Tag Archives: squash training

Time to get fit

Following up on our last post about Paul Coll today’s post is going to look at fitness. Squash is a tough game physically and being in good physical shape is imperative to performing at your top level. There are 4 key elements that I want to focus on. The 4 are endurance, core strength, flexibility and explosive power. The reason I am focusing on them now is twofold.  it is just about the new year so a lot of people will be making new years’ resolutions. I am also focusing on them now as I need to work on them myself! Watching Paul Coll’s run at the Channel VAS Championship a couple of weeks ago, really brought in to focus just how far athleticism can take you.

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How to Take Full Advantage of Squash Drills

When training, many players do drills without any concise objective in mind. Players tend to “rinse and repeat” a drill without focusing on important things such as footwork or shot accuracy. Whenever a player is about to start a drill, they should always have an objective in mind, concentrate on it, and works towards as they do the exercise. This is very important since it will help the player develop better muscle memory as well as improve their game more significantly.

During any drill a player should always be aware of where they are situated on court, as well as where they want to hit the ball. If a drill requires to move between different areas of the court, the player currently doing it should always rotate back to the ‘T’. Many players ignore this since they know where the ball is going to go during the drill; for example, if two players are doing a boast-drive drill, both players might move from corner to corner (front and back, respectively) instead of going back to the ‘T’ after every shot. Furthermore, on any drill that focuses on rotation around the court, e.g. boast-drive, players should also concentrate on hitting good shots and not just hitting the ball back. Both of these things are important for various reasons, such as: improving muscle memory, accuracy, position awareness, and rotation to the ‘T’. But most importantly, applying this will help much more in real match situations since the players are essentially simulating the shots and movements they want to perform on court.

Another good example of a very common drill where players tend to forget what the real objective is, is the length rotation drill on one side of the court. Many players, including me, stand at the back and on the side where the ball is being hit at or they rotate back to the ‘T’ but not enough. Basically they wait for the ball to come to them since the drill is happening on one single quadrant of the court. On such a drill, players should again concentrate on rotating to the ‘T’ properly as well as hitting accurate shots. Going back to the ‘T’ correctly after every shot will help develop speed and agility which will be necessary when playing a real match. This is an advantage since a big part of the game is keeping the ball deep and being patient, so good rotation is essential. Furthermore, players should focus on hitting the ball tight as well as where they want the ball to bounce first. Personally, I believe that a player should try to hit the ball on the same spot every time for about 3-5 consecutive shots, then choose a different spot and repeat the same process throughout the duration of the drill. This will aid muscle memory and accuracy which will lead to better shots in a real match.

Before doing any type of drill, every player should always keep something in mind to work towards to. Drills are designed to improve a player’s game but this can only be achieved by how the player decides to approach the drill. Taking full advantage of the drill is the one thing that will help a player improve their game; there are always different things that can be worked on at the same time on any given drill!

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Easy Drill to Improve Your Front Court Shots

This week I was training one-on-one with my coach, and we decided to improve my game at the front court by working on: taking my time, starting my swing from the same position every time, making a shorter swing, and using my wrist more. The reason he told me I needed to do this was to incorporate deception on every shot, as well as increase my accuracy while retaining the same amount of power as before. Surprisingly enough, by the end of practice I was hitting better shots at the front with a shorter swing that always started from the same spot. It was very helpful and I believe it’s worth discussing so that other players can try it out as well.

The first thing we worked on was quicker racquet preparation. I stood on the ‘T’ while he fed me the ball on the front court. The idea was to have the racquet ready before getting to the ball; as soon as he fed the ball I would first get my racquet up and then I would get to hitting a shot. A lot of players start their swing as they are close to the ball and this is not a bad thing; but, on quick shots and under pressure, this will take too much time from the swing, possibly leading to hitting a loose shot. If however you have your racquet prepared before reaching the ball, once you get to it you will have more time to think where to return the shot. This is the first step, and if you wish to do this, you should concentrate solely on having your racquet ready before moving to the ball.

Once I was able to get to every ball with my racquet ready beforehand, we moved on to hitting every shot from the same position with a shorter swing. The first thing we worked on was to have a shorter swing. The reason for this was to be able to hold the shot for as long as possible so that the opponent has less time to read it. The idea here is to concentrate on using the forearm and wrist instead of the whole arm to generate power; the same amount of power can be generated using a shorter swing by generating more racquet speed in increasing the velocity on the forearm and wrist movements. Then, I would concentrate on getting my racquet back on the exact spot every single time in order to create uncertainty on what type of shot I would hit next. Try having someone feed you easy to return shots so that you can concentrate on your racquet preparation, footwork, and making a shorter swing. From the same position you can hit: a drop or cross court drop, a low and hard length or cross court shot, a boast, or a length or cross court shot to the back of the court. All of these shots are possible due to the shorter and faster swing and I believe any player can see the advantage of being able to hit multiple shots from the exact same racquet position!

Towards the end, we worked on including the wrist more to improve accuracy. This is a bit harder to explain as it depends on how every player feels about using their wrist. The main thing we concentrated on was hitting the crease or ‘nick’ with both drop and kill shots. Also, we concentrated on stopping the swing almost immediately after hitting the ball, i.e. having a much shorter follow through. Having a full follow through when trying to hit accurate shots is not ideal since there is more racquet movement and therefore more influence on where the ball is going. A shorter follow through will keep the ball in line as the effect of the racquet going through it is minimum. If you want to improve accuracy on the front court you should concentrate on using just the wrist to give direction to the ball. However, there is no ‘textbook’ wrist movement so you should find your own comfort zone with wrist shots. A great way to practice this is having someone feed easy, loose shots at the very front of the court and hitting the ball using the wrist only, i.e. no forearm or upper arm movements, and always having accuracy as a top priority. Always keep the crease in mind, trying to hit the ball about 2-3 inches above the tin. This way you can become comfortable with your own wrist movement that gets you the best shots. Furthermore, you should always keep in mind your balance as it is essential for accuracy and better shots; you can read more on this here.

Finally, we practiced hitting different shots from different places on the front court while applying everything we learned at the same time. Always keep in mind your body and racquet position, keeping your head down, and your wrist movement. Having said this, if you are looking to improve your front court game you can try out this very helpful drill. The best way to do it is to take it step by step while concentrating on each step’s main goal to finally include everything in one single movement. It is always good to try new drills to improve any aspect of your game, so give it a try and see how your game can improve.

Please feel free to leave your ideas, opinions, thoughts, and/or questions on the comment section below and we will be more than happy to help you!

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Types and Importance of Defensive Shots in Squash

Squash is a very fast-paced and aggressive game that requires a solid defensive strategy as players can find themselves under pressure from their opponent a lot of the time. In the game of squash whenever a player is under heavy pressure from their opponent, defensive play is essential to both regain control of the rally and to conserve stamina. When in trouble on court there are different shots and strategies that can help a player recover from an undesired situation and get back to an attacking position. Continue reading

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What’s On Your Mind?

The title of this post isn’t an open invitation to vent your frustrations of the day, rather an important question about your thought process on court. This is an exercise in metacognition; thinking about your thinking.

I’ve discussed the concepts of deliberate practice and “10000 hours” in earlier posts, and those themes tie in well here. To review, several sports science/psychology studies have shown that it takes a minimum of 10000 hours of deliberate practice to truly master a sport (for reference, I am at about 8000 hours…and nowhere near a master). Continue reading

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Squash – Move your feet

Movement in squash is critical.  It is imperative to move well to and from the ball.  Often though when we arrive at where we expect to hit the ball we might not be in the best possible position.  This can happen for a couple of reasons.  It can happen if we simply misjudge the ball or if the ball comes off of the wall unexpectedly. When this happens the ball will most often be in a poor position for us to hit. One of the most common errors that players make is not adjusting and hitting the ball when they are now out of position. Of course as we play and practice more this will happen less but when it does happen it is imperative, if you have the time to move your feet and get to the best position you can to hit a good shot. Continue reading

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Squash – The Lunge

As squash players the lunge is something we are all familiar with.  I was practicing movement in to the front court with the help of my coach and one thing that we were working on specifically was how far forward the leading knee can go. If your leading knee goes too far you can lose balance on the shot you are playing.  Also if you go too far you will also not have the same strength to push back out of the corner.

James Willstrop

James Willstrop Lunging for the ball at the MWT Wullhouse Quarter Finals.

Photo credit to SquashSite

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Long Way to the Top

I recently read a book entitled “Talent is Overrated” by Geoff Colvin. Clearly this is an attention-grabbing headline, and flies in the face of many people’s beliefs about world-class performers in all fields. The notion of the book is that natural talent/gifts don’t necessarily exist. Rather, greatness is a product of many factors conspiring to provide an opportunity for someone who is willing to dedicate almost their whole life to this task. The book goes to great lengths to dispel the myth that greats such as Mozart and Tiger Woods were simply gifted in music and golf respectively. The author explains that to become world-class, a person needs to complete a minimum of 10 000 hours of deliberate practice at their chosen activity (more on this number later). Even “child prodigies” like the two mentioned above had put in far more than 10 000 hours of study and practice before the age of 16; they weren’t simply better than the rest by nature.

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Chokes and Regaining Confidence

The wisdom that “Squash is a mental game” has been heard by anyone who has ever played an organized match in this sport. Motivation, psychology and tactics are all integral parts of the game. This is a squash truism and needs no further discussion. Rather, I want to look at one of the lesser known mental aspects of the sport; an internal psychological battle that not many players have experienced. I am referring to the challenge of being a pro player trying to climb up the rankings from the bottom and having mediocre results. In my opinion this is one of the most interesting aspects of the game, but it is rarely publicized.

Allow me to provide some empirical evidence from a few months ago. On a Thursday in early November, I received an e-mail saying there was a spot available in a PSA tournament happening in Vancouver starting the following Tuesday. Despite the extremely short notice I jumped at the chance to play in a $20000 tournament and arrived in Vancouver the day before qualifying began. This was a huge opportunity to get a rare win and serious ranking points. I was drawn to play fellow Canadian Tyler Hamilton in the first round. Before the match I sat down and had a chat with myself, which went something to the tune of “It cost almost a thousand dollars to come out here. This is a huge opportunity. This is what you train for. Go out and play like your life depends on it.” With this deep motivation, I won the first two games with blowout scorelines and was poised to make the upset. I was playing my best squash ever. After dropping the third, I regrouped and had a 9-6 lead in the fourth. I remember thinking, “You’ve got this won. Two points. Easy.” I was finally going to break through and having a big win. You can imagine what happened next. I lost five points in a row, and the fifth game wasn’t even close. Feeling the match slip away was a sickening feeling; certainly one of the worst I’ve had in my career. Of course, comebacks do happen and I had to credit Tyler for staying calm under pressure. But when squash is your job and life, a loss like this is ten times harder to stomach. You work so hard for these rare opportunities, get yourself into a winning position, and then manage to lose. Instead of making decent prize money and ranking points, I left with 0 dollars and 0 points. This can be crippling for confidence, especially for someone like me who already struggles with self-belief.

My small-time example pales in comparison with other chokes. John White and Greg Gaultier have both had matchball in the World Open final and lost. Surely that is the ultimate disappointment you could ever have in squash. One of the great things about this sport though is the tendency to have great performances immediately following poor ones. Two weeks after my Vancouver experience, I was at a PSA tournament in Saskatoon. In the fifth game of the qualifying finals, I was 6-0 and 8-2 up against a better player. Needless to say, the Vancouver incident was at the front of my mind I would have been devastated to blow it twice in as many weeks. My hands were shaking between rallies and I felt a rush of anxiety and desperation, something that had never happened to me before. I managed to finally win the fifth 11-9 and record my best PSA win to date. The result went down inconspicuously on paper amongst dozens of others from that night. But on a personal note it was probably the best feeling I’ve ever had after a match. I liked squash again.


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Swing Like a Pro

The swing is one of the most important and scrutinized aspects of every player’s overall game. Good technique allows a few important things to develop in your game: consistency in ball striking, ability to hit the ball from compromised positions, and deception.  It is something that cannot be swept under the carpet; you will struggle to pass a ‘C’ level of play if you have major technical deficiencies. Most errors ultimately come from some sort of technical miscue.

One of the best ways to improve your technique is by watching top players and analyzing theirs. Be wary of trying to copy the aesthetics of your favourite pro’s swing though. Ramy Ashour, for example, has a swing that no one would ever teach a beginner. He has superhuman wrist strength and racquet head speed, and takes almost no backswing. Nick Matthew is another example of someone with a slightly unorthodox swing. However, there are some key points you can take from almost any top player. I think anyone can incorporate the following five tips into their swing while maintaining some individual flair:

1)      Keep your space from the ball. Most people get far too close to the ball. This not only decreases your potential power (the arm is strongest when fully extended), but also brings your body further from the ‘T’ and deeper into the corners. Spread yourself out as much as possible, let the ball come to you, hit quickly and take a short lunge back to the ‘T’.

2)      Hit the ball with a flat racquet face. Of course, everyone is taught to hit the ball with an open face to ensure consistency. But hitting the ball flat (or even slightly topspin) will increase the heaviness of your shot, and keep the ball lower as it travels through the court. Particularly useful when hitting from a position of advantage. Jonathon Power was a master of this.

3)      Use less arm when digging out a tight ball. When the ball is buried in the back corner or glued to the wall, taking a full swing will often lead to an error (and broken racquet). You can subtly control your racquet using only wrist and hand. You might have to hit a defensive shot, but it’s better than the other option. The tighter the ball is, the shorter the swing should be.

4)      Take a longer follow through. Following through will noticeably improve your power, but it will also help keep the ball straighter. If you can limit your backswing and instead rely on your follow through for power, you will minimize the inconsistencies that cause errors.

5)      Get in position to hit early. This is also a movement tip, but even when your opponent has played a soft drive or weak boast, get your feet and racquet set early. You will feel like you have tons of time to the hit the ball, and it affords you the chance to incorporate some deception. Without any crazy fakes or flicks, simply standing with your racquet up will freeze your opponent or lead them to guess.

Try to make use of one of these tips every time you practice. A match isn’t a great opportunity to bring in a new technical element for the first time. Good luck!


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