Friday, June 12, 2009

RB instruction : Away from the ball skills

In the second of our series on improving your racquetball skills, The Racquetball Blog talked to Jo Shattuck of the Racquetball Academy ( and a top 10 women's professional player. We asked her what she would tell a player at the C or B level, who's played some tournaments, and is looking to improve. That is, your intermediate recreational player.

In instructing players, Shattuck talks about what you do at the ball and what you do away from the ball. She finds people learn the at the ball skills much sooner, because they're the "fun stuff," and the away from the ball skills are "very neglected."

Away from the ball skills are about court positioning. Shattuck sees players often watching the ball or simply waiting after they've hit it, as if there's nothing to do until their opponent hits the ball. But there is!

You need to move back to centre court, and Shattuck's guideline is that you want to get to centre court before your shot is going to take a second bounce. Doing so should result in you being in the centre court position prior to your opponent hitting the ball.

Centre court is not the absolute centre of the 40 foot by 20 foot floor space, but rather can be identified by the intersection of two imaginary diagonal lines. One running from where the front of service box meets the right side wall to the back left corner, and the other running from the front of the service box and left wall to the back right corner. This intersection is in the middle of the court, slightly behind the dashed service reception line.

But you shouldn't blindly go to centre court, because "that could be a safety concern," according to Shattuck, as you could be moving into the path of your opponent's shot or swing. You want to think about your movement, not react without thinking.

What should you be thinking about? "Look for your opponent's windows to hit the ball," says Shattuck, as reading those windows will give you a sense of what your opponent's going to do next.

Some shots produce larger windows to hit the ball than others. For example, a ceiling ball has a relatively large window, because it could be hit at a high contact point, medium, or low. On the other hand, a drive Z serve has smaller windows to hit the ball.

Regardless, you need to be ready for whatever your opponent's going to do. Shattuck likes to see players position themselves in centre court with their hips toward the front wall slightly biased towards the side their opponent is on.

To do so, have the foot on your opponent's side slightly back of your other foot. Thus, if you're in centre court and your opponent is in the right back corner, your right foot should be 12-18 inches back from your left foot, as you look over your right shoulder at what your opponent is doing.

You need to be watching your opponent, because you don't want to guess what's going to happen based on what you think should happen or what you would do, or whatever. "Don't go until you know!" says Shattuck.


In summary, Shattuck's advice is that, first, after you hit the ball, go to the centre court position, but don't do so blindly. Second, when in centre court, have your hips facing forward with a slight bias to where your opponent is. Third, don't go until you know, so don't move from centre court until you know where the ball is going next.

When you're playing better opponents, they'll be able to make the next shot, even as your shots improve. Thus, you need to improve your away from the ball skills. In doing so, you'll improve your overall performance.

Follow the bouncing ball....

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