Learn to take the good with the bad.

Everybody loses sometime.

Everybody has an off day.

Everybody gets injured at some point.

Everybody gets ill.

Learn to accept those days, events and situations with grace.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep trying to win all the time, play your best every match, avoid getting injured and trying to stay health.

It just means that we are human.

Learn and grow from each experience and you will be a better person and player because of them.


Friday’s Practice: Straight Volleys Across the Court.

Friday’s Practice: Straight Volleys Across the Court.

Starting about 2 metres away from the frontwall and face the side wall and stand close to it.

start to hit some volleys to yourself (forehands if you are right-handed, backhands if you are left-handed).

Keep you writs firm and make the shoulder do the work. Hit about five and start to slowly move away from the sidewall but parallel with the frontwall.

When you get near the left sidewall wall, move a little further away from the frontwall and then start to move forward again.

All this time you should be volleying the ball.

If you make a mistake, go back to the beginning.

Your objective is to make it past the short line, so about mid court.

Advanced players should be able to make it all the wall to the back wall.

This is a touch exercise, both mentally and for your shoulders.

Give yourself 5 minutes break by doing something else and then try it on the other side.

Keep a not of how many volleys you do without a mistake.

Aim for a front corner when you hit off the backwall

Aim for a front corner when you hit off the backwall

I used to play with somebody who hit between 20 and 30 shots per match off the backwall.

Not out of necessity but because he chose to.

The problem was that because he didn’t need to, he had more time and better position than most players do when doing it and consequently was very good at them.

When you hit the ball off the backwall try to aim it so that it goes into the opposite frontwall corner.

Due to the spin of the ball (don’t worry you don’t have to try to hit any spin) when it hits the frontwall it will almost always go parallel to the sidewall.

So if you can make it hit the frontwall as close to the sidewall as possible, it’s actually possible to make it hard for your opponent.

Now, I fully realize that it’s easy for me to type these words but it’s much harder to do because if you are hitting it off the backwall then it must be a last ditch attempt to keep the rally going.

But as I keep saying: Hit every shot with intention.

Next time you get on court, try it and see what happens, you might be surprised.

Equipment Spotlight: Heart Rate Monitors

“Perceived exertion” is the formal name given to how hard you feel you are working.

It is notoriously inaccurate.

Knowing how hard you are working is very important for making sure you maximize your training.

Obviously, it’s possible to under-train, but did you know it’s possible to over-train too?

Measuring your heart rate is a tried and tested method to have a more accurate measure than how you feel.

That said, it’s still not perfect because it can be affected by so many outside influences, including time of day, temperature, humidity, general health of the exerciser, stress levels etc.

However, it is still much better than nothing.

You can purchase heart rate monitor from around 20 dollars/Euros/Pounds and these will often provide simple functions.

Obviously, the more you spend, the more functions you have. But don’t waste you money needlessly.

For your first monitor, the most basic monitor will probably be enough.

Besides displaying your heart rate, two features that I believe could be useful for new users are the idea of zones and average heart rate over the workout.

I won’t go into details here, but when exercising most people need to be between 60 and 80 percent their maximum heart rate (your estimated maximum heart rate is 220 minus your age). Some watches beep when you are above or below this zone.

I couldn’t exercise without my heart rate monitor now as I have become so accustomed to using it and I truly believe my workouts are better for it.

I can’t think of a cheaper and better method of ensuring you are maximizing your workout time.

One last thing, did you know they even have heart rate monitors for horses?

Those with Claws eat those with Hooves

You often hear about “being in the zone” and that refers to your level of focus but it can also refer to how aggressive you are.

I played my best squash when I was angry. Not angry enough to verbalize i.e. shout but very close.

Personally, I dislike the displays of aggression from any sportperson but in the heat of battle it’s hard not to let them overflow.

However, what I really want you to start doing is playing from the first point with the same internal aggression as you do when the score is 8-8.

In fact, a good practice is to start at 8-8 for a few games every now and then. It will teach you to not waste any points.

I was often too relaxed at the beginning of matches because I knew there was a long way to go, but I wish now that I had fought with the same intensity in the first few points as I did in the last few.

I can’t exactly say how you develop that skill, but start by finding out what your mental approach and state of mind is when you have played your best.

As I mentioned above, for me it was when I was angry but also had a clear gameplan that I could stick to.

Remember, nobody won a tournament for being too relaxed and friendly on court. I am not saying be rude and nasty to your opponent though.

Sure, you can be nice for a few points but you need to be motivated for 99% the rest of the time.

What I am saying is generate that fire in your belly from the first point.

Imagine a best of five game match where each game was one point only.

How hard would you try for those 5 points?

Play THAT hard for EVERY point!

Mental Imagery Exercise 6: Short Volleys

Mental Imagery Exercise 6: Simple Volleys

This is the sixth in a series of mental imagery exercises.

Ideally, you would have completed all the previous exercises before attempting this one. Not because you need to know anything from the previous ones but because it is a gradual process. Just the same as you wouldn’t start with trying to run a marathon your first day of training. You would increase the distance slowly. It’s the same here but with a focus on details rather than distance.

Allow me to review.

Firstly, let’s quickly define what Mental Imagery is.

Mental Imagery is the action of visualizing events in your mind. The benefits include greater confidence, ability to deal with adverse situations, better control of emotions and commitment to sticking to your gameplan.

A guided exercise is where somebody, perhaps your coach, sits down with you and talks you through the event and you, the player, imagines it happening.

This is a semi-guided exercise because you will read it first and then do it on your own.

For this exercise I want you to imagine everything from the first person – that is through your own eyes.

It may sound like the science fiction idea of learning in your sleep but it really works.

The objective of this exercise is:
1. To begin to notice the exact movements and feelings of hitting a ball.

This article is part of a series that will ultimately allow you to visualize yourself playing a tough match.

You should do this exercise at least 5 times before moving onto the next in the series.

Let’s get started. Please read the whole exercise slowly and carefully and when you are ready start begin.

Find somewhere comfortable to sit or relax. Somewhere with as few distractions as possible. Somewhere not too hot or cold.

Close your eyes and take 5 deep breaths.

Imagine you are standing just in front of the short line, either close to the wall or near the middle of the court.

Feel the ball in one hand and the racket in the other. Imagine how the grip feels. Is it a little sticky? Is it new or old?

Start to hit forehand volleys back to yourself.

Keep the swing short and controlled.

Feel the ball hit the strings and that vibration.

Listen to the sound of the ball hitting the strings and then the wall.

If you are near the middle of the court, start to, move close to the sidewall.

Imagine the ball touching the sidewall but you can still hit it cleanly and tight.

Move away from the wall towards the middle of the court, still hitting forehand volleys.

When you get to the middle, hit the ball across your body so you can hit backhands.

Hit about 5 volleys and then start to move closer to the wall.

Your shoulder is probably getting a little tight now. It has been working hard.

When you get close to the backhand sidewall, hit 5 more volleys and catch the ball.

Imagine yourself stretching your shoulders.

Start again, but this time do 5 more shots on each side.

Hunt for Volleys

I love volleying the ball.

I feel that it rushes the opponent and puts them under pressure.

Most club players only volley when the ball comes to them but I encourage my pupils to “hunt” for volleys.

Obviously, not every single shot but at last 5 more volleys per game than they normally play.

But number of volleys alone don’t win matches.

The volleys have to be good. Not necessarily winners, but a shot that poses a problem for the opponent.

Your first step is to practice volleys alone, then with a partner and then within practice games.

Keep you swing short and firm.

The next time you play, try to hit a few crosscourt volleys off weak straight drives. Aim for the sidewall behind the service box about a racket’s height from the floor.

If nothing else, “hunting” for volleys will make you more proactive.

Use The Serve Effectively.

Use The Serve Effectively.

Do you know why the first hit of squash is called the serve?

Well, in games that proceeded squash and tennis: rackets and real tennis, the first hit of the ball was not allowed to be too difficult for the opponent. If it was considered too fast or difficult, the receiving player could actually ask for it to be played again. Crazy, right?

Just as a side note, the first recorded lob in lawn tennis at Wimbledon is around the 1920’s I believe but they had been playing there since the late 1890’s.

Which means they played for around 30 years before somebody had the audacity to hit the ball over the head of the player at the net. It must have seemed outrageous at the time. How unsportsmanlike!

However, we shouldn’t let the roots of a name define our present attitude.

Don’t think about “serving the balls” but “starting the rally with the toughest shot you can play”.

The best first shot really depends on your opponent, but the minimum you should be aiming for is to stop them hitting a winner and ideally force them to play a weak return.

One small problem club players face in this regard is what the professionals do.

Watching on a screen never really shows how difficult their serves are. How often have you seen aces in squash. *Even after all these years in squash, I’m never sure if that’s the correct word for a winning serve!*

You also see many professionals hit fantastic nicks from serves and this can give the false impression that professionals just hit the ball without much thought to start the rally. They don’t.

I can guarantee that if you were to face their serves you would find them quite difficult to return well.

Almost all good serves hit the side wall before the returner has a chance to hit it.

A ball coming off the side wall is one of the hardest for club players to hit straight, that’s why so many returns for difficult serves are hit crosscourt.

When you serve make it as difficult as possible for your opponent to hit good return.

In fact, when playing practice matches, nake sure you go for some high serves, even if you hit them out – it’s worth the practice.

Fridays Practice: Variable Length Parallels.

Time to start a new min-series to join “Mondays Mental Imagery Exercises” and “Wednesdays Equipment Spotlights”.

From now on we will have “Fridays Practice” – a series of solo practice exercises.

As with all these articles, the practices assume you are a club player who has a basic command of the ball.

Variable Length Parallels.

It is better to start with a warm ball but this could be perform as a warm up too.

Standing just behind the service box hit a forehand drive back to yourself.

Do this 5 or 6 times and then move a step closer to the front wall.

As you move forwards, reduce the height and speed of the shot.

Again, hit 5 or 6 shots and move closer to the front wall.

Keep doing this until you are very close to the front wall, then begin to move towards the back wall.

As you move backwards, increase the height and speed of the shot.

Get all the way into the corner and hit 5 or 6 shots with the ball coming off the back wall.

That’s one Set. Do at least 3 sets on both sides.

As you get better, reduce the number of shots from 6 to 3.

Over time and with regular practice, you should be able to move forwards and backwards while completely controlling the ball.

The objective of this exercise is to learn how to vary your length with height and speed.

Never Get Thirsty

Never Get Thirsty

One piece of advice I give and live by is “never be thirsty”.

Drink small amounts of water at regular intervals.

If you are thirsty, that’s your body telling you that you have left it really late to drink.

It’s a delicate balance between rushing to the bathroom all the time and not drinking enough.

Your body NEEDS water to survive and being dehydrated, even a little, will significantly reduce your physical capabilities.

You will need to find the right amount of water for YOUR situation, but start today with at least 1.5 litres and adjust accordingly.

It’s such a simple topic but with a little effort can bring a real difference in your performance.

I have a sports drink bottle that I fill 4 times a day. I use that because it makes it easy to know how much I have drunk.

One last thing, it IS possible to drink too much but you would need to be drinking over 5 litres per day for that to happen, but that doesn’t mean you should be drinking 4 litres per day either!

Just be sensible.