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Pros from the 1990’s handball circuit may recognize my name from the early 1990’s, around the time David Chapman first made his mark as a phenomenon, when I became a part of his traveling entourage, simply as a result of some coincidences. After the Long Beach Athletic Club closed down, where David was a member, their handball club joined LA Fitness at the Traffic Circle, where I had also joined, after my primary club in Rossmoor started losing players. I needed to find a new home and new competition. Thus, as a result of simple proximity to David, I eventually acquired enough time and history around the 9-time national champion that I can discuss some of his legacy with some authority today.
Over time, on weekends David, Don Anderson, and I began to enjoy breakfasts at Ray Mullio’s Park Pantry Restaurant in Long Beach. I used to plague David by continuously asking for handball tips, during endless pancakes, bacon, milk shakes, muffins, and eggs, but he always changed the subject. I always tried to find a way to fool him, to make him think I wasn’t going to talk any handball that day, but he loved to predict what we were interested in asking or talking about. “I knew you were going to ask that, see? I wrote it on my napkin, and I am not talking handball today.”
We occasionally enjoyed other side-trips, as well, like to miniature golf with David Fink, when he traveled to our town, or to visit Ed O’Neill’s show “Married with Children,” since Ed was one of David’s most famous fans back then. “David,” Ed once said to him, while David, Sol (a Circle racquetball player), and I sat in Ed’s dressing room, “you are your own secret weapon.” I loved that line. David was his own first secret weapon. Ed’s comment led me at the time to compare David to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a classical music prodigy by 4 years old, a comment I made aloud and in a publication on handball. Later, I mentioned my Mozart analogy to David’s friend, Ben Thum, who liked it enough to use it in a broadcast.
Once, at our club, I was fortunate enough to be sitting around, when, as seldom happened in our presence, David’s dad Fred and David talked tournaments and tactics and strategies. Fred was David’s second secret weapon. Fred conferred upon David an indomitable desire never to lose. He also had David competing so early in David’s life that David never learned to experience nerves in tournaments. Fred had military experience and knew that two conditions, Flight or Fight were innate responses, and so he deliberately taught David to habituate the fight-mentality, to the exclusion of the flight mentality.
I was also especially fortunate enough to meet and befriend David’s third secret weapon: Coach Lew Morales, AKA the Pineapple Man. Lew earned this nickname when his longtime handball acquaintances discovered that he descended from Philippine pineapple workers who had migrated to Hawaii, and then to the mainland. No two ways about it: Lew was a handball genius in blue-collar clothing. Whereas Fred Chapman had taught little David fearless tournament grit from the time David was 5 and up, Lew taught pre-adolescent David game-tactics and psychological black-belt mastery over opponents twice his size and three times his weight. Fortunately for us, many of David’s youthful handball triumphs and matches are preserved in video, though a few remain outstanding or missing and deserve mention. Around that time Fred moved to Montana, but Lew, David, and I remained to brainstorm our sport.
Among the most outstanding observations ever made about David in those 1992-1993 days, by players at our club, and by opponents, David never really needed to travel to develop his supreme skills. I was present when David had asked Lew those two relevant questions. “Lew, how can I beat the more powerful players?” “I’ll teach you how to do that.” Lew said. David then asked, “But don’t I need to travel to get more experience against better players?” “No,” Lew answered, “you can learn all the skills and master them right here, playing against lower players.” So, after watching David evolve at our club, playing all us dullards, you could say this was the first lesson about handball I learned from him: you don’t really need to travel to improve your game, if you have a daily mission. You can actually learn crucial motor skills faster by competing against lower players. The reason for this is like practicing scales on the piano. You start slow, until you groove in the mechanics; and then you can easily speed up as you master the processes.
David’s First Lesson
You need a daily mission whenever you play lower—or even equal—players at your home club. David worked on just such daily drills when playing us at the “Circle.” For examples, for a whole game, he hit only passes until he earned a point or sideout. He would find just the right height to beat each of us, depending on our unique foot speed or balance. Which implied that he observed us and learned our foot-speeds. Or some days he hit only fist balls to the ceilings on every serve or on every pass-retrieve.
His favorite practice routine, in my estimation, was what Lew called “the restraining-line drill.” (David never called it anything. He just did it. He mastered it by the time he turned 17.)
Here’s how it works. The drill starts with your serve or your return of serve. You must completely move the opponent to the back court with the serve or return-of-serve, so that you buy time to move yourself to the “red-carpet area,” between the restraining line and the short line, and then, watching the opponent the whole time, place a front foot down, somewhere in that area between the restraining line and the short line—just at the very split second the opponent makes hand-contact with the ball on his next shot. Your job from there is to predict his shot and interrupt it, by moving instantly from this spot between the restraining line and the short line toward the trajectory of the opponent’s shot. This drill teaches you what to hit to control the opponent from the center of the court. It takes away any possible superior foot speed and strength of the opponent. David used this skill on the fastest player any of us had ever seen at that time: Rod Prince.
Arguably, David built his championship style and record on this first drill.
(By the way, let it be noted that I learned this lesson, but never applied it.)
David’s Second and Third Lessons
I asked both David and Lew about getting to the restraining line after every shot, “Isn’t that too far back, if your opponent kills it?” Lew answered, “Nobody knows what a kill is. And so nobody knows how to hit a kill. Nothing to worry about.”
Lew’s definitions were counterintuitive, but right-on, and beyond my ability to apply at the time. Not so for David.
When I looked perplexed, David explained, “Boak, a true kill-ball bounces twice or more before the front line.” I had never heard it defined that way, since as a poorly trained player, I found any low ball moving away from me pretty much an effective kill shot.
“OK,” I said, accepting their definition, “but that doesn’t really answer my objection.”
David explained, “No one can really kill it, more than 2 out of ten times. And they certainly can’t do it on the move. The pros hit it way too hard. They love to hit it hard! The second bounce will come to right where I am, because I know exactly what each pro likes to do with my deep shots.”
As he mentioned in his most recent anticipation article at the WPH site, he kept anticipation simple, because he knew exactly what he was doing.
Later, “That’s how you really define focus,” Coach Lew told me, out of David’s earshot. Lew loved to change associations that way. . . .
What Lew was getting at, however, was HUGE. Players lose focus as they go to sleep at times during rallies, sometimes because they are focusing on mechanics, rather than on tactics, and sometimes because they have hit a shot, and are spectating, rather than recovering center to predict and dominate the opponent’s next shot.
Lew and David both knew that you can’t sleep during rallies if you are busy with responsibilities, such as placing the opponent deep in the court so that you can move to the red-carpet area and watch the opponent hit.
David’s Fourth Lesson
As a university teacher, I enjoyed great work hours in those days, getting “out of school” at 2:30 PM. Naturally, as a handball addict, I headed straight for the club to practice. Luckily for me, David usually arrived fifteen minutes later, having gotten out of school himself, and the two of us found ourselves with an hour or so before the usual cadre of guys showed up around 3:30 or 4 PM: Mike Bock, Kelly Russell, Bruce Hanief, Alan Swickard, Bill Osborn, Don Anderson, Nat Bethers, Lew, Steve Herman, Phil, maybe John Ramsey, Pete Xenos, Dave Ramsey, and so on.
David couldn’t wait for them so he proposed many different games and alternatives for the two of us to play, until guys showed up for doubles.
One of his favorites was “Two-Bounce.” We would compete to eleven, whereby the first player to eleven “WON.” You could only make contact with the ball just before the ball bounced a second time—inches from the floor. If you hit the ball earlier, or later, or contacted it too high, say knee high, as judged by the opponent, then the opponent got a point. Otherwise, you scored as normal. So, at times in a rally, both players could score, and sometimes a player could earn two points, one for winning the rally, and one for the opponent violating the rule.
Another game was “Three-Bounce” and introduced David’s fourth lesson. This time, you could let the ball bounce twice, but you had to hit it before it bounced a third time.
I did not truly understand this game, while David never missed the ball during this game. He always outscored me, 11-0. “What’s the purpose of this game?” I asked him. David said, “It teaches you to go down with the ball to hit it.”
His answer seemed disingenuous to me, as if he knew something he wasn’t telling. How can you learn to go down with the ball, if the original rules require you to hit it before it even bounces twice, let alone three times?
I took the question to Lew, which I always did whenever David mystified me, which occurred every week. “Boak, you are dull. You are learning about TIME and about FOCUS. The game teaches you how much time you have in a rally, while also teaching you eye discipline to follow the ball the whole time. How do you think David developed such superior eye discipline?”
For my response, all I could do was clean my sports-glasses, so as to better benefit from my lens-prescription. . . .Read much more here: https://wphlive.tv/what-i-learned-about-handball-from-david-chapman-pt-i/ Thank you Mr. Ferris!
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