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Mike Marino - Mike Rahaley

Back Court Strategy for All Levels
by Mike Marino and Mike Rahaley (Viking Academy)

Mary DotenMike Rahaley and I have been teaching professionals in the Chicago area for the last 10 years.  In our experience, we have noticed that most teams (especially in the advanced beginner to advanced intermediate range) don’t really have a game plan for how to win points when they are in the backcourt.  Obviously, you can get some quick points on the return of serve, but being able to construct a strategy to win points beyond the return of serve seems to be a challenge.  Most teams will basically just try to keep the ball in play from the backcourt and hope the other team eventually feeds them a juicy ball to their forehand for them to drive.  There is no real strategy to try to create offensive opportunities.  Usually, the net team will just wear down the backcourt team and hit an overhead that is not returnable.  We have devised a simple backcourt strategy that can be described in three simple steps and may help you have a “game-plan” instead of just relying on luck.

“The Three-Pronged Attack”

  1. “RECOGNIZE” - the backcourt team must recognize when they have hit a “good” lob.  A good lob is defined as one that forces the net team to hit their overhead from beyond the service line.  This puts them in more of a defensive position as opposed to when they are hitting from on top of the net.
  1. “SHIFT” - instead of just watching their nice, deep lob, the backcourt team should shift into an offensive position.  An offensive position is defined as the “return of serve” position because it is positioning yourself to be able to drive with your strength whether that is your forehand or backhand.  If you play the ad side, you would move up and over to the side screen if you are right-handed to get a forehand opportunity.  If you are the deuce court player and right handed, you would move up a step or two and toward the center of the baseline.  These positions will give the net team less room to hit to your weakness and will set up your strength.
  1. “DETERMINE”- now you must determine whether or not you have a drivable ball.  You may have hit a great lob and  made a shift into offensive or return of serve position, but you still have to decide whether you should drive the overhead that was hit.  The ball must land relatively short in the court (service line or just beyond), you should have a ball that is waist high or higher, and you must be balanced.

2007 NationalsFor the advanced beginner or the intermediate player, the first two steps will be a challenge at first.  For the advanced intermediate or advanced player, the challenge generally arises at the third step.  We see a lot of talented players trying to drive the wrong ball just because they have seen the net team hitting from a defensive position.  Paddle is mostly about discipline, and decision-making is key.  There is no shot clock so wait until you get a ball you really love.  You may have to shift into offensive position 3 or 4 times in one point and still not get a good ball to drive, but you will eventually get one if you are patient.
For those of you who never really had a game plan from the backcourt, here it is.  You will find that after thinking about it during play for a couple of weeks, it will eventually come more naturally.  You will now have an opportunity to dictate play from the backcourt instead of always being on the defensive and feeling helpless. 
Remember, RECOGNIZE, SHIFT, AND DETERMINE your way to victory.



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