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The Friendly Back Wall


How can I have two articles about the back wall - one being “dreaded” and the other being “friendly”?  As Einstein once said, “It’s all about your perspective”.  As a player, when you hit a shot coming off the back wall, it’s a dreaded thing.  As the player who now has a potentially easy setup, it becomes a very friendly surface.

I’ve always talked in broad terms about the back wall being an automatic setup.  At certain levels of play that is a true statement.  At mid to lower levels of play, the back wall setups can be very frustrating until you can decipher the various bounces, timing and footwork.  In this article we’re going to look at three different back wall setups.  We’re going to discuss some footwork and some thoughts on each.  Then we’re going to throw you on the court with some simple drills to really make that back wall friendly.

There are many different angles and trajectories with back wall shots. We’re going to make it very simple and for this discussion all these various setups bounce straight into the back wall and straight out.  Don’t worry about breaking your frame on a sidewall during the reading of this article.

The first back wall setup I’ll call the “Umbrella” setup.  This is the most common back wall setup when your opponent’s shot bounces beyond mid court with a good deal of energy, hits the back wall while still rising slightly and comes off with a nice umbrella like arc.  You must hit this setup before it hits the floor for the second bounce.  

There are two big errors many players make with this setup.  The first error is players take their eyes off the ball to judge the back wall distance and then have to reacquire the ball.  The second is that players tend to cheat on their footwork by waiting for the ball to come off the back wall and come back to them while they hang out at center court.  Waiting for the ball, results in the player trying to strike a ball that ends up too far behind them with very little if any forward body momentum.  Most of the time this player is facing the back corner trying to hit forward.  Awkward to say the least…

Players should never take their eyes off the ball.  The should reach back with their racquet on forehands and their off hands on the backhand side to feel for the wall.  If you get in the habit of feeling for the wall on these back wall shots you should start correcting error number two also.  You have to get out of the rain and under that umbrella.  As the ball comes off that back wall and you start under the looping umbrella bounce you will be moving with the ball giving your body the correct directional momentum it will need to hit this setup towards the front wall.  Once you’re positioned under the umbrella, it becomes a timing issue.  Stay sideways and shuffle your feet until it’s time to explode with your shot stride.  On faster paced balls you will have to shuffle very quickly.  On slower balls it’s much slower.  You’ll develop the timing.  As you get better and better, you will get farther and farther towards the outer edge of the umbrella bounce as a shuffle starting point…but to be consistent with the back wall setups you will never abandon the umbrella all together.

The second back wall setup is the “Drooping” setup.  This happens when the ball has a little less energy than the first setup and it actually on the downward part of it’s bounce when it hits the back wall.  A quick calculation must be made to address this setup correctly.  As soon as you see this type of shot coming off the front wall you must make the determination if you will have room as it bounces off the back wall.  This is difficult for many players…when in doubt, hit a ceiling ball back.

As a general rule, I would say if the ball is hitting 6 feet high on the back wall, you have comfortable room at any level.  As you get better this may be reduced down to 2 feet.

There are two main errors with this type of setup also.  The first is indecision.  Many player flip flop in their mind and wait to long to make a decision whether this ball is coming off the back wall or not.  We know now that you will never have this problem because as soon as that thought even tries to pop into your head, you squeeze it out with the ceiling ball choice…period.

The second biggest error is a combination of taking your eyes off the ball and judging the back wall.  We know from the first setup that we will not take our eyes off the ball, we will feel for the back wall and knowing the walls don’t move, we will know exactly where we are.

This setup is much more difficult to get your body/momentum going in the right direction during your swing.  It’s much tighter this time and many players worry about hitting the back wall or that the ball is coming down to fast.  Relax about hitting the back wall…it may happen but you know the best place to get racquets…worry gone.  If you are in the correct position which will be right next to the back wall, you will have more time than you think so that ball will no longer seem to drop so fast.  You must get right up against the back wall so that you can spring forward with what little room is there during your stroke.  Do not assume the ball is coming way off the back wall…assume it’s dropping straight down…the worst error is when you have to reach backwards on this shot.  If you’re too far back, you will at least be moving in the right direction as you scramble to return the ball and you’ll also see the front wall and maybe even your opponent while you’re doing it.  Again, you will get better as your timing improves…I can’t stress enough to stay back…more small corrective steps are better than waiting and trying to take no steps.

The last setup is the “Blast”.  This happens when the ball doesn’t hit the floor but comes off the front wall then directly off the back wall with no bounce first.  The good news is you still have a bounce.  The bad news is this ball is going to be moving fast.

The biggest error on this setup is that players don’t start moving fast enough.  The instant you realize it’s a blast shot, I would start moving forward and head toward center court.  (I’m ruling out very low hitting blast shots).  Pace yourself so you are moving forward toward the front wall and don’t stop…this continued movement will allow you to speed up if necessary.  Starting from a standstill is the kiss of death on this one.  This is simply a case of running the ball down.

One important thing to remember is that the rule you must know is the ball has to touch the floor twice (second bounce) to end the rally.  During a blast shot, if the ball hits the front wall after only bouncing once, the front wall is just another wall and you can play it off the front wall right back into the front wall for your shot.     

A blast shot that gets run down very close to the front wall often results in an upfront dink…make sure you let the ball get low and don’t aim the ball down when dinking.  Dinking is an art don’t take it for granted.


I like to set myself up with these various setups by hitting the ball into the front wall myself about midway to three quarters up the front wall from about the dotted line.  This way I also learn to move backwards correctly.  You’ll vary the speed and height of your setups and take the balls off the back wall as described above.  If you have a partner, don’t cheat by starting too close to the back wall…even if they hit the setup for you, start at the dotted line.

The “droopy” setups are a little easier if you hit yourself ceiling balls.  I’d start a few feet behind the dotted line on these and feel for the back wall without losing sight of the ball.

If you want to blast away, go ahead.  Start these at the dotted line.  Hit it, stand still for a One-thousand-one…then MOVE!