Technique: It starts with the feet!—Part 2

By Damon Leedale-Brown, Sports Scientist & Conditioning Specialist

In the last issue we talked about the importance of footwork and movement skills as an integral part of a player’s technical ability on the squash court.

When moving at speed onto a ball, the world’s best players may take a big stride into position, but notice how their back leg will move forward to help them recover balance, positioning on the shot, and their recovery out of the shot.
When moving at speed onto a ball, the world’s best players may take a big stride into position, but notice how their back leg will move forward to help them recover balance, positioning on the shot, and their recovery out of the shot.

A player with well-developed movement skills will be able to withstand higher levels of pressure on the court without a significant breakdown in their quality and consistency of shot compared to a player with poor movement skills and conditioning.

In this issue I want to start by taking a look at what could be considered as common movement errors observed in both developing and relatively high level players, and then in the next issue begin to discuss training solutions that can help any level of player to improve movement technique and footwork skills.

Movement errors:
• Turning into the back corners too early and following the ball into the back of the court
Quite common when a player is looking for the ball on the volley and, due to the quality of their opponent’s shot, has to move back to play out of the back court. Also tends to be seen when a player is turned by a ball hit across their body to length. In this situation it is common to see most inexperienced players moving in a very direct line towards the back corners, and getting sucked in too close to the side walls. The player then ends up facing the back wall and jammed into the corner with very limited options apart from a weak boast or flick out of the back.

Bodyweight still moving backwards when trying to play out of the back of the court
Obviously this is sometimes unavoidable if you are having to deal with a great attacking length played by your opponent where the best you can do is just try and get the ball back into play. However, there are many times when players are too late moving into position in the back of the court which severely limits their ability to be transferring body weight and momentum through the shot and forward in the court. Not only will this have a huge impact on the quality and consistency of shot, but it will also significantly delay the recovery time out of the back corners, and the subsequent speed of return to position in the middle of the court. In its most extreme version a player will almost appear to be falling backwards as they hit the ball, and often will open out of the shot so they finish facing the front wall but literally stand against the back wall!

• Slow recovery off the ball
This is easily observed out of the back of the court and is also a major problem area for many players at the front of the court. The issues out of the back of the court tend to be a result of poor positioning on the ball (as described above), resulting in little in the way of any flow out of the shot—and also the tendency for players to stand and watch their shot without moving. At the front of the court, issues can arise as a result of a player over-running the shot under pressure—lacking the strength needed to control their movement at speed and recover smoothly. Personally, I feel this is one of the biggest movement issues for most players— their inability, through lack of understanding and movement conditioning, to be continually moving on and off the shot with strength, balance, quickness, flow and efficiency. Watch players like World No. 1’s Nick Matthew and Nicol David and notice how quickly they move out of all corners and are back in position in the middle of the court ready to move onto the next shot.

• Poor spacing & positioning
To a certain extent this has already been highlighted in the movement errors described above. Other common positional errors include moving too close to the back wall for a full length shot. As the ball kicks off the back wall it then moves quickly ahead of the hips making it nearly impossible to hit a straight ball from the back. In this situation the ball will nearly always be pulled away from the side wall and towards the middle of the court.

Poor spacing is a common problem for players when they misread angles or simply get drawn across by the movement of the ball, especially on balls that kick out of the side wall. This is seen off a 3-wall boast and a wide angle to length where a player drifts across too much and then literally ends up trying to play the ball from under their knees as it comes off the wall. In the front of the court I believe that many of these issues can be resolved by a player understanding how to use early preparation of their racket to help judge spacing and create the right shape of movement onto the shot under different levels of pressure.

• Overreaching/taking too big a lunge into the shot
Again, a common error observed in many developing players is taking a huge last lunge into the shot. This is typically in positions where, with a little more effort and understanding of movement, they actually had the time to get into a more controlled and balanced position on the ball. I have also had situations where players have been encouraged by coaches to take a big last lunge into the shot and, at the same time, keep their back leg fixed in position. For most young players this is physically impossible, especially when moving with any real speed and momentum onto the shot. To even get close to achieving this requires a phenomenal amount of deceleration strength, mobility and body control. Players who try to follow this advice typically end up either falling through the shot, or having significant issues trying to recover from such an extended lunge position. The severity of movement trying to recover from such an extended lunge position is also putting a young player’s body at a greater risk of injury. Watch the World’s best players in action and notice that when moving at speed onto a ball they may well take a big stride into position, but notice how their back leg will move forward/drag in to help them recover balance and positioning on the shot, and also play a key park of their recovery out of the shot. The speed and amount of distance the back leg comes through will very much depend on the amount of movement pressure the player is under.

We could easily go into more detail on areas where movement errors create problems with shot technique, but I believe the aspects we have discussed above are the more common issues that the majority of players will experience. When you next play, try to be aware if any of these movement errors are creating problems with your consistency and accuracy on court, particularly against players that are putting you under a higher level of movement pressure. If it helps, video yourself playing so you can really study where your movement breaks down on the court, leading to compromises in your swing technique and control of the ball.