Stepping onto a racquetball court can feel like taking a stroll through Beirut in the mid-1980s. Players are running as if their lives depend on it, and projectiles are ricocheting off walls at speeds up to 165 miles per hour. The noise of the caroming ball and at least two pairs of sneaker soles screeching as they perform split-second stops and cuts on the wood floor can be startling. At first blush, it doesn’t feel like a sport that welcomes beginners, but racquetball is one of the simplest games to learn, and developing the skills to play at a passable and enjoyable level can happen remarkably fast.
More than anything, racquetball suffers from a bevy of misinformation that serves to confuse newcomers. The prime example is that the racquetball swing is all in the wrist.
“That is one of the biggest myths in sports,” says Mike Guidry, who played professional racquetball for 14 years and served as coach to the U.S. National Team from 2006 to 2011. Here, Guidry clears up some other myths about the flashy court sport and delivers some tips that can get you up to speed in one of the fastest sports in the world.
A racquet is actually not the first piece of gear you should buy. “Eye protection is an absolute no-brainer,” Guidry says. “The governing body of racquetball is USA Racquetball, and it has made it mandatory to wear approved eye protection at all times.”
When you grasp the handle of a racquet, think of shaking a hand rather than swinging a hammer. Hold it in a relaxed grip and at somewhat of an angle. It should feel like a natural extension of your hand.
Guidry compares the correct racquetball stance to that of a baseball player, if the front wall was the pitcher. Right-handed players should keep their left shoulder pointed toward the front wall and their chest toward the side wall when hitting the ball with a forehand. When hitting a backhand, the right shoulder will face the front wall and the chest will face the opposite side.
Another classic misnomer in racquetball is the strategy of taking center court. The true center of the court is the service line, which is much too far forward to be effective. “Center court is a zone, more than an exact X marks the spot,” Guidry says. “What we consider center court is about six to seven feet behind the service line.”
Similar to the stance, Guidry likens ideal stroke mechanics to the way a baseball player swings his bat. Ideally, the player’s swinging arm will be at full extension, with the racquet held straight out, when contact is made. It is only at the moment of impact when the wrist comes into play, adding snap to the strike as the racquet swings around. “That is how you generate the most power, by using the whole length of your arm and racquet to hit the ball,” Guidry says.
Books can be written about the nuance of a racquetball serve, but Guidry sums up the goal succinctly. “A good basic serve would be one that will take its second bounce in the back corner of your opponent’s backhand side,” he says. Set up for the serve about seven to eight feet off the right wall. Assuming your opponent is right-handed, serve the ball at an angle so it strikes the front wall and then bounces off the right-hand wall, sending it into the rear left-hand corner.
Guidry’s pro career lasted for 14 years, which is exceedingly long for an explosive and high-impact sport like racquetball. He chalks his longevity up to his training. “I did a lot of cross training. I lifted weights, I did a lot of sprints and a lot of jump-roping,” Guidry says. “The best thing is jumping rope. There’s a lot of movement in racquetball, but it’s all very short side-to-side and forward movement. So jumping rope made a big difference.”