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Racquetball dictionary



By Alex Glaros 


Take lessons first!

An important consideration in drilling is whether you are practicing with correct form. If not, all you're doing is reinforcing poor form when you practice. So I strongly recommend at least a few lessons to improve swing technique. You'll get more attention if you take lessons as an individual, but one of the best 3 day rball camps is Fran Davis' racquetball camp. Anyway, a lot of the technique stuff is completely unintuitive so taking lessons is the fastest way to get good and avoid lifelong bad habits.

Use the same swing!

Don't telegraph your shot selection. Once you have good technique down, always use the same swing, regardless of where you hit the ball. That is, if you're hitting a forehand, always step forward, regardless of which direction (straight, splat, crosscourt) you hit the ball. Direct the ball by hitting the ball at a point few inches forward or back from your lead foot. If you drop the ball a few inches back (towards the heel of your lead foot) the ball will go more to the right. If you drop the ball a few inches forward, closer to the toe of your lead foot, the ball will go more to the left. Your opponent cannot read the few inch difference of where you drop the ball and cannot tell which way the ball will go. If you're hitting a backhand, always step at a 45 degree angle towards the side wall that you are facing regardless of the direction you want to hit the ball. The purpose of this is to make it hard for your opponent to guess what shot you are going to hit. Don't point your foot in the direction that you want the ball to go because many players use this giveaway to predict your shots.


There's several areas to practice

  1. Fundamental mechanics. See "take lessons first" above and my checklist on swing technique.
  2. Handling all types of shots with good form
  3. Speeding up your racquet preparation and shot execution
  4. Shot selection

Handling all types of shots with good form

Make sure that you can execute every type of shot. Make sure that you can get close enough to it so that you can hit the ball when its in your power zone, and not have to reach off balance for it. That means you have to move your feet.

Hit a defensive lob too short to yourself. This is a common error that your opponent will make. When the lob is dropping down, practice backhand and forehand down the line pass, narrow angle pass (e.g. your opponent is to your right and in front of you; you hit the ball to his left and ball touches left wall even with where opponent is; so if he lunges to cut off the ball while its passing him, the ball would be nicking the side wall for furthest distance possible from him), V pass, kill, pinch, splat, overhead down the line and overhead cross court pass shots.

Common error: don't lift your head up during the end of your swing. That will cause the ball to angle up and go too high. It's hard to catch yourself making this error unless you really pay attention.

Passes have to be hit very hard and accurate to work, accurate side ways that is, not so much vertically. However don't hit passes so high that they come off the back wall. They should bounce twice before hitting the back wall.

The variables of how fast a human can run and the dimensions of a racquetball court are such that an out of position receiver cannot get to a very fast down the line shot hugging the side wall, but he can get one that is just a tiny bit slower or an inaccurate one. So practice your passing shots as though there's an opponent going for the ball. Hit that ball hard! You'll be pleased to find out how realistically this exercise prepares you for a real game. Practice passes from all kinds of set ups: weak ceiling returns, opponent mis-hits a lob serve, balls coming off the back wall, especially drive serves coming off the back wall, everywhere. Get consistent with those blazing down-the-line-passes!

Here's a very important variation of this drill. Stand in front court, in the service box or on the dotted safety line. Hit the ball somehow so that you have to back up to let it drop lower, then hit a down-the-line pass. To set yourself up for this, maybe hit a half lob at the front wall, a weak ceiling ball, or hit the back wall so hard that the ball files to the front wall without hitting the floor, then hits the floor coming at you, but after it bounces, its too high to hit at that point. You now have to shuffle back to let the ball drop lower. Make sure that you're not moving backwards when contacting the ball; fully stop and step forward and have your weight transfer from back leg to forward leg to hit a power drive. (Don't shift your weight too much. Start off with weight distributed 50/50 over each leg. Shift weight just a little to 60(back)/40(front), then goes back to 50/50.) If you're hitting a pass, why let it drop lower? Because otherwise its too easy to hit the ball too high, and it will rebound off the back wall for an easy set up for your opponent. Also, shuffling back gives you enough time to bring your shoulders, arms and racquet back so that you can hit the ball very hard. Getting your racquet and body coiled early is a critical skill if you want to get good. The goal of this drill is to get you out of the habit of just poking at the ball when its coming at you at shoulder height, but instead, to move back until the ball gets lower, and consistently hit hard down the line shots. This drill closely simulates real game situations. Down-the-line passes are where a large percentage of points come from in racquetball!

Hit a defensive lob too hard so that it first hits the ceiling, bounces on the floor then off the back wall 3 ft. or higher from the floor before it hits the floor for the 2nd bounce - practice hitting the ball as it comes off the back wall using forehand and backhand down the line passes, V passes, pinches and kill shots.

Instead of hitting a defensive lob, you can also just throw the ball into the floor and have it bounce off the back wall that way.

How to take the ball off the back wall when a defensive lob is hit too hard

To make great shots off the back wall, always start very close to the back wall (get to the back wall early and touch the back wall with your non-racquet hand), then shuffle forward to one step behind where you think the ball will land, and quickly shuffle/adjust your position to the ball as it moves towards the front wall. This way, you are hitting the ball in front of you and stepping into your shot. Don't guess where the ball will come off the back wall and plant your feet there before the ball hits the back wall! This will prevent you from stepping into the ball and if you guess wrong, you'll have an awkward swing reaching for the ball.

Bend down pretty low trying to get your shoulders coiled up, and lower than and behind the ball before you swing. This will help you swing level.

Defensive lobs are often hit too hard so this shot really comes in handy. After some practice, its surprisingly easy to do.

Pretend your opponent messed up a defensive lob, missed the ceiling entirely and the ball goes from the front wall to the back wall without touching the floor, then bounces on the floor and is traveling towards the front wall. Two or more variations are possible: (1) close to the side walls or sliding on and along the side walls or (2) the ball is in the center of the court, away from the walls or (3) extremely close to the front wall. 

If it's close to a side wall, practice letting it drop very low and practice 3 shots, depending upon where your imaginary opponent is: (a) straight in low dink kill shot that travels along the side wall, hits the front wall, and rolls out traveling parallel to the same side wall (very effective because to cover the shot, opponent has to severely compromise covering the other shots!) Practice hitting a very hard, clean down the line also, if opponent is too close to front wall (b) wide angle pass (if opponent is covering the down the line shot too well; the ball hits front wall at V shaped angle so that it hits the opposite side wall about where the dotted safety line is; making opponent stretch the maximum amount to reach it) (c) pinch/splat (if opponent is a little too far back).

If the ball is about to hit the front wall (coming from the back wall) practice dinking it if the opponent is too far back or, if you feel that you can't control it, hit a ceiling lob. When you're up that close to the front wall, your ceiling lob should contact the front wall first, instead of the ceiling first, then it hits the ceiling, the floor, then the back wall about one foot above the floor. 

If the ball is centered between the two side walls, let it drop low and hit a forehand pinch to the left side (hits side wall first, then front wall, then floor). You almost have to aim for the crotch of the front and side walls because you're so close to the front wall. Also, you are so close to the front wall that the ball will tend to move parallel to the side wall after it hits the front wall (not come out to the center). Very hard for your opponent to get to. To get the ball really low, I watch my racquet skimming the floor, traveling parallel and just above the floor to it to insure that the shot is perfect. 

Hit an around the world shot too hard - practice backhand and forehand down the line pass, taking ball off the back wall. 

Hit an around the world shot - practice short-hopping it, hitting a down the line and V pass. Pretend your opponent is in different positions and adjust your shot to pass him for each position. 

From the short line, slam the ball against the back wall so it bounces off the back wall without hitting the floor, bounces off the front wall, where you let it drop low and hit before it reaches the floor, into the corner. Pretend that you are trying to catch your opponent off guard, while he is hanging in the back court, therefore try and hit the ball so that it bounces twice way up in the front court away from him. If your shot is not accurate, make sure that when you're running up to get the ball, to get there early, one step behind where you will contact the ball, then when the ball arrives, you can step forward into your swing. 

Same as above but this time contact the ball just after it hits the floor (after it comes off the front wall; short-hop it) and push it (1) straight ahead (2) into one of the corners. (Pretend opponent is hanging back, that he is assuming that you will take the ball in the back court, so again, so try and hit the ball so it dies close to the front wall away from him.) 

Same as above but this time hit a hard wide-angle pass or down-the-line pass very hard (pretending your opponent is running up towards the front wall; he's assuming you will lightly hit the ball to the front wall like in the previous shot). 

Put your gym bag on the safety line, in the center of the court. Stand in front of the bag and lightly hit a setup shot to yourself which lands in various spots in the front court. Hit a hard wide-angle pass to either side of the court, and see if you accurately beat your imaginary opponent. A wide angle pass to the left side, for example, would be when you contact the ball on the right side of your opponent, you hit the ball to around the middle of the front court and it passes your opponent on his left side, touching the left side wall at the point even with an imaginary string stretching to both side walls and going through your opponent. Remember what angle to hit the ball when from various positions to get the maximum distance away from your opponent who will be lunging to cut off the ball while its passing him. 

Practice hitting your lob serves as close to the short line, not the safety line, as possible.  They need to be hit high to make sure they're not so low as to be in your opponent's power range when they come down. The ball (new ball) should hit the back wall one foot above the floor.

Stand in the receiving area and hit a drive serve to yourself that comes off the back wall. Practice observing where your imaginary opponent is. If he's backing too far back, hit a pinch or splat. If he's too far forward, practice a DTL, or cross court pass. He will change his strategy/position if your shots are successful, so be ready for this! If the ball travels way up towards the front court and your imaginary opponent is backing up because you've set up for a cross court pass, change your mind and hit a pinch to the opposite side that you're on (e.g., he serves to your left side, you start off hitting a cross court to the right side, he starts backing up and moving to the right to cover it but you see that, change your mind and hit a pinch or reverse pinch on the right side. Pretend that your opponent is adapting to your shots so that you have to really observe where he is each time, and think of the most effective shot selection.


Footwork when returning a serve

Don't shuffle to get to the ball, when returning a serve, instead, use a cross over step. Set up square to the side wall, don't hit while square to the front wall.

Speeding up your racquet preparation and shot execution

Speedy setup drill: Normally, I recommend that you get in the ready position before throwing the ball to yourself for practice hits, but this is different. Stand in an unready position, straight up. Throw the ball up for a backhand and hit the ball in the air before it drops to the floor. You must bring your elbow up, rotate your shoulders and bend your knees after your throw the ball into the air. This must be done very quickly. Make sure that you hit the ball with a good snap. If you're off balance after you swing, or are not hitting the ball hard, go back to study the fundamentals and see where your form is incorrect.

Speedy set up drill #2: Lightly hit a lob ball with your racquet up into the front wall so that it comes down around center front court, or anywhere where you have to take a couple of steps, but don't have to run too far to get to the ball. After you've hit the ball, see how quickly and correctly you can set up for a backhand, taking the ball on the fly. Hit passes, pinches, reverse pinches, kill shots and splats. If you're not hitting the ball very hard, something is wrong with your form so get back to the fundamentals until you can hit the ball very hard without forcing your arm muscles to do all the work.

Shot selection

Shot selection is a biggie. Within this area are:

(a) awareness of opponent during backswing
(b) deception and alternate threats
(c) awareness of opponent after swing

Awareness of opponent during backswing. Practice setting up for a specific shot FIRST and THEN practice looking for your imaginary opponent's court position and only THEN make up your mind as to where to hit the ball! Don't look at your opponent before you set up or while you're approaching the ball. He's making up his mind on where to go by watching how you set up. Only then will he make his court position decision. This is a great habit to get into. Just start off by selecting the most logical shot to hit, set up for it, then see where your opponent is. Practice keeping your eye on the ball, while using your peripheral vision to see where your imaginary opponent is. This is so that you don't lose track of the ball.

Taking this one step further, practice figuring out which way your opponent is leaning. For example, he could be close the the left side wall, leaving you a big fat passing lane on the right, but if you're shooting from far back court and he's very fast, he might be able to get it. His chances of getting it are improved if he is leaning towards the right side pass, and if he is leaning that way, pass him on the left with the ball hitting the left side wall 1 foot in front of him. If you don't see him leaning in any direction, always take the big fat pass. Otherwise, you may end up hitting the ball right to him for a set up. Making this last minute decision feels mentally weird/difficult at first, but is one of the most important skills to learn.

Deception and alternate threats. From each spot on the court, if you get a set up, there's two winning shots available that travel to opposite ends of the court, making it impossible for your opponent to cover both shots. I call these alternate threats. For example, if you're in front court in the middle/left side with an easy forehand. Set up for a pinch to the right side so you have a good view of your opponent. If your opponent comes up to cover the pinch, hit a wide angle pass to the left, otherwise, hit the pinch if he stays back. Learn the alternate threats for each position in the court, depending on your opponent's position. Here's another one. Let's say you're in front court with a set up very close to the left side wall. Let's say your opponent is up front far enough to get passed. Simply set up for a down the line drive along the left wall. This is your first threat. If you can see him behind you, don't pinch thinking that he's going to stay there. He might get your pinch by running around you at the last minute when you turn to watch the ball you're about to hit. Instead, hit the alternate threat, a wide angle pass to the right side wall. This is much safer and cannot be covered at the same time as the down the left line or the pinch.

See using the same swing note above.

If you can't see your opponent, practice hitting one shot one time, then alternating to another shot the next the same situation arises.

Awareness of opponent after your swing. Practice remembering where your imaginary opponent was when you swung. For example, you were in mid court, couldn't see your opponent just before you started swinging, and just successfully splatted a forehand on the right side wall. The rally's over. Practice immediately looking around to see where he was and remember his habits. If he was behind you, then you know that he may be a smart player who does not guess, but stays back so that he won't get beat by a pass. In this case, be prepared to hit more pinches and splats.

Its hard to remember these last three skills in the heat of a rally, so practice them with an imaginary opponent in the court to build them into habits.

Subject: Re: Consistency
Date: 05 Dec 2001 19:56:39 GMT
From: dano

hey Chris:
some people have mentioned practice, some have mental preparation, and some
have mentioned drilling with set ups rather than drop and hit....
all are valuable but practicing game TYPE shots will prepare you mentally and
physically more than anythind else.
I mean hitting set up that directly simulate game situations. This means
making you feet move to a position and hitting various shots from that
Remember...every ball comes from a different area of the front side back wall
or the ceiling. Off the front wall....start in center court and feed yourself
balls that make you move laterally, forward, backward at different speeds and you must get there with good racquet prep and hit a variety
offensive this day two repeat the same thing but add
the variable of the ball coming at you from each of the side
three work on directing ceiling ball mistakes into offensive areas..the only
way to make this realistic is to always start in center court where you would
actually be when that ball is hit by your opponent..drop back with balance and
good racquet prep and try to control the ball at off the back wall
you must practice straight, front side and most importantly wrap around shots
that force you to not only retreat but to rotate to the opposite side of the
court and be effective....
the CONSTANT here is that you always start someone near center and court and
make yourself move into each first set yourself up with easily struck
balls and eventually make yourself MOVE quicker to execute all shots....this
will improve your awareness on the court, your racquet prep, your REALISTIC
shot making ability, your timing , your ability to many offensive shots from
different positions and MOST IMPORTANTLY your CONFIDENCE>>>>
best wishes


Subject: Re: first step and foot work
Date: Wed, 10 Jan 2001 06:54:19 -0800
From: "Steve Edwards"

"Joey2 wrote in message

> any drills to help...I have tenancy to follow the ball into the corner and then
> have to change direction when it go the other way...also any way I can becone
> faster getting to the ball, I sometime take a step back before i go foward to go after a ball

There is one drill that I used to use that I know helped Tim Doyle a lot
with his first step. It requires one other person and two racquetballs.
You stand at the back wall facing the front wall. The other person stands
at the receiving line, and holds one ball out to the side at arms length.
They then drop the ball, and you have to get to the ball and catch it before
it bounces twice. The one requirement is that your first step is to the
side of the ball without moving your other foot. For instance, if the other
person is holding it out to their left (your right), your first step must be
with your right foot. This is actually harder than it sounds. What you
find is that you take a small sort of hitch step with your other foot (in
this case, your left) before going the direction you want to go. If you can
get rid of that step, you can get to the ball quicker.

Do this to both sides. Once you are able to go to each side without the
hitch step, make it harder; have the other person hold one ball in each hand
and drop either one. This way you don't know which way you will have to go
until the last second. If you can go either way without a hitch step, your
speed to the ball will really increase.

Steve E.
Team E-Force

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