By Richard Millman, Owner-The Squash Doctor Corporation
If you have a regular practice partner-or juts a regular game partner-it is easy to fall into the rut of simply playing games every week. Although this might be enjoyable, it doesn’t force you to step outside your comfort zone and ask yourself different questions which may lead to you developing new perspective.
One way of countering this is to split the session into half conditioned games or drills and half match play.
As I said in a recent article, movement is the key to the game of squash and while shots are important, they are only important in terms of their ability and effectiveness in facilitating movement and position.
An unfortunate side effect of learning shots before learning movement is that it skews the priorities that we might have in our minds. After all, if you are drilled in hitting the ball and subsequently told afterwards that you ought to think about position, it is only natural that you will first hit the ball and then think about position. Sadly, unless you ask your opponent to wait until you have regained your position before they hit the ball, this is always going to lead to you being behind the game, desperately trying to catch up.
To try and make this crystal clear, a few years ago I developed a solo movement drill to emphasize this. I have used it with players of all levels from beginner to world class pro and it is amazing how effective it is in isolating inconsistencies in thought process and sequencing. Even players of considerable experience often find it almost impossible, until they think through their idiosyncratic errors in thinking and organization. However, once a player has clarified the correct behaviors, the benefit to their game is almost incalculable.
I challenge you to attempt this simple solo drill:
Solo Boast/Cross-court movement drill.
Beginning on your forehand, stand a little behind the service box and prepare to do a two shot, movement drill which consists of a forehand boast and a backhand cross-court. This combination of boast/ cross-court will have you running the diagonal between the back of the forehand court and the front backhand corner.
If you don’t get the sequence between your movement and your hitting correct, you will struggle to maintain the drill for even five shots as you will find it impossible to be in position for your next shot. If, however, you get the timing of your movement right, so that you start your movement just before you hit your shot (and providing you consider what pace to strike the ball in order to benefit yourself), you will find it a very easy drill.
Be sure that you don’t lean away from the ball when you move away from the ball—your weight must be leaning toward it even though you are moving away from it—otherwise your weight and power won’t transfer to the ball. (Think of a towel snap: you are moving away from the target of your snap, but leaning toward the target…in order to deliver maximum pain!).
If you can control this rally on your own, then there is at least a chance you can control a rally when you have an opponent. If you are not in charge of a rally in which you are the only participant…well, I think you understand what I am saying!
If you perfect the drill at a slower pace, you will find it is an excellent mental and physical conditioning drill. If you and your partner want to train at the end of the session and you have both managed to accomplish the drill, five sets of one minute on, one minute off, are some seriously hard reps!
Once you have perfected this simple solo drill, there are some great drill games to make you think ahead and focus on building position.
Here’s a fun and very simple one:
Short Channel game
Using the width of the service box as ‘the channel’ the game is played on one side only with the ball having to bounce inside ‘the channel’ and in front of the short line. The server must serve the ball above the service line within the playing area already described. After that the ball may be struck anywhere within the restricted area. Play up to 15 points, point a rally.
If you hit a shot without considering where you will be standing after you hit it, you will find yourself out of position. If, on the other hand, as you did in the solo Boast/Cross-court drill, you organize your movement first and design your shot to facilitate your position, you will find yourself one step ahead of the game.
As I said at the beginning, it is easy to fall into a rut and just play every time you and your partner get together. On the other hand, you may be limited as to how often you are working out and may really want the exercise.
Here is a more demanding drill game that still requires movement to be well organized to be able to think ahead and control the game:
This is a great game that obeys the principles that I have been describing so far and also is a physically very demanding work out.
The rules are simple: Play a regular game of Squash with the exception that every shot—every shot—must be above the service line. The ball can bounce anywhere on the court, short or long. In this game, if you manage to maneuver the opponent to the back of the court, it is very tempting to try and play short (some of the key short shots in this game are—the reverse angle boast that drops very short, or a delicate drop or a soft regular boast) but if you play short without moving into position as you play your short ball, you will find yourself stranded as your opponent flicks the ball over your head or drives you long.
Again play up to 15 points, point a rally, unless you want a serious training game, in which case you can try games of 21 or event 30 points.
In either the Short Channel game or the Above-the-line game, if you are unhappy with your performance, go back to the Boast/Cross court solo drill and polish it until you can keep a rally of at least thirty shots going without losing your rhythm or position.
Remember, movement and position are the key elements and should be considered/organized first. Shots are merely a means to the end.