Not Just A Warm-Up: Knocking Up Considered Differently

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An athlete with a thought bubble full of question marks with the title "Not Just a Warm Up: Knocking Up Considered Differently".

Does anyone know the origins of the phrase “Knock Up”? A quick internet search is dominated by “knocking a woman up” which has a very different meaning to what happens on the racket court! Refining my search terms, I then uncover “Knock” as a substitute for “hit” with good examples being “Knocked for 6” or “Knock-out Punch”. So it seems that “Knocking Up” has been adopted to describe the first hitting on the court with your opponent before a scoring match begins.

Searching through official rules from various sports governing bodies leads to text about “the warm-up” and it’s the warm-up/knock-up that is the subject of this, my next article.

As is my style, I’d like to pause and think deeply about this subject and try to unravel traditional traditions, and find deeper purpose and meaning. All to improve my Racketlon rankings and by sharing this article, I hope to elevate everyone’s game.

So the official rules of Racketlon state that the warm-up time before each sport shall be no more than 3 minutes. For those readers not familiar with “Racketlon” it’s a festival of racket enthusiasts. Competitors play each other to 21 at table tennis, badminton, squash, and tennis with the winner having more points for than against. I’ll write another article about Racketlon because there’s lots to say – it’s a really interesting concept.

Anyway, back to this article.  The warm-up time starts when both players are on the court, and they begin hitting either the ball or shuttle to one another.

This time limit fits closely with official warm-ups for the individual sports which are squash 5 minutes; tennis 5 minutes; badminton 2 minutes; and TT 2 minutes.

So, we all have our own ideas of what a knock-up is and what the time period is, but what should a serious player be doing in that knock-up time?

I’ve played racket sports for close to 50 years, starting with Badminton when I was 8 years old.  And in that time my warm-up has progressed from doing nothing more than excitedly grabbing a racket to skipping a little bit around a court, to doing some cold static stretching. I’m now reaching the point where the warm-up is switching on the electric seat heater in the car and then a brisk walk from the car park to the tournament venue!

I’ve seen amateurs with amazing warm-up routines who then step on the court and then can’t match play for toffee. I’ve seen overweight men play in dress shirts and jeans with no warm-up at all. I’ve seen some guys crack open the first beer in the changing room at the start of their pre-match routine. I’ve even seen someone take off their tracksuit to warm up, and then during the actual match, put it back on!  How’s that for self-confidence and messing with your opponent’s head!

A picture of a pint of beer in a glass in a changing room

But I’m not writing about pre-match routines or the best set of stretches. In this article, I’d like to focus on those available 3 minutes and the best use of that precious time, right before your important game starts.

And I think because of that analysis I really do want to call it the “knock-up” and not the warm-up.

Please agree with me that any muscle and dynamic warm-up could and should have been done before this precious 3 minutes. Activating the body’s energy pathways and mentally focussing on the looming match should have been done before the clock started on the 3 minutes. You could have skipped or stretched at the side of the court and done any number of stretching routines to warm the body up and prepare for action.

These 3 minutes are reserved for something else, which I think stems from my physics How To Use Physics To Improve Your Game.

Your 3 minutes should be consumed with getting a feel for your body, racket, shuttle, and environment. You need to concentrate on hitting the shuttle precisely and accurately, using your history and training to aim the shuttle directly over the head of your opponent. Not roughly to his forehand and roughly to his backhand.

Exactly aiming to the centimeter – exactly over their left shoulder, exactly over their right shoulder, exactly over their head. Exactly to the singles court tram line.  Exactly to the court back line.

You are experiencing the temperature and humidity of the air and the tension in the strings, mentally refining your subconscious calculations, and calibrating your muscle controls to a higher degree of accuracy to ensure that at this precise moment in time on planet Earth.

You will make the shuttle go exactly where you want it to go. 

Sure, you’ve played thousands of hours before this moment, but never before with this actual shuttle, with the string tension and your body tension just exactly as it is right now.  

This is a new moment which has never occurred before and you need to recalibrate yourself.  

Concentrate on the right length, the right height, and the right direction at the right speed. 

In shorthand this is called “playing a shot” and it’s the opposite of just hitting a shuttle.

The shots that you play in the knock-up, could be a preset routine to include clears, smashes, drop shots, nets shots, etc. But play the shot purposefully and deliberately and use quality feedback to make the next shot even better.

For those of you who have previously just been hitting in your warm-ups, this change may be mentally taxing as you engage your brain more with each shot you play,  but actually, the other purpose of the knock-up is to mentally prepare for the match against your opponent.

Ideally, the mechanics of playing each shot should be handed over to the subconscious part of your brain so that the conscious part of your brain can make something more of the 3-minute knock-up time.

What I mean by that is you need to be controlling your mental and emotional levels and assessing your opponent.

Let’s take these one at a time.  First your emotional levels.  I’m referring to your level of nervousness, excitement, anticipation, etc. Clearly, too much nervousness will impact negatively your play through scrambled thoughts, garbled tactics, and stiff movement.  On the other hand, being too laid back and relaxed can lead to bad body posture and reactivity so finding that optimum is key. The words to describe this prematch emotional state I find difficult. I believe that Western society doesn’t have the conversational tools and phrases to easily describe and convey the emotional state I’m trying to explain.

There are some phrases though and the common sporting ones you might have heard are “getting in the zone” and “finding Flow”. In my opinion, Flow is the best emotional state ever and so is my favorite subject. I will share more on this in another article. Briefly, Flow is what you should try and seek in this 3-minute knock-up period.  I’ll try and describe it now. It’s kind of separating yourself from your body and being able to realize that the months of excited anticipation since sending in your tournament application have finally elapsed.  It’s realizing that, that moment is now The Present and has arrived, and that you on that court in this unfathomable universe is actually here and now.  Be happy that the chaos of the universe has allowed this moment to come into existence, and that you have stayed alive on planet Earth to act out your scene.  It’s real, be real, enjoy it! Realize that your movement around the court and the hitting of objects with rackets is actually a really difficult thing to do, but you have mastered it and now you are about to demonstrate your abilities, not to the spectators, but to yourself and the universe.

Cartoon of a badminton player meditating for flow

When you can do this, you are experiencing Flow, and the feeling is so special and unique that you will remember it for the rest of your life. You will play with freedom and pleasure and as you move and hit the shuttle it will feel effortless.  It will feel like the court has shrunk to a few lazy steps and that time has slowed down in your favour. You will no longer feel the pressure of winning or the doubt of losing but will only savor the play.  Nothing else will matter and your game will elevate to your peak possibilities. Truthfully though it’s not easy to do, and that’s a big understatement. But the act of trying to find it will put you in a better ready state to play well and enjoy your match.

The second mental activity you should be doing in the 3-minute knock-up is analyzing your opponent’s play.  Looking at their playing style, looking at their stroke style, looking at their body shape, and physical makeup. Looking for their strengths and weaknesses.  Oh and looking if they are a left-hander or not!

I’m actually terrible at this part. I’ve played multiple set matches against lefties and argued afterward with my family that they weren’t lefties (they were of course!). Years ago I trained with players who could spot body patterns and see a drop shot coming before the player even played the shot. They could spot, during play, tiny movement differences that gave away what shot was coming next.  It was years ago, but my memory says it was the way the player raised their right knee or pointed his feet a different way when they smashed.  These nuances were beyond me then and will probably always be out of my realm.  I still even fail to notice when my wife has had her hair colored and cut!

So, let’s summarise this article.  The 3-minute knock-up time is a critical part of your match and should be treated as a serious part of the match. It’s only 3-minutes long so tell yourself you can be disciplined for these 3-minutes and you can act like you are a world-class athlete. You will hit the shuttle in a controlled and deliberate manner and after each shot, you will use visual and touch feedback to refine and modify. You won’t beat yourself up after hitting the net with a smash, but you will refine your timing and power so that your next shot is better.  And the next shot and the next.

You will refocus your feelings, emotions, and energy.  The mix of feelings you are experiencing such as happiness and anxiety must be separated and controlled. Shut out those feelings of anxiety.  Inflate those feelings of pleasure and happiness.  Temper down those excess energy feelings so you can call upon them later in the match.  Be in control of your emotional state.

By doing these first 2, you are putting yourself in charge of your body and your mind.  You may not be able to do this perfectly or 100%, but come on, is anything 100%.  Aim for those higher percentages, and with practice, you will get better at it, closer and closer to 100%. Remember, this is a sport.  It’s not actually about being the best. It’s about being better than your opponent at that moment under pressure.

I completely understand that all of this is difficult to master, it’s a challenge.  What makes it orders of magnitude harder again is your opponent. Once the 3-minute knock-up is over the referee calls TIME.

Take a deep breath for your opponent is about to do all he can to disrupt your body and disrupt your mind. It’s tough out there, but that’s why we love it!

PLAY

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Simon Lau

Simon Lau is Mens Over-55s Racketlon UK Champion, Mens Over-55s Racketlon Doubles World Champion, Team Over-45s World Champion, Welsh Over-50s Badminton Mixed Double Champion and has achieved a Squash Wales Cap for representing his country in the Annual Home Internationals.

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