PLUSBALLS – GUARANTEED SUCCESS FOR ALL PLAYERS
Teachers, coaches and parents would readily accept that young beginners should use short-shafted, mini-rackets to bring the head of the racket closer to the body and closer to participants’ range of vision, making it easier to hit the shuttle consistently. The same principle applies in tennis, with a wide variety of racket sizes and types available for beginners. However, using short rackets only addresses one half of the problem. Concessions are rarely, if ever, made for racket sports missiles which, for virtually all beginners, move much too fast for beginners to cope with. This is where plusballs come in.
Plusballs are colourful, ultra lightweight, inflatable balls which move more slowly than normal missiles. Unlike a balloon, there is no knot to affect its stability so a plusball describes a slow, natural arc facilitating consistent, effective strokes by beginners leading to immediate success. Plusballs are not shuttlecock substitutes, since they are for close racket work and close rallying, prior to using shuttles or tennis/sponge balls.
The main challenge racket sports pose for children (and many adults) is being able to rally. With normal missiles, virtually all beginners are unable to keep a rally going, but with plusballs solo rallies (keepy uppy) are immediately possible for everyone. I have taken dozens of sessions with young children, many of whom have never held a racket before, and after a couple of basic instructions I am inundated with youngsters coming up to me saying they have done 100 hits – then 200, even 500! With a shuttle or a tennis ball, most would be struggling to do three! Just imagine the confidence, satisfaction and sense of achievement this engenders – to say nothing of the enjoyment. And from individual activities, I move on to paired and group activities, all of which can easily produce long rallies. Early success ensures increased interest and a positive attitude towards racket sports which do not come about following repeated failures attempting to rally with normal missiles.
If I take a group of teachers or coaches who want to know more about using plusballs, I conduct the whole session with the participants using their “wrong” hands and – for many activities – with one eye closed. This demonstrates just how easy using plusballs with their classes will be and teachers/coaches soon realise that if they can succeed with these restrictions then their young participants will be able to cope when unrestricted.
Plusballs are not just for beginners. Because they move slowly, a coach can get his participants to use them to concentrate on a particular aspect of the game such as the grip, moving forward on the correct foot, racket angle, body position etc and then once practised sufficiently, these skills can be transferred for use with more normal missiles. Net shot rallies and practice are other areas particularly suitable for plusballs.
I have found that a drastically adapted shuttle is an essential transitional aid for beginners and post beginners after using a plusball. Club and tournament players are familiar with “tipping” a shuttle to slow it down. The most severe form of tipping is to take a used shuttle and cut through the cage (which holds the feathers together) from the tip to the cork eight times – every other feather. Having done that, splay out the feathers by ruthlessly pressing them outwards against a wall or table. The resulting effect is to slow down the shuttle reducing the distance it can be hit and making it far more controllable. A similar adaptation can be made just as easily with a plastic shuttle.
Plusballs are being used by the Lawn Tennis Association, dozens of Badminton Association of England registered coaches as well as hundreds of schools and badminton clubs. Numerous orders have been received from Scottish schools and sports clubs/centres. Other users include Sports/PE departments at universities and colleges, Special Needs teachers, physiotherapists in hospitals and children practising their skills at home.