Deceleration – The Art of Slowing Down, Part 2

By Damon Leedale-Brown, Sports Scientist & Conditioning Specialist

Following on from last month, let’s consider some training concepts designed to help improve a player’s ability to decelerate and control speed more effectively on the squash court.

A focus on deceleration and movement control can and should be integrated into two on-court training activities that most players and coaches are well familiar with:

1) Court Sprints
Typically court sprints focus solely on how quickly they are done, with no attention paid to technique. Players slamming into the walls and pushing off with their hands (not legs) and collapsing forward with the upper body as they come into the wall, is a common sight—but not a healthy movement for the lower back.

I encourage players to either only use a light touch with one hand on the wall (not a push off) or, if necessary, turn without even touching the wall with the hands. This requires the control of movement to come from the legs and core, and players have to be much more aware of decelerating in preparation for turning and pushing off in the other direction. I also make sure players alternate turning onto the left and right leg to balance out the load on each side of the body. Performing court sprints in this manner is more challenging but much more specific in terms of learning how to control speed and body positioning.

2) Ghosting
As with court sprints, ghosting is another traditional training exercise that I have seen performed very poorly. The control of movement and body positioning, along with the simulated hitting phase of the exercise, often bears little or no resemblance to what you should be aiming for during training or match play with the ball.

When you are ghosting, by all means focus on being quick off the mark from the middle of the court, but pay attention to how you decelerate to set up your position as you come into the phase of simulating striking the ball. Equally, you can focus on a powerful recovery away from the simulated shot, but think about how you slow down and control movement as you come back into the middle of the court rather than simply diving back to the ‘T’ and coming to a dead stop!

The use of visual cues can be helpful to some players—this can be as simple as placing half balls down on the court to simulate various hitting positions, or having the player visualize in their mind shots that are being hit from different areas on the court. I have seen some coaches call out shots as the player moves into position, or even have the player call out the shot they are playing.

Two other exercises that can really help the development and understanding of
deceleration and controlling speed are:

1) T-Line Runs:

  • Stand on the T-Line (mid court line) facing the front wall.
  • Accelerate as quickly as possible towards the front of the court, lunge onto your right leg and touch the top of the tin lightly with the fingertips of both hands.
  • Push out powerfully and backpedal to the T-Line.
  • Repeat but lunge onto the left leg at the front of court.
  • Try to avoid any excessive forward collapse with the upper body at the front of the court, and do not push off the wall with the hands.

2) Ball Pick Ups & Put Downs:

  • If possible, use 12” height cones that have a hole in the top so that a squash ball can be placed on top.
  • Place four cones on one side of the court each with a ball on top, and four cones on the other side of the court without balls.
  • As quickly as possible, take the balls one at a time from one side of the court across onto the cones on the other side ensuring that you always work through the middle of the court on each movement.
  • Take a few seconds break and then repeat to bring all four balls back to their start position.
  • Placing the balls onto the top of the cones puts greater emphasis on your ability to decelerate and quickly bring your body under control to ensure that the ball can be placed cleanly on top of the cones and does not fall off!
  • Obviously there are endless variations of this drill using different numbers of cones, changing the positions of the cones, and also using a variety of movement patterns. Be creative and think about tailoring this drill to work on areas of the court where you feel less comfortable moving in and out.