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'TIS THE SEASON TO GET READY FOR RACQUETBALL

Most racquetball players are playing consistently by mid-November. Before you start to actually train and start playing you should consider some important points.

If you are like many racquetball players, you usually slow down your racquetball activity during the summer. Many racquetballers play tennis during the warmer weather.

If you really want to play racquetball well during the upcoming season, my advice is to not mix it with tennis. When you play tennis you are hitting the ball with a lot of top spin at least three to five feet over the net with a firm wrist.

Racquetball shots are hit with a great amount of wrist snap and the object is to hit the ball as low as you can to win a point. Therefore, you are hitting many shots that are consistently three to four feet lower than tennis shots. Having played both sports for more than 35 years, I rarely played both simultaneously. On the few occasions that I did, I can attest that it can wreak havoc with your game.

If you've been using the same racquetball racquet for the past two years, now is the time to purchase the extremely powerful and light racquets that are on the market. You will be pleasantly surprised with the power and control you can generate with very little effort. You should try at least three racquets to see which one feels best. Racquet specialty shops are the best place to acquire demos and purchase racquets. Top quality racquets range from $85 to $270.

You should also wear sneakers that are specifically made for racquetball. Ektelon is the leader in this field and its sneakers are made to provide the support for the twisting and sudden stops and starts that you have to make when you play. The sneakers sell in the $50-$75 range.

Always play with eye guards to prevent serious injuries. Eye guards should be made with polycarbonate lenses. Note: Don't purchase eye guards with small openings. Tests have proved that the ball elongates as it is hit and can squeeze into the tiny openings, causing serious eye damage.

If you are in good physical shape, have good flexibility and your aerobic conditioning is good, you're probably ready to start playing racquetball. Unfortunately, a lot of people aren't in this condition when they start.

If you've exercised sporadically throughout the summer you would be wise to proceed very slowly before you start playing racquetball this fall. If you're in reasonably good shape, but haven't played racquetball in more than three months, you should proceed at a slower pace.

If you are a real racquetball aficionado you could ask a personal trainer or an avid racquetball player what type of conditioning program would be good for you for the next four weeks. The program is sure to include heavy concentration on your arms, legs, back and shoulder muscles. Weight training, stretching, aerobic training, such as using the life cycle or treadmill, are excellent choices, as is running.

When you first step on the court you should be ready to strike the racquetball at a fairly high velocity. You are the only one who knows what type of racquetball shape you are in when you first start to play.

As for actually starting your racquetball play, I recommend that you practice on the court by yourself at least five times before you compete. Be sure to warm up and stretch before you start your practice session.

The first couple of times on the court you should practice 30-45 minutes. Trying to hit the ball as hard as you can the first few times you are out is foolish, as you could pull or tear a muscle or tendon. You should just be trying to get a feel for the ball and to work on getting the correct stroke and swing on your serve, forehand, backhand, passing shots and ceiling balls.

The third to fifth times you're on the court you should increase your court time to approximately an hour, working on every aspect of your game. At the end of the session, if there is a shot that you want to work on, I would spend another few minutes doing so.

Incorporating weight and aerobic training on your off days is wise to complement your racquetball training.

When you start playing actual competition you should make sure to arrive at the courts at least 30 minutes before your scheduled playing time. This will allow you to change, warm up, and stretch before you play. After you've finished your match you should stretch another 10-15 minutes to let your body cool down.

These tips could help your overall game and reduce your chances of suffering an injury while practicing or playing.
e-mail: thegreatgar@cs.com

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