As I've mentioned in past blog posts, I'm a qualified squash coach and, before the pandemic, I was doing a heck of a lot of coaching. I still do the odd lesson here and there, but not as much as I used to.
I was chatting to a friend who is also a coach the other day and he was asking me for some ideas for teaching movement. It reminded me of a group lesson I taught a couple of years back that was one of the most enjoyable sessions I've ever done.
Without going into too much detail, I started the lesson by showing everyone a few clips of professional squash players. We then dissected the features of their movement and listed the elements that made their movement great.
I'll not go into all the drills and exercises we did during that session, but what I found most interesting was that, as a group, we came up with quite a solid blueprint for moving like a professional squash player.
What's even more interesting is that pretty much all of the points on the list were very basic. However, the thing that sets the pros apart from the rest, is that they have absolutely mastered each and every element of movement on the list.
Now, I can't remember each element word for word, but I think I can get pretty close and I thought it'd be a very helpful topic for a blog post...
The reason I thought that this would be such a good topic is that it can benefit players of literally any standard. There were players of a huge range of standards in that lesson I mentioned in the introduction and I'd like to think that they all took something helpful away from the session!
Anyway, let's dive into a list of tips for moving like a professional...
1. The 'ready' stance
Your stance is a key factor in your ability to move like a professional squash player.
Ideally, the 'ready' stance involves starting with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. This will allow you to move quickly and change direction easily.
I'd say the most important factor of the ready stance is the make sure that you're on your toes. If you're caught flat-footed when your opponent plays their shot you might not be able to react and move in time to get to their shot.
If you're on your toes, you'll be able to push off fast and will also use less energy in the process.
That's about it really!
2. Positive T position
The first thing you learn (or should learn) when starting out in squash is just how important it is to move back to the T after every shot.
However, a common occurrence during matches (especially in the later stages of the game as players get more tired) is that they tend to end up standing a little further back than they should be during length rallies.
Then, if your opponent decides to take it into the front of the court, you'll have a lot more ground to cover and you might lose the point.
So the keyword in this tip is 'positive'.
The positive T position refers to a player standing a small step behind the T line after each shot. This allows them to quickly move to any part of the court and respond to their opponent's shots with speed and agility.
Effectively, the positive T position allows players to cover the court more efficiently, making it more difficult for their opponent to hit winning shots.
If you watch the pros, many more attacking players have a very positive T stance with some even standing on or in front of the line so they can take the ball earlier and take advantage of loose shots. I wouldn't advise this unless you're playing at a very high standard of squash, but it's still very cool to watch!
3. Keep your eye on the ball
This is a pretty straightforward one but, in case you hadn't noticed already, a squash ball moves incredibly fast (and even faster if it's being hit hard).
It's vital that you're aware of where the ball is and where it's going at all times (or at least as much as you can). By tracking the ball at all times, you can anticipate where it will go and position yourself accordingly, which can give you an edge over your opponent.
Failing to keep your eye on the ball can lead to missed shots, poor positioning, and ultimately, lost points. It's also important to stay focused on the ball to maintain your concentration and keep your mind in the game. Any lapse in focus can result in a missed opportunity.
I would class this as part of your movement as a whole as, keeping your eye on the ball allows you to take an educated guess as to where it's going next and then you can calculate where you need to move to, which leads me onto my next point...
4. Anticipate your opponent's shot (when you can)
You can never be 100% certain what shot your opponent is going to play, but the odds can be very different depending on what shot they play.
There are a lot of factors to take into account when trying to work out what shot your opponent is going to play.
You need to be aware of where they are on the court, what their body position is like, their racquet prep, where the ball is, what shot they played before, and even take into account where you are on the court (as they will be taking that into account too while they decide what shot they're going to play).
Now, that sounds like a lot to think about, but anticipating your opponent's shots just comes with time and practice.
Of course, you should try not to commit to any movement until after your opponent has made contact with the ball, but, there are situations where you can take an educated guess and mentally prepare for where you're going to move pre-movement.
During drive rallies and when your opponent is at the back of the court, it's quite unlikely that your opponent will hit anything too risky to the front of the court.
Another example would be if you've hit a great shot to the back that's dying deep in the corner, you can often tell when your opponent is going to play a boast because they might not have any other options.
Ultimately, this just comes down to intuition, but I think it's an important thing to be aware of so you can move your fastest and as efficient as possible.
5. Pushing off with a clean split step
The split step is the most common method of pushing off the T. Remember the 'ready' stance I mentioned earlier, to do a split step you'll start in the 'ready' stance and then when your opponent plays their shot, do a very small very fast jump and drop down with your feet a little further apart.
To do an even better-split step, you should try to land with the foot you're going to push off from a split-second earlier than the other foot, using that first foot to push off.
As a general rule, you'd most likely push off with your left foot if you were moving to the right side of the court (and vice versa), so make sure to land on that foot first when doing a split step.
The split step allows players to be ready to move in any direction and react quickly to their opponent's shot while staying light on their feet.
If you're struggling to visualise what I'm describing, the GIF below shows myself and Team CT's very own Cam Seth both executing a split step as we push off of the T.
6. Move fast and move light
My coach always taught me to be as light and as nimble as possible when moving around the court. Every now and again we'd do a drill in which I would do one minute on and one minute off ghosting, but I had to move as silently as possible around the court.
Thinking back, I'm not sure if this really helped my game or not, but it did really drill the point into my head. It's really important to try to stay low to the court which helps you move fast.
Alternatively, I've played quite a few players who are pretty heavy on their feet and you can hear them quite loudly as they move around the court. Their lunges also often give me a bit of a fright!
Needless to say, this is a pretty inefficient movement style and wastes a lot of energy.
Now, moving fast is quite a general yet obvious point, but I just thought I'd throw it in anyway. Moving light does help you move fast in my opinion, however, having strong legs, a good split step, and a good lunge also helps a lot with that!
Of course, if you watch professional players such as Paul Coll, Joel Makin, and Nour El Sherbini, you'll have seen the sheer speed that the best players in the world are capable of, and it's pretty ridiculous.
7. Develop a sturdy, balanced lunge
The lunge is obviously very important in squash as you'll most likely be lunging for most of the shots you play.
A good lunge allows players to reach shots that are hit far away from their body and helps players maintain balance and stability while hitting shots, which is crucial in a game where quick movement and sudden changes in direction are common.
Another factor of a good lunge that is often overlooked is that it can also help players generate power and hit shots with greater accuracy. By extending your body forward and bending your front knee, you'll be able to transfer your weight onto your front foot, generating more power in your shot.
Last, but not least, being strong and stable when lunging means you're less likely to endure an injury.
Squash involves a lot of sudden stops and changes in direction, which can put a lot of stress on the knees and other joints. By performing a good lunge, you are able to maintain proper form and alignment, which can help prevent injuries and reduce the risk of long-term damage.
There are tons of exercises for strengthening your lunge including split lunge jumps, general ghosting, squats, and box jumps. Anything that develops your leg strength as well as your core will work wonders for your lunges.
8. Use your whole body
This point sort of leads on from the last one... but, when moving around the court, it’s important to engage your entire body. This means using your arms, legs, and core to move quickly and efficiently. As you move, focus on using your body to generate power and speed.
By engaging your legs, hips, core, and arms in your movement, you can move more quickly, cover more ground, and stay more balanced.
By utilising all of your muscles and moving with proper form and technique, you can also conserve more energy. To put this into perspective, I'm guilty of lunging far too often on my right leg, meaning that it often gets tired far before my left leg, which is quite a big flaw in my game.
Again, I'm aware that this is quite a vague point as there aren't really any specific ways to practice this.
I believe this also comes with time and practice, however, if you're noticing pain in specific areas after the match, this might indicate that you're putting too much pressure on that area and perhaps you could offset it by using another muscle group.
Another quick example of this is using your non-racquet hand to stay balanced when you swing during a lunge. If your non-racquet hand is just dangling by your side when you play the ball, it can throw you off balance and put a lot more pressure on your core muscles instead.
9. Stay relaxed (when you can)
Last but not least, try to stay relaxed. Last week, I wrote an article about Diego Elias (that will be available on our blog soon), if you're looking for an example of relaxed movement, just watch any Diego Elias match.
He doesn't even look like he's trying when he moves from corner to corner and he must conserve so much energy from his movement style.
If you do watch the pros, you might have noticed that they sometimes even walk to and from the T during medium/slow-paced length rallies.
Of course, this is pretty hard to master as you need to be ready for a fast change of pace if that happens, but, it goes to show that you don't need to constantly be sprinting and scrambling for every single shot.
Sometimes, if you're engaged in a bit of a slow rally, you can use this to relax a little and get a few deep breaths in to recover and prepare yourself for harder points down the line.
You might have noticed that a lot of these points sound quite similar, that's because they all tie into each other in one way or another and they all have an effect on each other.
If you're struggling to secure a positive T position, if you don't have a good split step or 'ready' stance, you might find yourself struggling to move light or fast and you might find yourself off balance when moving towards the ball.
Or, you might find yourself scrambling for more shots meaning that it's harder to get the opportunity to relax.
So, even though all of these points are quite basic, it takes a heck of a lot of effort to master them all and that's why the pros have reached where they are today.
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