You can work up a sweat on the racquetball court, but half the battle is learning how to play the angles.
RACKET SPORTS are not created equal. I learned this lesson in high school, when I joined the badminton team and realized my tennis skills translated only so far. Plus that tiny court was much harder to cover than I expected.
When an editor suggested racquetball, I was excited. Then she mentioned I might want to brush up on geometry, my worst subject in high school. I grew wary and decided this was a matter for an expert.
I picked up a pair of protective racquetball goggles and went to the Olympic Athletic Club in Ballard to learn from coach Dave Stob.
Washington Racquetball Association
After a quick rundown on the basics, I put on my goggles, picked up a racket and went onto the court. I’ve played squash before, and I remembered that I find indoor courts slightly nerve-racking. Firstly, it’s an enclosed space. Secondly, the thwack of a racquetball against the wall is loud, and sometimes makes me jump.
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Dave started me off easy, hitting back and forth. I adapted easily to the racket, with a head larger than badminton but smaller than tennis.
The court, however, was the challenge. I couldn’t predict the ball’s trajectory. The ball rebounds off the main wall and can go anywhere, from the side walls to the ceiling to the glass wall behind us.
Dave noticed my tennis tendencies right away, as I hit the ball at a pretend net line. He reminded me of all the dimensions of the court. The kill shot in racquetball is low, below the knees, and low on the wall so it’s hard for your opponent to return. The passing zone is the section from your knees to your shoulders. Anything you hit above the shoulders is a ceiling shot, similar to a lob. Dave made a few adjustments, turning me sideways to hit and telling me to use more wrist for more power. I succeeded in hitting a ceiling shot and felt like things were going well.
We moved on to serving. Dave gave me advice on different ways to serve. I started out hitting straight ahead to make sure I hit the ball hard enough to pass the short line for a legal serve. Then he told me to hit my serve to one corner of the court.
I bounced the ball and hit it, and it went straight. I bounced it again, and it went to the corner opposite of where I was aiming. Dang geometry.
Racquetball is like 3-D chess or 3-D pool, Dave explained. In other words, for this new racquetball player, the ball rarely went where I wanted it to go.
After more explanation, I started to hit it into the correct corner. We worked the other direction, and I had to jump out of the way of my own serve.
We played some points with me returning his serve. The middle of the back half of the court is the sweet spot to stand, but it made me nervous to stay there, and I kept edging toward the back wall.
Instead of predicting where the ball will go, Dave advised I watch the ball to give myself more time to move into position. I’ll need to practice.
I also was breathing heavily after a few rounds of rallying. Racquetball is a lightning-quick sport, and while my technique was subpar, and we played at a much slower pace, it still was vigorous and fun.
Dave showed me a few more drills to work on form. But I already had accomplished my biggest hurdle — learning enough about the basics of the game to get others to play with me. If I play enough, one of these days I’ll learn how to hit it into the right corner.