Use Physical Targets

Use Physical Targets

I love using physical targets on court and I want you to consider using them too. For this article, I will not be going into details, just introducing the topic.

The first thing to talk about is the two types of target.
1. Those that allow you to continue the rally.
2. Those that stop the rally.

Let me give you some examples.

For the first type I often use a thin, narrow strip of plastic roll. The red and white “safety” one is my favourite. There are others but that fits the squash court colour scheme. I’ve tried to get hold of the “POLICE – DO NOT CROSS” version but it’s too expensive.

By laying this on the floor or in some cases sticking it on the wall, the rally can continue if the player hits it. For me, this is really important, especially at higher levels of ability. If players begin to think that a rally will end, just because they hit a target is bad. They will relax slightly and possibly not get the return.

This type of target also means that points can be awarded and that can add to the fun, especially if they are kept of a season of training.

The other type of target is the one that stops a rally. Essentially, this is a 3 dimensional target; a shoe, a racket, a ball, a box etc. If the ball hits this then it is normally impossible to continue. My two favourite versions of these are thin plastic pipes with insulating foam around them and a squash ball.

For my clinics, I often start the conditioned games with the thin pipes ALL along the side walls, from the tin right to the back wall. This gives players a very clear goal and even if you are a good club player it’s actually harder than you think to hit it and also confidence boosting when you do.

As the clinic day goes one, parts of the pipe are removed until these are only two short strips on each side, one for the dropshot zone and one for a great length.

The squash ball target is used for solo practice as hitting drives along the wall and being accurate is not too difficult for better club players.

To finish, I want to address potential drawbacks of targets.

Firstly, some coaches feel that by using targets you focus on the wrong aspect of the action: the consequences rather than the process.

I generally don’t use targets until I feel the student has a consistent technique. I don’t want them changing the technique early on,simply to be able to hit the targets. I prefer to work long-term.

Secondly, it is felt that by recording target hits you create unrealistic objectives. It is true that you will not be able to consistently improve the number of hits and you will have days when you can’t seem to hit anything. My counter argument is that as long as not too much pressure or importance is put on the records, there is no harm done.

Let’s recap.

Use targets to focus your attention on the location of your shots.
Start big and work your way to smaller.
A physical target is better than just a bit of coloured tape on the floor, but tape is better than nothing.
Be inventive. Try small balloons for serve targets!


Think Outside the Squash Court

Think Outside the Squash Court

Using squash courts cost money. That’s fair. if I own a squash club, I need to charge to cover my costs. When you play, you have to have a court, but what about fitness work?

I see a lot of fitness sessions on courts and there are some good reasons for that, but don’t let that mentally limit you, especially during the Summer.

You can doing ghosting sessions on any suitable surface. Many is the time I have taken some chalk and mini-cones and marked out a basic court shape and ghosted in the open air.

Clearly, the surface has to be flat and smooth, but that is the only requirement.

Changing the location of your training can make it feel fresh and new. “A change is as good as a rest” is a great phrase.

I am not suggesting this only for ghosting. Agility ladder, skipping, medicine ball, swiss ball workouts can all be done in places other than a squash court.

Look for places and opportunities to do your fitness work outside of the court. Not only might it save you money, but it will also keep your training fresh.

Stop playing your best shot

Stop playing your best shot
Before you continue reading, stop for a moment and decide what your best shot is. To be honest, I found that quite difficult to decide. Not because I have so many great shots but because they are all average.
In addition, your best shot might not be your favourite and separating your best from your favourite can be tricky.
Okay, so let’s assume you have decided. Why stop playing it?
One of the great things about playing in leagues, ladders and tournaments is that you face new and unknown players. They each pose different challenges.
What WILL happen at some point in the future, or has already happened, is that a player will negate your best shot.
Let me give you a personal example, but in this case I am the negating player. Back in the day, I played lots of graded tournaments, one a few, didn’t win most. There was a player who used to have a great low and hard forehand drive that took its second bounce near the back of the service box. Basically, if you didn’t hit it very early, it was a winner.
Luckily for me, I was pretty quick in lateral stretching and found the shot perfect for a flat drop or a boast if it wasn’t tight enough. The problem for my opponent was that this was his best (and favourite) shot and when that was negated he really didn’t have much else to offer – no disrespect intend.
Against most players it was a winner 90% of the time, so he never developed other areas of his game and that’s why I want you to stop playing your best shot.
It’s too easy to become dependent on shots like that.
When you stop using it, you have to improve other areas of your game. Of course, in important matches you must use it, but in practice games try to avoid it.
Over the course of this season, let’s see if you can have two “best” shots that compliment each other.

Buy some equipment for your training group

Buy some equipment for your training group
Previously, I wrote about starting your own training group. I want you to spend most of your time, doing routines, but it’s also possible to do fitness sessions.
I am a fan of trying new equipment out. Some are gimmicks, whilst others are really useful. As a coach I can justify spending the money because my students can use them, but I would still buy them even if I didn’t coach.
However, I know that individuals don’t always want to spend the money on something they might not use.
If your training group could create a small fund, you could afford to buy some equipment that everybody could use. Ideally, the club where you play would buy it for the benefit of all members, but not all club managers see the benefits..
Perhaps you play at a municipal run centre or other public area. In those cases, nobody is going to buy any equipment for you.
Sharing the cost means you get to use more equipment than if you just bought one thing yourself.
I’m not talking about hundreds of pounds worth of equipment, but something that you can take with you to the court.
Stuff like Swiss balls, agility ladders, medicine balls, targets etc.

Thought Experiment 1: Body Swap

Thought Experiment 1: Body Swap
Fitness is HUGELY important in squash but I believe that for the club player it is possible to spend too much time on it when other areas could bring more benefits.
Let’s do a thought experiment and see what happens.
Imagine two people: me, an aging coach who can’t play any more because his body is falling apart and a young professional squash player.
Now, through some sci-fi type machinery, I am going to move into YOUR body (which I sincerely hope is in better shape than mine!) and you are going to move into the young professional’s body.
We now play.
He is what I think will happen.
Let’s start with you in the new body. You will continue to make the same mistakes that you always have made because those mistakes are made by your mind and its habits not your body. Just because you won’t get tired as easily or can move faster doesn’t mean you will suddenly become invincible. Moving fast is only useful if you are moving in the right direction because anticipation plays a big role in movement and that comes from experience or talent.
At the end of the game or match you will be less tired but possibly more frustrated. You can get to the ball without being tired but has anything really changed?
Now let’s look at me.
I’m in your body. I have all the limitations that means. However, my “squash brain” is mine and my shot selection and “courtcraft” will probably be enough to beat the “other” you.
What I am trying to get across is the idea that making the right choices outweigh pure physical ability.
If you played smarter squash you could improve in a big jump quite quickly. Playing smarter squash IS related to your fitness but it should be the change of your game that drives the fitness NOT the fitness hoping to change you game.

Stretch But Not Just After a Training Session

Stretch But Not Just After a Training Session
I have stopped stretching after training! SHOCK! HORROR!
Stretching after a training session is done to remove toxins that accumulate during the session. For me, I found I was more likely to injure myself then than at any other time.
Now, I move and walk around for around 5 to 10 minutes after a training session. Cooling down slowly whilst ensuring I haven’t come to a complete stop.
I feel better for it. I have also replaced the stretching with a self massage via foam rollers and a roller stick (more on those another time).
However, one thing you should do is specific stretching sessions. This means doing 15 to 20 minutes of general aerobic activity to increase your core body temperature. It is now that you should stretch. Not when you muscles are tired.
Stretching is to lengthen the muscles allowing you to increase the range of movement, which in turn allows you to develop more power in your movement. It also means you are less likely to be injured.
Stop thinking of stretching as something you do for a few minutes after playing and start thinking of it as a proper session on its own.
Not only will it improve your squash but also your life.

Never More Than Needed

Never More Than Needed

Too many players hold their racket too tight. Is that possible you ask. Yes, one huge misconception about squash is that it is a “wristy” sport. It’s not, well not for club players.

It’s a forearm sport and whilst the wrist is moved by muscles IN the forearm, you don’t really want to bend your wrist.

You need to hold the racket tight enough so that when you make contact with the ball, the racket head doesn’t twist.

The same goes for flexibility.

Yes, stretching and being flexible IS important, very important. But you need the balance of strength WITH limited flexibility.

We’ve all seen photos, especially of Mr. Gaultier in an almost splits pose reaching for a ball at the front. It’s a wonderful shot and very inspiring. But he has enormous leg strength to do that and not get injured.

Being too flexible is just as bad as not being flexible enough.

One more point.

Upper body strength. Having strong arms, shoulders and a chest is important, but how do you think a bodybuilder would do in squash? Certainly no better than a professional, who are significantly weaker than they are.

My point?

Become as flexible and strong as you NEED to be but not more. Not only are you wasting time but you might also be creating problems for yourself in the future.

Playing Defensively and Micro Rallies

Playing Defensively and Micro Rallies
The better you get at squash, the longer the rallies. Better players make less mistakes, both mentally in shot selection and in the execution of the shots themselves.
What you will notice if you watch professionals play is that during some rallies one player seems to be in complete control and then all of a sudden it’s back to stalemate.
I call these micro-rallies. SquashTV presenters call it “Rally-Reset”.
Essentially, they are mini rallies within one larger rally.
It *can* happen in lower levels of squash, but not as often.
What is going on then?
Put simply, the player who is under the pressure manages to play a good defensive shot that takes the control away from the other player. This is often a deep, tight drive along the wall or possibly a lob but not always.
What tends to happen with lower levels of players is that the player under pressure is rushed into playing a “Do or Die” shot. If it works, they are a hero, if it doesn’t they lose the point. I bet you can guess which happens way more often. The problem is you remember the hero shots for a long time and very quickly forget the other 20 shots you missed.
What you, as a club player, needs to do, is learn when and how to play defensively. Slow the ball down. Use the full height of the court. Anything that takes the other player’s advantage away from them.
DO NOT smack the ball as hard as you can – that rarely works.
Playing defensively at the appropriate moment is a habit that you will need to develop over time, because you don’t have a lot of time to think about it.
Start today and make every shot count.

Sometimes it’s worth going to the extreme.

Sometimes it’s worth going to the extreme.

Every now and again, I suggest every 3 months, I like my students to pick a routine and do it for a full 30 minutes. That’s an extreme and you need to fully understand its benefits and potential drawbacks.

Firstly, the routine must be fully understood. I have mentioned that in a previous piece. If you are doing it incorrectly, doing it for 30 minutes would be cementing bad habits.

Secondly, it must be taken seriously. And by that I mean no joking about or chatting. Imagine it is a real match. Focus and try not to make any mistakes.

Thirdly, be prepared for a very tough session. To be honest, these sessions are all about mental strength and fortitude rather than only about the physical aspect.

Let’s take the most common pairs routine: Boast and Drive.

After ensuring that both players know exactly what they are supposed to be doing, including the movement involved. The session would start.

Here, I want both players to work cooperatively. Aiming to keep the ball going for as long as possible. Obviously, that is within certain limits, e.g. drives must be within the service box width and boasts must be two-wall and hit the front wall below the cutline.

Every 2 or 3 minutes, the players would swap roles.

I have had really positive results from doing this with students telling me that it made them feel mentally strong during tough matches.

Try it.

Start a training group.

Start a training group.

Maybe you belong to a club that has a coach or coaches and runs training sessions. If you do, great and I hope you make use of those sessions – at least sometimes.

If however, you don’t have that option, I suggest you make the effort to create a group of like-minded players and do it yourselves. It only needs to be once a week and if you have enough players, they won’t all need to go every week.

The idea is to have a regular slot, where you don’t simply play matches or games, but actually practice routines.

I understand that doing something like this yourselves can be a little daunting, mostly because you don’t know what to do, but nowadays, there are enough videos around for you to pick and choose your routines.

It won’t take long for you to see the benefits of these sessions and it snowballs – the more you feel the benefits, the more sessions you want.

I love training alone and squash gives us that option. But there is little doubt that training with other people makes you work harder.

The sessions you have don’t only have to be routines. They could be partly fitness sessions too.

One last point. You could occasionally hire a coach to come in a run the session for you. That way you can make sure you are doing the right thing and also inject some new ideas into your sessions.