What does it mean that you must learn to work with the tools you have?
We played with Jay Fournier for several years. Jay, a somewhat older player but always a good athlete, always working on self-improvement, regularly taking lessons, clinics, private instruction, and practicing with ball machines. His strokes and mechanics were pretty good and we recently asked him what further issues he still needed to work on. His usual answer was simple – Read the Other Player. In fact, he seldom offered any other issue except that one.
We think he’s partially right, but it’s more an issue of overall reactivity. As we age, mobility becomes more limited. One can overcome many temporary things but when you slow down, when your mind makes commitments your body won’t keep, you have to accommodate it. In other words, you must learn to work with the tools you have.
What would those tools look like, for Jay or for anyone with age and mobility issues? We believe there are several adjustments one can make. First, observe your opponent more closely. Study paddle angles. If your opponent consistently tilts his body and his paddle towards his target, you, with limited mobility, must move earlier than you’d have to otherwise. You have to take a chance. Sure, you’ll get beat once in awhile when the tricky devils you’re playing against change their angle at the last minute. More often, however, you’ll get to where you need to go sooner.
Second, when watching both body and paddle angle, STOP as soon as the other person hits the ball. Of course sometime you will be setting up too far back to make a true quality shot. But most of the time you’ll at least be able to get the ball back over the net. Jay has worked on this for years and is certainly better at it now, but admits to still having work to do.
Third, manage your time from the baseline. Do not move into the court too soon. This may seem contradictory but it’s not. If you WAIT until you see where the shot is going (by observing body, paddle angles and how hard the ball is hit) you can move forward much more easily than you can move back. These tips tend to make Jay a much better player.
Jay won’t be back on the court for awhile due to some health issues. However, we’ve suggested to him that he use his down-time to study these issues, perhaps watching YouTube matches and the like. We expect that we still see him back sometime soon and when he is he will be better for doing the work with the tools .