SWING THROUGH THE HISTORY OF STROKES
By Bo Keeley
What's the consistency of the racquetball champs' strokes through history? Individuality. What's that tell you about teaching strokes to someone who aspires?
I dominated early paddleball with a sidespin ‘push' stroke that produced what Charley Brumfield called ‘the best killshots the game has seen'. Brumfield was a head above the racquetball best for a decade with a similar control forehand (and potable backhand). Arrive Marty Hogan who ignored the bleachers belching ‘Give it up!' for his new-fangled, high-backswing, out-spin & deep- body contact strokes. Nearly every advanced player in courts I visit across the country shows the influence of the Hogan swing. Now witness the new generation of serve-an-shoot blasters like Swain, Manino & Sudsy who use gyroscopic forces to direct the ball ‘magically' around the court. Where will it end when it comes to you, the learning player?
I'm a contrary teacher of strokes. The traditional method is to present a model stroke that the student imitates. It's like putting someone in a mold. I don't believe there's a model stroke, yet there's a best stroke with you. My method is to look at a player take his swing without presenting a model, without saying a prior word. Then I offer corrections here & there in adapting that swing toward a best stroke for his physiotype, mentality and goals. The next step - you guessed it - is practice the new stroke until it's so neuro-physiologically ingrained that it won't break down in the throes of fatigue or a tournament. Brumfield used to count and record 1000 practice shots a day. Hogan used to play all comers for hours.
I use a lot of sport parallels to teach certain aspects of the racquet strokes. E.g. the hip turn for the backhand is similar to the left-handed golfer; the forehand wrist-snap is like swatting a fly; the backand arm sweep is like throwing a Frisbee; the feeling during the forehand ball-racquet interface is like cracking a whip.
The Legends pretty much agree (during interviews for Racquetball for Smarties) to ‘Keep the swing level flat during the backswing, contact & follow-through'. Imagine a table on the court that governs the dip in your swing. In other words, your backswing and follow-through cannot go below the table surface, hence leveling it. The ball propels straight where you aim it. I feel the most ignored point on strokes is to examine the interface, i.e. the time the ball is on the strings. It's just a split second...inches of the swing....but think about it.
How about the trade-off of ball velocity for control. Early training methods were to teach control first, then gradually add swing and ball speed. Now, with the faster ball, bigger racquets and blasted strategy, it makes more sense initially to hit the ball hard without hurting the arm, then zero in on the target over practice sessions.
Scrutinize the better players at your club, & pros at the tournaments. Try a couple instructional books, & check out the Legends photo archive. Take heart - everyone I've named is self-taught. You have their advantages, so put yourself in their shoes, and swing away. 6 - 23 - 03