One of my favorite all-time racquetball quotes comes from the legendary Charlie Brumfield who once said: “The opponent is only the opponent. The real enemy is the floor.”
During the holiday season, better parts of human nature lead us to give more freely to our fellow human beings. On the racquetball court, no matter what time of year it is, giving gifts to your opponent with skips is the last thing you want to get into the habit of doing.
So how bad are skips? I’ve heard people say the skip in racquetball is a lot like an unforced error in tennis. But the whole phrase “unforced error” seems slightly ridiculous to me. How do you distinguish between an unforced error and a forced error? There’s a lot of gray area to interpret. Surely there are plenty of errors in racquetball and tennis that were forced by the aggressive play of a superior opponent.
Instead of thinking about the skip as an unforced error, look at it like a turnover in basketball or football. When you turn the ball over, you are giving away your chance to score. When you skip a ball into the floor in racquetball, that’s what you're doing as well.
Some skips literally take away an opportunity to score, like skipping a dead setup after a good serve forces your opponent to hit a bad return. When you skip a dead setup into the floor, you have effectively just taken a scoring opportunity, crumpled it up into a little ball, and thrown it in the trash. DON'T SKIP THE BALL! Even if you don't hit a winner on the initial setup, skipping the ball guarantees that you won't get another scoring chance within that rally.
Consider this: if you don’t skip the ball on that dead setup, do you think you might hit a good enough shot that could lead to another setup? OF COURSE YOU COULD! The odds are good that even if you don't hit a winner on the initial setup, a quality shot will at least keep the pressure on your opponent and could very well force them to play defense again. That will lead to another setup and another scoring opportunity.
Other skips take away your chance to score and give points directly to your opponent, like taking a wild, off-balance swing and driving the ball into the floor during your opponent’s serve when the smart play is to go to the ceiling. These skips are clearly more devastating to your game and it’s easy to see why. Giving points away to your opponent without making them earn it should be a cardinal sin to any serious racquetball player. Mistakes like that haunt you more and more as you move up into the higher skill levels.
When analyzing when to be more aggressive and when to be more on the safe side, consider cranking up your level of aggressiveness when you are in control of the serve. When you have the serve, skips aren’t necessarily going to hurt you quite as much because they aren’t giving points directly to your opponent. Skips of that nature still hurt you, but it’s a different scenario than skipping the ball when your opponent is serving.
When your opponent is serving, consider dialing back on your reckless aggressiveness and play shots a little more on the safe side to ensure you aren’t giving points away. Be aggressive, but don’t be reckless while your opponent is serving. This is especially important for lower level players. Legendary basketball coach Bobby Knight stressed over and over to players the importance of not beating yourself. He was a firm believer that most games were lost and not won. That same theory can easily to applied to racquetball. Don't beat yourself with skips and make your opponents earn their points.