Tuesday, June 30, 2009

RB instruction : Serve Variety

To begin today's installment in The Racquetball Blog instruction series, riddle me this, Racquetball Blog Readers, how many serves are you comfortable with? Ron Brown, one of Canada's National Team coaches, believes many intermediate players have only one or two serves they're comfortable with, and that's not enough.

"You need to have plan B, C, D and E," for serving says Brown, so players should have "four or five effective serves, rather than one or two pet serves."

Brown advises developing serves that "you can count on in any situation." Obviously, if you're playing with two serves rather than one, you can be more aggressive on the first serve. But your second serve in those situations shouldn't be a weak lob you have little confidence in that you hit only on second serve just because you're afraid to fault with anything else.

The time to develop these serves is in your regular, recreational games. Brown suggests making a rule with yourself - the person you're playing with needn't know - that you're only going to hit drive serves to the right, say, for one game. Then pick another serve to work on for the next game.

Alternatively, "say you can't hit the same serve twice in a row," suggests Brown, or "use a rotation of serves." You might hit a drive, then a lob, then a Z, all to the right side, and then do those serves to the left, rotating through those 6 serves regardless of what the rally outcome is.

In tournament play, Brown suggests changing serve "if your serve has been ineffective twice in a row." Thus, if your opponent has made two consecutive winning returns of a particular serve, it's time for something different.

Note, that you needn't give up on a serve after one great return by your opponent, because that great return might have been a fluke.

Brown likens serving in racquetball to pitching in baseball. A batter may be fooled by a pitcher's fast ball for awhile, but the batter's likely to catch on to it eventually. And the pitcher may tire out from bringing the heat all the time, so it's in the pitcher's best interest to vary what he's serving up to the batter.

All good pitcher's have a variety of pitches they're comfortable with, and they move those pitches around in the strike zone, giving the batter several different looks. That's what racquetball players need to do with their serves.

There are many serve possibilities: drive, lob, Z, half lob, jam, to the left or to the right. Then add in the variation of standing in different spots in the service box as well as hitting a serve backhand, and you get a very large number of possibilities, if not an infinite number of possibilities.

That said, if you find a serve that's giving your opponent fits in a tournament match, keep doing it until he or she figures it out. But be prepared for your opponent to figure it out. You'll be in trouble in situations where your opponent is returning your one or two pet serves well, and you have no other serve to go to.

If you can develop two more serves you're comfortable with this summer, then you'll be winning matches this fall that you were losing in the spring.

Follow the bouncing ball....

Sunday, June 28, 2009

US Junior National Results

The USA Racquetball Junior Olympic Championships - their Junior Nationals - wrapped up on Sunday in East Lansing, Michigan. One hundred and eighty-five players participated, and there have been some upsets - more on the boys' side than the girls'. We're going to highlight the 14 & under and up divisions, as those are the players who were shooting for spots on the US Junior National Team that will compete at the IRF World Junior Championships in the Dominican Republic this December.

The number 1 seeds won all of those National team divisions, except one, and in that one, the number 1 seed lost in the semi-finals.

On the boys' side, Jose Rojas led the charge from Stockton, California, as he won the 18 and under championship, defeating third seed Taylor Knoth in the final, 15-11, 15-11. Rojas also won the doubles crown with partner Jose Serrano, defeating Bradley Kirch and John-Craig Chisholm in the final.

Marco Rojas, Jose's brother, won the 16 and under division, as he beat Jose Diaz, 15-8, 8-15, 11-8, in an all Stockton, Califonia final. This was the only final that did not feature a #1 seed, as Diaz - the 4th seed - beat the top seed Nick Montalbano in the semi-finals. Marco Rojas was seeded 2nd.

Rojas and Diaz teamed up for 16 & under doubles, but surprisingly did not win the division, or were even in the final, as they lost to Dylan Reid and Joseph Lee in the semi-finals. Montalbano and Joshua Hungerford then beat Reid and Lee in the final, while Rojas and Diaz took the third place match.

Zachary Wertz won the Boy's 14 and under final, which featured no players from Stockton, defeating Sam Reid, 15-9, 15-10. Wertz also won the 14 & under doubles title, teaming up with Adam Manilla to defeat Nicholas Riffel and Sam Reid, 15-10, 15-1.

In girls play, all three #1 seeds won their divisions in 14, 16 and 18 and under. Sheryl Lotts won the 18 and under title, defeating Danielle Key in the final, 15-10, 13-15, 11-7. Aubrey O'brien defeated second seed Devon Pimentelli, 15-11, 15-10, to win the Girls 16 and under title.

Finally, in Girl's 14 & under, top seed Kelani Bailey defeated third seed Samantha Simmons, 15-8, 14-15, 11-4, final. But the surprise in that division was Mercedes Arias, who was seeded 7th, but finished 3rd by defeating 4th seed Abbey Lavely in the third place playoff. Earlier she defeated second seed Sabrina Viscuso in the quarter finals, but lost to Simmons in the semis.

In girls' doubles, O'brien and Key teamed up to take the 18 and under title, while Jessica Munoz and Amanda Lindsay were a surprise winner in 16 and under as they were the lowest seeded team in the Round Robin playoff. Bailey won a second title: the 14 & under doubles crown with Abbey Lavely.

2009 USA Racquetball Junior Olympic Championships
18 & under

(1) Jose Rojas (Stockton, CA) d. (3) Taylor Knoth (Milwaukie, OR), 15-11, 15-11
16 & under
(2) Marco Rojas (Stockton, CA) d. (4) Jose Diaz (Stockton, CA), 15-8, 8-15, 11-8
14 & under
(1) Zachary Wertz (Kenner, LA) d. (3) Sam Reid (Portland, OR), 15-9, 15-10

18 & under

(1) Sheryl Lotts (Bedford, OH) d. (2) Danielle Key (Gilbert, AZ), 15-10, 13-15, 11-7
16 & under
(1) Aubrey O'brien (Auburn, CA) d. (2) Devon Pimentelli (San Bruno, CA), 15-11, 15-10
14 & under
(1) Kelani Bailey (Norfolk, VA) d. (3) Samantha Simmons (Crofton, MD), 15-8, 14-15, 11-4

18 & under

(1) Jose Rojas & Jose Serrano (Stockton, CA/Stockton, CA) d. (3) Bradley Kirch & John-Craig Chisholm (Syracuse, NY/Marlborough, MA), score unknown
16 & under
(1) Joshua Hungerford & Nick Montalbano (Milwaukie, OR/West Islip, NY) d. (3) Dylan Reid & Joseph Lee, (Portland, OR/Baton Rouge, LA), 15-6, 15-7
14 & under
(1) Adam Manilla & Zachary Wertz (Centennial, CO/Kenner, LA) d. (2) Nicholas Riffel & Sam Reid (Loveland, CO/Portland, OR), 15-10, 15-1

18 & under

(1) Aubrey O'brien & Danielle Key (Auburn, CA/Gilbert, AZ) d. (2) Lily Berry & Sheryl Lotts
(Columbus, OH/Bedford, OH), 15-13, 15-10
16 & under
(3) Jessica Munoz & Amanda Lindsay (Burlington, WA/Oregon City, OR) d. (1) Courtney Chisholm & Devon Pimentelli (Marlborough, MA/San Bruno, CA), 15-13, 15-14
14 & under
(2) Abbey Lavely & Kelani Bailey (Cuyahoga Falls, OH/Norfolk, VA) d. (1) Hollee Hungerford & Sabrina Viscuso (Milwaukie, OR/Auburn, CA), 15-5, 10-15, 11-2
(note: these divisions were three team round robins; result listed is for match between the first and second place teams)

Follow the bouncing ball....

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Where are the girls at?

The USA Racquetball Junior Olympic Championships - their Junior Nationals - are currently underway in East Lansing, Michigan. The results are mostly according to form, and we'll report the champions here for you Sunday. But there is something shocking about what's happening in Michigan.

One hundred and eighty-five players are participating, and that's a nice figure. But the shocking thing is only 37 of the 185 players, or 20%, are girls. None of the girls singles divisions have more than 9 players! We're stunned by how low those numbers are.

In the Canadian Junior Nationals, there were 44 girls of 131 players (34%). In the girls 12 and under division there were 15 players at the Canadian Nationals, almost twice as many the 8 girls playing that division in Michigan.

Those looking out for the future of USA women's racquetball should be concerned that there are so few teen girls playing competitively, because all your future champions will have played when they were teens. Having a small pool of players at the teenage level does not bode well for creating excellent adult players in 5 to 10 years.

Look at where the Junior World Champions are coming from. For the last 5 years in the girls World Cup divisions (14 and under, 16 and under, & 18 and under) only 3 of the 15 champions have been American. That's a worrying statistic for an American coach, although at least those three titles have been earned by three different players: Danielle Key, Michelle Key and Ashley Willhite.

It may seem some American women like Cheryl Gudinas Holmes and Jackie Paraiso can win forever, but we know they can't. Other players have to come along and replace them.

But there are disturbingly few American girls trying to do so.

Follow the bouncing ball....

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....

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Wright Answer

Last week, The Racquetball Blog asked you which of 5 women's pro players had won the most tournaments in their careers: Heather McKay, Jackie Paraiso, Rhonda Rajsich, Christie Van Hees or Shannon Wright.

Twenty-one people responded to the quiz, and their responses were divided relatively evenly between the five players with each player receiving at least three votes, and McKay getting the most at 6 followed by Wright at 5.

What is the correct answer?

Paraiso has played in the most finals (43), but she hasn't won the most finals. Paraiso won 18 of those 43 finals (a 42% winning percentage).

Rajsich and Van Hees both have winning records when they reach the finals, but again neither of them has won the most. Rajsich has won 18 of her 33 finals appearances (55%), and Van Hees 15 of 26 (58%).

McKay's racquetball record is very impressive (18 wins in 37 finals, 49%), especially considering she didn't play racquetball until her late 30s. Her squash record is unbelievable, as she lost two (yes, 2!) competitive matches in a career that spanned over 20 years; no, we're not making that up; you can't make stuff like that up!

Shannon Wright, though, is the answer to our quiz question. Wright won 19 professional tournaments in her career, and was in the finals six other times (76%). In the late 1970s, Wright was the successor to Peggy Steding, racquetball's first great woman player. Steding, like McKay, began playing racquetball relatively late in her life, so when their rivalry began, Steding was giving up two decades to Wright.

So, in order it's Wright with 19 wins, McKay, Paraiso, and Rajsich all with 18 wins each, and Van Hees with 15 wins. These women are, respectively, the fourth through eighth winningest women's racquetball players of all time.

But their totals are well behind the three winningest players: Cheryl Gudinas Holmes has won 38 tournaments, Michelle Gould (Gilman) 41, and Lynn Adams is the winningest women's player in racquetball history with 43 tournament titles to her name.

But more about those three players another time.

Note: these records are the best The Racquetball Blog has now, but we don't have complete records, so these stats may not be entirely accurate. If you can help us with completing the record of women's pro racquetball results, please contact The Racquetball Blog via theracquetballblog AT gmail.com.

Follow the bouncing ball....

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

2009 World Senior Doubles

We'd like to send a shout out to the 116 participants in the 2009 International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Senior Doubles Championships in Burnaby, British Columbia, Canada this past weekend. This was the largest World Senior Doubles event ever. The previous participation high was 65 players in Mexico in 2008. There were 27 players from the USA, 7 from Guatemala, 1 from Mexico, and 81 from the host country.

Gary Mazaroff and Cheryl McKeeman organized the tournament: Mazaroff at the IRF level and McKeeman at the local level. McKeeman told us there was an "amazing level of play" with some "awesome racquetball."

She also thought it was great that the Guatemalans came to play, as they were very social with all the other players. McKeeman was so keen on the Guatemalans that she said "I would go to Guatemala to play."

Special notice for Vicki Panzeri, who won women's 40+ with partner Yuni Cobb, and in doing so gave up only 14 points across 12 games (each game to 11) including five donuts. She also won 45+ mixed doubles with partner Rick Howick, who also won the 40+ mixed with Cobb.

Panzeri, who played college basketball at Western Washington State, was a women's pro player on that tour in the 1980s reaching the finals 5 times and winning once in the 1984-85 season.

2009 IRF World Senior Doubles Championships
Burnaby, B.C., Canada

Champions by division

Men's 35+ Alan Lawson & Benjamin Doniego (USA)
Men's 40+ Alan Lawson & Benjamin Doniego (USA)
Men's 45+ Rick Gartel & Steve Majocha (Canada)
Men's 50+ Mark May & Terry Chong (Canada)
Men's 55+ Marvin Meissner & Ellis Wean (Canada)
Men's 60+ Barry Hendricks & Jon Walker (USA)
Men's 65+ Glenn Cunningham & Robert Cox (USA)
Men's 70+ Ron Ciccone & Jack McBride (Canada)
Men's 75+ Dave Roddan & Tevie Smith (Canada)

Women's 40+ Vicki Panzeri & Yuni Cobb (USA)
Women's 45+ JoAnne DiTommaso & Deborah Holley (Canada)
Women's 50+ Marion McBride & Noreen Hansen (Canada)
Women's 55+ Cheryl McKeeman & Penny Pratt (Canada)
Women's 65+ Gail Schaefer & Mildred Gwinn (USA)

Mixed 40+ Rick Howick & Yuni Cobb (USA)
Mixed 45+ Rick Howick & Vicki Panzeri (USA)
Mixed 50+ Diana Hambley & Rick Mattson (Canada)
Mixed 55+ Ralph Switch & Cheryl McKeeman (Canada)
Mixed 60+ Bob Bear & Marion McBride (Canada)
Mixed 65+ Jack McBride & Marion McBride (Canada)

Follow the bouncing ball....

Monday, June 15, 2009

Quiz on women pros

Hey Racquetball Blog readers, we've got a little quiz for you listed in the right sidebar. It's developed out of our research into past results from the women's pro tour, which has been called various things over the years - WIRT, LPRA, WPRO, etc.

We've done a count of tournament winners, and we're asking you to try to identify which the five players listed - Heather McKay, Jackie Paraiso, Rhonda Rajsich, Christie Van Hees, and Shannon Wright - won the most pro tournaments.

McKay and Wright are players from the 70s and early 80s. McKay was an Australian living in Canada, who had considerable success playing squash, and switched over to racquetball because it was more lucrative. Wright was the primary successor to Peggy Steding, who was the first dominant women's racquetball player.

The other three players, all former #1 players, are still active, although Paraiso and Van Hees less so.

But which of these 5 has won the most tournaments in her impressive career?

We'll tell you later this week. For now, we'll say that it's close, and they've all won more than 10 tournaments.

Follow the bouncing ball....

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 (www.racquetballacademy.com) 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....

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Happy Anniversary Davey Bledsoe!

On June 11, 1977, you shocked the racquetball world and particularly Marty Hogan by defeating him in the final of the 1977 Leach/Seamco National Championship in San Diego, by scores of 21-20, and 21-19. It's widely recognized as one of the most unexpected results in racquetball history.

It was so unexpected, because Hogan had won 9 of the 11 events that season, losing only once (in the first tournament of the season), and passing on the last event just prior to Nationals, which you won. Racquetball Handball News (RHN) picked Hogan to win the Nationals. Jerry Hilecher said "Bledsoe can't change his game style enough to play against Hogan's unorthodox game." (p. 7, RHN, May 1977).

But why take Hilecher's word for it when Hogan stated "I will win the Nationals! You know why? I'm extremely smart. I'm the best server in the game; I'm the best power player in the game. Nobody has yet to match my game. I hit the ball 60 percent harder than the next hardest-hitting player. I know I'm going to win because, this season, nobody's been near to touching me. Nobody's come close to me.... I'm going to win!" (p. 9, RHN, May 1977, italics in original).

For your part, you were very low key about the event, approaching it as just another tournament, and not overtraining. But you must have had some confidence facing Hogan, as following your loss to Hogan at the Ft Lauderdale, Florida event earlier that season you said "I think I will beat Hogan next time as I have learned how to play effectively against his unorthodox style of play." (p. 1, RHN, Jan. 1977).

And 32 years ago today, as Bill Stevens put it, "Davey Bledsoe came out of nowhere to instantly become the very best player in racquetball" helping to make "the 1977 National Championship ... the most spectacular event ever staged." (p. 7, RHN, June 1977).

Leach/Seamco National Championship, San Diego, June 4-11, 1977
Davey Bledsoe d. Marty Hogan, 21-20, 21-19

Davey Bledsoe d. Jerry Hilecher, 21-17, 12-21, 11-6
Marty Hogan d. Richard Wagner, 21-12, 21-10

Marty Hogan d. Steve Strandemo, 21-7, 21-11
Richard Wagner d. Craig McCoy, 21-18, 18-21, 11-4
Jerry Hilecher d. Charlie Brumfield, 10-21, 21-19, 11-9
Davey Bledsoe d. Steve Keeley, 21-13, 21-7

Follow the bouncing ball....

Monday, June 8, 2009

Preliminary WPRO Schedule Released

There are a few changes on the Women's Professional Racquetball Organization (WPRO) schedule for next season, which is still preliminary, but not as many as we might have guessed given the current state of the economy. Six Tier 1 events, two Grand Slam events, and three satellite events are planned.

That's only one fewer Tier 1 event and four fewer satellite events than last year (and satellite events could easily be added). Thus, there's little change from last season, and suggests the WPRO continues to get good support for its tour despite these trying economic times.

The events that continue from last season are the Christmas Classic in Arlington, Virginia, the Terrapin Shootout in Gaithersburg, Maryland, the Miller Lite Open in York, Pennsylvania, and the Canadian Racquetball Classic, which this season will be played in Burlington, Ontario.

The Grand Slam events are also the same as last season: the US Open in Memphis, and the season ending WPRO World Championships. However, one concern is that there's no location for the WPRO World Championships yet, which is pencilled in for May 6-9, 2010.

Some changes include the long running Great Balls of Fire tournament in Miami, Florida listed as a satellite event rather than a Tier 1, as in previous seasons. Also, the first two Tier 1 events will be in new locations. The first event of the season will be in Dallas in September, and in November, Wilmington, North Carolina will be the site for the East Coast Championships.

The tournaments are nicely spaced prior to Christmas with one event a month. Then in the new year after a few satellite events, the rest of the main events (3 Tier 1s & 1 Grand Slam) are packed into less than two months at the end of season. Also in that period will be the Pan American Championships, which will be the first week of April.

Further that period will be followed by national championships in May, which will be crucial next year for making national teams for the 2010 World Championships.

That's going to be a lot of racquetball for some of the players in a short span of time.





Follow the bouncing ball....

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Happy 47th Birthday Sherman Greenfeld!

Your characteristic backhand slice serve done while standing just outside of the right side drive serve zone helped make you the best Canadian player of your time. The proof is in the 10 Canadian Championships you won, first in 1986 and last in 1998. You also were a finalist in 1999, but lost to a teenager named Kane Waselenchuk.

Often you'd be aiming that serve behind you into the right wall and floor crack by the 5 foot line, and more often than not you'd hit it, so the ball would just dribble across the floor. It gave your opponents fits.

But you'd also anticipate what shot your opponent was going to do before they even hit it. So when your opponent was deep in a back corner setting up to hit a pinch shot that looked like a sure winner, it wouldn't be a winner, because you'd have positioned yourself up by the front wall to re-kill it, even if the shot was almost flat.

Your game style of an unorthodox serve, great anticipation on court and excellent shot making, helped you defeat some of the best players of your era at one time or another, including John Ellis, Andy Roberts, Dan Obremski, Tim Doyle, Egan Inoue, Mike Ray and Cliff Swain.

Internationally, you played for Canada 17 times, second only to Mike Green for Team Canada appearances by a male player. Five times you were a champion, winning the International Racquetball Federation (IRF) World Championships twice, in 1994 and 1998, and the Tournament of the Americas (now Pan American Championships) three times, in 1990, 1994, and 1998.

Next month racquetball is going to be in the World Games for the first time since 1993. You played in 1993 World Games in The Hague, Netherlands, and came home with the bronze medal, behind Michael Bronfeld and John Ellis.

Despite the domestic and international success, you made few appearances on the pro tour. The Boss Consulting IRT Archive lists you in 34 pro matches (15 wins, 19 losses) from 1980 to 1998, which is a rate of only about 2 matches a year. In comparision, Mike Ceresia, a Canadian with a similar length career, played three times as many matches (102). We wonder what your pro record would have been if you'd played more.

But more than the excellence you displayed on court you were also a gentleman off court and well liked by all. It's for that reason that Racquetball Canada chose to designate the award they present to a junior male player, who demonstrates excellence on and off the court at the Canadian Junior Nationals, the Sherman Greenfeld Award.

Finally, we'd love to see you go down to the US Open in Memphis and play in the Classic Pro Racquetball Tour (CPRT) event there, because we're sure you could beat those guys. But you don't seem interested in the idea, feeling we suppose that your career is over and all good things must come to an end.

But your career wasn't just good. It was great.

Follow the bouncing ball....

Monday, June 1, 2009

Changes in racquetball instruction

It's June 1st, and if you're a pro racquetball player, you've likely put the racquet down for awhile. If you're playing in the World Games next month, you'll likely pick it up again in a couple of weeks. But if you're not, then you might wait until July.

But the rest of us are likely looking to continue playing, and you may be wondering what you can do to improve your racquetball game. Thus, The Racquetball Blog will bring you instructional information from some of the best coaches in the world about what you can do to improve your game.

To begin, let's talk about how racquetball instruction has changed.

Marty Hogan's Power Racquetball was published in 1978 to a burgeoning racquetball populous that wanted to know what Hogan was doing to become the dominant racquetball player. In it Hogan describes his power racquetball swing as a pendumlum motion, and that's how he generates his tremendous power. Moreover, Hogan states "I get more than 50 percent of my power from my wrist!" (p. 49).

However, the pendulum swing is problematic and that Hogan got that much power from his wrist is simply false.

The pendulum swing is problematic, because if your racquet follows the path of a pendulum, there's only going to be one good point to hit the ball. If you don't hit the ball at the very bottom of that pendulum path, then it's likely going to go higher or lower than you intend. Higher will likely lead to a set up for your opponent, but lower will likely be a skip.

Thus, timing is crucial to this technique. Perfect timing is very difficult, especially when you're under pressure, as you're likely to be in any competitive match. That Hogan was so successful with it speaks volumes to his athletic ability.

Currently, instruction has changed from the pendulum swing to the flat swing. With a flat swing, the racquet moves through a horizontal plane rather than a vertical plane in, what we'll call, the contact zone, which is the area generally between the shoulders. The ideal contact point is at the lead shoulder, but you may want to hit it early or late in the zone depending on the shot you're planning.

Contacting the ball early or late when swinging flat will likely result in a pinch or cross court shot rather than an intended down the line, but not a set up or a skip, as with a mistimed pendulum swing. Thus, a flat swing is a more consistent method to hitting the ball than the pendulum swing.

Not all in the wrist

You may well have heard of the flat swing, but you might still be of the belief that much of the power in a racquetball swing comes from the wrist, as Hogan believed. To understand why that's incorrect, please lay your forearm against your thigh, and tell us which is bigger?

Unless you're an anatomical freak (perhaps like Wolverine, who was always drawn with huge forearms in those old X-men comics), your leg is bigger. So, dear Racquetball Blog Reader do you think your leg or your wrist/arm can generate more power?

What's that you say? You're holding the racquet in your hand not your foot so shouldn't the arm be more important than the leg here? Hmm, how can we put this? No. Not only no, but absolutely not.

Look, does a baseball player hit the ball using only his arms? Or a baseball pitcher throw with only his arm? No. Hitting and pitching, just like swinging a racquet, are whole body movements, and in such movements, most of the power is coming from the largest muscles: the legs, as well as torso.

The photos of Marty Hogan's Power Racquetball well illustrate this, as Hogan's legs are like tree trunks, and we're not talking popular saplings. Thus, it's easy to understand how Hogan generated such power in his shots with legs like that.

So, when you're on court next, try pushing off with your legs when hitting the ball, or alternatively consciously stepping into your shot, moving forward to meet the ball. The easiest time to do that is when drive serving. See how that goes. We bet you'll hit the ball that much faster, and in doing so gain little more advantage over your opponent.

In the coming days and weeks, look for more information on improving your racquetball game.

Follow the bouncing ball....