By Richard Millman, Owner-The Squash Doctor Corporation
Practice is of course one of the keys to improvement. And what you practice will determine how much you improve.
In recent articles I have been trying to emphasize ‘Movement’ over ‘Shots.’ This is not to say that shots aren’t important—they are extremely important. But the essential principal of the game is to think ahead of your actions and to make sure that you position yourself in a location where you are ready to cover any of your opponent’s possible options. This requires movement that achieves your objective of ‘being in position’, long enough before your opponent strikes their next shot to be able to prepare yourself to move to recover and redirect it.
This ‘thinking ahead’ business is a great driver of the design of conditioned practices and games.
In all developmental aspects, we seek to produce progressions that allow the players/ students to master a concept without over complication. We then gradually add one or two more variables and practice that until we achieve automation. We ‘see’ the world and new ideas in particular with our conscious minds and must use the conscious mind to interpret the ideas and how to implement them. Sadly, as compared with our subconscious or automatic mind, our conscious mind is rather feeble and not good at instantly assessing appropriate thoughts and consequent actions. It is, therefore, necessary to practice in order to progressively transfer the ‘manual’ implementation of the conscious mind to the ‘automatic’ behaviors and implementation of the subconscious mind. This we do by using conditioned games and practices that are relevant to the specific goals we have in mind.
I have mentioned previously the simple solo drill: ‘boast/cross-court’. Once you can do this drill consistently (25 shots or more each side) you are ready to make a progression to more complex drills and games.
Here are some suggestions:
Drive, Drive, Boast
Before you start, tell yourself that this is going to be a movement drill and not a shot practice—so that you stimulate the myriad muscle fibres in your legs to be ready for dynamic movement before you hit each shot. Think about moving into position to cover your partner’s next shot as part and parcel of executing your own shot. And make sure you don’t just do this for your first shot. Force yourself to keep thinking before you try and hit each ball.
Working with a partner, follow the pattern of: drive (player A) drive (player B) boast (player A), drive (player B) drive (player A) boast (player B).
Once you have this going reasonably well as a drill, try it as a game. Start the rally by using the first drive as the ‘serve’. You start on the right and always serve on the right. If your partner wins the rally, they serve on the left. Drives must land in the channel and over the short line (or you can use a ‘half-channel’ if you are playing tight) and boasts in the opposite front corner. Play up to 15 points PARS. Your main objective is to try and out-maneuver your opponent while, at the same time, maintaining your position. To do this, focus on your movement and vary the pace of your shots.
Cross-court (lob), straight drive (volley), boast (volley-boast)
The words in parentheses are my suggestions as to what you should ideally be trying to do. This game/drill is one of my personal favorites. Many years ago when I played on the tour, I was fortunate enough to travel with some great players. When we didn’t have a tournament game on a given day, we would practice twice a day for two or more hours at a time. This game became a standard and, sometimes, one game would last close to an hour with rallies in excess of fifty shots very common. It is a real battle of wits and wills as you attempt to out-maneuver your partner with subtle adjustments of height, pace and movement.
Again, focus on movement right from the start. The first cross-court is the serve (which you should commence in the service box). Make sure that you are on the move as you strike the cross-court (lob) and that you choose a pace that allows you to move into position and be waiting for your opponent’s straight drive (volley) in plenty of time before they hit. Also make sure that you remain physically at-the-ready and don’t settle into a sedentary state when you get into position. Then be looking for the opportunity to intercept the opponent’s straight drive (volley) with a (volley) boast. Again, don’t just consider the shot, think about what movement you need to make to be ready for the opponent’s lob, which will result from your (volley) boast and think about being ready to intercept that with a straight (volley) drive.
Play up to 15 points on one side PARS and then play the other side.
Short above-the-line game
This is a test for even the most wily old veteran. The rules are as follows:
The ball must be played above the service line and must bounce before it crosses the short line. Players start each rally on opposite sides of the court with the server serving to the opponent’s side with a serve that strikes the front wall above the service line and bouncing in front of the short line.
The ball may be played anywhere in front of the short line during the rally. Players may only put one foot over the short line to retrieve a ball that has bounced in the front court (this rule helps players to work on movement and position by forcing them to focus on staying forward).
Again before you hit each shot consider where you will need to be positioned to afford yourself maximum and equilateral coverage of your opponent’s possible returns. Make sure you commence your movement while striking your shot and pace your shot to allow yourself enough time to be ready.
Play to 15 points, PAR.
Finally here are some other great movement drills/games:
Boast (volley boast). Drop, straight lob (drive)
This is a killer. Make sure you are in shape and fresh before you try this.
Full court above the line game
Same as the one mentioned earlier without the short restriction. Don’t get so caught up with attempting devastating short balls that you leave yourself vulnerable to the offensive lob. And when you lob, make sure your movement puts you in a position ready to intercept your opponent’s attacking volley to a length.
Straight drive, Straight drive (volley), cross-court drive (volley)
This is the pinnacle of strategic dominance games, with the player who holds the front position becoming the monarch of the court. Without cleverly combining your movement with your shots, you will find yourself consigned to the back of the court.
With all of these games, the key is to consider the consequences of your actions and to design shots that facilitate your movement into a strategically advantageous position. You can play as aggressively or defensively as you like, provided you are always ready for your opponent’s next shot before it’s played.
Good luck and move smooth!