By Richard Millman
The principles of survival in the human race are also the principles of survival for squash. They can be expressed as an equation—a form of algebra. Algebra may not be the most popular topic for reading, but if someone gave you a guaranteed and simple formula for wealth or happiness that couldn’t go wrong—provided you just followed the formula—you’d follow it, right?
We have that equation for squash and I guarantee it works if you follow it. Here it is: X must always be less than Y. Let X be the time you take to get into a strategic defensive position to cover all your opponent’s possible shots and let Y be the time the ball takes to get from your racquet to the moment when your opponent plays it.
That’s it. The equation of squash—and by extrapolation life—if you follow it correctly.
To develop your ability to adopt and execute the equation of squash, I have developed a very simple solo drill: boast/cross-court lob. To start the drill, set yourself up just behind the T just outside the service box. Prepare your racquet and load your legs ready to move to the next shot BEFORE you hit the first boast. As (or even fractionally before) you hit the boast, push backwards—still maintaining a mental and physical connection with the point of contact as your leave. Make sure you hit the ball at a speed that gives you enough time to get into position BEFORE your first shot arrives in the opposite front corner. Make sure you prep your racquet and load your legs ready to move off the cross court BEFORE you get into position for your cross-court. Again, judge the speed of your shot such that it will give you enough time to get to the next boast BEFORE the ball arrives.
Keep repeating the drill until you can constantly maintain it for a hundred shots or more.
When you start you may find it difficult to even get to five shots, but don’t get frustrated—just keep checking out the equation. Are you making the ball take sufficiently long to get to the next shot so that you can be in position before the ball gets there? Are you moving to each of your shots primarily focused on being ready to leave before your play your shot?
If your main priority when you approach each shot is to hit the ball, then you are not following the equation. Don’t get there to hit, get there to leave, and adjust the pace of your shot to give you enough time be in position for the next shot BEFORE the ball gets there.
Once you break five shots, you will soon get to a dozen; once you get to a dozen you will soon get to twenty-five; and once you get to twenty-five you will soon be able to do a hundred or more.
The equation of squash was perhaps best perfected by Hashim Khan. In his famous book The Khan Game, one phrase sticks out: “Hashim play Hashim.” As a child, after the British Army officers finished their games at the end of the day, Hashim—a ball boy—would go on the court and play alone. With incredibly tenacity and athleticism, he would literally play against himself.
Imagine the thought and athleticism that he developed playing this routine day after day. He would have had to be on his way to wherever he hit the ball before he hit it and, anticipating the necessity to move off of the next shot, would have had to decelerate and load his legs in preparation for moving off the each and every shot in order to have time to retrieve the following shot. Truly he learned the amalgam of movement, pace variation, balance and anticipation in this routine.
If you can learn my simple boast/cross-court solo drill and get to the point that you can comfortably do a hundred shots or more on both sides, then I suggest you try Hashim play Hashim and try to play a serious game against yourself, working hard to properly adopt the equation of squash. It all adds up.