receiver can signal they’re not ready all–day–long. Until the server calls the score the clock is yet to start for the taking-a-break-stalling receiver. So, in a self officiated match when you first check the receiver and they’re signaling by raising their racquet above their head or they’re completely turned around facing away, go ahead and call the score. Use your free time to go thru the preliminaries of your 3 R’s, Relax, Rhythm keeping movement and Recognize your serve choice, including using mental imagery. Check them one more time after you’ve gone thru your 3 R’s, in either your long or short version of your pre-serve ritual. And, when they’re no longer signaling, go into your service motion and ATTACK!

Ref Free Play vs Play With a Ref Timing Confusion

Now, as receiver, when you’ve used say 6 seconds as receiver, dropping your frame or turning back around and your being ready isn’t a signal to the server that they can start all over again and go through their protracted 10 second service shtick by getting loose, bumping the ball into the walls and going through their whole pre-serve ritual before finally going into their service motion. It’s time enough for them to get fully set, prep, toss and swing = ~4 seconds. They should be doing their ritual or taking a pause while you delay. Of course, in ref free play (or even in officiated matches), the server may be a little bit miffed at you, the signaling, delaying, gamesmanship stretching receiver. So expect they might think they have their regular 10 second clock to go through their relax and serve actions. They might just wanna make you wait, like you did them. Just come to an agreement so it’s understood what the shared rule is between both parties as to how to spend the interval separating rallies. This agreement goes for self officiated or interestingly it often needs to be reviewed in refereed play, too. Either your opponent or the official may be unfamiliar with the rules or their proper interpretation; bummer huh?

Use Interval Time Wisely; Strategize

Serving-centric – First, as server, mentally go through the short history of the match of your serves and their effectiveness, their tweakability or adjustments you could make, and other, as of yet, untried serve options against this receiver. Also, re-visit your coverage and cutoff maneuvers, factoring in the receiver’s previously used countering returns of your serves so that you have contra-tactics ready. Then pick your serve and, with mental imagery, see it being effective. Finally, review your escape plan you’ll use to get out of the box. Yeah, there’s plenty of time to do ALL of that; remember Lightning Bolt.

 Returning-centric – As receiver on the other side of the ball, for your return game consider the serves you’ve seen and your effective and less effective returns and what you’ve got at the ready yet to be tried when returning. (DON’T PICK ONE RETURN. You can’t predict the serve, even if you’ve pretty good idea, and you need to read the ball bounce and the server’s movement after they’ve struck the ball.) Also, consider tactical changes you could make in your approach to returning. Consider your ready position to return and what you can do to alter it to improve your returns against specific serves and by moving as the serve starts going to the front wall, like cutting off Z serves before they get to the other sidewall. Also, you could change your movement into coverage *after* your return has been struck. Additionally think about your feetwork maneuvers to cover the different types of serves and, again, what you’ve yet to try and you sense would work better. Simply figure out ways to return better. As an old coach-speak saying goes, “The defense could’ve been better”. Make it so.

The Time Between Rallies, Games and While Driving to Club

Review your strategies, tactics and game goals.

On either side of the ball, mentally review your strategies to for instance:

(1) allow fewer points or score more points;

(2) play keep-away taking medium risk chances to shoot kill-shots;

(3) be opportunistic with your returns or your server #3 shots in those moments when the opponent makes a mistake which you can capitalize on;

(4) demonstrate desire to capture the middle where, by design, your returns/rally shots won’t be;

(5) retain center or dictate play when serving and moving the receiver;

(6) as server use a freewheeling shooting style;

(7) keep your eye on the ball and your feet active;

(8) follow your shots in from the backcourt, as you move quickly forward, with a back foot 1st crossover step; and

(9) play with true grit and hustle. A good thought is to *be quick, but never hurry*. Pick a stroke thought or tactical plan or two like those to keep you engaged in your return or serve game and to battle and be scrappy as you rally, too. Narrow it to one thought as you serve or as you focus to return. Bottom line is use the time between rallies wisely and well.

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

713-557-3176

KenRB54@Gmail.com

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