After looking through past articles, it dawned on me that I'd never really focused one on solo squash and solo drills.
I recommend drills pretty often in blog posts, but they're generally pairs drills that require a training partner. I have mentioned the odd solo drill here and there, but, I think the topic is worthy of its own article.
I know firsthand that it can be very hard to find another player who wants to do drills with you, especially since club-level players often prefer just doing friendly matches, I've been guilty of this in the past too.
But, for those of you who are serious, motivated, and keen to work on specific areas of your game and ultimately improve your squash, then drills are vital.
If you're one of those people who struggles to find a training partner, or, if you're keen to do some more solo practice anyway, then this article is for you. I'll be listing the different aspects and areas of squash and then giving some different ways to work on those areas on your own.
Just a quick note before I delve in, I'm going to try to structure this article in the chronological order of when each area would be practiced in a solo training session.
This way, you can add elements and shots from the previous area that you worked on to the next area in the form of drill sequences (hopefully that makes sense).
Of course, if you practiced all six areas below in one session, it's going to be a pretty tedious 40 minutes / 1 hour. I would say that solo training is most effective in shorter bursts, spending ten minutes or so on a certain area before switching to another, and only working on two or three areas per session at most.
But, if you choose two or three of the areas I will cover, I would advise doing them in the order I have them in below.
At the end of the article, I will also briefly go through my tips for planning a solo session and building it up as you go along.
Straight drives are the core shot in squash, pretty much every rally in squash will majoritally consist of drives.
Just hitting drives back to yourself when solo practicing is actually a very good way to work on your drives, but only if you do so with purpose, this is an absolute must.
I see a lot of players just jump on court and crack balls back to themselves with no real idea of where they're aiming or what they're trying to improve. If anything, this actually brings bad habits into your game.
This is why I'd again say it's essential to use targets.
A sheet of A4 paper is ideal, as the ball will still bounce normally if you hit it, so you can carry on hitting drives afterward.
Another thing you can work on is your pace.
Start off by just hitting softly with height, get used to that and place your target a little further back to compensate for where the ball will need to bounce too.
Then move your target forward (to around a foot behind the service box and tight to the side wall) and hit with medium pace around service line height on the front wall.
After that, start hitting harder and lower with your target moved another foot forward, maybe aiming a little under the service line too.
If you're feeling very confident with this, you can put down three targets and start mixing up all three pace variations.
Another way to make it a little more engaging while tracking your improvement is to incorporate a counting system. Count how many times you can hit your target in two minutes, then try to beat it the next time around.
Of course, you need to do this on the forehand and backhand sides.
Another area that is often neglected is lengths from the middle and front of the court. To practice this, just stand on the T then feed yourself a shot that lands two or more steps in front of yourself and hit your drive from there.
Of course, this is a little more stop-start in comparison to the drives to the back since you have to keep getting the ball from the back but, it's still an essential aspect of lengths that should be trained.
I would say that all of these lengths drills are ideal for players of pretty much any standard. You will see professionals doing similar solo practices, however, players who are newer to the sport can also do them as well.
Now, I actually covered volleying in our last newsletter (which is available on our blog if you're interested in learning more, but make sure to come back to this newsletter straight after).
I mentioned two solo drills in that article and they are two of the best in my opinion, so I'm going to quickly go through them again here.
You basically start standing a few steps back from the front wall hitting short volleys back to yourself against the wall, then once you're in a rhythm, you then take a step back after every five (or so) volleys.
If you miss a shot or let the ball bounce, then you have to start again from the beginning.
As you get further and further away from the front wall, the volleys will get harder and harder to control. You should be hitting all of these volleys as straight as possible, 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.
The other solo volley drill I mentioned in that newsletter involves standing with one foot always in the service box and repeatedly hitting 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.
See how many you can hit in a row before making a mistake.
If you're finding this one a little too easy, then maybe start to experiment with pace a little more. Lift with some height and give yourself more time, or, start hitting a little harder and lower to challenge reactions and accuracy more.
The other drill that is often associated with volleying is the figure of 8 drill, however, I'm going to cover that drill in the 'Angles' section a little further down, because I believe it's more applicable there.
These two drills are perfect for intermediate to advanced level players, however, if you're more of a beginner and looking to work on volleys, then just standing by the side wall and keeping as many volleys up in a row as possible is a very beneficial drill.
Make sure to do both the forehand and backhand sides.
Drops & Volley Drops
The straight drop is one of the most effective winners in the game, but, like any attacking shot it carries some risk and if you don't hit your drops accurately it can give your opponent big opportunities to put you under pressure.
Now, this may be a slightly controversial opinion, but I don't think that standing very close to the front corner and hitting drop after drop after drop back to yourself is a very effective solo drill.
You just end up moving closer and closer to the front wall after every shot until you're basically standing right next to the front wall where it's very easy to hit just a few centimetres above the tin without much effort.
I do see a lot of players do this, but I don't think it mirrors a realistic game situation very accurately (nobody plays that many counter drops). It also doesn't really allow you to practice proper technique (lunging in, swinging through the ball, and pushing back out).
Instead, the best way to solo practice drop shots is with a basic feed and then a drop.
Stand on the T and hit a soft feed (any height above the service line will work fine) that lands a couple of steps in front of yourself, then move in, lunge, and play your drop shot.
Again, try to put a target down if you have something you can use. An A4 sheet of paper works great, just place it on the floor against the side wall a few couple of feet away from the front wall.
You should be able to hit this target more consistently than your straight drive targets, so again, use that timer and see how many times you can hit it in a minute.
After this, start mixing up your feeds a little. You can try feeds that come back out toward yourself so you have to move back (rather than forward) before playing your drop.
You could try hitting a very high three-wall boast from the back corner then using that fluid movement to move into the front and play your drop shot.
You can also add in cross court drop shots too. This isn't a particularly common shot but an important one to have under your belt nonetheless.
A great sequence to try out is drive, drive, drop. Hit two deep straight lengths back to yourself then play a drop from the back of the court, then go and collect it and repeat.
Make sure not to forget about volley drops either. The drill is pretty much the same, just stand on the T and feed for yourself, but this time feed with enough height to take a volley drop in.
Experiment with different slices, angles, and paces, and use those targets!
Then you can incorporate another sequence in which you hit two or three volleys back to yourself and finish with a volley drop.
Angles & Crosscourts
This is where everybody's favourite, the figure of 8, comes in.
For the figure of 8, you stand on the T and hit forehand then backhand shots into either corner on the front wall (landing front wall side wall each time).
It's a great way to get used to hitting angles and figuring out how the ball bounces out of the corners, plus, there are so many ways to build this drill up.
You can start by letting the ball bounce after each shot, giving you time to think about where your next shot is going to go.
Once you're used to that, you can start volleying figure of 8s, again experimenting with different paces, heights, and angles.
Then, as you get more advanced, another progression is to start hitting into the same corner more than once in a row, for example, hitting into the front left corner twice and then the front right corner twice. Or, you can go one step further and using the back two corners
It's hard to describe these progressions in words without it getting too confusing so I've included an older video of me messing around with the figure of 8 a little further down, in the second half of that video you will see me hitting with some different sequences. Check that out below if you want some inspiration.
The figure of 8 can get pretty intense and takes its toll on your wrist, so don't spend too long on it if you're going to practice it.
Another more relaxed drill for practicing cross courts involves another sequence, this time it's drive, drive, cross court.
So, hit two deep straight drives back to yourself, then hit a deep cross court into the other half, move over to that side to retrieve it, and hit two more drives then another cross court.
Like I've said, use those targets and experiment with different heights and paces when you get more and more comfortable.
Kills & Nicks!
Ah my favourite part of solo training!
There's nothing more fun than just going for crash nicks and kills.
A crash nick is generally a cross court shot that is played at a medium to hard pace very low into the front corner. Ideally, the crash nick lands in the corner where the floor meets the side wall and rolls out, making it impossible for your opponent to retrieve.
Standing on the T (or maybe a small step or two further back is a great position to practice crash nicks), feed yourself a high, soft shot, and then just try out slamming it into the opposite corner.
It's definitely a more advanced shot, so don't expect to hit it perfect and accurately every time. It's also not a shot you will be playing often during matches, maybe once or twice per game at most, but, it's just another good one to have under your belt.
Once you get a little better at hitting nicks when you have plenty of time on the ball, you can merge nick practice with the figure of 8 drill.
It's pretty simple, instead of feeding yourself for the next volley, just go for a cross court nick instead! In the video above I do this around the 20-second mark.
When it comes to kills, these are also played low and hard, but, they generally bounce twice very fast (before hitting the side wall, or without hitting it at all). They can be played straight or cross court, but straight is much easier.
Similar to above, feed yourself a high, soft shot that's loose from the side wall, then volley it low (ideally just above the tin) and at a high pace, with the aim of it bouncing twice fast and close to the side wall so it's tight for your opponent to retrieve too.
Try not to think too much into these shots or get stressed when you're not hitting them accurately, they are best played when you are relaxed but confident.
It's very easy to get frustrated when your winners aren't landing where you want them to, so, if you find yourself getting angry, maybe it's time to move onto something else...
Movement usually comes at the end of training sessions because people dislike it so much that they put it off right till the end. Then they come to the inevitable realisation that it's important to practice and they may as well just get it over with.
Most people hate working on movement because it generally doesn't involve hitting the ball (which is the fun part). But, it is of course essential, and you're reading this newsletter because you're serious about improving!
There are ways to work on your movement while hitting the ball, but, they are much easier to do when you have a training partner to hit with so you can have time to focus on moving back to the T after every shot.
When training solo, it's a little more difficult.
The most obvious method of working on movement is also the best method, and yes, unfortunately it is ghosting.
This is essentially re-creating the movements that you make from the T into each corner of the court during a match (and then moving back to the T), but doing so without a ball.
You can use ghosting to work on either speed or efficiency.
If you're looking to move faster with more explosivity, then my favourite drill is a timed one. If you've got a watch with a timer or a phone, either will work fine.
The idea of the drill is essentially to start on the T and, after you start the clock, you move as fast as you can into a random corner of the court, touch the corner, then move as fast as possible back out to the T (try to stay between 80% and 100% of your maximum speed for as much of this drill as possible).
You have two options with regard to the timer, you can set a minute timer and do as many ghosts as you can in one minute, or, you can see how long it takes you to do a certain amount of ghosts, then try to beat that the next time around.
It's important to keep the corners you move into as random as possible as it's easy to fall into the trap of making the easy movement patterns where your momentum carries you into the next movement.
If you want to improve faster, it's important to mirror a real match situation as much as possible, and, in a match, you never know which corner you're going to move into.
Also, make sure to use six corners rather than just four. What I mean by this is that, for just four corners, you would just be moving into the front left and right corners and the back left and right corners.
For six corners, you would incorporate the lateral movements to either side of the T to touch the side wall, this imitates the movements you make when you want to intercept a volley.
Of course, ghosting to work on your explosive speed is pretty physically demanding, it's important not to overdo it otherwise your movement might suffer. I used to do three or four sets of fast ghosting with my coach at the end of our training sessions and it would absolutely kill me.
Next up, if you're interested in working on the efficiency or fluidity of your movement, then you need to slow things down a little with ghosting.
You might be somewhat happy to hear that the style of ghosting isn't too physically tiring (or at least it shouldn't be).
The best approach for this is to do very slow-paced ghosting from corner to corner, practicing different corner-to-corner variations throughout.
But, rather than running right in and touching the corner like the previous drill, you should be lunging in and swinging and then moving back out in a slow and controlled way. Do this for a minute or two, then stop and reflect on what you might need or want to improve.
If you've got something you can use as a marker (like cones or even bits of paper), this will help you mark where you would be making contact with the ball in a match situation.
There are lots of tweaks you can make to improve your efficiency and fluidity and that's why it's important to slow it down and maybe move at around 50% of your maximum speed.
You might want to work on your 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.
You might want to work on the number of steps you take to get to the ball or the leg you lunge in on.
You might want to work on your movement back to the T and making sure you're not being lazy with your positioning. All of these require careful thought to improve.
The objective of this drill isn't to tire yourself out, it's to make those necessary tweaks, practice them, and allow them to integrate themselves into your movement pattern so you eventually don't have to think about them.
If you're aware that your movement needs some work, but, you don't know what it is, then I would advise recording yourself ghosting on video and then watching it back.
You can either ask another player at the club or coach to give their thoughts, or, you can look to the pros and watch some professional matches to see how the best of the best move to and from the ball.
Tips For Planning The Full Solo Session
So, out of those six areas above, I would advise only working on three per session at the most, giving yourself plenty of rest time between exercises too.
Usually, when done right, solo sessions are more mentally draining.
This is because, in order to improve in solo sessions, you have to be 100% focused and concentrating on everything you do in order to be aware of what you're doing wrong, what you're doing right, your technique, and your shot accuracy.
Other than the faster-paced ghosting exercises that are generally done at the end, solo sessions shouldn't be too physically strenuous. They're a time to slow things down and think about the smaller details that you need to improve technically, or, to become more consistent with hitting your targets.
So, once you've picked the one, two, or three areas you're going to work on, then you can plan timings and which drill progressions you will do.
There are countless ways to progress drills throughout the session so feel free to take my recommendations from this article and then get creative and mix things up as much as you want.
Toward the end of your solo session, you can start mixing things up and trying out new shot sequences, these are a great way to practice more than one shot in the later stages of a solo session.
It's just important to start off slow and build things up as you go along. Don't just jump on court and start going for nicks right off the bat because you'll not really be improving anything this way.
My last tip, if you're serious about using targets regularly and tracking your progress, make sure to make a note of your results (e.g. how many times you hit targets within a certain amount of time). It's very easy to forget these things!
Anyway, hopefully this post has been helpful!
Please feel free to get in touch if there are any specific topics that you would like me to cover in future posts too...
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