There are two kinds of players, those who dive and
those who
don’t. I don’t. I attribute my longevity in this sport to never diving.
However, many other players are natural divers and consider it a normal
part of
the game.

There are several problems with diving. (1) It is very hard on your body and the risk of
injury is higher when diving than any other time in a racquetball game.
(2) It
takes a lot of energy to keep diving and getting up off the floor, so
you may
run out of gas later in the match. (3)You are frequently out of
position after
diving and in danger of losing the rally anyway. (4) You have a good
chance of
getting called for an avoidable hinder if you are on the floor and
can’t get
out of the way.

So, why do it? The obvious answer is that it keeps
you from
immediately losing the rally. But that doesn't mean you will win the
rally. More
likely it just keeps you in the rally. Suppose that if you dive
there is a 10 percent chance of
hitting a winner, a 10 percent chance of skipping or missing the ball,
and an 80 percent chance of keeping the ball in play. Now suppose you
are serving. If you keep the
ball in play, there is a 50 percent chance of winning the point. The
value of diving is .8*.5=.4 since the probabilities of hitting winners
and losers offset each other. If you are returning serve, you have a
ten percent chance of hitting a winner, but that only gets you the
serve, where you have a 50 percent chance of a point. You have a ten
percent chance of skipping, which loses you a point immediately, and
you have an 80 percent chance of keeping the ball in play, yielding a
50 percent chances of getting the serve, which only gets you a 50
percent chance of winning a point as the server. The net result is that
if you are returning serve, the dive only gets you .15 of a point. If
you are serving half the time in a match, a dive is only worth .275 of
a point.

This means that, since the expected payoff is
positive, it is perfectly rational to dive. What this does not take
into account is the wear and tear on your body. Is approximately
one-quarter of a
point worth risking injury?

I tracked the 2006 Choice Hotels U.S. Open
quarterfinal
match between Cliff Swain and Jason Mannino.
Jason
dived at least once in 32 rallies over three games. (Eight rallies
required two
dives and three more rallies required three dives.) Of these rallies,
he won 14
(44 percent) and lost the other 18. So, if this is typical, there is an
approximately 40
percent chance of winning a rally in which you dive. However,
some of the
rallies that he won only got him the serve.

On the other hand, Jason dived at least once in 12
rallies
in the first game and won four of them. That is four points he would
have lost
if he had done no diving. He won the game 11-8. The four points could
have made
the difference. In the second game, he won six rallies after diving in
12
rallies.
He won that game 13-11. Jason would probably have lost that game if
Cliff had
taken those six rallies. Jason won the third game 11-2. It seems fairly
certain
that Jason’s dives were the difference in games one and two. It is impossible to know for sure what would
have happened if Jason didn’t do any diving, but the chances are that
he would
not have won the first two games. Was it worth it to him to dive for a
chance to win a
quarterfinal
match at the U.S. Open?

The bottom line is that a dive is worth a little
more than a quarter of a
point. If you
have a comfortable lead in a game, it is probably not worth it to dive.
If the
game is close, you should probably save your dives for critical
times in
the game, especially if you are serving.

If you are going to dive, you should do it in
a way
that minimizes the harm to your body while generating the best chance
of
eventually winning the rally. The first rule of diving is to start low
so as to
reduce the distance between your body and the floor. So start with a
low
crouch. Push off with your legs while extending your racquet hand in a
jabbing
motion. Use your other hand as a shock absorber. Once you hit the ball,
just
relax as you hit the floor. Then get your feet under you and get up as
quickly
as possible. Go to center court.

The best shot selection is a ceiling ball. Just
get your racquet under the ball with the face up and flick it to the
ceiling. The ceiling ball gives you the
maximum amount of time to get up and allows you free access to center
court.
Some players can make offensive shots while diving, but they are a rare
breed and there is a higher probability of skipping the ball.

To see
some pros diving, click here.