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.

Don’t Boast Too Much

I remember reading that Geoff Hunt said that you should wait until the tenth time you wanted to boast before actually boasting.

Of course, the game has changed a lot since then but it is still good advice.

I also remember watching a match between James Wilstrop and Nick Matthew, where James didn’t play one boast until midway through the second game.

The reasons could be many; Nick is very good at moving forward, James’ boast are easy to read and/or not as good as they could be, the court made boasts a bad shot to play etc.

What that shows is that all advice should be taken in context. The context of your skills ON THAT DAY, your opponent’s skills ON THAT DAY and the situation, which includes the court and its condition (temperature etc) and the importance of the match.

That said, trying to avoid boasting is a good thing to try to practice as it will force you to play better drives to the back and also work on your straight short game.

Try it and see what happens.

What is the difference between strategy and tactics?

What is the difference between strategy and tactics?

Put simple, strategy is what you want to happen and tactics is how you are going to make that happen.

If I were to play against anybody under 40, I know that it is unlikely I would be faster or fitter than they are. So my strategy would be to try to take away their physical advantage. My tactics would be to slow the ball down and use the full width and height of the court.

I need a way to make my skill more important than their fitness and speed.

Easier said than done, of course.

Strategy might include tiring out an opponent, forcing them to make mistakes, rushing them, confusing them etc.

Tactics might include deception, fast, low boasts, more volleys (even at the risk of tiring myself), variety of height and length.

Strategy is more long term, whereas tactics might vary over each game.

There is also the point of yours and your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses.

Sometimes changing your tactics each game is important, but the problem is that knowing when to change tactics and when to stick with what you are doing is more art than science.

Remember, think about the best overall strategy to win a match and then start to consider tactics that will achieve that objective.

Hit at 80% your Maximum Power during Matches

Hit at 80% your Maximum Power during Matches

Set aside at least 2 minutes every solo or group training session to hit the ball as hard as you can for as long as you can.

During the match, you will probably be hitting the ball at 80% you maximum most of the time. The rest will obviously be either faster (less often) or slower (more often).

What’s important is building up your power but a power that can be sustained for all of the match.

But power alone is useless without control and that’s why you should be hitting at 80% most of the time because that power level allows you to still control the ball.

With your practise sessions of hard hitting, over time you will be able to hit the ball harder WITH control.

That 80% might eventually be more powerful than your current 100%.

2 minutes might not sound long but I guarantee that you WILL be tired.

Over time increase that to 3 then 4 minutes etc.

Forget The Score

Forget The Score

One of the best times I have every played was when I completely forgot the score. In fact, I specifically remember winning a rally and picking the ball up to serve and watching my opponent walk off court.

I looked at the ref and heard him say “Game to Herga” (In those days you used the name of the club not the player).

Should we play differently because of the score?

In general, I don’t think so. If it is the right time to attack, then it is the right time, irrespective of whether you are 10 – 0 up or 0 – 10 down.

You could easily argue that you need to play defensively when you are close to losing a game, but perhaps that attitude got you down in the first place!

The actual score certainly makes a difference to motivation and drive but for most club players the score should be a secondary result.

Your first objective is to choose the right shot. Well, actually, it’s to watch the ball hit your strings, but you know what I mean.

Traffic Light System of Shot Selection

Traffic Light System of Shot Selection

I like my students to have a shot selection system that they easily understand and can be used in matches.

It’s called the traffic light system.

You have probably guessed how it works already. Each moment has three potential states: Attack (green), Choose (amber/yellow) and Defend (red).

Over various coaching and training sessions, the student begins to clearly identify the Attack and Defend situations.

The Choose situations are by far the most difficult to get right because they often depend on more elements and minor elements than the other two.

For example, if your opponent plays a weak shot and you are in good position, then that is a potential Attack shot.

Whether you decide to attack or not is another matter but identifying the Attack position is easy.

Same goes for the Defend shot. If you are under pressure and need time then it is clearly a Defend shot.

Now imagine that the ball is a couple of ball widths away from the wall, it’s not moving too quickly and you are on the T. What is this? Different levels of players call it different things.

In fact, the less-able players often call it Attack more than the better players, which is incredibly interesting.

The use of the exact words of Attack, Choose and Defend is also open to a lot of interpretation.

There is also the point that the majority of drives down the wall are actually Attack shots disguised as Defend. You have little chance of losing the point directly from these shots but you might also be fortunate and get a weak return.

In essence, the higher the level the more polarized the shots come: they are either Attack or Defend.

Vary Your Speed And Height

I can’t find the clip but I remember watching a match between Ramy Ashour and Gregory Gaultier. In one moment, Mr. Ashour was in the forehand back corner and played a crosscourt, but he hit it with a little deception and slower than he had been.

The ball came towards Mr. Gaultier and he mis-timed his straight drive and it dropped short. Mr. Ashour stepped forward and killed the ball in the nick.

Mr. Gaultier walked to return serve and you could see by his manner and facial expression he was angry with himself.

For me that’s a great example of how varying your speed can cause your opponent to play weaker shots.

Imagine this: You start playing somebody and that person hits the ball really hard all the time. At first, especially if you are not sued to it, it is a rush and difficult for you, but over time you get better and better at reacting to the shots.

This is a natural thing – the body adapts. It’s how we get fitter, faster and stronger.

What smarter squash players do is constantly and consistently vary the height and speed of the ball. Not by much, I’m not talking about smacking it one moment centimetres above the tin and then floating it centimetres below the outline the next.

Slight variations cause more problems to players than big ones.

It takes practice to keep good length and keep it tight to the wall but it’s worth doing. Essentially, you are trying to break your opponents rhythm.

One more thing.

Once you become better at this, playing defensive shots also becomes easy. You will feel comfortable slowing the ball down when you NEED to after having done it when you CHOOSE to.

Lastly, if you are curious as to why I referred to them as Mr. Gaultier and Mr. Ashour it is because I don’t know them personally and I feel that’s the right way to address somebody you don’t know.