Mar 292011

In his March 2011 monthly newsletter, Racquetball Tim discussed how to hit a harder forehand by using a compact and focused swing. According to Tim, here’s the order in which things happen for a normal drop and hit forehand:

1.  Drop the ball AWAY from your body so that you have full arm extension at ball impact.

2.  Take a small step directly toward the front wall with your left foot.  Your racquet should still be up at shoulder level as you take your step toward the front wall. Do not drop your arm and racquet as you take your step.

3.  Lead with your elbow. The racquet lags behind as your elbow leads.

4.  The upper body and arm follow the hip rotation. When you finish your swing, your chest should face the front wall. This will make sure that you’ve rotated your hips properly.

5.  To make sure that you completely rotate your hips through the zone, clear your non-racquet arm out-of-the-way. Pretend there is a bush right next to you, between you and the front wall. Use your non-racquet arm to “move” this bush out-of-the-way. Do not bring your non-racquet arm up to your chest during the swing. It gets in the way, preventing  proper hip rotation, and limiting the amount of generated power.

6.  As the hips rotate, pretend there is a bug under your back foot. You need to pivot on your back foot  to squish the bug.

7.  When you’ve completed the swing your belly button should face the front wall with your racquet pointing toward the back wall.

If you’ve done these things and you still aren’t hitting the ball as hard as you want, you’re probably making one of the following errors:

Check your grip
At the point of contact (directly in front of your front heal for a straight-in shot) your racquet should be parallel to the front wall. If it’s angled slightly you’ll probably end up slicing the ball or putting topspin on it like tennis players do.

Drop the ball AWAY from you
Most people are comfortable contacting the ball close to them. If you want to hit harder you need to learn how to swing flat and level, which means you need to hit that ball at full arm extension away from your body.

Mar 202011

squash lungeFor two years I played competitive squash in France. I participated in the Isle de France League and also in local Paris tournaments. All squash players in leagues and tournaments in France are ranked based on their match results, so I started out at the bottom, ranked around No. 4500 in France.

I initially tried to use racquetball techniques on the squash court. I played very fast and tried to hit the ball low and just above the tin. Because of my poor court positioning, I was always in the way and exasperated by the stroke calls made against me. This aggressive style of play always totally wore me out. After struggling to learn how to play squash correctly, I finally got some coaching from Thierry Scianimanico, an amazing top 20 French squash player. It took me a year to stop trying to play racquetball in a squash court. I then quickly moved up in rankings to a respectable 3C level, or around No. 750 before moving back to the US.

By playing so much squash, I was in much better shape. As a side benefit, I had also immensely improved my racquetball game !

So what key things did I learn from playing squash:

  • Play your opponent, not the ball. In squash, your shot selection is always dependent on the court position of your opponent.
  • Keep your opponent behind you by hitting deep, wide angle passing shots.
  • Run your opponent diagonally from front corners to back corners.

Squash also requires a higher level of fitness than racquetball! In squash, you literally try to run your opponent until they are gasping for air.

FWIW,  even the world No 3 ranked racquetball pro, Jack Huczek, plays squash. In an interview, he describes his typical training regimen:

I’ll play racquetball 4-5 days a week. I’ll do strength
training 5 days a week. I’ll do speed training 3 days a week. I’ll do
squash for cross training purposes 2 days a week.

So if you want to improve you racquetball game and improve your fitness, try playing squash regularly. But be careful, because you just might get hooked on the game.

Mar 152011

Shane Vanderson discusses how top racquetball players will constantly vary the height, speed, and angle of their serves. This strategy will keep their opponent off-balance and prevent the serve from becoming predictable.

Mar 102011

Why do so many racquetball players hit the wrong shot at the wrong time? In other words, why do players make poor shot selections which are easily retrieved by their opponents, or even worse, hit a skip shot into the floor?

I believe many players get on the court and play in style which I describe as being on cruise-control with only one set speed and direction. What I mean is that your ingrained habits of play will severely limit your range of shot selections at any given moment during a match.

So, in order to improve your ability to take the right shot at the right time, you first need to learn to pay attention to the court position of your opponent. And second, you adhere to a set of shot selection guidelines until they become completely instinctual.

Shot Selection Guidelines

  1. Play off the back wall. In midcourt, if the ball coming from the front wall is waist high or higher, then let it pass you and hit a shot off of the back wall. Do not defend the back wall like a goalkeeper. You do not need to volley the ball in the air. After striking the floor and then the back wall, the ball will slow down, making it much easier to hit at knee level.
  2. Watch your opponent. If your opponent is behind you, and the ball is at knee level or below, then hit a pinch shot into the closest corner. If your opponent is next to you, hit a passing shot. If your opponent is in front of you, use a passing or ceiling shot.
  3. Passing shots should be struck when the ball is between knee and waist high. If the ball is above waist high, then hit a ceiling ball or around the wall shot.
  4. Whenever in doubt, hit a cross court passing shot. 
  5. Eliminate skip balls. Hitting good passing angles is more important than hitting the ball low. Passing shots should hit 12″ to 24″ high on the front wall.