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Racquetball After 40 – How to Beat the Younger, Faster Player

My return to racquetball began six months ago, shortly after my 42nd birthday. After a session in the 4 wall ping pong room, I quickly remembered why I love this game. Action. Speed. Assault. Strategy. Lateral movement. Body shots. Trash talk… Racquetball has it all – plus a great cardio workout. After an hour, I was exhausted.

The next day, I also remembered why I had stopped playing. Ouch. Hurts in places that I forgot I had. However, within a few weeks of regular play 2X a week – and with a diligent warm-up routine – my body quickly acclimated.

I’m not a doctor or a professional athlete, but I love playing sports and staying active, and I’ve learned what to do to keep my aging body in the game. If you want to get back into racquetball (and come on…I know you do!), here are three areas you need to focus on to keep playing…and winning.

1. Don’t write checks your body can’t cash

The adrenaline of the game can motivate you to play games that will punish your body. The two most common body wreckers are: diving for the ball and running into a wall. Add to that hyperextending your joints and hitting the ball too hard and you have a recipe for a seriously taxed body after your court session. If you play multiple times a week, those stubborn bumps and tugs can turn into serious injuries that will take you a long time to recover from. If you’re over 40, you probably have a little more LB than when you were playing in your 20s. Extra weight combined with hard impacts and lunges will result in heel bruises, knee strains, or rear pulls (or all of them!). I’ve had it, and the only way to recover is usually to do nothing for a long time – and that’s just not fun.

Don’t let your pride get the better of you. I’ve lost a lot of playing partners who fought well in one game but couldn’t come back the next week to play again.

Use your head. Stretch for at least 15 minutes before playing. Precede your stretch with a short jog. Play against the side walls for at least 5 minutes. Practice playing low to the ground – low lunges are what lead to muscle pulls, so warm up before playing.

Treat your post-game battle injuries as soon as possible. Don’t be a hero and limp for a week – if you do, you’re on the way to a long-term nagging injury. Ice it, hot tub it, suck it, wrap it, etc. Sleep so your body can heal. Take glucosamine for your joints. If you take care of your body, it will acclimatize…but don’t expect it to come back like it did in your twenties!

2. Get ready

Goggles, shoes, racket glove and knee pad. This is your required battle gear.

Yes, the glasses can fog up…but the eyeballs cannot be replaced. Every time I consider taking my glasses off, I end up tugging on the cup. A compressed racquetball hitting your eye socket can suck in your eyeball. Enough said. Bring 2 pairs and rotate them when one fogs up.

Shoes. You need good, well-fitting shoes. Don’t grab your old nikes – get some new shoes. You don’t need to spend a fortune. Get 2 cheap pairs that you can rotate so the shoes have time to recover. If your ankles are a bit out of practice, you might want to consider basketball shoes for extra support. If you twist an ankle, you’re on the disabled list for quite a while. Or, you can wrap your ankles before playing. Hey! It’s not about being pretty…it’s about winning!

Racket glove. Prevents your wrist from having carpal tunnel from straining to grip the racquet. Worth the small investment.

Knee pad. I’m not a big guy… 170 pounds, 5’10” – and I’m in good shape. But, I wear knee pads, and I’ll tell you why. Because my knees were taking a pounding. If you want play hard you’ll end up diving for the ball or scrambling on the floor.You’re a warrior – you can’t help it!In the heat of the moment your knees will take the hit, but the next day you’re gonna hurt And with each subsequent game… it’s going to get worse, worse and worse. Pretty soon, you’re going to have to stop playing for a while. Let’s face it, you’re not 20 anymore. Your body needs time. More , you have to go to work on Mondays and always be a muleteer for all your family’s trash!Make sure you have enough body left for your family!

Don’t show up with velcro knee pads…you’re not laying tiles! Simple, breathable latex-type knee pads that aren’t so tight that they restrict movement will help your knees survive.

3. Winning strategy: placement and positioning. Especially important if you’re playing younger dollars that have energy to burn. To conserve your energy, you need to play smart. Playing smart involves getting the ball in the right place and positioning your body in the right place on the court. Hitting the ball hard doesn’t win games. Putting the ball where your opponent is not does. Run the bastard. Let them dive. Make them beg for mercy!

Here are some game tips that I learned that increase your chances of winning.

1. Quiver O’ Serve. You should have 3 or 4 good serves in your arsenal. Vary your serve. Look back before you serve to see where your opponent is. Hitting in the backhand corner is fine, but play it to the side wall before it lands. Hit one that goes to your opponents ankles – fast. Toss in a high angle dying lob that you can’t play on the back wall. Include a fastball backhand that hugs the wall. Once your opponent hits your serve, continue to vary it and power up the serves quickly. Don’t give them time to prepare.

2. Body positioning. Generally, when it comes to position, try to stay in the middle of the field. If you are against a wall, hit a cross wall to return the ball to where you are – which forces your opponent towards your wall. Don’t interfere with the ball. If your opponent is in front of the field, knock them back with a overhead kick that forces them back. If you find yourself in a corner, get out of it and back to the middle as quickly as possible. Stay in the middle.

3. Wait for the ball. When you get a good forehand, don’t miss it. If you see a lane where you can hit the ball, be sure to be ACCURATE in your shot. If you’re full of energy, you’ll hit too hard and the ball will bounce too high, allowing your opponent to recover with a back wall return.

If the ball passes you, it does not matter. Turn around and play it on the back wall. Play your game, not your opponents.

4. Find the Achilles heel. Play a variety of moves early in the game to find your opponents’ weakness. But don’t experiment when you have a killing blow. Take the kill. Play with your opponent when you can afford it.

5. Keep the serve! You can’t score if you don’t have serve. If you return a serve, it’s GAME time. Get the service back at any cost. Don’t let your opponent mount a tab. How do you do that when they have bad service? Learn to read your opponents’ body language. Usually a server will “telegraph” their move with a foot switch, a twist of the wrist handle, a drop of the shoulder. These little “reads” will give you that extra millisecond to get a jump on that service and get that SOB out of the server box.

6. Location, location, location. Make your opponent run, scramble, dive. EVERY shot should be hard to return. This doesn’t mean it has to be a killing blow or a hard hit ball. To place the ball where your opponent is not, you need to know where he is! Which brings me to my next tip.

7. Watch the ball and watch your opponent. Develop your kung fu senses. If your opponent is jostling, they will usually hit weak returns (except for the sometimes LUCKY! killing blow). Try to anticipate where their next shot is going.

8. And finally, my favorite tip. If you really want to improve, play at least twice a week and play with someone who is better than you! My regular partner beats me pretty much every game. He’s just plain good ninja. A huge arsenal of deadly services. A bad fatal blow (forehand and backhand). And an excellent strategic player. This guy played competitively when he was younger and never quit. BUT, I’m winning over him and I’ve beaten him many times. I prefer a challenge to a victory. I also easily beat other racquetball players.

BUT… I don’t recommend being obsessed with playing more than 5 times a week. You will beat your body and exhaust your thirst for play. Find regulars you can play with and stick to a schedule.

Have fun, train, play hard and get these young guys racing!

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