Tuesday, September 5, 2017

“Play your game!” But what is your game?

In coaching, a common piece of advice is to “play your game.” The idea being that you should play how you want to play, and not get lulled into playing whatever way your opponent wants to play.

In racquetball, this can be taken to mean that you should just do whatever it is that will enable you to hit a winning shot. So racquetball players are often trying to roll the ball out on every shot, because those are the shots that will be winners, right?

Well, yes, but racquetball involves two people (or four in doubles), so if you are trying to “play your game” without taking into account your opponent(s), then you are overlooking a key part of what is happening on court.

If you are a sports fan, then you are likely watching some of the 2017 US Open Tennis Championships now going on in New York. Consider the Men’s Singles match between John Isner and Mischa Zverev. Isner, at 6’10”, is a very tall fellow, which is a big advantage in tennis. But the thing about tall people is they don’t like getting down low, because it’s awkward and takes a lot of effort. All in all, they’d rather not do it.

Zverev, who at 6’3” is not short guy, turned Isner’s height, which is generally an advantage, into a disadvantage by hitting a lot of slice shots to Isner, so the ball was naturally low to the ground. Thus, Isner had to continuously go down to get it, and over the course of the match this took it toll and helped Zverez, the 23rd seed, upset 10th seeded Isner.

Clearly, Zverev had a game plan, and hitting balls low to the ground was part of it. When you play racquetball matches, you should also have a game plan, and you should “play your game (plan).” That plan needs to take your opponent into consideration.

Does your opponent like hitting the ball hard and low? Many racquetball players like doing that. If so, then would it be a good plan to serve hard and low to him or her? Maybe not. Maybe it would be better to serve slower shots to that opponent.

It’s good to know what you like to doing on the court, and good to know what you do well on court. But often what is going to win the match is doing things that put your opponent in an awkward position more than hitting the shots you like most.

Consider: if you like hitting the ball hard and low all the time, and hate ceiling balls, but a coach tells you if you hit a ceiling ball in every rally against your opponent, you will win the match, would you do it? Could you do it? What if two ceiling balls were required to win every rally?

It’s true that after the match people ask how many more often than how, so, for most people, saying Zverev over Isner, 6-4, 6-3, 7-6, will be enough (and then it was Querrey over Zverev, 6-2, 6-2, 6-1) without saying anything about how it happened. But, as a player, in order to get the result you want, you need to know how to do it. And that means having a game plan.

Plans can change during the match, of course. There’s a saying that all battle plans are perfect until the first shot is fired, and then they are all useless. But much of what is valuable about the plan is the thinking that went into it. That thinking will help you figure out how to get the result you want.

Then during the match you can just “play your game (plan).”

Follow the bouncing ball….

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