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Developing Racquet Sport Skills

Instructor: John Hamilton

John has tutored algebra and SAT Prep and has a B.A. degree with a major in psychology and a minor in mathematics from Christopher Newport University.

In this lesson we review skills, techniques, equipment, activities, and safety practices for developing racquet sport skills. Racquet sports include six major games, which are badminton, pickleball, racquetball, squash, table tennis, and tennis.

Racquet Sports

Who hasn't been astounded by a laser Roger Federer forehand or a smashing Maria Sharapova serve? Racquet sports are exciting games of power and precision. Racquet sports require a high level of athleticism, skill, technique, and mental abilities. There are many racquet sports including the popular badminton, pickleball, racquetball, squash, table tennis, and tennis.

Tennis Court in Dim Light
tennis court in dim light

'Creative Commons Tennis Anyone?' by Sarah Park is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Developing skills

What are racquet sport skills and why are they important? Racquet sports require a myriad of skills, including power, precision, technique, timing, and perhaps, most importantly of all, agile footwork and mental focus.

Being Mentally Prepared

We would be remiss to discuss developing racquet sport skills without covering the crucial, and often neglected, mental side of racquet sports, including overtraining. The sports world is filled with great physical athletes that never achieved their potential because their mental games weren't as good. Racquet sports require the ability to stay relaxed, focused, and be able to 'read' and outsmart the opponent with superior strategy and tactics. A doubles team may study their opponents and plan ahead on how to deal with an opponent's serve, or a player may employ the tactic of repeatedly hitting to his opponent's weaker side. Too much training, though, has been shown to cause depression, tension, confusion, and, of course, fatigue in the athlete. Meditation and yoga may be used to calm the mind and relax the body, and a proper diet usually is employed to aid mental fitness, as well.

Being Physically Prepared

In addition to the mental side of the game, it is necessary for racquet sports players to condition their bodies for long hours of practice and playing.

Lifting can enhance a racquet athlete's potential skills because so many of the muscles of the body are used in these sports. Extra attention, however, should be placed on core training and leg training. Participants can run through agility ladders or tires much the same way pro football players do. Racquet sports players must endure hours per day of games and practice, and they can supplement their workouts with exercise bikes or swimming to build endurance.

Perfecting Techniques

They say that 'practice doesn't make perfect, perfect practice does'. In racquet sports, it's not enough to practice long hours. The skills must also be done correctly in order to perfect your technique.

Applying Spin

Applying spin is absolutely crucial in the racquet sports. Brushing is a technique used to apply spin to the ball. Brushing the ball means to hit it at a very sharp angle to maximize spin. There is backspin, topspin, and sidespin. In most racquet sports, spin is an element of the game, except in badminton where applying spin to a shuttlecock, while not impossible, is difficult.

Prepare the Racquet

Most coaches in racquet sports recommend bringing the racquet back and opening the body before the ball arrives. This is known as preparing the racquet. Points in racquet sports happen quickly, and if the player does not prepare the racquet, the ball will arrive and the athlete may be out of position, often resulting in a poor shot. Conversely, at the end of the shot, the coaches recommend holding an exaggerated follow through, not unlike a golfer posing after a swing.

Weight Transfer

In racquet sports, one major key is to keep the weight back and hit with the lower body, not the upper body. The lower body tends to generate more power than just hitting with the arms. Practicing this way can groove the technique. In other words, repetition will lead to the player doing this consistently. There are other times, however, like on a serve, when the ball is tossed forward and the player will lean forward into the serve. Transferring the weight back and forth, as well as from one side to the other at the proper times, is a crucial part of racquet sports.

Types of Shots

It is often less desirable to under hit than overhit in many cases. This overhitting gives the player extra time to set up for the next shot. The most spectacular shot in racquet sports is the smash from either the forehand or backhand side. A talented player can even execute the jump smash. The player contacts the ball or shuttlecock near the top of the racket with the ball more forward from his body than normal, so the player is leaning into the shot for more power. There are times in racquet sports when hitting soft shots, known as dinks, lobs, or drops, can also be effective. With these types of shots, the object is to land the ball just on the other side of the net and force the opponent to have to rush forward, perhaps awkwardly.

Tennis Smash
smash

'Creative Commons Smash' by Mark Ingle is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Serve

The serve is how all the racquet sports begin their points, and is arguably the most crucial of all shots. In all racquet sports there are similar objectives, which are to either win the point outright or create a difficult return for the opponent. In addition, the serve can be used to allow the server to get into proper position for the next shot.

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