Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Stroke & Let when the ball bounces off the backwall

Let & Stroke the simple distinction

Video tutorial

Explanation of Let & Stroke when the ball bounces off the backwall

When the ball bounces off the backwall some potentially dangerous situations can occur, especially if the ball is in the center of the court.

Usually when the ball bounces off the backwall and in the center, at least a Let will always be guaranteed.
However for a stroke to happen two requirements must be fulfilled:

  1. There must be a Stroke-like situation i.e. your opponent must be in a position in which if you would make a shot that goes straight into the front wall you would hit him.
  2. You must haven't rotate when going for the ball.

The first requirement is fulfilled most of the time.

However it is the second requirement that will help you make the clear distinction between a Let and a Stroke when the ball bounces off the backwall.

Rotating while going for the ball means that even for a brief second you are not able to see your opponent, this means that you won't known where he is and by making the shot you could potentially hit him.

Instead if you don't rotate it means that you are aware of where your opponent is and by stopping you will gain a point.

This rule has been developed as a safety measure.

Generally a stroke off the backwall is awarded only when your opponent makes a really bad drive (that is in the center of the court) and then he just sits on the T.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Staling on the T and why you should walk throughout your squash match

Staling on the T

Staling on the T is the phenomenon in which you are arrived on the T too soon, i.e. before your opponent has make his shot, this causes you to plant your feet on the ground making it harder to move again in an efficient way.

By staling on the T you are more exposed to unplanned shots from your opponent and in the long run you will consume more energy because you are constantly wasting your momentum.

The reason why you stale on the T is that you tend to rush when moving on court. What I mean is that everytime you see the ball you instantly move toward it and as soon that you have done your shot you rush to the T.

Although this is surely a demonstration of willingness to put in hard work, moving this way will hinder your game on the long turn and this movement pattern is surely not the ultimate destination you want to go reach.

Walk and keep your momentum

Try instead to walk as much as you can.
Do this especially with long shots, and for shots that bounces of the side wall.
In fact whenever a ball goes out of the side wall, the more you wait for it, the more it will come to the center, forcing your opponent to back off in order to avoid a stroke.

Also try to move slow whenever you are heading back to the T, in fact if you move slow and keep directing toward the T what will happen is that when your opponent will actually make the shot you will still be moving, making it easy for you to head directly toward the ball and keep your momentum.

To wrap up here's a simple exercise for you:
  1. Try to walk as much as you can during a match
  2. Make sure to keep your momentum when you are heading toward the T.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Top mistakes on court movement

Problem and solutions related to court movement

Court movement is on the top 5 basic skills you need to develop in order to amp up your squash.
Lack of proper training get shown pretty obviously by the following mistakes.
  • Moving too much
  • Moving oblique
  • Going too near the side wall

Moving too much

Movement on court should flow and be as efficient as possible.
Probably the most hurtful advantage to a player who has a lot of stamina is the fact that he moves too much.

By constantly running a player can reach the opponent's shots, yet only by moving with complete control and uttermost efficiency can a player take control of the game.

When playing most players tend to run toward the ball just as an automatic reaction, instead try to plan your movement in a way that makes you able to reach the ball with the least effort and the most efficiency.

As i said often: Court movement is the skill of being able to move efficiently toward the ball in a way that lets you make a drive and eventually choose not to.

The habit of moving too much on court has many consequences: it cause the player to consume more energy, it forces the player to position himself in a way that is not optimal (which makes the shots inaccurate), it causes the player to rush to balls that he could otherwise reach without any effort (such as in situations that are related to the triangle theory, in which waiting causes your opponent to place himself in a position that is unfavourable).

Running too much causes also the mistake of staling in the T, which consists of a player reaching the T too soon, and then staying there with his feet on the ground, which causes to loose momentum and therefore causes the next sprint to be slower and more energy costly.

Solution: Take the effort of learning proper court movement, try to walk constantly instead of sprinting and stopping.
Move slower when you are close to reaching the T to make sure that you keep your momentum.
Realise that some shots are more effective if you wait on them.
Take big steps, especially the last one when reaching the ball.

Moving oblique

The tendency to go straight toward the ball has its maximum expression in moving oblique.
Whenever you move oblique you end up placing your body in a position that doesn't allow you much choice.
This movement pattern has many consequences depending on the level of the player.

At starting level this will force you to make every shot as a cross-court. You will always have your body slightly oriented toward the front wall and that will cause you to make a cross-court as i explain in the body shot theory.

At higher levels moving oblique will cause you to:
  • Reduce your precision because your body is oriented in an improper way.
  • Move too close to the side wall, especially against short shots (such as the drop), by moving oblique the last part of your swing will inevitably hit the side wall, making it harder to hit the ball.
Solution: You should move by staying in the center relative to the sidewall as much as you can and move toward the side only if the ball is good enough.

To make this movement trajectory a habit i suggest that you take a little amount of time every single time you go in the court to do some ghosting as I explain it in the court movement video.

Moving too near the side wall

As I've shown in the court movement video, the swing in squash should be done with an extended arm, this gives you the chance of reaching the side wall by doing only one step from the center.
However if you don't practice maintaining the proper distance from the side wall (as shown in the image below)

You will come too close to the side wall and smash your racket.
This is costly (for the racket), energy draining (as the time goes by you end up running twice as much as you should have), and it ultimately hinders the chances that you recover the ball.

Solution: Extend your arm and move toward the side wall. Place your racket against the side wall while maintaining the extended arm, now watch your front foot (left in the right side of the court, right on the left side of the court).
You must never move inside the area that is covered by the length of your arm.
To make this a habit try to do this simple reminder everytime you fail to recover a ball that is tightly near the side wall.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

The meta-game of squash

The tactic behind all the tactics - The meta-game.

When playing squash you definitely know how to move and play, also having a general knowledge of the tactics is important.
Yet there are some typically recurring situations that you have to be aware of.
What I'm referring to is not some sort of "content", the actual shots you play or the patterns you use, what I mean is that all squash matches go through some phases which I have identified as the following:

Begin: Study of the opponent.
Development:  Building the game/ Stamina challenge/ Asserting Dominance.
Closure: Keeping the nerves cool.

These are not defined by a specific moment, this are like big picture phases that occur during the game.

Beginning: Study of the opponent

At the early start you players don't know each other and have no idea what to expect. Even when you know a player, you should treat as if you had no idea how he plays, especially during a tournament match.

When studying the opponent you tend to play in a neutral style just to see where the boundaries are, to time your opponent's response time and generally his tactical style.

The two most important things you need to test against your opponent are his skills in being defensive and those at being offensive.
By understanding how he mixes those two facets of his squash you can categorize him as a:
  • Solid player
  • Sneaky player
  • Aggressive player
  • Defensive player
You will also be able to understand if he relies on running in order to keep himself in the game.
This is crucially important because against a great runner you can never take for granted that he is going to get tired, instead you should use the pressure to force some mistakes on him.

Development of the game:

During the development of the game both players will have a pretty accurate idea of how the opponent plays and what are the standard situation that results in a point been scored.
This middle part is where the game is actually played, because little by little one of the players is creating a gap that will inevitably result in him winning.
The gap I'm referring too is not based on the scores, it is a psychological gap.

In fact little by little one of the players is going to get the upper hand on the other not only by scoring more points or having more energy but also by having discovered more of the opponent's weak spots.
This process can be recognize when one of the players has a standard response to a certain situation, by understanding this mechanic you can use it to your advantage since you already know what your opponent is going to do.

At the same time as both players are building the game, another mechanic is taking place: The stamina challenge.

Except in rare occasions one of the players is going to have more stamina than the other. This forces the game into a particular dynamic: One of the players has to play quick points, whilst the other can go on at nauseam.

The fact that one player can last longer than the other will cause the least trained to be more aggressive and try to close more points.
At the same time, being more trained doesn't mean that you are going to be more accurate or smart in game, that's because even if you have more legs or breath you don't necessarily have more focus (even tho breathing properly cause you to have more oxygen in your brain, making you smarter and more accurate) this leaves the other player the chance of reverting the more trained player's advantage by forcing mistakes.

In fact the worst thing a highly trained player can do consists of forcing the rally to speed up.
If you have more stamina you can obviously maintain a high paced rally longer, yet by doing so you will give your opponent a chance to counter attack you and score quickly. Instead if you keep a normal pace and just wait for your opponent to make a mistake you'll have higher chances of winning and you won't risk anything.

On the other hand if you are the least trained player you should try to engage your opponent in quick rallies just to force him to make mistakes, allowing you to score quickly.

Obviously the more trained player will have the upper hand yet you can beat him at his own game by being smart and having great technical skills.

Sealing the deal: Keeping your nerves cool.

This bring us to the end of the match.
This is the time for the clutch comebacks and surprisingly long rallies with players that have no energy with the exception of the will to win.

For a deeply rooted psychological reason the last one or two points of a match have much greater importance than all of the others.

This has to do with our entitlement and our self-image, which determines what we think we should be able to do and what we think we can do.

Entitlement and self-image of course have a great importance throughout the match as they determine how are you going to perform in every moment of the rally.
That's because our mind tend to use concept as beliefs, self-fulfilling prophecies and habits to determine our behaviour.

Another factor is motivation, that is influenced by our skill, our likelihood of winning and our willingness to give it all (which is modulated by self-image and entitlement).

The last and more situational factor are the entitlement criterion: What we think we should have done (and have or haven't done) in order for us to deserve to win.

This are just some concepts that I'm surely going to expand in the future in order to apply them to squash and make sure you get the best out of them.

In the end keeping your nerves cool requires that you have the energy to play and the knowledge (whether it is proved by facts or sustained by belief) that you can do it. And, as always,  the only way to get result is to train and play hard.


Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Using the attacking boast

The attacking boast

Is a form of boast that has the purpose of scoring a point or forcing your opponent in the front corner.

The distinction between an attacking and a defensive boast consists of the trajectory of the ball:

  • In an attacking boast the ball is really low and it has the most speed possible, whilst a defensive boast is slow and high.

Learning the proper setting and target

Therefore to make a properly useful attacking boast you must learn the proper plate orientation and strength.
You can do this exercise by yourself (in the meantime working at your stamina and if you want on your drop shot), by doing boasts and drop shots, or with a partner, by alternating boast and cross-court.

Keep in mind that your target is the nick on the opposite side of the front wall.
Your boast should never bounce on the second side wall, otherwise it will give an advantage to your opponent.

The timing

On paper both boast and cross-court are weak shots. Those shots take more time than a drive to bounce twice, giving your opponent more time to react.
Yet those are the shots with which many players make the most point.
That's because by having the proper timing and possibly an ambiguous body language you can confuse your opponent and score quick easy points.

One of the most common situation is if you and your opponent are exchanging drives and you step toward the front wall and forestall the ball, in this situation if you don't make a volley you will probably be able to choose between a drive and a fast boast. This is the situation in which the attacking boast comes in hand.

What's my point here?

If you catch your opponent off guard by quickly changing your rhythm the attacking boast can be a really powerful shot.

I personally use the attacking boast often when i believe that my opponent is giving for granted that i will make another drive.
I think the boast is a really unbalanced shot and you should use it sporadically and not rely on it too much, even tho it provides a tiresome exercise for your opponent's knees, it has too many weak spot to be used constantly.