# Court Positioning

The racquetball court is divided into three areas. The front court is the 15 feet from the front wall to the first solid red line (the foot fault line). Mid-court is the 10 feet between the foot fault line and the dotted safety line (with the short line in the middle). The back court is the remaining 15 feet behind the dotted line.

A rollout is defined as shot that bounces twice in the 15 feet before the foot fault line (or really does roll out from the front wall). A killshot is a shot that bounces twice before hitting the short line (the second solid line, 20 feet from the front wall).

#### Strategy

Let’s just give up trying to retrieve rollouts. If a ball bounces twice before the foot fault line, that’s a pretty good shot. It is also a pretty low percentage shot. In a typical professional rally, 20 percent of the shots are kill shots, so rollouts occur less than 20 percent of the time. (And our opponents are probably not that good.) So, we are going to give up trying to cover the first 15 feet (the front court) which leaves us a court that is 25 by 20. The best place to be is in the middle, at about 12 ½ feet. Since the dotted line is 10 feet behind the foot fault line, the best place to be in a racquetball rally is 2 ½ feet behind the dotted line.

#### Play the percentages

In a typical professional rally, 20 percent of shots are killed, however 10 percent are skipped. (More than 10 percent for most amateurs.) That means that at least 70 percent of shots are left up in the area behind the short line and you have a chance at them if you are in good center court position behind the dotted line.

If you take a deep position on the court, well behind the dotted line, you are inviting your opponent to kill the ball, because you probably have the pass shots covered. That means you are forcing them to try to kill the ball, which has only a 20% chance of success. You have the percentages on your side. If you get in front of the dotted line, the reverse is true. Now you are asking your opponent to pass the ball, which is a much higher percentage shot. So, don’t get caught in front of the dotted line, the percentages are against you.

#### Keep eye on ball

A digression: the fundamental rule of all ball games is to keep your eye on the ball. If your opponent is shooting from somewhere behind you, you should not be looking at the front wall. You have taken your eye off the ball. If the ball bounces into the middle of the court behind you, you won’t know it and you will be in the way. You will either get hit by the ball, get called for an avoidable hinder, force your opponent to hold up, or force your opponent to hit around you, all bad. Finally, if you are watching what is going on behind you, you can learn a lot of useful information. You know if your opponent is going offensive or defensive, you might be able to figure out what shot he or she is likely to hit, and you can follow the path of the ball on its way to the front wall, giving yourself more reaction time.

So, if your opponent is behind you, turn your head and look at him or her (and the ball). If you are afraid you might be hit in the face with the ball, you can look through your racquet. This is good practice because it puts the racquet in the ready position. However, if you don’t look through your racquet you should still turn your head and look at the ball. Don’t worry, you are wearing eyeguards and you will naturally flinch if the ball is hit right at your face.

## Positioning side wall to side wall

The second part of court positioning is to choose whether to be in the middle, left of center, or right of center from side wall to side wall. Remember, you must always give your opponent two shots, the straight in and the cross court. So if he or she is shooting from the center of the court behind you, you must either move to one side or the other or jump to get out of the way. However, if your opponent is shooting from deep court, behind you in one of the corners, then you have your choice.

#### Three theories

(1) Shade slightly (one step) to the opposite side of the court away from your opponent. Turn your body so that you are at a 45 degree angle. This way you can easily see what is going on behind you. You are giving up the perfect down the line shot, but have excellent coverage of all the other shots.

(2) Shade slightly (one step) toward your opponent. Again you turn slightly toward your opponent at approximately a 45 degree angle. This gives you good coverage of the down the line shot and, since it takes longer for a ball to go from one side of the court to the other, you have reasonably good coverage of the cross-court and wide-angle passes.

(3) Don’t shade either way. Stay in the middle, feet wider than shoulder width apart, toes facing forward, upper body and head turned to look behind you. This way you can cover the most court area about equally.

#### A compromise

Note that in all three cases you are only one step at most away from the centerline of the court. Each of the theories has its good points. I recommend a compromise. Get as close to the middle of the court as you can, given where your opponent is. Get down and ready, feet wider than shoulder width with the foot that is on the same side as your opponent slightly behind the other, toes facing forward. Turn your upper body and head to see behind you. For a short video, click here.

Sometimes you will be slightly to one side or the other of the center, but your opponent is unlikely to notice exactly where you are in relation to the two side walls, assuming you have not drifted too far to one side or the other. This means that sometimes you will be able to easily handle the down the line shot, sometimes you will be easily able to cut off the cross-court, and your opponent will not know which shot you are covering at the moment. This puts some additional pressure on your opponent, and that is not a bad thing.

If your opponent has a favorite shot, then adjust your positioning to defend that shot. For example, if she really likes to hit down the line shots and seldom goes cross court, then you should shade a step toward your opponent.

So, (1) stay behind the dotted line when you are on defense, (2) try to locate near the center of the court, (3) keep eye on ball.

Dominate center court

We already know that center court is the best place to be in a racquetball rally. So, (1) you should strive to gain the center court position and (2) you should try to avoid giving up center once you have it, because if you move out of center court, you can bet your opponent will happily move in. So, how do you get to center court and then hang on to it?

To  get to center court, you have to move your opponent out by choosing and executing the correct shots. See the sections on shots of the game and shot selection for more details. Also, try to avoid getting stuck on the side wall. You can cut directly in front of your opponent to center court as long as you do not interfere with his stroke.This often happens in ceiling ball rallies. Don't stay on the wall if you have time to move to center court. Don't run around your opponent if you have time to move directly to center court. Here is a short video which shows Jason Mannino taking the direct route to center court by jumping over a shot by Cliff Swain.

You should hit your shot and then move toward center court in one fluid motion. If you hit a good shot, don't just stand there like you are waiting for a round of applause or something. If you hit a bad shot, don't give up, because your opponent could make a mistake. Don't wait to see what your shot did, out of simple curiosity. If you do that, you will frequently find yourself out of position because you have started to move to center court too late. If you are not getting to the ball while your opponents always seem to be able to track down your shots, it may not be that they are quicker than you are, more likely they are just in a better position when you are shooting than you are when they are shooting.

#### Sacrifice good form for good center court position

Once you get center court position, you want to stay there. The first thing you will have to do is cut off shots that you might otherwise let go. Suppose you are in center court and a shot is hit such that you could cut it off or let it go because it is going to set up in deep court. Which should you do? I recommend that you cut it off because you keep center court and it puts pressure on your opponent by not giving him as much time as he would have had if you take the deep court setup. To do this, you might have to hit off the wrong foot, and you will have to develop a "quick draw" stroke that depends on upper body rotation and wrist snap rather than the nice complete stroke you could use if you took the setup. Also, don't be afraid to volley the ball or take it off the short hop or mid hop (half volley). Hit a variety of shots from this position: passes, pinches, reverse pinches, drop shots, and ceiling balls, so that you don't become predictable. See the section on footwork for more information.

#### Don't commit too soon

Since you are keeping your eye on the ball, you will naturally see what your opponent is doing when he is taking his shot. Don't try to anticipate the shot before it is hit. A good opponent will be able to fake a shot, see you move (with his peripheral vision) and then hit a different shot. So, wait for the ball to leave your opponent's racquet before moving to the attack.

#### When your opponent has a setup in midcourt

One situation deserves special mention. Suppose your opponent has a setup in front of you in the middle of the court. Where should you locate? The answer is that you should "hide" behind him so that he can't see you. If you locate to one side, your opponent will simply hit a pass to the other side. If you hide behind him, he won't know which side to pass to and might be tempted to try to kill the ball. Good. You have at least put some pressure on him to take a lower percentage shot.

#### Drill

A drill that helps you get into the habit of dominating center court is to stand in good center court position and drop and hit low hard shots back to yourself. Try to make a play on each one. Hit pinches, passes, go to the ceiling, volley, volley-drop (push the ball into one corner or the other, hit shots with just some wrist and upper body rotation, etc. Rally with yourself. I like to start 25 rallies with my forehand and 25 with my backhand. I then rally until I put the ball away, either with a kill shot or a good pass that bounces twice before reaching the back wall. Because the ball comes to you quickly, this is also a good drill for keeping your eye on the ball.

#### Video

The following video has four clips. The first clip features Jason Mannino (white shorts, Pro Kennex) and Mike Green. The next three clips feature John Ellis (red shirt, Pro Kennex) and Erin Brannigan. Note John’s down and ready position (feet wider than shoulder width, eye on ball). Pay attention to how these pros fight for center court position. These players tend to locate closer to the dotted line than I recommend, but they are lightening fast and can get away with it. In the final clip watch what happens to John Ellis when he gets caught in front of the dotted line court_position.mpg.

The next video has several clps of pros in action. Note how there seems to be a magnet in the center of the court at the dotted line drawing the players back to that spot.  Keep your eye on the defender and watch how he strives to get to center court right at the dotted line. Pro_centercourt.mpg.

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