Opinion

The Art Of Squash

The learning process

Squash coaching full time for 26 years I’m often asked if I still enjoy it?  People assume being on the same four-walled area must be boring or monotonous like being in a job where you repetitively do the same tasks day-in, day-out.  Coaching squash could become like that if each pupil thought and processed information in exactly the same way but luckily everyone has different likes, dislikes and a different learning process.  What makes a great teacher in anything we do in life is someone that has an adaptability to work out how someone interprets, processes and understands information.  If we are blessed to have brilliant teachers at school we would all have achieved better results.  I believe everyone can learn to do anything in life, it’s just being fortunate enough to find a teacher that can convey things in a way so you can process information individually in order to achieve the best results.

Realising your potential

Having squash lessons doesn’t mean you should or will be able to become the next world number one but you will be able to reach the best standard your ability will allow you to reach; if that is, you have found a suitable coach.  However this does not always work out for all pupils.  The pupil with exceptional natural ability may not get to the standard as the pupil with less natural ability because their innate gifts may cause them to become lazy.  The player that has to work harder because they have less natural ability sometimes becomes the better player through continued hard work.  It’s funny in squash when I hear ‘I’m not going to have squash coaching from so and so because I can beat them’ or ‘I don’t need any coaching because I’m at a standard where I don’t need any’.  If those statements were correct very few professional squash players would receive any coaching!  People assume a retiring world class professional player is going to automatically be a great coach because of how good they are at playing squash.  This makes me smile… The best coach I ever had I could beat at fourteen!

Purposeful practice

So many players put hours of time on court replicating poor technique.  This means that all they are doing is reinforcing poor shot production and execution into their games.  You see it when a couple of players are doing a basic boast and straight drive practise and they think the goal is how long they can keep the ball going in the routine, when in reality they just can’t play a tight ball that stays locked to the sidewall or a boast that’s difficult to retrieve.  This idea of how squash was meant to be played was shown to me as a nine year old junior watching an adult team match in progress at my local club.  The away team players were laughing and sniggering that their player was about to go on court against a guy weighing twenty plus stone thinking that it was just going to be an easy victory.  I sat watching in delight as the away team watched dumb-struck as their super fit player was ran from front to back, side to side while the home player just stayed on the T position.  It was like a cat toying with a mouse until he decided to put it out of its misery, his superior racket skill and understanding of the game made the other player look like a complete beginner on the court.

Breaking some myths

  1. ‘Get your racket up’

You hear from coaches ‘get your racket up’ and ‘get back to the T’ which are correct statements but also incorrect statements if they have not been fully explained.  I think some coaches don’t know themselves what they mean but they are repeating the same things they were told when they were coached.  My explanation of ‘get your racket up’ is to get the timing of your swing timed into the speed that your opponents ball is travelling off the front wall.  The art of squash is to make it look easy and to achieve this it’s vital that the player is in constant rhythm to the ball, this is a complex process that requires deeper understanding.  The first lesson that pupils have with me is regarded in my thought process as being like breaking a wild horse.  In other words, the majority of pupils generally don’t see the true timing of the ball’s travel.  This constant miscalculation puts them under unnecessary pressure.  If the racket movement is timed to the ball as soon as the eyes watch the ball, the stroke movement becomes more relaxed and consistent because of the slower speed of preparation.

  1. ‘Get back to the T’

The other dilemma is at what stage do you move from the T position to the ball?  This has to be an adjustable state as every ball you receive is different in terms of height, angle, trajectory and speed.  The speed you move back to the T position is also dependent on how you want your ball to travel down the sidewall and also how fast you want your opponent to have to move to retrieve your shot.  Again, how you decide to move back to the T is not an easy decision to make as you have to see your opponent’s ball early enough to calculate where it’s going to land off the front wall.  The distance you will have to move away from the T position will also determine how you play your next return.  If your opponent plays a quality drop that forces you to move to the front and you decide to strike the ball hard and low, then your speed back to the T has to be fast in order to be ready for the next shot.  If you feel your fitness level is dropping then you will need to play a higher ball on the front wall so hopefully it will give you more time to regain the T position before your opponent can play their next shot.  If your opponent’s ball lands closer to the T position requiring only one or two steps to play then you would be in a very commanding position enabling you to play an attacking shot causing you no physical difficulty in returning to the T position.  So as you can see there are many variables that make squash a fascinating and complex game to play well.

Next level squash

Once you understand how to correctly time every shot so you only use the most efficient amount of movement you are then able to enter the next stage of playing squash.  With this understanding of time on the ball comes the ability to use time in your favour, allowing you to sense your opponent’s movement as you prepare for the ball and selecting the correct shot to put them under the most pressure.  This next level is being able to make your opponent move twice for one shot you play, their first movement where they anticipate your ball going; the second movement is where your shot actually goes to.  This is why purposeful practise is so important.  If every shot on court is executed with a high level of accuracy this added knowledge will cause your opponent real problems as it keeps them in an uncomfortable mental and physical pressurised state, leading to increased errors and a nagging doubt in their mind that they can win.  You never hear anyone say ‘you made that look hard work’ when someone is proficient in what they do in life.  You are much more likely to hear ‘you make that look easy’ so why should it be any different playing squash?

Power is knowledge, but knowledge can only be obtained from someone who first understands it!