“He that fights and runs away, May turn and fight another day; But he that is in battle slain, Will never rise to fight again.”
Who knew that Tacitus, ancient Roman senator and historian, was also a supreme racquetball tactician? On some rallies – many, actually – the best thing that can happen is that you live “to fight another day.” There are many times when you simply cannot put the ball away. You may be pushed into a defensive posture, or simply not have the situation you are looking for that matches your kill skills.
If so, the best “survival” option is ANY shot which moves your opponent out of center court, and gives you an opportunity to take over this prime scoring “home” court position.
Think passing shots, and especially ceiling shots.
Run home after every shot
As soon as you hit your “repositioning” shot, flow towards and just behind the broken receive line, center court. Consider this your “home” spot, and do everything you can to get back here after each shot. This is a great court position from which to mount your next attack!
You can see the woman in the photo is just behind this home position returning the shot; her opponent is horribly out of position near the left wall, leaving the court almost completely clear for any shot she wants to take. He clearly made no effort to get back home after his shot. From this position, she can dominate the game.
Remember Tacitus’ great advice next time you play. Run home! Maybe those Romans knew something about racquetball after all.
Every racquet sport has a variety of offensive and defensive shots; the racquetball ceiling shot can help you survive tough situations, and neutralize the power of better players.
When you are on the run against an opponent who has the advantage, sometimes the best thing you can do is simply survive until you get an opportunity to score, or they make their own mistake. Perhaps most importantly, the ceiling shot allows you to regain the critical “sweet spot” position on the court where so many kills are generated. Except at the pro levels, the person who owns the sweet spot will usually win the rally. Hitting a ceiling shot forces your opponent out of this spot, and allows you to capture it.
The racquetball ceiling shot can also be a great tactical weapon. Power players like to play low, hard, and fast. They may often be impatient, and dislike having their power game tempo disrupted. Simply adding a hefty dose of ceiling shots to your repertoire against a stronger player may be enough to tilt a match in your favor. It is harder to return kill a ceiling shot, and your opponent is more likely to make errors when they try to do so. If you are patient, the ceiling shot may become your very best friend.
This video with Kris Odegard does a nice job of showing both the technique of the ceiling shot, as well as some practice drills to help you improve rapidly.
Racquetball Ceiling Shot Technique
Key points when hitting a forehand ceiling shot:
Shoulder contact zone
If you are naturally a power player, the ceiling shot will give you a great weapon to use so that you can reposition and wait for a kill opportunity. Patience is required!
If you are a less skilled or less powerful player, hitting a lot of ceiling shots can give you a chance to win matches that might be unwinable if you try to emulate a better power player.
Either way, the racquetball ceiling shot should be in your racquetball tool belt, and used often.
While a front wall rollout certainly brings more pleasure, the racquetball passing shot is the easiest way to consistently score points by putting your opponent in trouble and regaining control of the mid-court sweetspot.
It can take a lot of practice to consistently hit low kill shots off the front wall, and the risk factor is relatively high, especially for newer players. However, the passing shot is fairly low risk, and especially in singles, allows you to gain control of the middle of the court with ease. While the passing shot itself may not score, when well placed it often creates weak returns, and sets up a kill on your NEXT shot.
It is important to remember that racquetball is often like high-speed chess, and you need to think at least one shot ahead when possible. Also remembernot to waste a great passing shot by spectating and admiring your perfect placement! Hit it and immediately flow towards the center sweetspot ready to kill the weak return.
Racquetball Passing Shot Technique
One of the keys emphasized in this video is how to use the passing shot when your kill shot is not working. It can also be used to neutralize the power of a stronger player (sometimes just by irritating them!) and to change the pace of the game — always a good choice if you are losing.
Racquetball Passing Shot – Court Position
From a tactical perspective, this video shows the perfect situation for a forehand passing shot in singles.
The player closest to the front wall is in the center of the court, and then fades backwards slightly to open up the entire forehand side for a passing shot. This points out an important tactical aspect for receiving serve in singles — when your opponent is serving from the center of the service area, they are setup for an immediate passing shot return unless their serve is tough enough to put you on the defensive. You should strongly consider using a passing shot to return many serves.
This is another variation of the backhand passing shot, well-suited for singles play. This ball “wraps around” your opponent as it passes them, rather than heading towards the same side deep corner. When executed well, this kind of passing shot is extremely hard to defend because you cannot “run this ball down.” It is moving away from you faster than you can run.
Racquetball Backhand Passing Shot Technique Practice
Here we see a high level racquetball practice session for the backhand passing shot.
Note the strong pivot towards the wall to set up for a powerful return, and the difference in contact point relative to the front foot for a down-the-line pass shot and a cross-court pass shot.
The Role Of Peripheral Vision in Successful Passing Shots
Peripheral vision is an important component of hitting a successful passing shot. You must carry an awareness of where your opponent is positioned, so that you know when this shot is open and appropriate. Beginning players often focus entirely on the ball.
Learn to “soften” your vision like a martial arts fighter; the periperal cells in your eyes do not pick up fine detail, but DO pick up motion better than a typical central focus. Try to use about 20% of your vision beyond the ball, maintaining a strong “mental map” of where your opponent is positioned.
The age old tactic of “hit it where they ain’t” usually works! The pass shot is the perfect tool for this strategy. Maybe best of all, you do not need to be a finely-tuned racquetball machine to use it. Much like the ceiling shot, it requires only moderate speed and general placement to be effective, and so is very well suited for the developing game of newer players.
Adding a consistent racquetball passing shot to your game — both the technique, as well as the knowledge of when to use it — will greatly increase your opportunities to win!
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