Tuesday, June 23, 2009

RB instruction : 80% footwork

Today in our instruction series for the intermediate player, The Racquetball Blog talked to Darrin Schenck, coach of the Arizona State University (ASU) racquetball team, former top 20 player on the International Racquetball Tour (IRT), and author of Racquetball 101 and Percentage Racquetball both available through his website www.rbguru.com and Amazon.com. He stressed the importance of footwork.

"All racquet sports begin with footwork," says Schenck, so he suggests racquetball is "80% footwork."

"Many people run at the ball, and get too close to it," according to Schenck, which means they are unable to properly execute the nice level swings that they've practiced. He coaches players to approach the ball correctly, so that they can take their shot from the right position.

Schneck likens the forehand swing to hitting a baseball. Your feet are shoulder width apart; you stride into the ball such that you are parallel to the side wall. Your lead foot should be at 45 degrees pointing toward the front corner of the side wall you're facing.

"Swing from the bottom up," says Schenck. Thus, the swing begins with the feet, and then flows through your body - the legs, the hips, the torso, the shoulders, the arm, the wrist, the hand, and finally the racquet.

He coaches players to pull through the swing with the opposite side of the body to their racquet hand. So, a right handed player should pull through with the left side of her body, and vice versa for a left handed player. You shouldn't be using just your arm.

For intermediate players, getting the upper body into the swing is a big accomplishment. With advanced players, Schenck tries to get them to turn their hips into the swing before the shoulders, as this will generate more power. But this "is hard and requires good flexibility," according to him, and not every player has that flexibility, so players need to work up to that level.

Slightly off centre

One difference in Schenck's footwork philosophy is to be slightly off centre when the ball is in the back court.

For example, if the ball is in the back left corner, he advocates being a step to the right from the centre court position. His rationale for this is that it will put you in better position to hit either a cross court shot, which should come right at you, or a loose side wall-front wall shot, which should also come right over to where you are.

You'll be better positioned, according to Schenck, because it will be easier to step parallel to the right wall to take your forehand swing. By positioning yourself right in centre court, people often take "a cross over step that results in poor foot position, and limits the choices you have for your shot," according to Schenck.

It might sound like you're putting yourself out of position if your opponent hits a down the line shot, but Schenck feels you should still be able to make a play on a good down the line shot, perhaps with a ceiling ball, and loose down the line shots that come off the side wall will not be a problem, as they'll be coming in the middle. A great down the line shot is going to be a problem regardless of where you are positioned.

These are some of the techniques that Schenck's used to coach the ASU women's team to an intercollegiate national championship and the ASU team to 2nd place overall in 2007 and in 2008 the ASU women to a second place finish and a 6th place finish overall. The ASU team has no scholarship players, so they have to improve the players they have, and improving their footwork is 80% of the battle.

Follow the bouncing ball....

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