Lessoncourt: Movement and Shot Mechanics

By Richard Millman

The longer I study this game, the more I realize how subtle— and almost invisible to the eye—are the essential elements of control that are required to maximize one’s efficiency.

The difference between a player striking the ball one hundredth of a second before they start their recovery movement and striking the ball one hundredth of a second after they start their recovery movement is almost imperceptible to even an expert observer, and yet the difference between those two is enormous in terms of the flow of the game.

A human conscious mind is a poor interpreter of the momentary differences between life and death, success and failure. On the other hand the unconscious or sub-conscious mind appreciates these differences instantly and senses opportunity or threat before those concepts can even be interpreted by the conscious mind.

Hence the lore and understanding of the game that, since inception, has been filtered through conscious minds, is at about the same stage as medicine was in the fifteenth century.

We are still engaged in trial and error—opinions of so-called ‘experts’ who often have dogmatic views based on the way they did things themselves or on wholesale repetition of ideas they have heard when learning the game themselves.

If you study the literature of squash there is barely any material that would stand up to scrutiny from empirical academic assessors or that has been certified as scientific fact.

Take for instance the ludicrous (in my opinion) assertion that a squash player should stand still when hitting the ball. Since the force required to propel a rubber ball must be generated according to Newton’s law that ‘Force = Mass x Acceleration’, the sense of bringing one’s mass to a complete standstill is obviously at odds with Newton’s law. Yet because coaches tend to interpret what they see by conscious reasoning, they find it difficult to get their minds to accept that balanced continuous flowing movement to and from the ball is not only possible but also necessary to achieve the most efficient propulsion of a moving object while moving into position for all future possible options from their opponent.

The milliseconds of advantage gained by moving as the player strikes the ball are fairly tangible—one can see quite clearly the difference between a player being several steps further up the court by the time the opponent plays the next ball as opposed to still being in the same place when the ball is struck.

Less obvious, however, is the stone cold fact that the mechanics are massively improved. Clearly a person standing still is not employing the same powerful leg muscles as a person who is on the move.

Those leg muscles enhance the execution of the shot by taking responsibility for/providing the stress/force production required to generate a wave of energy that the arms, which are designed for precision and accuracy, can then channel. The static person must attempt to use the arm muscles to generate force and, in doing so, they stifle their capacity to be precise as the fine motor skills are over-burdened.

Mankind has felt and appreciated this fact for thousands of years on the battlefield and when engaged in life and death struggles. One has only to look at the bible/torah for proof. The sixteen-year-old David was able to slay the 6’5″ Goliath using a small smooth round pebble and a leather thong with a pouch— known as a sling-shot. To generate the force required, the sling-shot was spun around the head at great speed and then using the legs to generate the force by suddenly transferring the bodyweight with enormous force upward through the legs, then the torso, then the arm and finally through the wrist and hand—precisely timing the release of the pebble from the slingshot. Without the leg power, of course, the force generated would have been meager, but as boys like David habitually killed wolves, lions and bears, we know that the force was enormous.

Today we see the same thing happening with baseball hitters and cricket batsmen who combine movement and timing to send balls enormous distances with relatively little apparent physical activity and yet close study will reveal incredibly precise slingshot mechanics that produce these effects.

Just so with the great squash technicians who both propel themselves into position and simultaneously propel the ball with precision and however much force is required in the given situation.

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Amr Shabana (in white) is one of the best players to watch with respect to his flow into and out of his shots. Despite his small stature, Shabana does a remarkable job of using his legs to help generate the pace he puts on the ball. His movement off the ball also helps him with positioning for all possible responses from his opponents.