Squash is often compared with chess. Being able to move your opponent around the court, attain a dominant position, and execute your strategy is the key to winning points, and ultimately, winning matches.
There have been times when I'll be playing a match and just hitting drives for the sake of it without putting much thought in at all, this is something I've tried pretty hard to rule out of my game over time.
Since I've put a lot of thought into this over my time playing squash, I thought that it would be a great topic for a blog post...
As a squash coach myself (although I haven't done a lot of coaching over the past year), one of the most common things I have to work on with beginner and intermediate players is that they don't really think about what they're doing, they just sort of go on court and hit the ball without any real intention or tactics.
As mentioned above, this is also an issue I've dealt with myself over time as well. It can be really hard to think about what shot to play, especially during the heat of battle. It's absolutely essential to integrate this area into your training.
The first step to knowing how to play the right shot, is thinking about why you play a certain shot in the first place. I remember when I was a junior player and I sat down with my coach and discussed this very thing.
My coach used to tell me that 'every shot has a purpose', which is obviously pretty subjective if you think too deeply into it, but, at a basic level, it makes a lot of sense.
Why do you hit a straight drive or a cross court drive? To push your opponent to the back of the court.
Why do you hit a drop shot? To attack and to make your opponent have to move from the back of the court to the front of the court.
It sounds so simple, but when it comes to a match situation, the pace, pressure, and intensity of a squash game quickly push these rational thoughts to the back of your mind, and that's when muscle memory takes over completely, and the endless drive battles with pointless boasts and drops begin.
There are a few drills and tips that are great at forcing you to think more about each shot and playing them with purpose.
One is a conditioned game (with 2 players on the court) in which the server has 3 shots to win the rally. It puts a lot of pressure on the server to use each shot wisely as they only have 3 to use!
It can get quite frustrating as it is a little 'stop start', but, it's more important to focus on the shots rather than winning the points. Try to think about where your opponent is positioned, where they might be heading next, what shot they just played, all of these things play a role in what shot would be most effective for you to play.
Image from PSA website
Something else my coach would do pretty regularly during our training sessions was, if we were doing some sort of competitive drill or conditioned match, he would stop the rally at random moments just after I'd played a shot, and actually ask me why I played that particular shot.
At first, I really didn't like this because I really just wanted to hit the ball and play rallies, but, I also struggled to give him an explanation for why I played that shot. However, after a little time, I felt like I was getting really good at telling my coach the reasons why I played certain shots.
The truth was, I wasn't necessarily getting better at explaining my shots, I was actually getting better at playing the right shots in the first place. It took a little time to take effect, but this little tactic really helped me play each shot with more purpose and intent behind it.
Taking this one step further, my coach also began video recording my matches and then watching them back over with me. He'd pause it at random points, again asking why I played a particular shot, what my intent was, what I was planning to do next. This really helped me up my game.
On a side note, filming your matches is incredibly beneficial for a number of reasons on top of what I mentioned above. Watching yourself play really gives you a unique perspective and allows you to critique your movement, your technique, your positioning, and of course, your shot-making!
Anyway, when I started writing up this newsletter, I was thinking about going through a bunch of specific match situations and what shots would be the right one to play and why, but, as I thought more about this topic, it became clear that explaining each individual situation wouldn't really help you guys learn anything.
The only way to get better at playing with purpose is by putting it into practice. So, with that said, please try out those drills and try to make each and every shot you play is played for a reason, and not just for the sake of it!
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