As Errors Fall, Chance to Win Rises
We all make them, some of us more than others. We’ll never totally eliminate hand errors from our game. But if we follow a couple of simple rules, we can minimize the number of mistakes.
The vast majority of hand errors are made when a player takes his eyes off the ball at the last crucial moment or when he is attempting a shot he shouldn’t have attempted in the first place.
You often hear the advice: Keep your eyes on the ball. However, do you know what that really means and what watching the ball really entails? Have you ever watched the ball all the way into your hand as you hit it?
That is what watching the ball and keeping your eyes on the ball really mean. Anytime you see a top player hit a handball, you’ll notice that his head is down, much like a golfer’s, as he strikes the ball. He does that to follow the ball all the way into his hand. The best golfers also keep their heads down to keep their eyes on the target, as well as generating the most power possible with their swing.
The same theory applies to handballers. You can generate more power by keeping your nose on the ball and giving your shoulders an axis on which to rotate than by picking your head up as you swing.
The success of Ted Williams, widely acclaimed as the best hitter in baseball history, was attributed to his ability to actually see the baseball hit his bat. Of course, Williams was also blessed with eyesight of 20/15, but we can follow a handball into our hands more easily than a baseball hitter can follow the ball all the way to the bat.
Anyone who tries to hit a shot while looking at the front wall or the spot to which he is aiming is not watching the ball. The walls of a handball court don’t move. Even the neophyte knows where the walls are, so don’t worry about them. You, your opponent and the ball are the only things moving. Try to know where all three are at all times.
Unfortunately, watching the ball is not as easy as it sounds. The best way to concentrate fully and keep your eyes on the ball is a personal thing. What has worked best for me and many others is to focus on watching something about the ball. Try to pick up the spin on the ball. A speck of dirt, the label on a new ball and the seam are good things to focus on when trying to determine the spin. And the act of serving is a great place to start your training.
Another trick to help you keep your eyes on the ball is to follow the ball around the court with your nose. That will make the ball and your line of vision meet your hand at the same time.
If keeping your nose pointed at the ball feels uncomfortable, you probably haven’t been watching the ball properly, especially when it’s behind you and you should be anticipating your opponent’s return. Concentrate on keeping your eyes glued to the ball until you’re comfortable following the ball around the court and into your hand.
When you’ve mastered the habit of watching the ball properly, you’ll also note that your opponent is scoring far less often as the result of a hand error on your part.
One of Lake Forest College coach Mike Dau’s favorite instructions is this: Send the ball back where it came from. This is probably the most important fundamental theory to learn when striving to improve your handball game.
Whenever you hit a ball, you should hit it back in the direction it came from. Or if you’re playing the ball off the back wall, you should hit it back in the same direction it’s traveling. Put even more simply, don’t change the direction of the ball’s flight.
The reason for hitting the ball back from where it came, or continuing the direction of a back-wall shot, is to make your job of returning it easier. No matter where we aim our shot, we want to use our body weight to power the ball. This is accomplished by stepping in the direction we are aiming, just as a hitter in baseball pulls the ball or goes to the opposite field.
A “power line,” the direction our body weight is moving, can be drawn by tracing a path between the tie in our shoestrings. This is the direction we are aiming our shots. Even when we aren’t consciously trying to steer the ball in this direction, that’s where it will go.
As you get to your pre-shoot position, set yourself with your power line parallel to the flight path of the ball. Addressing the ball in this manner will allow you to stride into every shot just as if you were hitting it straight ahead. This will provide you with the most power since you will be making the best use of your body weight. Of course, you’ll be sending it back in the same direction it is traveling.
More important, in terms of hand errors, sending the ball back in the direction it came from will allow for the largest margin for error on your point of contact. When trying to make a drastic change in the direction of the ball, such as when attempting a left-corner kill with your right hand on a ball coming at you from the right side of the court, the point of contact is crucial.
But if you were sending this ball back from where it came, there’s a much larger strike zone on the point of contact. Thus, a successful or good shot can still be executed in spite of small errors in judging where the ball will be contacted.
Attempting difficult shots — those with a small margin for error on the point of contact — leads to hand errors. A successful shot is far more likely when hitting the ball back from where it came.
These levels of difficulty should have you thinking about what shots to attempt and what shots to delete from your repertoire to eliminate hand errors.