Directional Play Techniques for Racquetball

“Do I go this way or do I go that?”
Make sure your binary decision making rules your tactical execution and your hustle thinking, too…

Directional Techniquesas you play

It’s the world you make of it. Ideally it’s the world your way. Every shot you take is an expression. For each ball, it’s the statement you make by how you move tracking down the ball, which stroke you pick, where you set yourself, how you prep, at what height you make contact (at your off shoulder contact point) and how you shape your all-along mentally formed and pictured shot angle. On the other side of the ball, every tactical position you take should allow you to best cover the court. Critically that spot affects the challenger’s shot placements because they must also consider where you are and where you COULD be were you to move from your cover spot. Ideally don’t bite early or keep drifting. Freeze when they’re set, unless, for example, you’re just sure they’re going for a rollout. Then figure you MUST cover by hustling forward into the front court. Release as they swing forward, as your hustle makes them make their kill-shot or you get to re-kill their left up ball.
Make constant binary decisions…
1- Face right wall or left wall?…
2- Stroke with forehand or backhand?
3- Hit to which side? Choose to place ball on your side or theirs.
4- Contact height? Low or high? (low is below waist high on down and high = medium waist high up to chest high)
5- Court depth? Place ball in front court or backcourt, as kill-shot or passing shot (or ceiling ball)?
6- Stroke size? Quick or well-developed? Match racquet prep to time you make by quickly moving to get your feet under you to shoot (which means scoot to shoot).
7- Do you see it or do you reflex it? Shape shot you picture, even in a blink.
8- Then…how do you clear ground zero where you made contact to begin to defend your shot? Quick or sluggishly? You can always walk into coverage…

The key

On both sides of ball, pick a side. This is not a time to be Switzerland. Here offensively decide whether to place the ball on your side or far side. Or defensively decide whether to defend right or left and front or back. Ideally starting from there be ready to leave center court to run down opponent’s shot you anticipate or see. Anticipate means you read where it’s going. See means you react AFTER the opponent makes contact, which is later.
How do you place shot on your side
Note that placing the ball on your side means you select from a straightforward shot placement option, including…
(a) down the wall kill-shot;
(b) 2 bounce passing shot down the wall into rear corner you’re vacating, with first bounce past short line;
(c) down the wall soft ceiling ball or better yet deep target ceiling ball or power ceiling along that sidewall;
(e) 3-wall shot that strikes sidewall you face and zigzags into far, front corner (optimally striking far sidewall first) ricocheting off front wall and bouncing twice angling over toward your side ideally too low to get; or…
(e) cross front corner reverse pinch that hits low on far sidewall or front wall first, angling ball back over to your side in front court.
How do you place ball on far side when shooting
To place ball on far side of court, pick from among cross-court shot options, including…
(a) 2 bounce pass into far, rear corner as V cross-court kill-pass, a MUST give shooting angle, by opponent’s position. Target is on front wall 1/2 way over from contact to far sidewall;
(b) near corner pinch shot into near sidewall picking target 1-8 feet out from corner, as ball veers into front wall to angle low into cross front corner;
(c) deeper sidewall targeted splat angling to front wall, caroming off softly ending up very low in far, front corner;
(d) wide angle pass (WAP) angling to front wall a little further over than 1/2 way to far sidewall so ball caroms out, deflects off sidewall in mid court and ideally bounces twice in far, rear corner; or…
(e) cross-court touch or torch ceiling ball (with torch type ceiling targeted further back from front wall that’s ideally stroked with under-spin.
Pick side and way
As you pick a side, pick a way. By knowing your owned shots, you know what shot angle you can produce right HERE right now based on bounce of this ball. Shotmaking versatility is trained up in solo drilling, warmed up before you compete and reinforced in rally play. As you play, pay attention to balls you play and results you’re having today. As you shoot, pick from among what you KNOW you do best. As you play today, make small corrections to raise your game. Shot picking is always the calculus you make, as you choose and commit to your most trusted stroke and shot choice you see working here in THIS pattern of play. It’s key NOT to repeat one shot over and over letting them get comfortable with it to take it away from you. Match shot to bounce and player situation. Don’t be stuck with shot where internet announcer would like to auto-say, “Down the line; good shot.” Know that a straight in shot is NOT always the right shot or doable based on ball angle and spin and opponent’s positioning.
Be ready to move too, when picking your cover side
In between hits, as you defend from your best spot, decide which side of the court to cover. When opponent is fielding higher ball, often the play is to be ready to cover a rear corner to stake out or plan to intercept their direct to the front wall shot angle. When ball is lower or when opponent looks particularly intense and prone to hit low, be ready to bolt forward to cover one front corner. There, timing-wise, take off as opponent commits when their elbow flies forward…
…answer the eternal question
The constant query posed to you is, “Do I go this way or do I go that?.” Do that on both sides of ball. Tactically ideally play keep-away with your shotmaking. Also, pick a side to move to from where you move to in optimal coverage. As you play the bounce, factor in… “Where can the ball go?.” Your shot choice and placement is always affected by the incoming ball’s angle and spin, and, to an lesser extent, its speed… For example, for a very fast higher ball, it should often be allowed to go on back and pop off back wall as an offensive back wall setup, for you. React to ball’s angle and spin that you read, as you move WITH the ball. There note how opponent made contact with their racquet, because that often defines its spin. Although you wanna avoid hitting ball off front wall directly at opponent, you MUST factor in ball’s angle and spin and then respond. The ball’s movement as you swing thru crucially affects your shot angling. Sometimes you must hit the ball where you may not want to…
What happens when you can’t pick a side?
What do YOU do when you read you can’t play put-away OR even play keep-away from them…
Left with ‘to them’ option sometimes you must
Hit shot closer to opponent’s position or literally you must hit your shot right at ‘em. Then your tactical choice include…
(a) going for a felt, elevated front wall target when looking to bounce your passing shot right at their feet;
(b) angle ball off far sidewall into their body, when targeting further over on front wall than 1/2 way or even a little more than 1/2, as WAP;
(c) angle ball totally around ‘em as a wide angle pass (WAP). Only go for your WAP when they’re not between you and cross front corner. This is because, if they’re on the diagonal between deep in the court ball and cross front corner, you can’t hit your target a little farther over on front wall than 1/2 way over from contact to far sidewall. You should get to shoot a V cross-court pass, without popping them. When you and ball are further up in the court, that WAP angle is often there;
(d) when they’re on your side, too, you may hit a ball as near angle pass (NAP) along the sidewall. A NAP is a shot hit along sidewall that bounces twice before the back wall. With the NAP, you either seek to make NAP ball…
(1) bounce and graze sidewall, to ideally take its second bounce right in that rear corner; or
(2) your direct NAP shot caroms off front wall, nicks sidewall on its way back and quickly takes its 2 bounces before the back wall. Without practice, good luck with shooting direct to front wall looking to make ball rebound off, veer to and graze sidewall to carom off and bounce twice. You must train up angling the ball this way (or any way).
If you control your shot height, your NAP could either bounce and catch the sidewall to deflect off and bounce again deep or your NAP could carom out and catch sidewall on the fly to then bounce twice staying in tight along that sidewall. In either case, avoid an overhit down the wall ball that caroms off the front wall and either bounces to catch the sidewall or caroms off and grazes the sidewall to bounces once, as both overhit options would then go back and spring off the back wall as a back wall setup for the opponent—so shot height rules;
(e) lift up deep target ceiling ball so ball bounces too hard near opponent for your power ceiling ball to be short hoppable by them;
(f) loft up a lob along wall that the opponent must awkwardly play on the run while dropping backwards having to return your shot from two-thirds court behind dashed line;
(g) grip it and rip it at ‘em as chin music. When you sense you can’t hit ball around um, at their feet or even accurately lift up a good ceiling ball, one option is to crush your shot right at ‘em angling off the front wall or angling into and off sidewall into ‘em; or…
(h) in doubles, when playing the ball in deep center, look like you’re picking out one of the opponents to hit to, but instead shoot right down the center between 2 spread doubles opponents. You’re hitting up the gut, when you see both opponents pressed up against sidewalls covering your pinch or expecting a bullet passing shot right at one of them. There hit the ball directly back at the back door in center on the back wall, with the intent to just pass ‘em by…
Hitting at ‘em tactics
Tactically, when choosing to hit your shot at opponent, adapt… There accommodate ball bounce. Collect yourself and effectively hit ball right at opponent’s position when you must. There…
(a) hit cross-court at ‘em; or
(b) shoot up the gut down the center at ‘em; or
(c) shoot down the wall from same side of court where both you, the ball and opponent are located. In down the wall situation, when you recognize late both ball and opponent are on same side as you, know that if you swing and miss, meaning you skip it in, racquetball’s frontier justice says you won’t get to claim a hinder after the fact. So hit or hold fire. That’s because, although you should get one, you won’t get a break when the hindering opponent pops up right in front of you blocking your straight in angle (or blocking your V cross-court angle), especially when it’s too late for you to hold up AFTER you’re committed and you’ve already begun to swing forward.
Train up chin music
To decipher how to hit ball at ‘em…when you see it’s not the time to hit ‘em where they ain’t…train up ways to make it tough on ‘em. Work on bouncing ball at their feet, hitting your shot off sidewall into ‘em, lifting deep target ceiling pulling ‘em back, lobbing over their head or, when you must, crush ball right at ‘em.
Train up hitting into all 3 angles
Train up hitting shots at imaginary, visualized opponent, as you drill. Imagine opponent is in one of 3 stripes up through the court…
(1) directly in center of court;
(2) on far side of court; or
(3) occupying same side of court as ball and you…as you position to hit in one of those three stripes yourself…
It’s all about shot compensation
Consider your shot judgment is very much about both how ball is angling as you intercept it, along with where you, ball and opponent are in the court. Often you must hit at opposing player when you are on the move, playing a higher ball or say when you know it’s tactically best to avoid hitting a shot directly at opposing alpha doubles player. That’s why you improvise. You must be ready to be inventive. To be able to do that, you must train. Know that not every shot is an automaton straight in or a plan B cross-court zinger. You must be ready to adapt and create a shot angle in just the spur of the moment. Although it is suggested you do NOT resort to hitting certain shots.
Those low use shots include…
(1) an around the wall ball (ATWB). That’s because an ATWB is often interruptible right after its bounce in the center of the court, especially in doubles;
(2) Don’t force a 3-wall shot you’re likely leave up. That means, when you know you’re going to leave it up too high in front court, go for a plan B;
(3) Also don’t go for a 3-wall shot when you estimate your kill-shot might not even make it to the front wall. Likewise your binary question is… should I go for an overhead on the move when say a ceiling ball would tactically be a much better shot pick? With THAT high ball, even a lob would be better tactically. Know that even in singles there’s times you must shoot to attack the opponent’s position. Still tactics like…
(a) bouncing your shot at their feet;
(b) jetting up a deep target ceiling ball that bounces hard at their feet;
(c) mashing a high, hard one right at ‘em;
(d) blasting up an on the run High Z; or
(e) even lofting up a lob where they must retreat and return on the run…are potentially much better than a weak, uncertain kill-shot or a pushed passing shot weakly floating away from them when they’re not anchored to the court, and they can move and gobble up your powder puff pass. That also goes for when carving up a touch ceiling ball when that softly struck ball can be short hopped and put-away right after it bounces before you could possibly sprint forward to cover it. Instead, when going to the ceiling, go for a deep target ceiling ball. That further from front wall power ceiling ball would be tough to cut off on the rise after its bounce. And a power ceiling ball shot hop is tough to control and turn it into a very low shot placement.
Think about it
Notice some shots weren’t included. Shots that aren’t listed as hit at ‘em backup shots or attack a side shots, including options, like a…
(a) back wall save;
(b) overhead pinch (when striking ball with your forehand overhead or your over your shoulder backhand);
(c) back to near sidewall 3-wall Twooze kill-shot caroming ball off near wall at your back zigzagging into cross front corner; or (d) often a High Z. That’s because the spur of the moment back wall save, overhead, Twooze or High Z shot is pure improvisation. Take note how many options there are when hitting ball at opponent. There are even more options when hitting at ‘em than when shooting a ball to your side or theirs. Both pick a side and at ‘em shots are about selecting an angle and dialing up pace you see working, while adding helpful ball spin.
There you see and act on your future vision of how this rally ought to go. Then say, when a lob you see as fitting, right then flick the ball up. Also, when adapting to a high or fast ball, a backup action is to spin, face far sidewall cut an inside out passing shot. There cut the ball so it angles to far side of front wall caroming off nearly wallpapering the far sidewall, angling tight along the wall. The inside out shot is often doable, as a good plan B. Go for this cut shot, especially when fielding a bullet, a ball angling off sidewall into you, or even a ball breaking out away from you, as you track it down… when you read you can’t even hit a cut shot, it’s lob time time. Lift up your run ‘em back lob…
Keep to plan
Keep making your binary decisions picking among two things. Get where you CAN even predict heads or tails. Get where you can pick your shot with intention to make opponent struggle with any shot placement you choose. Also know, by osmosis, where they’re placing THEIR shot, as it flows into angle you’re already stepping in and blanketing…
Be cagey
React to low shots. Don’t jet forward and be passed. Anticipate and camp on passing shot angles so you can cut ‘em off. Drop back quickly with ceiling ball to play it in backcourt. Unless you sense you can rollout a high volley shot, let high ball go on back to rebound off back wall, as ball will often come right to you off back wall…then as low contact back wall setup. Don’t try to tempt, taunt or outwit the opponent. Out hit and out get ‘em. Pick best shot in the moment based on shots you take and familiarly, confidently make. Hustle for what your see or expect.