The fast-paced nature of squash means that having fast reactions is pretty much essential, especially if you're looking to attack on the volley.
Back when I was a junior, this was an area of the game that I struggled a lot with. I didn't have a very positive T position and I often passed up opportunities to volley, leaving them to go to the back of the court.
I was lucky enough to start receiving one-on-one coaching sessions at my local club (thank you mum) and my coach was a genius when it came to drills.
Group training sessions with other coaches often focused on the core elements of the game such as lengths and basic movement, which was great for ingraining things into my mind and muscles.
However, when it came to the nitty gritty stuff and sharpening up, my individual coach worked wonders. There was one drill in particular that took my game to the next level without a doubt...
Originally, I wanted to focus this article on the importance of keeping your eye on the ball, rather than watching your opponent or the front wall while waiting for your shot.
After a bit of thought, I remembered the drill in question and how it worked wonders for improving my reactions, lateral movement, and attacking play all at once.
The most vital part of this drill was to keep your eye on the ball at all times so I will definitely touch on that in this article, but I decided to focus mainly on the drill itself so then you can try it out for yourself and hopefully improve your game in the process.
The drill itself doesn't really have a name and I guess at first glance it kind of seems like a feeding and volleying exercise, but it's much more than that.
For this drill, you'll need a training partner or coach who is able to feed somewhat accurately (of course, if you're with a training partner, you can take turns so you both get to benefit from the drill).
Your coach or partner will stand at the back of the court (on either the forehand or backhand side) and will be 'feeding' powerful lengths either straight or crosscourt. These lengths need to be around volleying height (aiming for the service line might help) and they shouldn't be too tight to either side wall.
You need to stand either on the T line or half a step (or even a full step) in front of the T depending on how difficult you want the drill to be (ask your partner to keep an eye on this as they need to let you know if you start to hang back a bit).
Your objective is to react and step across to volley your partner's feeds back to them with pace using a short punchy swing.
The tricky part is that you need to be certain that your first reaction is correct. Since you have such an aggressive and far-forward T position and since your opponent is playing either a straight drive or a crosscourt with pace for their feed, you get one chance.
If they fool you by shaping up for a straight drive but then hitting a crosscourt at the last minute, you'll have committed to moving in the completely wrong direction. Due to the fast-paced format of this drill, their crosscourt will be well past volleying by the time you realise you've been sent the wrong way.
It's absolutely vital for you to get your racquet up and prepared as early as possible for each shot, but you only need a very short punchy swing to get the ball to the back again.
Hopefully that all makes sense.
Needless to say, it's pretty physically demanding so you may want to take regular breaks and only do it for a couple of minutes at a time before swapping sides and positions with your partner.
So, why is it so beneficial?
Well, I'll start with the point I mentioned at the beginning, it forces you to watch the ball and nothing else, which is something that often isn't taught or focused on in coaching.
If you watch what your opponent is doing and try to guess whether they're playing straight or crosscourt based on their body position, there's a good chance that they'll fool you. You don't want to leave things completely up to chance, especially if your opponent is very deceptive.
If you just face the front wall and don't watch the ball or the other player (which is a very common fault amongst club-level players), there's no way you'll be able to react to the ball in time, especially when they hit it with more pace.
You absolutely have to watch that ball at all times, from when your opponent is hitting it to when you are hitting it (as you want to try to maximise your chances of hitting the sweet spot too).
The next benefit to this drill is mentioned in the title of the aricle, it works wonders for your reaction speed.
Honestly, I know I've already said it, but I want to say it again, I noticed a very clear improvement in my game after incorporating this drill into my regular training.
Since the T position in this drill is so aggressive (on or in front of the T line), when it comes to an actual match situation in which you'll generally be stood a step or so further back than that, you'll find it a lot easier to react fast and capitalise on volleying opportunities, which leads me onto the third benefit...
This drill really encourages you to play a more aggressive, attacking style.
With your boosted reaction speeds, you'll find it easier (and more tempting) to attack with a volley and maintain that dominant, positive T position throughout the match, rather than just passing up opportunities and letting your opponent get the T.
If you do this drill on a regular basis, this positive, offensive playing style will become more and more ingrained into your game until it's muscle memory.
Another bonus is that, since your partner is feeding with pace, you don't need to put much energy into the ball to hit it back to them with pace. So you'll be volleying with a short punchy and arguably very deceptive swing too!
Of course, as I've mentioned, the drill is pretty physically demanding, so you might not be able to do it for long periods of time at first, but the more you do it, the better you'll get.
Like all good drills, this one can be altered and changed to suit each player's standard as well as their goals.
I already mentioned that the T position can be altered, if you're finding it a little easy, perhaps you should step forward a little more, or, if it's a bit difficult and you need to move further back, you could always use some coloured tape to mark a line that you can't move behind that suits you.
Once you've got used to the drill, you could start adding in different shots for the player on the T. While the feeder sticks to just straight and crosscourt feeds, the player on the T could also add in the crosscourt, the lob (to practice changing pace), or even the drop shot.
If you've got a third player, you could add a second feeder to the other side at the back of the court and rotate every minute or two.
Don't be afraid to get creative with it!
Last but not least, it's always good to make a drill more competitive and there are a few ways to add in scoring to this one.
You could place targets down for the player on the T to aim for (and they get a point each time they hit it).
You could say that player on the T has three lives and loses a life each time the feeder tricks them and sends them the wrong way.
You could play it like a conditioned game where the player on the T has to hit everything to the back of the court (first or second bounce behind the T line) or they lose the point.
The possibilities are endless!
Anyways, I hope I've sold this one to you. I think the hard part for a lot of players is finding a partner who's willing to do drills like this, as many players would just prefer to play friendly matches instead.
But, I'm sure that you'll find someone who's looking to step their game up with drills and training if you just ask around your local club.
If someone doesn't sound keen on trying it, just tell them to read this article and hopefully, it'll change their mind!
Please drop us a message if you do try this one out and let us know how it goes.
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