RacquetWorld's Newsletter Racquetball Tip of the Month


The Racquetball Whisperer


Obviously, the title gives away the inspiration for this article. If you don’t know the reference, picture late night channel surfing and landing on Cesar Millan, the dog trainer guy. He’s a big fan of the “calm, relaxed, state” leading to a calm mind.

I talk to players all the time. What amazes me is the lack of in-depth thought or more appropriately the lack of being able to articulate their deep thoughts about the various situations on the court. I find that if a player cannot articulate, in a very concise manor, off the court, what he or she is strategizing on the court, their game thought process is lacking.

For instance, many times you’ll see a parent, coach or partner yell out simple words of advice or instruction. To a calm, quite, organized mind a single simple instruction should access a very organized playbook. The same instructions to a disorganized mind won’t help much.

Let’s run through a few circumstances and see how you do... I asked three different people, gave them 5 minutes to think about it and then came back and took the best answer. (players were roughly C through B level)

"Control Center Court"

For the most part, this phrase made the player(s) think only of positioning themselves in the center middle of the court after their shot. There was not much planning of how this would occur.

A fuller thought process would go something like this:

Shoot the lines (this pulls your opponent out of center court and allows you to slip in)

If I’m off balance or lack a perfect setup, hit a ceiling ball (once again allowing you to slip into and control center court)

Stay away from pinches (missed pinch shot come right into center court boxing you out while your opponent is setup)

It’s not enough to know what your goal is. Many players know the goal. You have to know the steps that help you attain the goal, why those steps work and what may be options to avoid.

"Play Smart"

The general consensus was to look for your opponents weaknesses to exploit and don’t rely on pure power.

Our new articulated brains hear:

Do Not Skip the Ball (this puts a great deal of pressure on your opponent)

Control Center Court (see the above drop down menu for what this really means)

Exploit Opponent Weaknesses (the simplest form of this is to determine which stroke (forehand or backhand) is the weaker side and keep the majority of rallies and serves to this side.)

Limit Setting Up your Opponent (reduce balls off the back wall especially your serves, pinch when opponents are behind you, don’t when they have position, don’t force shots – use good ceiling balls)

"Serve Aces"

The ears hear that phrase and the mind converts it to hit the ball hard and low or serve at the crack.

A better thought process:

Concentrate on myself while I drive serve (at this point you better have hours and hours of practice under your belt so that when you “enter the zone” serving consistent aces is just a repetitive motion that your muscles have memorized. A little extra concentration on your form – staying low (not popping up), good controlled power hip rotation that allows you to hit your spot on the front wall consistently, and the realization that your opponent doesn’t exist when you serve perfect should allow you to forget your opponent exists...because in this perfect zone he is irrelevant.

Serve Power Aces Randomly (when you’re serving just over the line for an ace, give yourself an added advantage of unpredictability. If you notice an opponent is weaker to one side, in either movement or stroke mechanics, skew your randomness more to that side. We are all more comfortable drive serving to either the forehand or backhand side. Your favorite side should not overshadow the randomness effect. Without being seemingly random to your opponent, he will sit on your serve and the aces will start to disappear).

Crack Ace or Short (all first serve aces (assuming 2 serves) should be perfect or short. This is especially true on the crack ace that hit the side wall just over the short line and cracks out. If this serve is missed long, a setup with you clearing center court follows. If your opponent picks up your tell so you no longer have a random surprise to your straight drive serves, this is the next best serve to go with. It shouldn’t matter if your opponent knows what side you’re trying to crack out because it’s either perfect or short… hence, your opponent, along with a return shot, doesn’t exist )

Plan B – the Lob (maybe) (plan B consists of either a good lob serve or going for another drive ace on your second attempt (if your opponent is repeatedly rolling out your lob attempts, you aren’t getting anywhere except humiliated anyway...take charge ... go for that ace).

A good understanding of your Plan B attacks should include a variety of lob serves (again working towards a weak side if possible). The importance of understanding your Plan B is that knowing you have a very good backup plan will allow you to relax and have less anxiety on your first serve. A calm mind under less pressure creates more consistent results.

We’ve walked through articulating a few different scenarios. Please don’t think that all these thoughts should run through your head while you’re on the court. Like anything else, as you become used to articulating your strategies, the reasons for your choices, better known as the “why” part, will become so obvious to you that you won’t even have to think about that piece any more.

You’ll also notice that some of these strategies overlap so there isn’t really an overwhelming amount of information...you just need to know where to add certain mini routines into the pull down menus in your brain that build into the bigger overall strategies.

While all this may seem a little confusing at first and it’s not easy to articulate racquetball on paper or in your mind, it will be worth the calm assertive state you will acquire on the court. As we all know from Cesar, this state of mind is the best place to be for optimum performance and happiness.

This is another area where practice will make perfect...so write up one of your own strategies and see how it goes. (As a side note, I’ve been writing racquetball for years and I have to write and re-write over and over to get clear points and concepts across on paper. I’m a better player and teacher for it.)