One of the biggest shortcomings in my own game is that I don't volley particularly often, not necessarily because I can't, but perhaps it's because I'm being too risk averse, trying to conserve energy, or, maybe I'm just a little bit lazy...
Anyway, this wasn't always the case. As a junior, my coach and I focused a lot of time on taking the ball early and volleying, but whatever the reason is, volleying has slowly crept out of my game over time.
Volleying is one of the most effective ways to take control of the T and dictate the pace of play, and, I think it's what I need to work on to take my game to the next level.
Of course, this newsletter isn't all about me, I think everyone can benefit from volleying, whether you currently volley a lot and want to improve your technique, or, you don't volley much and want to bring it into your game plan.
For that reason, I wanted to focus an article on volleying, so, in this blog post, I will talk a bit about the benefits of taking the ball early and then will go through some of my top technical tips for executing good volleys, and will finish with a couple of drills for incorporating them into your game...
The Benefits of Volleying
A volley is essentially when you hit the ball before it bounces, and that's all there is to it!
It has an abundance of advantages but it also comes with a few risks and disadvantages too...
Starting with the advantages, volleying is one of the best ways to keep pressure on your opponent, keep momentum in your favour, and control the pace at which the match is being played.
If you're constantly taking the ball early before your opponent has a chance to recover from their shot and get back into position, you're taking time away from them, not letting them get into a rhythm, and possibly tiring them out in the process.
On top of all of that, you give yourself the opportunity to stay in control of the T (in the middle of the court), which is the best place to carry on volleying from!
Of course, that all sounds perfect in theory, however, it's important to know that, in order to take the ball early consistently and often, it will take a physical toll on you too, so, it's important to be aware of when you're getting tired and perhaps when you need to slow things down a bit instead.
Otherwise, your shot quality can deteriorate very quickly giving your opponent the upper hand.
In fact, playing at a high-pace by using volleys makes it very tough to hit accurately in general.
Hitting a volley requires very fast reactions and decision-making skills, you need to know where the ball is coming from and move to it fast, you also need to decide what shot you're going to hit, and figure out where you want it to land... all in a split second.
But, this is why it's so important to practice volleying often!
So, here are my tips for volleying...
Technical Volleying Tips
1. Understand The Basics And Find Your Targets
Understanding the straight volley, crosscourt volley, and volley drop is the first step for beginner-level players looking to learn how to volley.
Most of the time, you will be volleying from the T and you can either volley straight down the line, across to the other side of the court, or into either front corner with a kill or a drop.
If you're a little more skilled, you can also add a bit of pace to your kill and make it die around the middle section of the court too (as long as it's tight to the wall).
In order to maintain the T, you need to consistently hit your targets when volleying. It's important to understand that the volley is a slightly higher-risk shot and, the less time you have to play your shot, the harder it is to hit it accurately.
If you're hitting straight or cross court, you need to make sure it lands deep in the back corner (to keep your opponent there) and, it also needs to be as tight as possible to the side wall.
I talk a little more about movement, positioning, and swing technique further down, however, I want to briefly touch on grip in this section.
Your grip doesn't need to change too much from a normal shot, generally just holding around the middle of the grip and not clutching your racquet too tight is the best approach for a volley.
If you're holding too far down the grip, it will be harder to hit with control and accuracy, if you hold too far up the grip handle, you will struggle to generate any power.
2. Develop Quick Reflexes And Learn To Read Your Opponent
If you're comfortable enough with volleying already, then I would assume that the next logical step is to quicken your reflexes.
This is what allows you to step up your volleying and really begin to use it to attack and play an offensive game.
Having quick reflexes allows you to be able to react to your opponent's shot, get into position (especially if the ball is coming directly towards you), and execute your own shot well.
However, being able to read your opponent is also an important part of this and, in my opinion, the two come hand in hand.
If you can learn to read your opponents, you will be able to predict their shots, be more aware of their positioning and movements, and learn their patterns of play, then, you will be able to react even quicker to their shot and volley it even earlier.
Of course, every opponent is different and, if you're playing someone new, you may notice their unique movements and shot patterns as the game goes on, however, there are general patterns of play that you will also get used to as you get more experienced.
These will allow you to perfectly pick the right time to volley.
Generally, you will develop faster reflexes from playing squash over time anyway, but, my advice would be to do the first drill I mention in the last section of this week's newsletter that allows you to really improve your reaction speed.
3. Positioning And Movement
As I mentioned, you will generally need to be in control of the T when you volley (but not always). Having a positive T position is crucial for taking the ball early.
The difference between a positive T position versus a lazy T position is usually only a step or two.
My coach would often do a drill with me to work on my T position in which I would actually have to stand in front of the T line and he would feed me fast paced volleys.
It was very tough, physically and mentally, but, it worked wonders for my T position.
The more I think about it, perhaps this is another reason why I'm volleying less at the moment. I often find myself 'hanging back' during longer-length rallies to the back of the court, which means I am actually a few steps behind the T line.
It's easy to fall into this habit without realising because, since most shots in squash are lengths into the back corners, logically, you haven't got to move as far during length exchanges if you're already nearer to the back of the court.
Of course, this means that you have to scramble if your opponent plays a volley, takes it into the front of the court, or plays a sneaky boast.
Ideally, you want to be positioned a half step or so behind the actual T, then you will be in prime position to take your opponent's shots early, without having to move too far to go into the back corners if their shot is too tight to volley.
The movement to take a volley is usually a lateral (sideways) one, across in line with the T. You will side step across, lunge, play your volley, and then side step back to the T.
When you move across to actually intercept the volley, your first move should be the 'split step', this is when you take a very small jump in the air with both feet before pushing off, you then land with your feet slightly further apart with your foot furthest from the ball landing a split second earlier, and then push off that foot toward the ball.
The topic of which leg to lunge on is somewhat debatable, but, generally, I would say that it's best to volley with your body facing towards the front wall (especially if your opponent's shot is loose) as you don't have to cross your legs over when you lunge.
This means that you will lunge in on your right leg on the right side (forehand side if you're right-handed) and your left leg on the left side (backhand side if you're right-handed).
However, if your opponent's shot is a little tighter and further away, you may have to take an extra step or two to reach it, then you may want to use the opposite legs to lunge in on (meaning you have to cross them over and face your body more toward the side wall).
The ideal volley will only involve a swift couple of side steps to the ball, and a swift couple of side steps back, to maximise efficiency.
The only other tip I have for being in the right position to volley is to stay on your toes. It makes the split step a lot easier and you can react and move a lot faster.
4. Get Your Racquet Up Early
Now, if you scroll down a short way, you will see a photo of one of my favourite volleyers, England's Mohamed ElShorbagy.
He is an absolute master of taking the ball early and taking time away from his opponents.
In the photo, he has his racquet up in a perfect 'ready' position, showing that he is completely ready to take this ball on the volley.
This is another thing my coach would work on with me during our volleying sessions. He would make me get my racquet up as fast as I possibly could basically the moment I pushed off of the T towards the ball.
He would actually make me exaggerate this backswing as much as possible so it became engrained into my game even quicker, and, I must say that this also worked wonders (I really did have a great coach).
If your racquet is low and not up or ready, it can take a lot longer than you think to raise it up and then play your volley. This increases the risk of hitting an inaccurate shot or even mishitting the ball altogether.
Anyway, this tip is pretty straightforward, but, it's absolutely essential when it comes to volleying positively.
Photo by Steve Cubbins
5. Shorten Your Swing
Again, if we look at the photo above, you'll see that ElShorbagy hasn't actually played his volley yet. I would bet money that he hasn't started to swing through the ball yet either.
If you look at the distance between his racquet and the ball, the sweep length of his swing is only going to be a couple of feet or so.
This is yet another thing my coach always taught me, he described it as a 'punchy' swing style. This short swing is fast, efficient, and easy to execute.
It's very easy to volley with power, even with a short swing like this, because you can transfer a lot of the energy from your opponent's shot into your own shot.
This means that, if they have hit it with some pace, you can use this short punchy swing to match that pace with your own shot.
Not to mention the fact that a huge backswing and followthrough makes it much harder to hit the ball accurately.
To add to all of that, this short swing is very deceptive, I don't have a clue what shot ElShorbagy is going to play here, it could be a kill, a soft drop shot, or just another length or cross court to the back.
6. Work On Your Timing
Timing is everything when it comes to taking a ball on the volley.
As I've mentioned previously, volleys are a little higher risk and harder to control, one of the best ways to up your chances of hitting the ball cleanly and accurately is to practice timing.
I think the best place to start if you're a beginner to intermediate-level player and quite new to volleying is to focus on making contact with the ball when it is parallel with you and the side wall.
This way, when you do that lateral lunge to the side, everything is in line and it is much easier to align your shot and keep it tight.
Then, once you're a little more experienced, you can work on taking the ball when it's in front of you a little more (which is great for taking even more time away from your opponent).
Then, after that, you can also work on stepping back to volley and stepping even further forward too.
Taking volleys earlier takes a little more technical skill and experience as it involves experimenting with angles as well as utilising your wrist a bit more.
This kind of thing just comes with practice, there is no specific way to determine the exact right time to make contact with the ball because every shot is different.
I would also like to add that you can work on the combination of timing, movement, racquet prep, and swing, and, if you can get them all dialled down together, your volleys will be unstoppable.
7. Remember, Sometimes It's Better To Leave It
It seems obvious when you say it out loud, but, some shots are not meant to be volleyed. Of course, sometimes this is easier said than done.
Volleying is all about risk versus reward, if you're scrambling to volley a shot that is tight to the side wall but will bounce out of the back corner and be easy to retrieve, then it is probably better to just leave it to bounce and move into the back corner instead.
I know a lot of players who love to volley and sometimes they do it a little too much, some of them are very very good players, and after speaking to a couple of them, they seem to be aware that they try to volley too much.
Usually, their overall playing style involves playing at a very fast pace and not giving their opponent any time.
The obvious downside to this is it can become very very tiring.
One of my good friends plays this style and he is almost unstoppable in the earlier stages of the match, however, if he doesn't manage to win 3-0, he then becomes fatigued and this game plan becomes much more difficult to deploy.
Also, it kind of goes without saying that it's very risky volleying shots that don't need to be volleyed anyway.
Again, if your opponent hits a very good shot and you scramble to try to volley it, you run the risk of hitting a weak shot and being out of position or even giving away a stroke.
My Two Favourite Volleying Drills
Quick Reaction Anchors (Pairs)
This is one I've talked about in past newsletters but I honestly can't recommend it enough.
It involves having a training partner so hopefully you can find someone who is either happy to feed for you for a while, or is looking to improve their own volleying skills too.
Anyway, the idea is that one player stands in that positive position on the T and the other player stands in the back left or right corners, they then feed medium/hard paced shots against the front wall and either directly, or close to, the player on the T.
The player on the T has to make the split-second decision to split step one direction and either play a forehand or a backhand and, that player on the T has to volley every shot back to the feeder.
Then, you can also add in feeds that aren't directly towards the T, this makes the player on the T need to be ready to react and move into new areas of the court and will help boost reaction times even more.
You can tailor this depending on your abilities. Obviously, if you're new to this drill, the feeder shouldn't be absolutely cracking their feeds directly at the player on the T.
Perhaps it might be easiest to start with lighter feeds that aren't coming directly towards the body instead, just make sure that they are volleying height.
This drill is absolutely superb for boosting your reaction times.
Controlled Volleys (Solo)
I guess this isn't necessarily a specific drill in and of itself, because there are countless variations of solo volleying you can do on your own.
One that I find very helpful for control is to start standing right by the front wall hitting volleys back to yourself against the wall, once you're in a bit of a rhythm, you then take a step back every five (or so) volleys.
As you get further and further away from the front wall, the volleys will get harder and harder to control.
I should note that you should be hitting all of these volleys straight, as this is what you would be doing in a match too.
The goal is to then get to the back wall and, if you're still going after that, move back towards the front wall.
If you haven't tried a drill like this before, you might be surprised by how tired your arm gets when hitting this many shots in a row!
You can do this on both the forehand and backhand sides.
Another controlled volleying exercise is to stand with one foot always in the service box and repeatedly hit as many volleys to yourself as possible. The only rule is that you have to have one foot in the service box when you hit every single shot.
And, possibly the most well-known drill for practicing volleying consistency and experimenting with angles is the figure of 8, where you stand on the T and hit forehand then backhand volleys into either corner on the front wall (landing front wall side wall each time).
Anyway, there are countless ways to work on your volleying with or without a training partner, so, hopefully, you gained something from this article and hopefully, it helps you up your game too!
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