Every one- and three-waller’s nightmare in four-wall handball is the back wall. The anxiety and dread of that ball coming back at the outdoor specialists from this foreign angle can make outdoor players put their bodies in questionable positions, making the four-wall game feel uncomfortable and daunting. This shot, which is an offensive opportunity for top-level four-wall handball players, is the downfall for even the elite outdoor players making the transition to the four-wall game.
In this edition of Cooney’s Instructional Corner, I am going to explain a process for an outdoor specialist to practice the back wall and to make the leap from simply dreading the back wall shot to making it a part of your attacking arsenal so you can challenge even the best four-wallers.
Step 1: Believe and Visualize
The first step you can do anytime during the day, on your armchair at home in the evening or even in the car before you get to work (make sure to keep your eyes on the road of course…). Visualize yourself hitting a perfect back wall shot: Picture yourself moving back with the ball and then once the ball comes off the back wall, imagine yourself pushing off your back foot and driving through the ball. The ability to perceive something is a vital step in the process of doing. Next, picture yourself from your first-person perspective moving perfectly into the shot as it comes off the back wall. Seeing yourself from a distance and from your personal viewpoint will help make you feel more comfortable when you actually begin to practice the shot. Remember that this visualization exercise can be used for any shot you wish to get better at.
Step 2: Face the Side Wall
My old handball coach, the great John Gaffney, one of the best handball trainers to ever grace the game, relayed this message to me over and over again through my years growing up as a young handballer: “Face the side wall.” As simple as the message is, not facing the side wall while hitting the ball is the most common mistake many players make. It can lead to over-extension of the arm, striking out a balance and, later on down the line, injury. Think of a golfer hitting the ball; this is how you should be facing. Not facing the side wall is one of the main reasons why one- and three-wallers are not able to make a good strike on their back wall. So always keep this simple but essential point in mind.
Step 3: Time to Dance
This step is a point I received from women’s top all-around handball player, New York’s Danielle Daskalakis. Danielle explained that for a one-waller or three-waller to get to grips with hitting the back wall, they have to think that the ball is their dance partner. This means never turning your back on the ball and following the ball closely around all walls. This is a concept that you can practice even on your nights out. Since your dance partner may not always be amicable and compatible with your moves, you need to similarly keep watch of the ball at all times and adjust accordingly.
Step 4: Practice, Practice, Practice
The final step in getting down your back wall game is practice! Reading all the material and self-help in the world will not be worth a cent if you don’t get into the court and practise. On your own or during a training game, remember to follow the ball like your dance partner and face the side wall before making that strike on the ball. Getting into position is nine-tenths of hitting a good shot; the other tenth is striking the ball. Remember not to get discouraged as you are making this transition, even if you lose to the players to whom you normally hand an easy beating. So don’t get your head down, as once you add this tool to your game, you will be a formidable opponent to any four-wall player.
So get out and go for it. Let me know how you do and if you have any questions, feel free to contact me. I will be more than happy to answer.
Special thank you to Westside YMCA Harris Mellis WPH Coach Danielle Daskalakis for her advice on this topic.
Stephen Cooney hails from Ballaghaderreen, Ireland and currently visiting New York City, playing, training and on hand to give coaching advice at the famed New York Athletic Club and the Westside YMCA Harry Mellis Junior Handball Program. After a successful junior career that saw the “Coondogg” rise to the top of the Irish junior ranks, Mr. Cooney quickly established himself as one of the top stars on the Race 4 Eight tour. In just 13 months as a full-time R48 pro, Mr. Cooney rose to the coveted position inside the R48 Elite 8.
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