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Teaching kids racquetball

 

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Racquetball dictionary

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Get a grip - how to hold the racquet handle

 How to stay out of your opponent's way

Court position - where to stand when receiving

Swing technique - beginners' step by step breakdown of swing mechanics


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Okay, your kids have gotten old enough to swing your racquet around, so you're going to start taking them to the club with you.

How to start? Make each session in the courts fun, short, and often. Here's some basics:

Get them full size racquets; they're lighter and they make more successful hits.

Don't let them walk into a court without safety glasses specific for racquetball. Get'em from the local Big5, or http://www.racquetworld.com/, www.pacificsports.com, etc. There's kid size glasses that will fit them better than adult size glasses. Call ahead to make sure they're in stock if you're driving to a local shop. Z-Leader makes an eyeguard "Essex" for smaller heads. Wilson Junior Eyeguards fit fine for ages 2 - 8(ish). You can get contact lenses online at lens.com or through your doctor.

Show them how to enter the court (by Jordan Kahn).

Choreography

Show them how to choreograph their movements. To do this, explain to them that they have to move out of the hitter's way so that he has a clear shot to the front wall, straight in and cross court. Have them watch the ball come off the hitter's racquet, while they watch through the strings of their racquet. This is to shield their faces from getting hit with the ball and naturally inclines them to move out of the way. They will get hit a lot less if they watch, than if they don't, because they can intelligently move out of the way! Teach them early on that they should always know where the ball and the other players are. They should be standing at about a 45 degree angle to the front wall when watching the hitter; not directly facing him. Toes should be pointed at a front wall corner, so the kid should have to turn his head around to watch over his shoulder. Don't let them point their toes toward the back wall!

Drill: Tell them not to hit the ball. You hit the ball repeatedly, keep it in play, while they have to run out of your shots' way. This is a blast for them because it becomes a game to stay away from your shots. Keep hitting the ball, mostly lobs if they're not quite all the way out of the way, as they run from side to side, watching your shots through the strings of their racquets, giving you a clear shot to the front wall. Don't let their feet face the back wall; feet should be facing front corner.

Don't have them just hold the racquet up as a partial shield. Make them watch the ball through the strings to ensure that their face is completely protected by the racquet. Stop play as soon as there's an infraction, no matter when, or how many years they've been playing. Make up a game where they get points if they watch the ball through their strings when anyone is hitting the ball, or during a real game, subtract a point each time they forget to shield their face. The only time you (or your kids) should not watch the opponent hitting the ball is if you accidentally hit the ball so that it goes near your head. In this case, don't look back, but instead move your head far away from the ball.

The server shouldn't stop protecting himself until the ball is being thrown to him for service, because kid receivers often go after short serves to hit them, when the server has stopped being careful because he assumes that the receiver knows the serve was short.

Also, show them how to hold up if they're about to hit someone, and, how to yell "stop" at the top of their lungs, if they're about to get hit. Don't let anyone swing a racquet when anybody is standing even remotely close. Teach them to play it over again.

Let them have unstructured hitting fun (except for the watching hitter through strings).

Time to check if the kids have had enough for today already!

The Swing

You can only teach very young kids so much technique. I stick with these few guidelines (but don't teach them all at once! Teach the components one at a time.). Later, you can review detailed swing directions. For both back and forehand:

  • Drop ball even with lead foot, full arms length away from their body (don't let them get into habit of hitting ball when it's behind them)
  • Always bend the knees, feet little more than shoulder width apart, belly button facing the side wall
  • Elbow held up high as shoulders. Bend forearm so arm is like letter "L" (at 90 degree angle to upper arm) like a baseball pitcher
  • Wind shoulders up (this automatically turns hips) like a windmill (works much better when knees are bent). Don't over wind shoulders so that they are off balance. You can make sure that their shoulders turn if you can see their collar bones turn. Tell them to let the ball drop low, to try to keep their shoulders lower than the ball and behind it so that they hit the ball at the same height as their knees.
  • Step forward when swinging (weight shifts from back to front leg). Legs pull (not push) hips around. Hips pull shoulders around. Arms are like loose ropes being pulled around, not stiff!
  • Unwind shoulders like windmill (discourage kid from using underhand/looping softball-pitch-like swing)
  • Straighten forearm completely out as it reaches the knee. This is by far the fastest way to stop a kid from slicing the ball. Otherwise, kids tend to stand too close to the ball when swinging.
  • If there's no snap, teach the child to snap their wrist by aiming the bottom (butt) of the racquet handle towards the front wall as they swing. When their arm runs out of length at the end of their reach, the wrist will automatically snap. However the easiest way to

Its a little less distracting if you practice this at home first without a ball for a couple days.

Simplified swing technique for kids - slap the ball

If you need to distill this to make it simple for your child, reduce it to (1) hold elbow at shoulder height (2) step forward (3) slap the ball making sure that the wrist does not snap until it the racquet meets the ball, then snap the wrist through the ball.

Serving is an excellent time to work on this since the child has complete control over the ball. So when serving have the child bend knees and raise elbow above shoulder BEFORE he even drops the ball. This helps make it a habit. Have him drop ball at arms length away, but in front of him so he has some place to step to. Regarding the stage where he's stepping forward, see if you can get the child to get the knack of feeling his hips drag his shoulders around.

Drill: Throw the ball a few feet from them, so that they have to chase the ball a few steps while their elbow is high as shoulder. The racquet shouldn't be raised up at the last second. That's too late. Make that early racquet preparation a habit!

Kids need multiple bounces at first, because its just too much for very young kids to read the walls. But they get lazy very fast, so move them to 3 bounces, then 2, then 1 bounce as soon as you can. See Jordan's info on this.

Watching the ball when swinging. Tell the child to watch the ball all the way until it hits the strings of the racquet. If they're missing the ball, watch to see if they're taking their eye off the ball, and tell them that it's more important to watch the ball at the last second, than when its far away. Hold the ball with your hand and move it in slow motion towards the child's racquet and have them refresh their focus every foot that the ball travels until they see it hit their racquet strings.

Also, see Jordan's two handed grip info.

Don't worry about shot or serve selection or strategy; the goal is just get a rally going.

Receiving

Have the kids wait for the serve at arm plus racquet length from the center of the back wall. (They just need to tap the back wall with racquet so make sure they're in the right spot.)

During a rally, have the kids run back and wait in the center of the dotted safety line after they hit the ball (unless they're in the hitter's way). This dotted-line position is the easiest place from which to get any balls that the opponent hits regardless of whether you're a kid or a pro.

The kids should always have their knees bent while waiting for their opponent to hit the ball. They should not be standing straight up waiting for the ball. Tell them that they should be "crouching like a tiger!"

Drill: You and/or other kids watch a receiver to see if he remains crouched and ready when he's waiting for opponent to hit the ball. If the receiver stands straight up while waiting to see what happens, everybody yell to him "you fell asleep!". Its pretty comical to have other kids watching one kid for lapses in concentration. Having kids get into the habit of staying focused like this quite dramatically improves their skill level. They start looking like miniature Open players.

Taking ball off back wall

This is tough for kids. Practice: have them start off one step away from the back wall, then you bounce the ball off the floor to the back wall where the kid has to hit it before it touches the ground. They have to run to get to the ball. The trick to this is to have early racquet preparation, with elbow as high as shoulder, shoulders already wound up, and start a step from the back wall when the ball is just starting its journey to the back wall, then to shuffle out to one step in back of where it appears where the ball will land on the floor, then quickly shuffle to the ball as it bounces out off the back wall so that the kids can step into the ball as they swing. Tell them that their shoulders should be lower than, and behind the ball. Because they're so flexible already, and so low, this is another area where they start looking like miniature Open players. Don't let very young kids slam the ball into the back wall to make it reach the front wall on a fly. Its a little dangerous at that age, for the other players. Summary: make sure the child brings the racquet back early, swings from behind the ball, not in front of it, and shoulders are low as the ball.

Drill: Here's a drill you can do at home. Get a foam ball and toss this against the wall on the fly, so that your child can hit it after it hits the wall but before it reaches the ground. Make sure kid's elbow is up and shoulders are wound up before you throw it. Again, get them to shuffle after the ball while elbow is up and shoulders are wound up. Shoulders are lower than, and behind the ball. Can't emphasize early racquet preparation enough for any shot during a rally. Its a tremendous habit that makes them advanced players quickly.

Sportsmanship

Don't let kids get into that victory dance if they win a rally against another kid. After every rally, have the kid tell his opponent either "good shot" if the opponent won or "good try" if he didn't. Tell opponent "good game" after every game.

Conclusion

Keep sessions short. As soon as they get bored, hungry or tired, stop. Don't practice too many concepts at once. On the way to the club, tell your kids what the one main concept is that you'll be practicing today, e.g., getting back to the dotted line every time, to receive, after they hit the ball.

Making it fun is the key. To this end, we usually start each session where they just take turns hitting the ball, keeping it in play, regardless of whether they skip the ball of not. One more tip: the easiest way to get a reluctant kid interested is to have them play with other kids that they can socialize with. Lessons with an instructor that teaches juniors is a convenient way to find other kids that play.

Questions or comments? Contact me! Alex


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