Don’t Throw Away Your (Racquetball) Shot!
How many times have you been watching a pro football game when the commentary team says something about the “game starting to slow down” for a rookie? The idea is that, as the new player grows accustomed to the game’s speed, it seems like everything around them is moving slower when in reality, they are processing the game faster.
This isn’t a phenomenon that only pro athletes experience. It happens in every sport. As a new racquetball player gets more practices and matches under their belt, they stop running back and forth so much and start incorporating footwork fundamentals and good swing mechanics into their game.
In addition to the physical aspects of racquetball, the mental part of the game opens up more at this point. As the game slows down for you, you can begin to focus more on strategy and racquetball shot selection.
Create the Situation You Want
Racquetball is a game that requires split-second decision making based on ever-changing situational information. Your location on the court, your opponent’s position, and what the ball is doing gives you a wealth of information that you can use to choose your best shot.
If you control where you are and where your opponent is, you get to be the one that determines what the ball is doing more often than not.
The best place to be during a rally is the center court. Of course, in racquetball, that term is a bit of a misnomer. Center court does not mean the dead center of the court. The Center court position in racquetball is about 2.5 feet behind the dotted receiving line.
This position allows you to address any incoming shot with the least extraneous effort. You can get to either sidewall in a step or two. You can rush forward if need be, and you can shuffle back to either corner without needing to turn away from the ball.
A position in center court gives you the best opportunity to address anything your opponent throws at you. So no list of racquetball tips would be complete without mentioning how important that position is to a good game plan.
With the importance of claiming center court in mind, the goals of racquetball serving come very clearly into focus. Since you get to start the rally when you have the serve, it gives you the opportunity to determine who gets the best court position.
Since every legal serve results in the ball bouncing after crossing back over the serving area, there aren’t as many different types of serves as there are types of shots. Your opponent will always have a general idea of where the ball is headed.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t use your serve to move your opponent around or keep them guessing. The best racquetball serves are not necessarily the ones your opponent can’t return—they’re the ones they don’t expect.
If your opponent is playing up close to the dotted receiving line, try a drive serve with power or a lob serve that will force them back into a corner. If they are playing over to one side, use a Z-serve to send them to the opposite side of the court. If you’ve consistently sent them to different parts of the court on your serve, drive the ball straight at them.
But do what you can to force your opponent to give you a suboptimal return shot and move away from center court. Take your position and use it to control the rally.
Choosing Your Shot
One of the great things about learning about racquetball technique is that the mechanics for your swing don’t really change from shot to shot. When you have your basic forehand and backhand swing mechanics figured out and in your muscle memory, you can use them to make pretty much any kind of shot—whether offensive or defensive.
While we talk a lot about controlling the court and using your serve to send your opponent in different directions to force them into weaker returns than they’d like to give, it’s important to remember that they are trying to do the same thing to you.
That’s why it is imperative, when practicing racquetball techniques, to include defensive shots. These shots generally hit higher off the front wall. Defensive shots are best used when your opponent has good center court control to force them out of position.
The most common defensive shot is the ceiling shot. Remember: racquetball rules state that the ceiling is not out of bounds during a rally. A ceiling shot racquetball will hit off the ceiling before hitting the front wall.
When the ball comes off the wall, it will bounce with a high, deep arc that will force your opponent to move in order to get in position for a good return. That lets you take center court and give you a better chance to respond to a return with a more offensive shot.
Other defensive shots include Z-shots and three-wall shots that use the side walls to add some different angles of approach to your shot. Typically, no matter what defensive shot you utilize, you will strike the ball when it is above your waist. That helps lift the ball without requiring you to flick your wrist while hitting, which reduces your ability to control the direction of your shot.
Offensive Racketball Shot Selection
While defense is key to long term success, offense is fun. Everyone loves scoring points. And there are a lot of different offensive shot options that are fun to practice and even more fun to spring on an opponent.
The most common shot you’ll make is the passing shot. This is what most people think of as the “regular” racquetball shot. You can hit a pass, so it goes straight ahead and comes right back, which is called hitting the ball “down-the-line,” or hit a cross-court passing shot that takes the ball to the opposite side of the court from where you hit it.
These shots can be point winners. Hitting a ball down the line or cross court can force your opponent to move where you want them to go. If they aren’t prepared for that because they are too far forward or are returning from one of the corners, you’ve got them.
As you get more comfortable with passing shots, you can work on changing up the amount of power, the direction of the shot, and even the arc of the ball as it goes toward the front wall. The best time to hit a passing shot is when the ball is around waist height.
Racquetball kill shots are hit low and with power. The goal is for the ball to come off the front wall and bounce twice before crossing back over the service area. You don’t want to hit a kill shot if your opponent is in front of you. You want them to be in the back court so that they won’t have time to get forward and return your kill.
Kill shots can be made down the line, but there are a few varieties that make use of the walls of the court. A splat shot racquetball is hit from right next to a side wall. The goal is to have the ball ricochet off the side wall at a shallow angle to gain spin so that it comes off the front wall at a difficult speed and angle for your opponent.
A pinch shot racquetball also comes off a side wall before hitting the front wall. This kind of kill shot is also used most often when you are near a side wall. A pinch shot can result in some interesting angles, depending on where it comes off the side.
The thing these kill shots all have in common is that you hit the ball when it is low to the ground. You want the ball to be below your knee when you hit it to make sure it stays low when it comes off the front wall.
Less Conventional Shots
One of the most challenging shots to hit consistently because the ball moves so quickly and is so responsive to contact off your racquet is the racquetball drop shot. The drop shot is the only shot you make where you want to let your wrist bend to help take pace off the ball. A perfect drop shot will barely make it to the front wall, making it nearly impossible to return.
Perhaps the rarest occurrence you’ll see is an intentional racquetball crack shot. A crack shot is a ball that hits right at the intersection of the front wall and a side wall. While that would be an illegal serve, it is perfectly legal in a rally.
The way a ball comes off the wall on a crack shot can be unpredictable and hard to return, but doing it on purpose during a game is extremely difficult, so most players don’t bother trying for it, instead relying on other, more consistent shots.
Find Your Best Weapon
All of these shots can help you control the court and win points, games, and matches. But you will probably be better at some than others. Use practices and friendly games to figure out the shots you are best at.
Then make sure you can use them from either side of the court. Opponents will want to test your racquetball backhand skills, so be sure you can punish them for that. This is the key to how to get better at racquetball—practicing your shots from forehand and backhand to take advantage of any opportunity your opponent gives you.
As you run drills and practice different scenarios, the game will slow down for you, and you’ll be able to recognize the opportunities for racquetball shot selection. The best racquetball shot ever is the one that your opponent doesn’t expect, so practice different shot techniques and take charge of the court!