Squash News From Around The World - Serious Squash
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Mar 3 2016 1:27PM
Today I'm going to talk about how carbohydrates influence our health, sport and in particular our squash game. I am not a nutritionist, but I have always looked into and read up on different areas of food for improving performance, energy levels, recovery and just being healthy. A lot of us have lost weight from taking up squash and have packed it back on after taking a break. I naturally assumed this was the lack of rigorous exercise that causes the weight gain.
Some of us are predisposition to gain weight because of our genetics, but that doesn't account for all of the obesity in our society. As athletes we need the proper fuel to perform. Glycogen is the stored version of fuel in our muscles. We get glycogen from carbs, so clearly carbs are important to an athletes diet, correct?
I just finished a book my brother lent me called, 'Why We Get Fat And What To Do About It' by Gary Taubes (a link to the book below). I should first mention that I never read dieting books, I just am keen to learn more about nutrient. In this book it's discussed how it's not the fat or calorie content in food that make us overweight, it's the sugar and carbs (namely easily digestible carbs). I'm going to get a little bit into the details of why he claims we get fat. If you don't care to know the science behind it, feel free to skip the next 2 paragraphs!
Taubes discusses how this raises the glucose levels in our blood causing insulin levels to rise. He claims that 'the more insulin you secrete, the more likely it is that your cells and tissues will become resistant to that insulin. That means it will take more insulin to do the same glucose-disposal job, keeping blood sugar under control.' You see, too much glucose is toxic for cells so when glucose levels are elevated the pancreas excretes even more insulin to get the glucose out of the bloodstream and into storage. As this occurs (namely after eating easily digestible carbs) your cells are likely to resist the effects of the insulin because they're getting enough glucose already. These cells can then become resistant to insulin and then more insulin is required to keep blood glucose levels in check. As this happens you secrete excessive amounts of insulin and this is then stored as fat.
He gives many examples of how avoiding carbs allows you to use your fat for an energy source instead of the easily digestible carbs which spike blood glucose levels, which we normally have aplenty of in our bloodstream. Humans have had little carbs and mostly fat and protein in their diets for generations until more recently. Now with the easily accessible amount of products, even if we believe them to be good, like margarine instead of butter, or skim milk vs. 2%. Are we getting healthier avoiding certain products which have higher fat content? We have been misled to believe that we are not burning as many calories as we consume when really it's about the carbohydrates that are making us fat. So how does this influence our squash nutrition? Let's get to that.
I'm not here to promote a low carb diet, just to report on what I've read and my experience with sport nutrition. I took a sport nutrition course that I took while doing my masters degree and after looking into the research, carbs was the most important aspect of a squash players diet. The literature indicates that low glycemic and slow digestible carbs are better consumed before activity and higher glycemic and easily digestible carbs are helpful to eat after exercise to restore glycogen levels rapidly and to promote recovery. Can you see the dilemma? Here is my previous post on Squash Nutrition: http://www.serioussquash.com/2014/08/squash-nutrition.html
The book I'm discussing does make compelling arguments for why carbs and sugars are so toxic and how they not only make us fat, but also negatively impact our health. I think we all know drinking sodas and eating sweets aren't good for you. But now hearing that bread, cereal, rice, pasta and even fruit all have tons of carbs and will make us fat and will lead to health problems!
Can an elite squash player actually perform properly without carbs (or very few of them)? If we cut the carbs from our diet is it possible to have enough fuel by burning our fat storage for energy? I wouldn't say humans have evolved through the generations for extreme physical actives such as squash so it's hard to say if a diet from a few hundred years ago would be sufficient now. My initial guess is that if we went carb free our body would eventually adapt, but I don't know to what extent. Taubes says there are many side effects to eliminating carbs from your diet and it takes time to adjust.
I feel like this book got me thinking about what I eat, but also left me with unanswered questions as to how it relates to sport. What do you think? Have any of you played and trained at an elite level without carbs in your diet? Do you think it's possible to recover and fuel properly on a low or no carb diet? Could an elite player consume only low glycemic carbs and recover well enough to play again that day? Perhaps there is a better method for measuring the number of carbs we consume so we don't eat them excessively? Especially if we don't even realize the harm they are causing. I guess this is why many retired pro athletes are now quite big. They've kept up their eating habits, but not the training regiment.
If you're interested in improving your nutrition, health and squash performance I recommend picking up this book, but also discussing the impact of a low carb diet with a professional before making a drastic change. I'm sure there are some examples of other athletes experimenting with a low or no carb diet, but squash is the toughest sport in the world, so I don't know if any other sports would give us a definitive set of answers. I don't have any answers for you today, just questions. Hopefully I've got you thinking a bit about this subject and you can do some of your own research. As I learn more about the topic I will continue to update you.
Feb 26 2016 2:42PM
When I was a kid I grew up playing squash at a recreation centre with my family. A membership for kids were dirt cheap and you could play all you wanted. You better believe that I got my money's worth! Squash only got expensive when I began competing in competitions all over North America. Once you begin competing in tournaments outside of your hometown you obviously are playing for more than just fun. You want to win and this is where you end up taking lessons, attending clinics and squash camps.
I still believe squash can be played cheap at public courts and kids can still progress with little funding. But there is not doubt that kids with access to more resources (court time, coaching, etc) have a big advantage. The main expenses of getting started is a membership and equipment and then of course if you want to learn how to do stuff properly, professional coaching. If we want squash to continue to expand outside of private schools and fancy country clubs we all have to make it more accessible. If we become more inclusive we may find some kids with talent and passion for the game and will practice for reasons other than hoping to play on an Ivy League team. We all see how well Urban squash programs are doing in the U.S., but not every city or coach can participate in a program like this. This is something I hope to change.
My idea is for every coach and squash club to give a free junior membership and 2 free lessons per month to 1 underprivileged youth per year. Potentially a racquet supplier would get involved and be a title sponsor and would provide the chosen children free equipment.
That's the extent of my ideas so far. I don't know how many squash coaches or clubs there are in the world, but if all of us joined forces we could make a big impact on a lot of children and get more kids into squash. We could also make squash more accessible to people that wouldn't otherwise have an opportunity to be a member at a club, own equipment and have access to regular professional coaching.
How to get it launched and get other coaches on board will be the challenge. Plus, if it got to that stage determining how kids or parents apply and deciding which child is accepted into the program. This could prove to be quite a challenge and I would need some help from a committed group of people to get this project off and running. If you have any opinions or are interested in joining me on getting this program off the ground please feel free to contact me at email@example.com.
Feb 22 2016 2:55PM
Today is geared more towards advanced players, but a lot of it is still applicable to any skill level. Is your opponent dominating the T? All of us that have played at a decent level of squash understand that one of the most important skills is being able to get your opponent off of the T and into the back of the court; if we can accomplish this they are furthest from the front wall and we have time to regain the T. For beginners being stuck in the back of the court is almost always the end of the rally, their only goal is to get the ball back to the front wall. When we get a bit stronger we have options from the back and unless you're under a lot of pressure you often more options than it may appear.
We know who controls the T generally wins the match. Today I'm going to talk specifically about how to get your opponent off the T and into the back of the court from the back corners. The simple theory is to hit the ball tighter or wider which of course will help, but there are others tactics we can try which can allow us to achieve the same outcome.
Hit It Tighter: we all know hitting it tighter is a goal of playing winning squash. Being able to do this under pressure with little space in the back corners is quite difficult. To hit good length when pinned in the back corners you have to know how to shorten your swing and flick the ball high and deep, and oh yes tight! It takes a lot of practice to get good at this, but it can be done. It has to be high because we don't have enough force otherwise to get the ball deep, but we also have to hit it tight because we have no other options and are opponent will be waiting to volley our shot if we don't execute it properly.
Change the height of your drives: I was guilty of this for a long time too! Many of us focus so much on hitting the ball tight that we don't think about the height of our drives. The height that most drives are hit to get to the back wall go through mid court around shoulder height. Shoulder height is comfortable for people to volley and attack especially if they are off the wall. If we hit the ball lower or higher it will be much more difficult for your opponent to handle.
Pick up the pace: the harder you hit the ball the less time your opponent has to react. The danger here is that this also gives you less time to get out of the corner and back up to the T. If you want to pick up the pace you will generally get away with being a bit less accurate.
Lift the ball: I already mentioned changing the height of your drives above, but this is more focused on lobs and specifically crosscourts. This is how I coach kids that are smaller than their peers, but anyone with the right skill set can apply this tactic. To me it doesn't make sense to play to your opponent's strength, even if that is how you like to play. I believe this is one of the rarest ways I see people try and get their opponent off the T which I find strange because it can also be one of the most effective. Especially in the junior squash and the men's game, we often resort to pace so I find that lifting the ball can be extremely effective to get your opponent off the T and into the back. If you can hit the ball consistently high and tight or wide your opponent will have no choice but to try scarping a ball up high off the wall or will have to move back and will relinquish the T. I also like playing crosscourt lobs from the back of the court and if you hit them correctly even if volleyed they will be behind you with a difficult shot to hit accurately. Strong squash players practice hitting drives their entire careers and spend much less time trying to hit a volley drive off a lob moving backwards off the T, so I encourage you to try this for yourself. This is also an effective way to vary the pace a bit and catch a quick breath during a long point. This is something Shabana did exceptionally well. Here is a link of Shabana doing this brilliantly against Shorbagy. Skip to the 1 minute and 20 second mark to see what I mean: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=db4XWCHiZAo
Hit Your Crosses Wider And Deeper: many of us have heard that we should hit the ball straighter. I can't argue with this previous statement, but I do say what gets people in trouble is not always the fact that they are hitting crosscourt, but that it is that their width is not wide enough. If you don't hit the ball wide enough the ball will be able to cut it off. Most of us spend a lot of time working on our straight drives and not as much on our crosscourt length; it's no wonder most people can't hit a good width. For me a good width means that it is out of reach of your opponent so they have to move back to play it, normally this means hitting the sidewall across from where your opponent is standing, but this can change if they aren't looking to volley. Furthermore a more successful width limits what options your opponent has left.
A good rule on crosses is if you've hit a good width your opponent should not be able to hit the ball back crosscourt. Knowing you've hit a good width and your opponent is unable to hit it back crosscourt means you are now in a good position to cut down the court and look for either a straight drive or a boast. Remember that this goes both ways. So if your opponent hits a good width and you are limited with your shot selection there isn't much you can do besides try and execute the given shot to the best of your ability. The real problem was your prior shot that gave your opponent enough time and space that allowed them to hit this excellent width.
Pay Attention To Your Opponent's T Position (and yours):
Lateral T Position: many players will cheat to cut off straight or crosscourt drives. Especially when you are in the back backhand corner where we can't generate as much pace, strong players will be expecting a certain shot (straight or cross) and will be looking to cut it off. If you notice your opponent is poaching to cut off all of your straight drives hit it crosscourt; if they are always waiting for a crosscourt, keep it as straight as possible. If you do this long enough you will find a few times where you can sneak in the alternative shot to keep your opponent honest. Just make sure that you hit your crosscourt extra wide, with pace or high and soft if you are playing someone that hunts crosscourts. If you're playing someone that is overly aggressively looking to cut off your straight drives then try your best to hit at a height or pace that makes it difficult for them to volley. This of course means you need to be set with time in the back to do so. It's very difficult to hit accurately when under pressure and this is when we are slowest to clear.
Depth of T: some people hang far back and a few too high on the T. When you're too high on the T you don't have enough time to get to the back corner and hit an effective shot. When you're too far back you may block your opponent's clearing path and you are susceptible to a short shot. Finding the right depth on the T so you can cover both the front and back, clear around your opponent properly and most importantly give yourself enough time to get back to the corner and hit a decent shot is key. This is why most people drift further and further back as the match wears on; they get tired and drawn back from all the length being hit. If you are aware of this maybe you shouldn't be hitting a length from the back, but attacking short. If you find yourself too far back on the T practice your length with a small target for returning to afterwards on the T. To improve T awareness and movement, I'll often have people touch a target up on the proper T depth between shots with their foot, racquet or even racquet handle.
Become Less Predictable: I'm going to discuss predictability here in shot selection, bot disguise or deception (which is next). Amateurs normally hit crosscourt when they have to, not when they want to. This is one example of someone becoming predictable. If you watch and play enough squash you will pick up some players tendencies. Another popular one is most people hit their forehand lengths all crosscourt and their backhand ones straight. If you find this situation developing over and over you better be careful. If your opponent is guilty of this come up with a strategy to take advantage of their pattern. Learning how to exploit a predictable pattern and force someone to adjust can instantly change who has the upper hand.
Disguise Your Shot: if you arrive at the ball with enough time and space you will have option See below for a great picture of Joe Lee, who although is in the back backhand corner and the ball is only a few inches off the wall, he is prepared early and can hit the next shot anywhere. This is why his opponent's T position is neutral. I find that most people don't concentrate on disguising their length from the back of the court. If you are under pressure you don't have this luxury, but if you have some time and space you should think about your posture and prepare the same way for your straight and crosscourt drives; in fact Lee could hit to any corner from the below setup. A good condition game for working on this is 1 player can only hit to 1 of the back corners and the other can hit anything deep. The player who has to hit everything to the 1 corner will have difficulty returning a good crosscourt with a crosscourt. Learn how to watch on the T and read your opponent's body position. Most people open up their shoulders and hips earlier when they are gong to crosscourt. If you do this condition game your goal should be to get all of your crosscourt by your opponent.
Don't Give Up The T so Easily: until you get to a high level most people always prefer to let the ball bounce so they have more time prepare and decide what to do with the ball. Taking your time can have its benefits on your shot accuracy, but it also gives your opponent extra time to get to the T. Just because the rules state that the ball can bounce once, it doesn't mean it should! Learn how to dominate the mid-section of the court and you will have to worry less about how to get your opponent off the T.
Under Pressure/Knowing When We Don't Have Options: okay, so you're under a lot of pressure and you either don't have a lot of time or space in the back corner. Here a more skilled player can play open stance or adjust their swing to produce the desired result (get it deep). But this post isn't about how to get back a shot under pressure in the back corner. Just know that if you are under a lot of pressure play the simple shot. Sometimes people try to do too much under pressure because they know their opponent has them trapped. If you're under this much pressure just try your best to hit the ball straight, high, tight and ideally deep. This is a skill set that can be achieved to a high level of accuracy if practiced.
I've discussed a lot of different ways to get the ball back deep and even 1 tactic for avoiding this situation in the first place. It's incredibly challenging learning how to move backwards to play the ball out of the back corner and to be able to hit it deep again. We need to have quick racquet preparation, proper footwork, quick feet, good balance and be able to adjust our swing and possibly our grip depending on the amount of space and time we have. If you have the technical and physical skills to hit length from the back then you may be ready to attempt some of the more advanced ways like disguising your shot.
As you can see there are a number of ways that you can improve your ability to get your opponent off of the T. The stronger the opponent the tougher this will be to accomplish, but this should still be your goal. Learn how to get your opponent off the T and your opponents will begin looking for tips like these so make sure not to share them! Enjoy your battle for the T and one you get it don't give it up so easily. Remember there are plenty of ways to improve your ability to get your opponent off the T; not simply hitting it tighter (although that does work too!).
Feb 20 2016 11:30PM
Today I'm going to discuss coaching education. I know, how exciting? But it is something that is important not only to us coaches, but to the parents, athletes and for our employers. We often believe the higher the certification the more qualified the coach, but is this always the truth? When someone chooses a squash coach they likely don't have many options. Unless you live in a big city with a lot of squash courts you likely only have 1 or 2 options on which coach to choose. If you are fortunate enough to have a choice, how do you decide? Is it who is cheapest? Who has availability? Or do you simply want the best coach? If you want to select the best coach how do you go about doing this?
Is a level 5 coach better than a level 4 coach? A 4 superior to a 3 and so on? See I went and did my masters in coaching to become a better coach; bottom line. Over the years as I've applied for a few coaching jobs they always ask what my certification level is. I would tell them it was 1 or 2 or now almost done 3 and I also mention that I did complete a 2 year masters program in coaching studies. A few years ago I was told I was a runner up for a Canadian coaching position because I had not completed the level 3 certification, although I had completed all of the courses. So this club hired someone from outside of Canada with a completed level 3 who I might add does not have a masers degree, yet alone in coaching! That felt like a ridiculous reason if this was the truth especially since this club did't have any elite players. Is there a benefit to the members of a squash club in having a level 3 certified coach? I guess to this one there was. So you can see I've had some challenges with the certification system and what it stands for. I'm more focused on becoming the best I can be, not just what just looks good on my resume.
I see a lot of coaches get hired simply because they are former PSA players. This is a club hiring a name. It surely doesn't imply that this person will or won't be a good coach. I know many coaching positions are taken up by ex-PSA players instead of professional coaches. So there clearly are times where certification doesn't seem to matter. About 15 years ago I did my level 1 course with one of the most famous squash coaches in Canada. He had been coaching for over 20 years and had no certification. Did he learn anything from it? I don't know, but I marvelled at how attentive and interested he appeared to be taking an introductory coaching course after coaching so many top kids and one of the biggest programs in North America.
I've often though about getting certified for my level 3 and take the level 4 courses. I don't know if that will ever happen. I've always wanted to coach a National Team and this is the only way I would be able to do that here in Canada. But I haven't enjoyed the certification process thus far. Coaching courses have had a minimal impact on my coaching education and ability. Where I have learned most is from being on court teaching. I've also learned a lot from working with and talking with other coaches. I know squash is a small scale sport, but I believe a mentorship coaching program would be far more valuable to my development. I am fortunate that I have been able to work alongside a couple of great coaches and they have greatly assisted with my development as a coach.
Reading books, watching and thinking about squash is learning and are all methods of self-improvement. We don't get credit for taking a self-interst in expanding our knowledge. A mentorship program is something I would love to do. I have always wanted to take part in a variety of programs for a short period of time (say a week or a month) to learn how other experienced coaches run practices and teach their students. To me this would be worthy of a flight across Canada or anywhere in the world. Maybe this is something the WSF can look into. Perhaps a group of clubs and/or coaches can volunteer to participate and offer to host temporary intern coaches for a temporary basis. If they could find a way to pay the intern so they can afford to do it that would be ideal. Only by sharing can we truly maximize our potential as coaches. If the WSF initiated this program I would sign up as an intern and host. But come to think of it I would probably only qualify as an intern because I haven't completed my level 3 certification yet!
Now it's my time to go on a little rant here on the Coaches of Canada. Coaches of Canada has a new policy which says coaches must earn credit every 5 years to maintain their certification. I know it isn't much, but forcing a coach to do something that maybe isn't going to assist with their development is the wrong approach in my books. Although I can see why this is a policy, doesn't this go against what motivates us? After reading the book Drive I realized that we often lose motivation for doing things we already do when we are forced to do them or external rewards are given. As a coach I am always learning, not to appease my certification but for my own interest and mostly to help the athletes I coach. To be a good coach you have to be selfless and you must continually learn how to improve your skills. Forcing a coach to do it goes against this framework of motivation and isn't necessary. I feel like all good coaches continue learning and those that aren't will just jump through the hoops to keep their certification up and keep a pay cheque coming in. So really, how does this help anyone?
In conclusion I ask is there a better way for coaches to learn? I'd like to think so. There have been plenty of times where I could have used some direction and guidance in being a young squash coach. Those that grew up playing and learning under a talented coach certainly have a great advantage as coaches. Is a worldwide internship program possible? I know some coaches don't like to share their secrets, but here I am sharing all of mine for free! Would enough coaches freely share their wisdom with peer coaches from other countries? I believe this would create a lot of important networks in our squash circle and all of those that take part would benefit. Now where can I sign up to coach alongside an Egyptian academy :)
Feb 5 2016 2:44PM
Yes, 2 posts in 2 days! That's what happens when I actually get a day off :) I think you're going to find today's post pretty fascinating as it's about something I believe its revolutionary in terms of organizing and running a junior squash program. Let's see if you agree.
Relinquishing control as a person in charge of others can be an extremely challenging thing to do. We are brought up through an education system that tells us what to do, what we should learn and how to behave. Imagine a classroom where a teacher told the students they could do anything the wanted in class! Kids are young and how could they know what they should be doing? Because what they should be doing isn't going to match up with what they want to be doing. We feel like we are assisting with their development as we tell teach them what is right and wrong and what they need to learn to lead a happy and fulfilling life. Kids must be exposed to a number of different subjects, sports and activities; kids don't get many choices these days, yet somehow we expect them to be able to make important life decisions later on in life and to enjoy us always telling them what they are going to do next. It's no wonder kids live on their phones these days! We mean well, we want to help our kids and share our knowledge so they can learn from our mistakes. It's a great feeling to help others, but I believe that sometimes less is actually more and can actually assist with their development. Today I'm going to discuss a new practice model I'm currently experimenting with the kids that I coach.
I bought a book a year or so ago called 'Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us' by Daniel Pink (pictured above with a link to it on Amazon). As a coach I know motivation is the most important factor for a kid loving sport and wanting to dedicate extra time and work hard to become the best they can be. Many of us love squash for a variety of reasons, but I'm always curious how I can increase motivation with the athletes I work with so they will not just enjoy squash, but love it. If a kid is motivated they will work harder and in the end set more challenging goals while improving their chances of attaining them.
When I was a little kid I played my first squash tournament at the age of 9. My home club in Pickering, Ontario just happened to be hosting the Canadian Junior Nationals. I signed up for the boys under 12 and I had no expectations because I didn't know what the competition would be like. To my surprise I won the consolation and realized I was actually pretty good at squash which I had jus been playing with my family recreationally. I was a small kid so contact sports weren't up my ally. But after realizing that a person of any size could be a good squash player I began a journey to become the best I could possibly be. I was probably the most motivated and hardest working kid and the following year I started winning most of the tournaments I entered. I would do anything anyone told me to improve my squash game. I wrote daily in a journal about squash (pictured below with the very legible handwriting!), I solo hit for an hour or more almost every day and I had a home gym I used all of the me even though I didn't necessarily enjoy training.
So what does my previous experience have to do with motivation? Well, basically I had no idea what it took to become the best I was just so highly motivated. I wasn't working with national caliber coaches and I didn't belong to a group setting program like the one I currently run. I didn't have court time set aside for me each day. I became the best because of how much I loved squash and how badly I wanted to be the best. I wonder how many kids go through a similar phase like this when they are young. It got me thinking about telling kids they have to be at practice and that today we are going to do this or that and this is how I want it done. It got me thinking that maybe it was the way junior squash programs are being run that is the problem. Maybe if I backed off a bit and let the kids decide what they wanted to do and how they wanted to do it they would enjoy practice more and in turn be more motivated and engaged with their learning process.
Well this is the concept I am now playing around with and have learned from the book, Drive. Every Tuesday for the past month I let the kids pick and choose what they want to work on. I will still pick who they work with so there is still interaction among all of the team members, but after that they run the practice. I bring out the ball machine and the other coach and I tell them we are at their disposal, that they can use us for feeding, running a drill or for playing a game with them. I'm still thinking of ways to tweak this so it works best, but I believe that if a kid is engaged at practice no matter what they doing they are better off than doing something that I tell them to do and that they do not want to be doing.
At the beginning I was very excited about the concept and I read how much companies have advanced because they give their employees more autonomy. I began to think about the possibilities of implanting this into my training and wondered how it would influence the kids. The first time I tried this I think a couple of the kids looked at me completely lost; they don't get to make choices about anything in their lives, let alone what they want to do in a group training session. So far nobody has said they want to do court sprints, and I'm fine with that! I feel the kids have surprised me thus and have made good use of this time. So although there is a set time for practice, they still have the freedom to practice anything they like.
For those interesting in the dynamics of my practice settings. Our Tuesday group trainings run for 1.5 hours and we have 2 groups back to back. Each group will have between 4-8 kids in it depending on the day. I will group the kids in pairs or 3's and let one of them pick first what they would like to work on and how they would like to work on it; a drill, condition game, ball machine, with a coach or with some feeding. If they know what they want to work on, but don't have an idea on what would be a good drill I'll give them a few suggestions and they will pick one of them or tweak it make it their own. Generally after 10 minutes I'll let the other kid pick what he or she would like to do. We will then switch up partners and go through this again for most of the practice.
So far I believe that the older kids have been a bit better at running their own drills and knowing exactly what they want to and need to work on. Some of the younger kids I feel don't like to practice what they have trouble with and prefer playing games. I must say I enjoy watching the older kids take charge of their own squash game and I'm excited to see how this develops.
I've only attempted this with high school students that have played squash for a minimum of 2 years so far. This is something I am considering to try with the middle school kids (11-14 years old), so I will need to post an update on this down the road. I know it goes against how we were brought up and how we think learning should take place, especially in a school setting, but I always enjoy trying new things and finding methods to improve practices.
In lessons I always ask the student what they would like to work on and it's finally time I began to do this in groups. I like this in the group setting because the kids can work on an area that they would like to, which is probably an entirely different area than the kids on the next court. With this method of training the kids will get more individualized practice and hopefully this will help their development and love of the game. I also feel like this gives the kids more creativity in their game and in how they want to practice.
When I was a kid I wanted to be the best in the world and practiced relentlessly. Many kids have dreams like this and I'm hoping that by relinquishing control of practice (at least for 1 day per week) that this may light some fireworks and for others rekindle their passion for squash. I know some of you must be wondering about that extra little push we need from time to time to become the greatest we can be and to make the most out of each practice? And what about the kids that don't really want to be there? Well if they don't want to practice they don't have to; I don't want people like that at my practices anyways. If someone needs a push I can still give it to them, but I can give it to them while they are designing and running their own practice. I'm now not the one telling them one to do and how long to do it for, but am their assistant; the athletes are in charge. I can want to produce a World Champion all I want, but in the end it isn't up to me and I wouldn't take credit for it. I may have come up with the idea for Training Autonomy Tuesdays (kudos to Daniel Pink!), but whatever level the kids achieve it will be because of their effort, passion, goals and dedication.
How much control is the right amount to give up as a coach? What about teachers? Can they give up any? Should we? Squash is a sport and kids play mostly because it's fun. Many of the top musicians and artists became the best because they wanted to practice, not because they had to practice. Even on the biggest stage Ramy (above) is in his natural element and enjoying himself; that's part of why we love watching him play. As soon as I start telling kids what to do and that they must practice x number of hours and days per week the fun can quickly disappear. When I start calling all the shots the kids are practicing so they can achieve the goals that I've set for them, which just doesn't seem right. If a kid wants to practice more and sets challenging goals I can let them know what it takes, but I want that to come from within, as it did with me as a young boy.
Feb 3 2016 10:09PM
Welcome back to Serious Squash! It's a busy time of year and my posts seem to be happening less frequently these days. I have not forgotten or given up on my side project. I have a lot of planned interesting topics on the horizon. Hopefully today will be an interesting one for all of you. Before I get into today's posts I should thank all of you over the past 19 months that have commented and written me emails about my posts and Serious Squash. I just reached 200,000 page views so I guess someone is reading what I write and finds it interesting. I hope I have got you thinking about squash more in-depth and most importantly I hope that I've helped improved some squash games along the way.
Today I'm going to talk about the psychology of playing who we perceive to be stronger players, perhaps even people we believe are out of our leagues. I don't think I can go a post without using a quote and this topic reminds me of this one, 'limitations live only in our minds.' I truly believe we are all capable of much more than we believe. In sports we often give our opponents too much credit and undervalue our own abilities and strengths. Today we are going to look at some ways to change our mindset to help us prepare for success even when we are a self declared underdog.
I've played a lot of matches over the years. I've played as the underdog, the favourite and many that could have gone either way. It is no doubt easier psychologically going into a match as the underdog as we have nothing to lose. Although when I hear someone say this I do joking point out that 'you do have the match to lose!' Even though I'm joking I don't want a player going into the match thinking it's a forgone conclusion and there is nothing left to play for. If we go into a match believing that we are a major underdog and have no chance at winning, we might be wasting an excellent opportunity to improve, measure our game and perhaps even pull off a big upset.
Redefine Success: I remember often being nervous when I played someone I thought was better than me. Nobody wants to get embarrassed on the squash court. There's nowhere to hid if things aren't going your way. When I was young and playing a stronger player I would always try and protect my ego by saying that one day I will get to this level, I'm just not quite there yet. I feel like by doing this I didn't give myself the best chance of being successful at that moment. Maybe success wasn't winning the match, but perhaps success was something different, like proving that I belong. If we just keep telling ourselves this we will eventually be more focused on the future and missed out on wonderful opportunities in the current moment which we could have potential won.
Staying Focused On The Process: sometimes I found myself doing better than I expected in these matches and a few times I let near wins slip away. We see the light at the end of the tunnel and it distracts us. It can be much more challenging than it sounds, but when you're near the end you can't be thinking just that. When I got close to beating someone I thought was stronger than me I started thinking too much about the possibility of winning and beating this great player. Once we start to see the finish line or that we actually have a chance our focus often shifts and we lose the zone we were in that got us in this great position. Regardless of level I assume this has happened to all of us at some point. Maybe some of us undervalue our own ability, while other times our opponent is just not quite up to par that day and we have a real chance of winning. So how do we go in believing we can win? And how can we prepare ourselves psychologically to take advantage of these rare opportunities when they present themselves?
Anything Can Happen Mindset: when we go into a match as an underdog I know I often tried to do too much, thinking I needed to do something extra special to beat this person. When I did this, I simply gave my opponent free points and easy openings. We need to make these players beat us and prove that they are better than us on that day. Just because someone has more rankings points or has a more successful past, does not guarantee that they will be successful on this given day. Go in and play to win regardless of who you're playing! We play the game because anything can happen. This is why even you can bet on even the most lopsided sporting matches. It may not always happen, or even often, but it doesn't mean that it won't today.
Give 100% For Every Point of Every Match: Everyone has a physical and psychological breaking point, even those that seem indestructible! You never know when it could happen or who it could happen to, so you have to keep you head down and keep battling for each and every point. Someone may look great in the warmup, but as soon as they get into an extended rally you can tell that their game begins to show some cracks. Even if you lose that match, you may have been close than you thought. Maybe all it takes to crack through and get the big win is getting a good start or 1 or 2 extended rallies; maybe then the person you thought was on a pedestal is within your grasps. If you have any doubts just remember that your opponent does, they just may be better at hiding it.
Prepare For Competition To The Best Of Your Ability: all we can really do is prepare the best we can for competition. We can't worry about what our opponent has or hasn't done. If we're playing a player of a high caliber we may give them more credit than they deserve. You don't know how they are feeling and how well they have prepared. As the saying goes, 'failing to prepare, is preparing to fail.' If you've prepared for the match you have to believe you always have a chance. If you've prepared properly you should feel confident. If you've prepared you should also be able to withstand the extra running you may have to endure. I've seen many more technically skilled players lose because they weren't fit enough; this is why proper physical preparation for competition is so important to success.
Winning Breeds Confidence: sometimes it just takes a win against a top player to believe in yourself and your ability to compete at that level. The more chances you get to play a stronger player the more likely you are to get that win. Losing too much isn't good ether, but neither is winning all the time. The top players that always win will feel pressure to continue getting these flawless results. I think it's important to play against people weaker, stronger and at your own level. Many people prefer only playing people at their level or stronger, but it's against weaker opponents we learn how to handle that pressure of being the favourite and also get to work on closing out games/matches and controlling points. And as this subtitle goes, winning breads confidence, regardless of the opponents level.
Set Mini Goals: when playing a stronger player I like to set mini goals. Sometimes it will be to get a game, or get a certain amount of points. Other times it will be to extend the length of the match and the duration of the rallies. If I'm playing a stronger opponent I should always leave the court completely spent. Other goals I like to set include my tactics. I like to focus on something simple like getting my opponent behind me and off the T. I don't know many players that can consistently beat me from the back of the court. At the end of the match I really want to make sure that my opponent had to work hard for the win. I may be exhausted and have covered more court, but I want to see that they are tired too. If I can do this against a stronger opponent I will feel pretty satisfied with my progress.
Slightly Shift Your Tactics: today seems to be the day of quotes, so here's one more! 'The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.' In squash this isn't so straight forward. It's can be difficult to tell if we have the right ideas, but are just unable to execute them well enough. If you believe your tactic is right, keep trying it over and over. I see many people give up on their tactics, because they are trying to do too much to beat this superhuman player. Although if you keep trying the same type of game and it isn't working, maybe it's time to switch it up just a little. Sometimes 1 small change is all it takes. Changing your serve, the pace your hitting the ball or your shot selection can pay real dividends. Even strong players have areas that aren't as good as the rest; do you know what it is? Can you exploit it? Or maybe you've become too predictable and you need to try a new trick. Make sure you don't play outside of your ability though or you will be giftwrapping the match to your opponent.
So there you have it. I hope you enjoyed this topic as it could really be an entire book or series of books all in itself. The mental game is something under-taught and difficult to measure. I know the toughest opponents I've ever faced were all fearless and always gave 100%; they didn't care who was on court with them or what the score was and they were always prepared for a battle. The good news is that being mentally tough and always giving 100% is a goal that is realistic for all of us, regardless of our skill level. If you want a good book about underdogs check out David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell. This book will probably get you to think twice about how we define underdogs and favourites. Here's the link to it on Amazon:
Thanks again to everyone for reading my blog and sending me feedback. If you have any suggestions for future posts please feel free to send them along. Working at a school I also have some flexibility in the months of June-August each year. If any of you would like me to run a squash camp at your club or come to you for some personalized coaching sessions feel free to send me an email. I've also recently started doing some private video analysis for some clients across the globe. I'm always looking for opportunities to expand my squash networking around the world. Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for any topic post suggestions or business related inquiries.
Jan 2 2016 3:24PM
Today I'm going to talk about percentage squash. I don't like telling people when to hit which shots, but there are clearly times where a specific shot is a superior choice to another. Some players are more attacking or defensive in their nature; this could be due to their preference in style or their current technical skills. The challenge for the less skilled is that they are so focused on immediate results that they don't always play the most tactically sound shot. Defensive or attacking minds alike, the game has become faster and more attacking. This means there are times were the defensive players will need to learn how to take advantage of the openings they get, while the attacking players need to walk the fine line of forcing the action and being too patient waiting for the perfect opening.
I recently read an article written by my old coach from university, Jack Fairs. The article is called 'Playing The Percentages - The Corner Stone Of Effective Play' and was published on September 16, 1985. Knowing how much the game has changed over the past 30 years I though it would be interesting to see how the tactics of squash have evolved as our equipment, training methods, scoring and our knowledge of the game have advanced.
Jack's main concept in this article is that you should play percentage squash; basically hit high and deep from the back and low and attack when in front of your opponent. Jack further explains that when you receive a loose ball and you fail to attack you let your opponent off the hook and are not playing the high percentage, attacking shot. So although it may at first appear like a defensive strategy it really isn't, it's just about setting up a higher percentage attacking shot. We often see kids go for nicks when it's not really on. They may even hit 1 every so often, but playing winning squash is about setting up higher percentage openings and limiting your number of errors. Below is a decent decent model of this I found online. It's a basic stop light model about where on the court to attack or defend from.
The basic strategy of defending from the back and attacking when in front sounds simple, but I still don't see it performed on a consistent basis. If you want to get better at implementing this tactic try and play condition games were you can only go short when you're in front of your opponent, or you can even try one where you must go short when you are in front of your opponent; this will allow you to commit to your short shots. I see a lot of players that only hit length and pass up these golden opportunities that they create. You can also try using some markers to section off the court so you must hit beyond them when you are in the back corners. This will ensure you are hitting your length deep and high enough while attempting to play smart, high percentage shots.
I believe the biggest challenge is to stick to a basic strategy like this for the entirety of a match. Learning how to stick with your game plan for a prolonged period of time can be challenging physically and mentally. Sometimes we lose patience or our focus for just a second and then the next thing we know we are trying to hit a drop from a low percentage situation. We then get rattled about our foolish decision and give away another cheap point. Next thing we know our opponent has done nothing and won 2 or 3 rallies in a row. Top players very rarely have these prolonged blips in performance.
Another way to practice playing the percentages is to use a 20+ year old racquet. I feel like many people today try and do too much because of modern day equipment, but this doesn't always mean the shot they are hitting is the correct, high percentage shot. If you play with an old, heavy frame you will realize quickly that you need to become more basic and need to set up a golden opportunity if you want to attack short effectively. Pictured below is a picture of the old school, but new Harrow racquet. I have one of these and enjoy practicing with it.
So when does the above strategy not apply? When I play, I'll go short when I notice my opponent hanging back to far on the T, if they are slow to the front or are getting tired. If you are going to go short from the back, just make sure there is a reason to why you are doing it and that you are properly balanced and set when doing so. Most people just get impatient and force the ball short trying to do too much. Watch the pros and notice how rarely they will attack from the back of the court and they have the best racquet skill in the world and they also play on a lower tin. A well disguised attacking boast in the women's game can be extremely effective and is one shot I really believe is essential to playing at a high level.
If you want to attack from the back you must 1) know when the right time is and 2) know who this will work against and 3) be able to attack with a high level of skill. Another area I noticed as I developed as a squash player is that many people like to just hit length and if you do this you will make very few mistakes but you will be out there all day playing the match. So I would like to throw in a working boast at some point in the first game to find out what they do. Some players will always hit it back deep and to your backhand side so if they fall into this predictable trap I will do it over and over to shorten up the match and avoid the long, drawn out length rallies waiting patiently for an opening.
When you're nearing the end of a game or match most of us begin to think about the finish line. The person leading often begins to force the play instead of sticking with their strategy all the way through. If you're down in this situation you have to realize that the person ahead is prone to losing focus and making a few cheap mistakes and then will likely get tense about giving up a lead and missing out on the previous game balls. So when you're down in a game and the end may seem near, just play very basic squash and you may be surprised what can happen. While if you're the person leading in the game your best strategy is to keep doing what you're doing and not let any game balls go to waste.
Even though attacking only when in front is an extremely effective strategy and if you followed this you would be much tougher to beat, there are times when attacking from a lower-percentage court position can actually be a high-percentage play. It takes a lot of practice and experience to know when these situations are in a match and how to implement them. There's your strategy talk for the day. Keep it basic and simple and you'll be tougher to beat and you'll ensure that if you lose, it's your opponent beating you, not you beating yourself! For the more skilled, advanced and experienced players there is a time where being less predictable is the right play, but don't overdo and force the play or you'll be asking for trouble!
Dec 24 2015 10:17AM
Today I'm going to talk about the importance of focus and concentration while you practice. Being focused is generally about being present on the task at hand, in the current moment as opposed to thinking about the past or future. We all know how critical focus is during competition, but it's during practice where we influence the quality of our practices depending on the state of our mind. Two players could be doing the exact same practice routines with the same opponent, but one player could improve more from an identical session. Today I will give you some tips on how to enter this deeper focus level in practice more consistently so you make the most of every minute and every shot.
I've worked with a lot of kids and finding ways to get them all to be engaged for as much of practice as possible can prove to be challenging. As we get older and improve our ability to maintain our focus and also learn how to get into the zone quickly this becomes less of an issue. For some kids this can be quite a challenge. I find that this happens most when the kids are doing something quite simple or too difficult.
We need to be challenged to improve, but for a kid or someone new to the sport this can be a delicate balance. If we ask too much of someone or put them on court with someone much stronger or weaker there can easily be a loss of focus and effort is diminished.
On the other side of this issue is when the task is simple; let's say drop, drop or boast and drive. Many people even at a high level will just go through the motions and do the drill and are prone to lapses of focus. When someone is given a simple repetitive drill I find that the most coaching is usually required to reap the benefits of it. I will normally work on technique or use a goal and time them or give them a certain number of attempts to keep their concentration high. Again when you do this the number or reps allowed cannot be too high or the time too long or the player is prone to a lapse of focus; this is especially true f they get off to a slow start and know that they can't reach their goal.
It takes a lot of time to learn how to get certain players going and keep their practice quality high. I've designed many great practices designed specifically for what people need to work on, but if the kids aren't in the right mindset it ends up wasting everyone's time. When this happens it can be extremely frustrating as a coach, but I've learned that once in awhile you have to give the kids some leeway; they are just kids after all and don't always want to work on technique or something they struggle with. So being able to scrap a practice and do something fun is sometimes the best option. Even when I was playing competitively I would have the odd off day where you're just in a bad mood or not feeling it. When I had an off day I learned that I needed to do something different. Mixing it up might mean going to the gym, doing court sprints, playing 3 corner court, or even playing a nick game.
One method for making the most of each and every practice is by having a goal for each and every practice or for the week. Make a plan on what you want to do and work on before you even get to the squash club. You should even decide which drills or condition games you want to play before you get to the club. You should also keep your season and dream goals nearby in case you need that pick me up when you're a bit fatigued or a bit low on motivation. Keeping a journal or having some positive statements to remind yourself anytime you catch your focus drifting could be a big boost. You could also think back to that last match you lost in 5 or about those high ambitions you have for an upcoming tournament. Learning how to stay hungry will help with your work ethic and will keep you more focused during practice day in, day out.
Learning how to maintain focus at practice is an essential skill for excelling at squash. Not everyone enjoys just hitting straight drives or doing figure 8's; I always enjoyed this, but I have to realize that not everyone does. Being able to get into the zone for practice is for me the most important trait of an effective, high quality session. I feel that many kids now have difficulty focusing while training because they are always on their cellphones, watching television, surfing the web and often doing all 3 at once! Some off the court training methods for improving focus include yoga, floating or meditation. There is also a test I've seen where there are random numbers scattered throughout the page and you have to find out how many of a certain number are on the page. Puzzles like this one, crosswords or sudoku can all be beneficial for improving sustaining your concentration for a prolonged period of time.
There is also a maximum length of time that someone can stay focused for. Just like there is a set amount of physical work we can do at one time the same implies for our concentration. We all lose focus here or there and learning how to refocus is extremely critical, but if you're practicing mindlessly for any sustained period of time don't fight it, just take a break and grab a drink or snack or maybe it's time to change up the drill.
I always tell my athletes that the warmup is as much or more for your mental preparation as it is for your physical preparation. Most people skip warmups when they are practicing because they know they can ease their way into it. If you are taking a long time to find our zone in practice I recommend doing a warmup before your practice sessions. This is also why I like scoring in practice to keep it competitive and keep an edge to it.
If you find yourself losing focus, simply design a refocusing routine to get back on track. I prefer wiping my hand on the side wall and taking a deep mindful breath. If you focus on your breath you are automatically brought back to the present moment and I find it an effective method for getting my mind back on the right track. Find what works for you and be sure to use it, especially in your practices.
If you want to improve faster and make the most out of your practice sessions, learning how to become and stay focused is an essential skill. We all have heard about deliberate practice, so many of us are simply counting our hours until we get to 10,000 yet there are some people that improve faster with equal or less practice time. Practicing more if unfocused in my opinion will make you worse because you get mentally sloppy and lazy and this will influence your ability to stay focused in future practice and competitions.
Squash can be an incredibly physically and mentally draining game. Knowing when to take a day or week off, or even just when to mix up your training can ensure you are challenged and ultimately focused. Also understanding that practice doesn't have to always be maximum physical effort for you to benefit from it. Solo hitting is one of my favourite methods of training and I also find the most effective for improving.
If you want to improve faster, train smarter and learn how to stay completely engaged for the duration of your practices. If you have to practice less, alter practices, add goals, or just play some fun games you will enjoy practice more and in the end get more out of it. If you still struggle with focus try yoga, floating, meditation, or some puzzles to learn how to quiet your mind and improve your concentration. If you made it through this entire post in one read I'm betting that your focus is already pretty good. Maybe I should write a condensed post for those that need it most!
Being able to maintain your focus in practice is a great start, but knowing what to focus on is where your coach can really help you with your game. Just having any focus will improve your concentration. A good bet is you could improve your racquet preparation or spacing so try thinking about either of those the next time you're doing drills and I bet you're focus will improve and you will be practicing smarter! Don't just whack the ball to an area, us a goal, target or focus on your technique to get the most out of your time on court. Improve your focus, improve your practice, improve your game.
Dec 17 2015 6:59PM
I know it's been awhile since my last post, but it's been a busy time of year. I have a few interesting topics on the horizon, as I believe this one will be. I can't believe that today is my 200th post! I'm going to talk about the importance and challenges of both discipline and creativity in squash. In squash we have players that are very basic, but extremely effective. There are others that look as though they are creating poetry with their creativity and flare and are some of the most enjoyable people to watch. As a coach the challenge is knowing how much creativity to allow and foster in the development of an athlete. For some coaches it may be cut and dry, but I'm somewhere in the middle. You'll hear why shortly.
When it comes down to it, almost every player would perform better and will improve their chances of winning if they play disciplined and basic. Most kids like to play tricky shots, but are unable to play the basic and more effective shot, which makes their tricky shot even less effective! This is why that when I'm working with kids I like to ask them if they want to be Globetrotter or a professional NBA player? I don't know the stats, but I doubt there are many or any Globetrotters that would be able to make the NBA, but I'm certain they all would like to if they could. This is an analogy that I like to use because many kids like to play flashy and normally ineffective shots. But not the other side of this argument if we look at the NBA there are plenty of basketball players that are creative and do things that are beyond the basics of basketball. These moves were practiced more than likely on the street rather than in a team practice structure and have learned how to play them effectively at the highest level; so tricky and fancy shots can work. So how should you practice your squash game? Basic and disciplined or creative and fancy?
Although from the previous paragraph it may sound like the answer is quite simple, that discipline and hard work is the way to go, it isn't quite that straightforward to me. Both a basic disciplined player and a creative one can be equally effective and have a passion for squash. I believe the main issues with this have to do with individual differences. Although I feel that most kids likely need more discipline to become a top level competitive squash player. It takes a lot of time on court and repetition to be able to hit your targets consistently.
Also learned while working on your shot repetition and disciplined practice is the training of your concentration. Every squash player knows the importance yet challenge of maintaining their focus for the entirety of a match. I believe that players that have been well disciplined will be better able to maintain their focus during practices and matches. Being in the zone is something that any level of athlete can attain, but takes time to be able to learn how get into it quickly and stay in it for the duration of a match. Simply put, concentration and the zone are skills that have to be developed and I believe they are better learned through a disciplined practice structure.
So back to creativity. I think some kids are more engaged when they are allowed to be creative as they initiate more areas of the brain. If these same kids were forced to practice a basic repetitive drill it does not engage them as deeply and I find many will just go through the motions because they find this boring. Finding a balance of both is the key here. Nowadays with so many distractions and stimulation around us (video games, computers, tvs and cell phones) people crave constant stimuli. So I believe the key is to give the kids challenging goals/targets when they practice blocked drills to try and keep them engaged. At a certain skill level most kids will learn to enjoy the simple challenge of hitting 1 shot over and over again as they finely calibrate their swing. Also crucial is setting up practices which foster creativity. Even for the basic disciplined player, some extra thinking within a practice can help them practice out of their comfort zone; which can happen in competition.
As a coach I don't like to say 'don't do this or that.' I believe there is a time and place for any shot to be played. But I also realize that making the same mistakes over and over is Einstein's version of insanity! I like a balance of these two. Is the shot something that could become a weapon when it's executed better? Or is the shot just an extremely low percentage and the wrong play? It can be difficult to play creative and potentially risky shots in competition until they are very well rehearsed. Players like Jonathon Power and Ramy Ashour are some of the most iconic and exciting players to watch of all time; they were able to play creative squash, but also did the basics extremely well. What would have happened to Jonathon or Ramy if they had never been allowed to explore their creative sides of their squash game? I think player like Jonathon and Ramy had an understanding of the basics and also knew there was a part of squash that had not been explored before. If I had to guess I would say that they both liked creating a new style all their own as much as they did winning!
I think the best way for kids to explore new swings or shots is while they are solo hitting. This doesn't impact anyone else and will not upset the coach. Also, the athlete can attempt a certain shot as many times as they like trying to perfect it. Similar to a skateboarder trying to do a certain trick for the first time and failing over and over. Once the skateboarder gets it they spend hours, days, weeks, months or even years learning how to perfect it. It's one thing to be able to do something in practice and another to be able to do it in competition.
Squash is more than just serves, volleys, lengths, boasts and drops. Finding the balance of the basics and the creative ways you can make your own game unique is what makes squash so fun to play and to watch. If we all played the same and only played shot x from position y squash could get pretty boring! Even though shot x might be the right shot almost all of the time, knowing when to play shot z is what makes squash so dynamic and unpredictable. When I went to watch some international tournaments (Penang Junior Open and the Canadian Junior Open) I see a lot of similarities among the kids. Most of the top kids are fast and hit the ball hard, but I see very little variation of pace or deception and a general lack of volleying. I get that pace and speed are two of the biggest weapons in squash, but I'd still like to see more variety from different players. This makes me feel like most kids are being taught and trained the same way these days, but certainly this will only favour some players and not others.
I've always been one that's enjoyed finding alternative ways to do things. I also now understand that if your basics aren't top notch it won't matter how creative you can be because you will never have the time to express yourself. At least for people like me, I believe there is a balance between the two. As a coach it is our job to teach the fundamentals, but I believe it is also our job to give some slack and encourage our players to try new things while learning how to play the game. So are you practicing to become a squash Globetrotter or an NBA player?? Don't forget that a Globetrotter still has to be able to sink a free throw :)
Oct 27 2015 2:19PM
I am back! And today I'm going to talk about the importance of volleying when your opponent is in the front of the court. This is generally much more difficult than volleying when your opponent is behind you as you have less time to react. When your opponent is up at the front of the court there are a lot of factors that will determine if you will be able to volley their shot or not. First let's discuss why this is such an important strategy to employ.
As you improve in squash you get to a level where attacking shots to the front of the court are not often outright winners. Instead these attacking shots create pressure and this is where you should be looking to trap your opponent in the front of the court and follow up your attack with a volley. If you do and can hit a decent volley length you have a great shot at winning the point or at the very least keeping your opponent on the run.
Above you can see a picture of Mosaad hitting a backhand straight drive from the front. You can see Ramy hasn't left the T yet so Mosaad must have disguised his shot well. If Mosaad had not, Ramy would be right behind him hunting the volley. Ramy does have cat like reflexes so it is entirely possibly that he was still able to cut this ball off, but I would guess this is going to get by him if it was hit with enough pace.
When you're at the front of the court and your opponent is hunting to volley the ball you can feel trapped up there. Look at the picture below of Willstrop and Selby. In this situation Willstrop is under a moderate amount of pressure and I'm guessing was about to drop or lob because he has a short racquet preparation. It would be tough for Willstrop to drive the ball by Selby in this situation. The more pressure you are under the most challenging it will be to get the ball by your opponent. This is why in the above photo, Mosaad is at the front with plenty of time and not under any pressure making it difficult for Ramy to volley. If Mosaad was under more pressure he may be forced to lift the ball.t
Hopefully you can now have a better understanding as to why volleying when your opponent is in the front of the court creates so many problems. If you want to try to implement this into your game here are some things that will help you do so.
I believe there are a couple of essential things to being able to volley when your opponent is in front of you. The first is the ability to read your opponent and anticipate where they are going to hit. As someone is under more pressure they will be less likely to disguise their shot and are more vulnerable to you jumping on the volley behind them. This leads to the second essential factor, pressure. If you put your opponent under pressure as you bring them to the from you are more likely to get a weak reply and will make your volley far easier.
A third factor that will allow you to volley more around the middle is quick feet and good footwork moving laterally. This includes being able to hit open stance and having a quick racquet preparation. You also need to be able to hit a good snappy volley with a compact backswing. To hit a short snappy volley with accuracy you need to time it perfectly. This is again why putting your opponent under pressure and being able to read their postural set up is so key to early preparation. You can even adjust your T position up or sideways when the situation dictates. If you move up and take the ball even earlier you give your opponent even less time to get the next shot.
Key Note: If your opponent is under little pressure and disguises their shot or has good holds you will need to make sure your attacking shot is more accurate if you want to implement this tactic.
Here are some of my favourite drills, condition games and exercises for working on volleying the ball while your opponent is in the front of the court.
1) Boast, crosscourt length, straight drive
2) A hits straight or court length, B tries to volley drive to self and then boast, if B is unable to volley drive then they boast
3) A plays straight or crosscourt lob, if B can volley drive they switch, if B cannot volley they boasts
4) Short vs. deep and switch on a volley drive
5) Boast, straight or crosscourt drive, straight drive
6) Straight or court length, straight or crosscourt length, anything short
7) Length game with the option to boast, must hit deep off the boast
8) 3 corner court while I attempt to not let any balls being hit from the front get into the back corner.
9) Quick mid-court volleys in pairs side to side. This is a great exercise for getting on your toes, having your racquet up while learning to react quickly to the ball.
10) Work on your lateral court movement. Try 1 person posting to either side or shadow ghosting a partner to make this movement more challenging and specific. Be sure to shape up with your racquet quickly while ghosting to prepare yourself properly.
11) Learn to hit open stance volleys with some snap on them. Try doing solo mid-court volley drives on your back foot. Most people can generate adequate pace when they have time, but when you have to shorten your backswing can you still generate enough pop to execute the desired result?
Many people are aware that especially from the front of the court on their forehand side most people have a tendency to hit the ball crosscourt. If you pick up on this shot pattern try and take advantage of it and cut the ball off. This is why you see the pros play many shots down the middle and extra wide crosscourts. They've played so much squash and have to use the entire court height and width to get their opponent of the volley.
Learning to bring your opponent to the front and then follow it with a volley is what I like to call a shot combination. Try and see if you can find one that will work and if they don't adjust keep taking advantage of their predictability or lack of precision.
This post could be written entirely backwards about how to keep your opponent off the volley when you are at the front. If you practice some of the drills above you will also be learning how to do this. This is why there isn't always a set perfect width; because this depends on your and your opponents court position. But I digress. That's enough. I know it's been awhile since my last post, so I hope this was interesting and worth the wait! Remember that taking the ball early increase your area to attack and decreases the time allowed for your opponent. The less time you allow your opponent the weaker their response will be.
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