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Racquetball After 40 – How to Beat the Younger, Faster Player
My return to racquetball began six months ago, shortly after my 42nd birthday. After a session in the four-wall ping-pong chamber, I quickly remembered why I love this game. action speed aggression strategy Lateral Movement. Body Slams. Talk trash… Racquetball has all of that, plus it’s a great cardio workout. After an hour, I was spent.
The next day, I also remembered why I stopped playing. Ouch Pain in places I forgot I had. However, within a few weeks of playing regularly 2 times a week, and with a diligent warm-up routine, my body acclimated quickly.
I’m not a doctor or professional athlete, but I love playing sports and staying active, and I’ve learned what to do to keep my aging body in the game. If you want to get back into racquetball (and wow…I know you do!), here are three areas you need to focus on to keep playing…and winning.
1. Don’t write checks your body can’t cash
The adrenaline of the game can motivate you to make moves that will punish your body. The two most common body smashers are: diving for the ball and running into a wall. Add to that joint hyperextension and hitting the ball too hard and you have a recipe for a burned body after your court session. If you play several times a week, these annoying bumps and pulls can turn into serious injuries that will take you a significant amount of time to recover from. If you’re over 40, you probably have a few more LBs than when you played in your 20s. The extra weight combined with hard impacts and lunges will result in heel bruises, knee strains, or back pulls (or all of them!). I’ve had them, and the only way to recover is usually to do NOTHING for a long time, and that’s no fun.
Don’t let your pride get the best of you. I lost a lot of partners who put up a good fight for a game, but I couldn’t come back next week to play again.
Use your head. Stretch at least 15 minutes before playing. Precede your stretch with a short run. Play against the side walls for at least 5 minutes. Practice playing under the ground: it’s the low lunges that lead to the muscle pulls, so warm up the muscle behavior before playing.
Treat your battle wounds after the game as soon as possible. Don’t be a hero and limp for a week; if you do, you’re starting down the road to long-term, persistent injury. Put ice, jacuzzi, asprin, wrap, etc. Sleep so your body heals. Take glucosamine for joints. If you take care of your body, it will acclimate…don’t expect it to go back to what it was in your 20s!
2. Prepare yourself
Goggles, shoes, racket glove and knee brace. This is your necessary battle gear.
Yes, lenses can fog up…but eyeballs can’t be replaced. Every time I contemplate taking off my glasses, I end up taking a shot at the mug. A compressed racquet ball hitting your eye socket can gouge your eyeball. Enough said. Bring 2 pairs and rotate them when one fogs up.
Shoes. You need good shoes that fit well. Don’t hold on to your old sneakers – buy some new shoes. You don’t need to spend a fortune. Get 2 cheap pairs that you can rotate to give the shoes time to recover. If your ankles are a little out of whack, you might consider basketball shoes for extra support. If you twist an ankle you are on injured reserve for quite some time. Or you can wrap your ankles before playing. Hey! It’s not about looking pretty…it’s about winning!
Racket glove. It prevents the carpal tunnel from straining to grip the racket. It’s worth the small investment.
Knee support. I’m not a big guy… 170 lbs, 5′ 10″ – and I’m in great shape. But, I wear knee braces and I’ll tell you why. Because my knees were taking a beating. If you want to play hard, you’ll end up diving for the ball or sneaking off the floor. You’re a warrior, you can’t help it! In the heat of battle, your knees will take a hit, but the next day you’ll be sore. And every next game… they’ll get worse and worse. Soon you’ll have to stop playing for a while. Let’s face it, you’re not in your 20s anymore. Your body needs time. to recover. Plus, you have to go to work on Monday and still be a pack mule for all your families’ junk. Make sure you have some spare body enough for your family.
Don’t show up with velcro knee pads…you’re not laying tile! Simple breathable latex knee pads that are not so tight that they restrict movement will help your knees survive.
3. Winning strategy: placement and positioning. Especially important if you’re playing younger bucks that have energy to burn. To conserve your energy, you need to play smart. Playing smart involves putting the ball in the right place and putting your body in the right place on the court. Hitting the ball hard doesn’t win games. Putting the ball where your opponent isn’t does it. Make the bastard run. It makes them dip. Make us beg for mercy!
Here are some gaming tips I’ve learned that increase your odds of winning.
1. Quiver O’ Serves. You should have 3 or 4 good serves in your arsenal. Vary your service. Look back before you serve to see where your opponent is. Hitting the backhand corner is nice, but make it play against the side wall before falling. Hit one that goes to your opponent’s ankles – fast. Mix in a dying high corner lob that you can’t play into the back wall. Includes a quick backhand that hugs the ball wall. Once you get your opponent to hit your serve, continue to vary it and feed the serves quickly. Don’t give them time to prepare.
2. Body positioning. In general, in terms of position, try to stay in the middle of the track. If you’re against a wall, cross-shot the ball back to where you are, forcing your opponent into your wall. Do not obstruct the ball. If your opponent is ahead in the lane, knock him out with a first roof shot that forces him back. If you find yourself in a corner, get out of it and back to the middle as quickly as possible. Stay in the middle.
3. Wait for the Ball. When you have a good forehand shot, don’t do it. If you see a lane where you can hit the ball, make sure you are ACCURATE with your shot. If you’re all set, you’ll hit too hard and the ball will bounce too high, allowing your opponent to recover with a return to the back wall.
If the ball goes past you, it’s not big. Turn around and play on the back wall. Play your game, not your opponent’s.
4. Find your Achilles heel. Play a variety of shots in the early game to find your opponent’s weakness. But don’t experiment when you have a kill shot. Take the kill. Play your opponent when you can afford it.
5. Keep the service! You can’t score if you don’t have the serve. If you’re returning a serve, it’s GAME ON time. Get the serve back at all costs. Don’t let your opponent raise a tab. How do you do this when they have evil service? Learn to read your opponent’s body language. Usually a server will “telegraph” their movement with a foot switch, a twist of the wrist grip, a shoulder drop. These little “reads” will give you that extra millisecond to get a jump on that serve and get that SOB out of the server box.
6. Placement, placement, placement. Make your opponent run, dash and dive. EVERY shot should be hard to return. That doesn’t mean it has to be a kill shot or a hard ball. To place the ball where your opponent isn’t, you have to know where he is. Which leads to my next tip.
7. Watch the ball and watch your opponent. Develop your kung fu senses. If your opponent is struggling, they will generally perform poorly (except for the occasional lucky kill shot!). Try to anticipate where your next shot is going.
8. And finally, my favorite tip. If you really want to improve, play at least 2 times a week and play with someone who is better than you. My regular partner beats me almost every game. He’s just a good ninja. A huge arsenal of deadly serves. A wicked shot (right and backhand). And an excellent strategic player. This guy played competitively when he was younger and never stopped. BUT, I’m winning with it and I’ve beaten it a few times. I prefer a challenge to a victory. I also beat other racket players with ease.
BUT… I don’t recommend getting obsessed and playing more than 5 times a week. You will hit your body and burn your gaming thirst. Find some regulars you can play with and stick to a schedule.
Have fun, train, play hard and keep those guys RUNNING!
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