My return to racquetball started six months ago, just after my 42nd birthday. After one session in the 4 wall ping-pong chamber, I quickly remembered why I loved this game. Action. Speed. Aggression. Strategy. Lateral Movement. Body Slams. Trash talking … Racquetball has it all – plus a great cardio workout. After an hour, I spent.
The next day, I also remembered why I stopped playing. Ouch. Soreness in places I forgot I had. However, within a couple of weeks of regular 2X play a week – and with a diligent warm-up routine – my body was quick to praise.
I am not a doctor or professional athlete, but I love playing sports and staying active, and I have learned what to do to keep my aging body in the game. If you want to get back into racquetball (and c’mon … I know you do!) Here are three areas you need to focus on to keep playing … and win.
1. Don’t Write Checks Your Body Can’t Cash
The adrenaline of the game can motivate you to make plays that are going to punish your body. The two most common body wrecks are: diving for the ball and running into a wall. Add to that hyperextending your joints and hitting the ball too hard and you have a recipe for a severely taxed body after your court session. If you play several times a week, these noisy bumps and pulls can turn into serious injuries that will take you considerable time to heal. If you’re over 40, you probably have a few more LBs than you had when you played in your 20s. Extra weight combined with hard and pulmonary effects will result in either heel bruises, knee strain, or withdrawal (or all of them!). I’ve had them, and the only way to get better is usually to do NOTHING for a long time – and that’s not fun.
Don’t let your pride get the best of you. I’ve lost many play partners who put up a good fight for one game, but can’t come back next week to play again.
Use your head. Stretch for at least 15 minutes before you play. Preface your piece with short jogging. Play against the side walls for at least 5 minutes. Practice playing low to the ground – the low lungs that lead to muscle pulling, so warm the behavior of the muscles before you play.
Deal with your battle wounds after the game as soon as possible. Don’t be a hero and limp around for a week – if you do you are starting off on the path of a long-term noisy injury. Ice it, jacuzzi it, asprin, wrap, etc. Get sleep so your body can heal. Take glucosamine for your joints. If you take care of your body, it will crumble … just don’t expect it to weaken back like it did in your 20s!
2. Gear Up
Goggle Support, Shoes, Racquet and Knee gloves. This is your required battle gear.
Yes, goggles can fog up … but eyeballs can’t be replaced. Every time I consider peeling my goggles – I take a picture of the smoke. A compressed racket ball that hits your eye socket can suck out your eyeball. Enough he said. Bring 2 pairs and rotate them when one is fogging.
Shoes. You need good shoes, that fit cozy. Don’t grab your antique nikes – get new shoes. You do not need to spend a fortune. Secure 2 inexpensive pairs that you can rotate so the shoes have time to heal. If your ankles are a bit out of the ordinary, you may want to consider basketball shoes for extra support. If you turn an ankle you are back injured for some time. Or, you can wrap your ankles before you play. Hey! It’s not about looking pretty … it’s about winning!
Rocket glove. Keeps your wrist from having a carpal tunnel strained to grip the racket. Value of small investment.
Knee support. I’m not a big guy … 170 lbs, 5 ’10 “- and I’m in fine shape. But, I do wear knee supports, and I’ll tell you why. Because my knees take you want to play hard, you eventually dive for the ball or scramble off the floor.You are a warrior – you can’t help it! In the heat of battle, your knees will It strikes twelve, but the next day you hurt. And every subsequent game … they will get worse and worse. Soon you will have to stop playing for a while. face it – you’re no longer 20. Your body needs time to heal, you also need to go to work on Monday and still be a pack bag for all your family junk! Make sure you have enough leftovers for your family!
Don’t show velcro knee pads … you’re not laying tiles! Simple slip-on latex type knee supports that are not so tight that they restrict movement will help your knees survive.
3. Winning Strategy: Positioning and Placement. Especially important if you play younger bucks that have energy to burn. To save your energy, you need to play smart. Smart play involves placing the ball in the right place, and positioning your body in the right position on the court. Hitting the ball hard doesn’t win games. Putting the ball where your opponent does not. Making the bastard run. Make ’em dive. Make me beg for mercy!
Here are a few play tips I’ve learned that increase your chances of winning.
1. Quiver O ‘serves. You should have 3 or 4 good services in your arsenal. Vary your service. Check back before you serve to see where your opponent is. Hitting into the backhand corner is good, but ask him to play off the sidewall before he lands. Hit one that goes to your opponents’ ankles – quickly. Mix in a high die-off corner lob that you can’t play off the back wall. Include a handball embracing a fastball wall. Once you have your opponent knocked out on your serve, continue to vary it and feed the serving quickly. Don’t give them time to set.
2. Body Positioning. Generally, when it comes to a job, try to stay in the middle of the court. If you are against a wall, hit a shot across a wall so that the ball returns back to where you are – which forces your opponent to your wall. Don’t block the ball. If your opponent is ahead in court, send him back with a first ceiling shot that forces him back. If you find yourself in a corner, get out of it and return to the middle as soon as possible. Stay in the middle.
3. Wait for the Dance. When you get a good shot on your hand, don’t blow it. If you see a lane where you can hit the ball, make sure you RECEIVE in your photo. If you are all sucked up, you hit it too hard and the ball bounces too high, which allows your opponent to heal with a back wall return.
If the ball goes past you, no big deal. Turn it around and play it off the back wall. Play your game, not the opponents game.
4. Find an Achilles heel. Play a variety of shots early in the game to find your opponents weakness. But don’t experiment when you have a killer shot. Take the kill. Toy with your opponent when you can afford it.
5. Keep the Serve! You can’t score if you don’t have the service. If you return a service, it is a GAMEM ON time. Always get the service back. Don’t let your opponent run a tab. How do you do this when they have a wicked service? Learn how to read your opponents body language. A waiter usually ‘telegraphs’ them with a foot switch, wrist grip, shoulder drop. These little ‘readings’ will give you another moment to get a jump on that serving and get that SOB out of the server box.
6. Location, location, location. Make your opponent run, skateboard, dive. EVERY shot should be difficult to return. That doesn’t mean it has to be a killer shot, or a hard ball. To place the ball where your opponent is not, you need to know where they are! Which leads to my next tip.
7. Watch the ball and watch your opponent. Develop your kung fu senses. If your opponent scrambles, it’s generally going to hit weak gains (except for the occasional LUCKY kill shot!). Try to anticipate where their next picture is going.
8. And finally, my favorite tip. If you really want to get better, play at least 2X a week, and play with someone who is better than you! My regular partner beats me almost every game. Simply put, he’s a good Ninja. A huge arsenal of deadly serves. A wicked killing shot (forehand and backhand). And an excellent strategic player. This guy played competitively when he was younger and never stopped. BUT, I win on it and I’ve beaten it a few times. I prefer a challenge than a victory. I also easily beat other basketball players.
BUT … I don’t recommend being obsessed and playing 5+ times a week. You will beat your body up and quench your thirst for the game. Find some controls you can play with and stick to a schedule.
Have fun, cross-train, play hard, and keep those young guys RUN!