Often, the difference between yourself and a player who is a bit better than you isn't capability. Chances are, you're capable of playing the exact same shots as they are, they just play them at the right time.
Usually, the difference is with shot selection, pace, and mindset (and of course, fitness). But, if you go a little deeper into those brackets, you reveal a number of common mistakes that many club-level players are guilty of.
This is what I want to focus on for this week's newsletter.
I'm going to be talking about the 5 most common mistakes that I see among club-level players. I'll also go into some ways to overcome those mistakes to help yourself reach that next level and start beating those players who usually just scrape the win against you.
Now, 'club-level' means different things to different players, but ultimately, I would say that this article will be helpful to players of pretty much any standard from beginner to advanced (but perhaps not higher than that).
Anyway, let's dive in...
1. Too Many Crosscourts
The reason I start with this one is because I'm guilty of it too and it's always the first thing that comes into my head when I think about weaknesses.
One prevalent tendency among club-level players is an overreliance on crosscourt shots. While crosscourts can be effective, especially under certain circumstances, becoming too predictable can lead to opponents anticipating your moves.
My coach always used to tell me that, when hitting to the back of the court, you should hit 80-90% of your shots straight and only the other 10-20% should be cross court.
Even if you disguise your cross court well and it is not predictable, as soon as you start playing them more frequently, your opponent will pretty much automatically start to step across a little on the T and cover it more.
This means that your cross courts have to be absolutely perfect every time, which isn't really possible, especially at club-level.
We all know that cross courts need to have good width to get past your opponent, otherwise, they will be able to step across and volley it, taking a lot of time away from you and putting you under pressure.
For some reason, I often find that if my cross courts aren't going past my opponent, I end up trying to play more. Maybe it's a psychological thing and I'm trying to prove to myself that I can get that width I'm looking for.
Whatever it is, I see other players do it a lot as well, and it's not a good approach.
If you're playing too many cross courts, or, if your cross courts aren't working particularly well and your opponent is consistently volleying them, this isn't the time to do more cross courts.
This is the time to cut out the cross courts, almost completely.
If you're under a lot of pressure, now is the time to slow things down and straighten things up.
If you're desperate to go cross court (from the front of the court after your opponent has played a good boast, for example), then use height rather than pace to get it past your opponent.
Just make sure you get that width if you do have to go cross court.
Otherwise, do not rely on this shot as it is a slippery downhill slope!
2. Going Too Hard
Another common mistake or misconception is that hitting the ball harder equates to better play.
So many players (myself included) are susceptible to getting sucked into the trap of trying to hit their way out of a tough situation.
However, this approach generally leads to a lot less accurate shots and a lot more unforced errors, as well as unnecessary fatigue.
Plus, it still keeps your opponent on the front foot and you on the back foot.
I know that, when I start trying to hit the ball hard even though I don't necessarily have the time, I start missing the sweet spot and missing my targets too.
Interestingly, I actually just got back on court after quite a long time off (as I have been away travelling), and I've lost quite a lot of my arm strength.
Currently, I can still hit the ball hard, but it is not controlled at all. So, instead, I'm having to rely on slowing the pace down and controlling my shots instead.
Instead of using brute force to try to get yourself back into a rally, try to emphasize smart shot selection and controlled pace.
Take a moment to analyse the situation; sometimes, a well-placed, softer shot can be more disruptive than a powerful play, plus, it can give you time to recover back to the T and get back in the rally.
Balancing aggression with precision enhances your overall game, but, there's a time and a place to hit the ball hard.
Any half-decent opponent will be able to pounce on the looser hard shots and just put you back under pressure again.
3. Poor T Positioning
The T (the area in the centre of the court) is where you should be moving to after every single shot.
The T is the optimal spot for a player to recover after each shot, ensuring efficient court coverage and also giving them the best opportunity to keep their opponent off the T and move them into other corners of the court instead.
Generally, players should be positioned between half a step and a full step behind that T line, however, since the majority of shots in squash are played into the back corners, it's very common for players to begin 'hanging back' from the T.
Sometimes this mistake is on purpose, but most of the time, players don't realise that they are doing it.
It often stems from being tired, as, if you're standing a little closer to the back of the court then you don't have to move as far to reach your opponent drives.
This obviously creates a big problem if your opponent notices your poor T positioning and decides to take the ball in short to the front of the court instead, meaning that you have a lot further to move if you're going to get to the ball in time.
If you watch the pros on the PSA World Tour, just take note of where they stand and where they move to after each shot.
Mohamed ElShorbagy is one of my favourite players to watch because he has an incredibly attacking style and stands pretty much on the T line a lot of the time.
Now, I'm not advising you try this yourself unless you play at a high enough standard, but, this kind of 'positive' T position allows you to volley and take balls a lot earlier, taking time away from your opponent in the process.
If you ever find yourself losing rallies because you couldn't get to the front of the court before your opponent's shot bounced twice, perhaps you need to take note of where you were positioned when they played their shot.
You may have been hanging back.
Developing an awareness of your position on the court is the first step to improving it.
During training, try to make a conscious effort to return to the T after each shot during training, friendlies, and normal matches, ensuring you maintain a strong and balanced stance each time.
Not only does this put you in a better position, but, through positive body language and movement, you're showing your opponent that you're not tired and that you're willing to put in the work to get the win.
If you really want to incorporate positioning into your training regime, then try to do specific movement and footwork drills such as ghosting, making good T positioning your goal.
This will help build muscle memory and generally improve your court movement over time.
It's also worth mentioning that it can often feel a little more tiring to keep moving to a more positive position on the T after each shot (especially if you're not used to it), however, it will pay dividends in the long run when you're dictating the pace and controlling the match.
4. Overreliance On Boasts
A boast is a shot that hits the side wall first, then the front wall, and then either the floor or the other side wall.
Most often used a defensive shot, the boast generally gives players a bit of extra time to recover because the ball takes longer to travel to the front of the court, however, it's also often played as a last resort if a player has to dig a tough ball out of one of the back corners behind them.
It's worth mentioning that the boast can also be an attacking shot too.
The trickle boast, for example, is a short, quick, low boast played at the front of the court that often tricks opponents into second-guessing and moving
Boasts in general can be quite deceptive because they involve the ball changing direction a few times which also adds some spin too.
However, a very common issue amongst club-level players is becoming too reliant on the boast and playing it too frequently at unnecessary times.
Sometimes this is due to fatigue, sometimes it's just laziness in general, or, perhaps it worked once and the player in question thinks it will then work again and again.
Whatever the reason is, this reliance on boasts can introduce an element of predictability into your game.
A good opponent will catch on quickly if they notice that you're playing lots of boasts.
This then gives them the opportunity to react fast, get on the ball very quickly, and put you under a lot of pressure.
In the short term, playing a boast feels as though you're giving yourself time, however, unless it's a very accurate or attacking boast, it gives your opponent the chance to take the ball in short (or play pretty much any other shot), and make you scramble, which will burn more energy in the long run.
This can be another error that players make without noticing, however, if you're losing a lot of points off the boast, it usually becomes pretty clear pretty quick.
But, if you're a player who's capable of playing a boast, I would assume that you're capable of playing any other shot too, so why not do that instead?
As a junior, I used to get told off a lot for playing too many boasts. I don't think I was being lazy, I just enjoyed playing the shot I think.
Anyway, my coach back then would say you shouldn't play a boast unless you have to.
Now, I don't fully agree with that because there's always a time and a place for an attacking boast of some sort, but, his message makes sense.
I mean, why would you play a shot that will end up putting you under a lot of pressure when you don't even need to play it?
Try to diversify your shot selection a bit instead. If you want to mix things up or move your opponent around a bit, then by all means throw on a boast here and there, but, also try to use cross courts, drops, lobs, kills, or anything else.
But, if you're unsure, always take the ball straight instead.
Nine times out of ten, if you're positioned with the option of either playing a boast or a straight drive, you should be opting for the straight drive.
Looking for cheap points or a short-term breather is never worth it in the long run!
5. Not Attacking Enough (Especially Against Better Players)
The hesitation to adopt an assertive, attacking style of play is a common challenge among club-level players (I'm also guilty of this one).
This reluctance to embrace aggression can stem from a few things, including nerves, self-doubt, or worrying about the heightened risk of errors.
This issue is especially common when someone is facing a more skilled opponent.
By attacking, I don't just mean going for outright winners (but that is definitely part of it). I also mean volleying, being positive, taking the ball early, using deception, and using angles.
Any kind of proactive playing could be seen as attacking.
Of course, it also depends on your game plan. Perhaps your strategy is to wait for your opponent to make mistakes because they go for a lot of shots. If this is the case then not attacking isn't an issue.
But, the fear of unforced errors or falling prey to counterattacks can act as a deterrent, pushing players toward a more defensive, reactive style of play instead.
It's much more difficult to win points on your own terms by playing defensively or reactively and it takes a lot longer too.
To overcome this common challenge, players need to recognise that attacking doesn't equate to reckless play. Instead, it's about calculated risks, strategic decision-making, and the willingness to take control of the rally.
Embracing an attacking mindset keeps your opponent on their toes, responding to a diverse range of shots and tactics.
Volleying, one of the most important parts of attacking play, is a great way to disrupt your opponent's rhythm and put them under immediate pressure.
Taking the ball early minimises the time your opponent has to react and allows you to take control of the game, dictating rallies on your own terms instead of just waiting for points to come to you.
Deception and the use of angles also introduces unpredictability into the mix, making it challenging for your opponent to to anticipate your shots accurately.
These elements collectively contribute to a dynamic attacking game style that not only keeps opponents guessing but also creates openings for winners.
Of course, this style of play is a lot more tiring and high-risk, but, if you can execute it effectively, it will pay off in the long run when you get points and wins!
The reluctance to attack generally stems from apprehension, nerves, or tiredness.
It's a hurdle that club-level players can overcome by embracing a positive mental approach to aggression.
Stepping out of your comfort zone and recognising the clear benefits of attacking play is an exceptional skill to have in squash.
Gradually incorporating attacking elements into your training will lead them to creep into your match play.
But, the key here is that it all starts with mindset!
This article was taken from our On The 'T' Newsletter, if you're interested in receiving more content like this, please feel free to sign up using the subscribe section located at the bottom left of this page (or underneath the article if you're on mobile), thanks!