Over the past month or so I've been trying to work on the consistency and accuracy of my straight lengths. One of the main things I'd been having trouble with was repeatedly hitting the ball tight down the line.
However, after making some tweaks and then drilling them into my game with a lot of repetition, I've managed to tighten up my drives to a level I'm happy with.
In the process, I figured out four key things that really helped me hit the ball tighter and I thought I'd share them with you all in an article.
1. Train with targets
I'm a huge advocate for putting targets down when training or even when playing friendly matches. After all, it's much easier to hit a good drive if you have something specific to aim for, and, it's much easier to be aware of when you've hit a good drive if you hit that target.
First off, you can use pretty much anything as a target; a water bottle, a spare racquet, a sheet of paper, a squash ball, or my personal favourite, beer mats.
The reason I love to use beer mats is because, if the ball hits it, it doesn't affect the bounce of the ball too much so you can carry on the rally if you choose to.
You can use targets in a bunch of different ways, just stick them tight to the side wall about a racquet's length from the back line of the service box on either side.
The exacty positioning on the target should be altered depending on the temperature and liveliness of the court as well as the type of drive you're trying to improve.
If you're trying to work on low hard drives or if the court is very hot and lively, then move the target forward (towards the front wall) a little, if you're working on softer drives and lifts or the court is a bit cold and dead, then move the target further back (towards the back wall).
Of course, since the target is positioned tight to the side wall, aiming for this target will help you hit that ball tighter by default!
My favourite way to use targets during drills such as alley games is by giving bonuses for hitting them. Usually, the rule I play by is that a player gets one point for winning the rally, two points for hitting the target on a normal length, and three points for hitting the target on a volley.
I also like to use targets in friendly matches, and, if I'm using something like a coaster, the rally doesn't necessarily need to end if one of us hits it as it doesn't affect the bounce too much.
A slim cut of paper also works a treat for this!
2. Work on your timing and positioning
One of the things I noticed about my own technique when trying to improve the tightness of my shots was that my timing and positioning weren't great when I was about to hit the ball.
A pretty common problem when it comes to positioning is that players face the back corner or even the back wall when they move in to hit a length from the back of the court.
This can often result in your drive clipping the side wall before the front wall and then bouncing loose of the front wall giving your opponent an opportunity to volley.
In my case, I found that I my body or shoulders were actually facing more towards the front corner or front wall when playing drives out of the back. Because of this, many of my drives were coming out loose and going nowhere near the side wall.
I also noticed that I was often taking the ball very late in relation to where I was lunging.
For context, it's generally believed that the 'ideal' time to play a drive is when the ball is directly in front of your front foot when lunging in for the ball.
The 'ideal' positioning for this lunge when hitting a straight drive from the back is to have your front foot and leg pointed directly towards the side wall (making a right angle between your body and the side wall). Hopefully that makes sense!
If you can get into the right position and hit the ball at the right time, it makes it a lot easier to hit a tight length.
Of course, these 'ideal' scenarios aren't always possible during a fast paced squash match, but they give players a great basline starting point for drills and practice, and, this is exactly how I used them.
The perfect drill for practicing your timing and positioning with a training partner is an alley game with the condition that every length has to hit above the service line on the front wall. This gives you plenty of time to get into the right position for each shot and play it at the right time.
It's kind of like going back to the basics and taking my time to work on this really helped me reset my positioning and timing to tighten my drives up.
Another little extra tip that I'd give in relation to positioning and timing is pushing out. I see a lot of beginner and intermediate level players pushing out of their lunge while their still swinging.
This can really affect the accuracy of your shot and it's pretty easy to fix using the same drill above, just make sure to completely execute your swing before pushing out of that lunge!
Plus, if you've got that target down, you'll know exactly what you're aiming for.
3. Add some slice
Adding a bit of cut to your shots can really help keep the ball tight. You know those shots that just seem to cling to the side wall all the way into the back corner? Slice can increase your chances of hitting a shot like that.
It's quite difficult to explain why or how slice helps, I believe it's to do with the way the ball spins off of your strings and off of the front wall.
I don't have too much more to say about this other than to just give it a go when you're next training!
If you watch professionals like Paul Coll or Ali Farag, you'll see just how open their racquet faces are when they play lengths. Of course, trying to get the ball tight might not be the only reason for this as a bit of slice also makes the ball die a little bit more in the back corners.
But still, it can't hurt to try out!
My only advice would be not to try to add too much slice and don't try to hit the ball too hard with slice as you'll risk miss-hitting the ball.
4. Don't twist
In hindsight, I think I should have had this as the first point as it's probably the most important thing when it comes to hitting a tight length.
Twisting is especially common amongst beginner to intermediate level players and it's actually pretty difficult to realise that you're doing it. I don't spot that I was guilty of a bit of twisting until I saw some footage of myself playing a little while back.
By twisting, I mean rotating your shoulders and body around with your swing before you actually make contact with the ball, which makes it very difficult to hit the ball straight, tight, and with good timing.
Often, the twisting of the head is what leads the twisting of the body. Many players get the urge to look at where their shot is going or where their opponent is before they've fully finished their swing, and, wherever your head points, your upper body tends to follow.
This leads to a kind of 'flaily' swing that whips round along with the head and body and tends to make the shot itself very loose.
Ideally, you should keep your head and shoulders completely straight over the top of your lunge until you've finished your swing. Then you can take a look at where your shot went.
If you can keep this sturdy, solid body position throughout your entire shot, you'll vastly increase the chances of your shot being tight.
Again, any slow paced alley game drill will help you work on this. In fact, if you're struggling to find a partner to train with, you can easily work on this during solo practice too.
Just make sure to focus all of your efforts on keeping your shoulders, head, and legs straight throughout your entire swing!
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