Jim Winterton's How to Watch the Pros: Part 1

Jim Winterton Poses by Courts

Jim Winterton's How to Watch the Pros: Part 1

Professional racquetball on the International Racquetball Tour (IRT) is exciting, fast and in a way, depressing. It is depressing to watch people do things that a hacker like me can only dream of! When I saw my first professional match way before most readers of this piece of literature were born, I asked myself a few questions. The first one was, “Why don’t they just drive serve every serve?” The players certainly have great drive serves. Another one was, “How can they be so relaxed? Each match is worth thousands of dollars, not to mention bonuses and esteem.” Read on for answers to my neophyte questions of yesteryear!! You can watch the action live on the IRT Network starting Wednesday, 5/25.

1. Positioning
Watch the player positioning for the return. Often we get caught watching the ball instead of the other player’s positioning.
2. How the pro moves
Very simply put, good footwork means using two feet instead of lunging with one step. Because of the nature of the game everyone gets caught taking big steps but the ones who minimize that, usually get better results.
3. Strategy
 How are the players serving each other and why? For example there are two basic schools of thought. One is what I call “slobber knocker” racquetball. The player is telling the other player, “Here it is, let’s see you do something .” The other school of thought is the “trickeration” school of thinking. This strategy is designed to keep your opponent off balance and to throw off their timing. As each rally takes on a life of its own, check and see which school of thought is perpetrated by server.
4. Baiting
This is the subtle art form of acting like one area of the court is open, so the opponent will shoot there. In this way the player on defense can actually get the player on offense to shoot to an area the defender can cover.
5. Ceiling balls
How does the player use the ceiling ball? In close matches or games on close points, a percentage player tends to hit more ceiling balls to control the rally. This is a great strategy at all levels of play and if you watch carefully, you will see the best players in the game use the ceiling ball to get out of trouble and put their opponents in the worst position to create offense.
6. Wide angle passes
This is the most difficult shot to hit accurately. A player has to hit a hard cross court pass that hits at the receiving line about six inches off the floor and rebounds behind center court. When hit perfectly it is impossible to defend. Any player who can hit that shot accurately has a huge advantage. By the way, the wide angle pass is used quite a bit at the pro level to keep opponents out of center court, and create weak returns.
7. Referee “working”
 This is an art form. Charlie Pratt is the dean of referees. The players respect him and sometimes do not like his calls and they, work hard to keep him on his toes. Often a player will complain when he misses a call, (trust me-he does-but then so would anyone-and he will miss fewer than most); they complain loudly just to keep Charlie alert and focused. Nothing irritates a professional more than a referee who does not care about the match or worse, a referee who favors one player over the other. You will notice Charlie does not crack jokes to the players or try to be part of the “show”. He does not do that “super-ref” thing where the referee quotes rule 15a paragraph three section four etc, etc. That is why he is a great referee.
Check back tomorrow for more tips to watching the pros from Hall of Fame Coach Jim Winterton, who coaches the number one male and female pros, Kane Waselenchuk and Rhonda Rajsich, and has worked with them for over eight years. He also coaches other athletes, such as three of the top four collegiate males in 2011, and four athletes on the WPRO besides Rhonda. Check out www.coachrball.com for more information about Jim’s athletes and his online coaching programs. He is excited to be working with the USA Racquetball Instructors Program developing teaching and coaching. Be sure to say hi to Jim this week as he loves to meet folks and  talk racquetball.