By Ken Woodfin

You are a pattern recognition machine!

Pattern Recognition Machine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plan B’s Shots

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

Standard Shots

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

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

Improv Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Review…

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

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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