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.

Equipment Spotlight: Medicine Balls

Equipment Spotlight: Medicine Balls

If when you imagine medicine balls, you visualize dusty old boxing gyms, with faded posters on the wall and a few 100 watt bulbs spotting the place, then it’s time to bring you up to the present.

Forget those huge old leather medicine balls (although you can still get them), think small plastic versions.

I bought a 3kg one about 4 years ago and it was not much bigger than a melon.

Hard wearing and versatile, a modern medicine ball can be used for a variety of exercises, working not only for your core workouts but also your legs and shoulders.

The best place to look for exercises and routines is, of course, the Internet.

Start with a few simple exercises and increase the amount over time. I also recommend starting with a 2 or 3 kg ball until you feel much stronger. Unlike traditional weights, you will be throwing this around and 2 kg can have a lot of momentum.

All you need to do now is start singing the Rocky theme!

Go get’em Tiger!

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.

Mental Imagery Exercise 5: Short Drives

Mental Imagery Exercise 5: Short Drives

This is the fifth 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 continue 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.


As with the last exercise, this exercise actually requires you to do the real activity BEFORE you perform the mental imagery exercise.

Firstly get on court alone. Make sure you have performed a short warm up. I want you to stand about 3 metres from frontwall and about 2 metres from either sideawll.

Now step forward and start to hit soft shots along the wall. You are trying to keep the ball quite close to the sidewall and hit it hard enough so that you don’t have to move.

Try to hit 10 with no mistakes.

Now close your eyes and try to visualize exactly what happened in your mind. I don’t mean the ball has to bounce exactly where it did in real life, just the feeling of the swing and the sounds of the ball hitting your racket and the wall.

Repeat this process at least 5 times. Each time your mental process should be clearer and more detailed. The more you do this, the better.

Now more over to the other side of the court and do the same.

I fully understand this is a bit strange and you might get some funny looks, but be strong. This WILL make your mental imagery exercises better and therefore your improvement faster.

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.