By day, I’m a mild mannered teacher, but around 6 PM and on weekends I become “Middle Aged Court Rat” Yes, that is my super hero name. I learned to play racquetball in college in the 80s, but that’s not where this racquetball story begins, because I played off an on for years, never getting better than a mediocre C player. Then 4 years ago I had the opportunity to change my life, move across the country from California to North Carolina, and focus on the things I’d always wanted to do. One of those things was to devote more time and effort to racquetball…..but I didn’t know where to start. The ladies at my new club were very welcoming and I started playing a couple of times a week, but I wasn’t happy with what I was accomplishing. I wondered why a person with some athletic talent and a decent brain was not improving and performing as I felt I should. While reading my Racquetball Magazine I saw an ad for the Fran Davis Racquetball Camps and decided to go on line to check it out. I went to my first camp in Louisville, KY in 2007. There I started on the road that would lead me to seeing racquetball as a challenging athletic pursuit that stimulated my mind and body as well as a fun, social way to get exercise.
At camp I learned several things I could change with a minimum of effort and that would have an immediate effect on my game. One of those was that I was playing too far forward and that was the reason I was getting passed so much…I thought I was just slow! I also learned to receive the serve closer to the back wall, which helped immediately on my return of serve. I also learned some other strategies that would require time to integrate into my game, such as developing a variety of serves from several positions in the service box. Over the course of a year and a half I improved and began beating the ladies instead of losing to them and lost a few lbs.—maybe 8. But that just whetted my appetite.
My sister lives in Seattle where Fran is headquartered, so the next year on a visit, I attended one of her Seattle camps and Jason remarked on my improvement asking if I had gone up “What, a division and a half?” I was thrilled they even remembered my level and stunned to know they could see a difference! I had put into practice one of the longer term goals I had been working on—being able to move with the ball away from the back wall on a set up to hit a solid passing shot, both down the line and cross court on my backhand. This time at camp I learned things I didn’t think they had taught before and commented on it. Fran just laughed and said, “Oh we taught that last time, you just weren’t ready to hear and learn it yet.” And I realized she was right. When I went back to my old camp handbook…..sure enough everything was there. My forehand was still in trouble though and I asked for special help on that, which I received through video taped analysis of my swing. My knees weren’t bent. I was taking the ball too close to my body which jammed me, I was transitioning too much of my body weight toward my front foot, robbing myself of power. I tried to put into practice some of the strategies that I learned, such as pinching when my opponent was behind me and passing when they played too far forward as I once did. And my second camp experience began to pay off in subtle ways. I noticed that I not only pulled even with the players who used to beat me regularly, I began to beat them more often than not. Some of them were not at all pleased by my new intensity and began to complain I was taking it all too seriously. Others were supportive and wanted to know what I was learning. Guess which ones I continued to play with? That was in Jan. of 2009.
I continued to work on the short and long term goals Fran set with me such as starting a weight training program and aerobic conditioning program I learned at camp. This program is outlined in Fran and Jason’s new book Championship Racquetball. I lost another 16 lbs. and saw a difference in the way I was able to move around the court. But I was unwilling to do the most important thing. I didn’t want to drill. I groaned and complained about how boring it was, and just didn’t want to do it! I loved the dynamic nature of racquetball, the competition, the elation of making a great shot, and of course winning. Drilling had none of that. About this time a new female player joined our club. She had been an A player but now had knee issues. Even with limited mobility, she was still good enough to beat me. She was the one who convinced me to enter my first tournament–a benefit called the Caring Hands on a Racquet tournament in Atlanta, GA in January of 2010. I entered as a C and won my first two matches in 2 games each. I lost in the final, but was reasonably happy with my play and resolved to improve before I entered another tournament. Now, just how I intended to do that without drilling is now a mystery to me. Improvement without a plan is sort of a nebulous idea…..it doesn’t just happen because you say you will out loud. And sure enough it didn’t happen for me. When I became frustrated with my stalled progress, I decided to jumpstart my program by attending my third camp in Greensboro, NC in the Summer of 2010. I told Fran I wanted to make “an evolutionary leap in my game.” I told her I didn’t want to just get “better” I wanted to be an A player some day and I wanted that day to be tomorrow! “Then you have to drill,” she said, and challenged me to commit to a drilling schedule. Again, I learned some new things at camp that they probably taught before, but that I wasn’t ready to hear or learn, such as waiting for the ball to drop one more second before hitting it, that I should be reading the ball off my opponent’s racquet, not off the front wall, to give myself more time to react. I learned to effectively use the ceiling ball when I was off balance to get back in to position. And I learned to see the ball, not the wall, when returning a down the line shot.
I’d like to say I went home and started drilling immediately, but that’s not what happened. I was supposed to drill exclusively and not play for a month. What happened is that I obeyed the not playing part but didn’t do the drilling and ended up taking a month off from racquetball! I was furious with myself and when Fran checked in with me about my progress—yes that’s right, the Hall of Fame coach who coaches the Number one woman and junior in the world checked in with ME—I had to tell her that I guessed I wasn’t ready to commit. I honestly don’t remember what her reaction was or what she said to me in that phone call—I’ve probably blocked it out, but I began drilling the next day. One hour of drilling for every hour of play. I hated it……for a while, but I began to see results in a few weeks. I began to play some of the men at my club and hang with them, if not beat them. By the Fall, I was splitting games with the former women’s A player and beating a few men. Around the holidays, I entered the Mountain Madness racquetball tournament in Gatlinburg, TN. The division was a combined Women’s B/C/Men’s D division and on the day of the start of the tournament, I slipped on the ice and hurt my knee. I came in 3rd out of a field of 4 in a round robin determined by the number of points won, but I was glad I had limped through and practiced the mental toughness techniques I had learned. Plus, I won a game off a very condescending gentleman, costing him the winner’s trophy. It was better than Advil.
I continued to drill and play as soon as my knee was better, and when Fran and Jason’s book Championship Racquetball came out this past Feb. I bought a copy for both myself and my new boyfriend, whom I met playing racquetball! I studied the chapters on mental toughness and match strategy in preparation for another tournament, and just this last weekend entered the Racquet Up for the Red tournament in Goldsboro, NC. I entered as a B even though I hadn’t ever won as a C player. I had been playing so well, made so much progress, and I just believed in myself and in all the strategies I had been taught at camp and read about in the book and knew I could win. Sorry for the predictable and sappy ending, but I really did win!
That was a few weeks ago, and the next day, I was back at the gym upping my weights and powering through my cardio. This past weekend I entered the Women’s A and the Women’s All Age divisions at the Atlantic Coast Championships in Wilmington, NC. I wanted to challenge myself both by moving up a division and by entering two divisions to test my fitness level. Both events were round robin and by hanging tough in the tie breakers, I came in 2nd in both divisions in a very tight race. I was so proud of myself.
My new goals are to drop some more weight—about 15 more lbs., increase my drilling time using my Championship Racquetball book to select and work on various aspects of my game, and to win a tournament as an A player. By setting, working towards, and achieving goals as Fran has taught me, I am living my racquetball dream! I don’t know how to express how full my heart is when I think of how she changed my life with her racquetball philosophy. But she has because I have been able to apply the lessons I have learned on the court to my life and now have a very different and healthier paradigm when I view life’s challenges. I take more risks with anticipation instead of trepidation, and I feel confident that with hard work I can accomplish reasonable goals that I set for myself. That may not sound like much to someone else, but for me it is quite a victory!