Doubles: Team Dynamics

By Suzie Pierrepont

Can you simply put two players together and expect a good outcome?

Team dynamics are complicated. We select partners for various reasons—availability, ability and friendship—all of which are great ways to find a partner. But the success of that partnership depends on a lot more than simply finding the best player you can.

I’m often asked why I don’t play tournaments with my best friend and fellow WSDA pro, Tina Rix Stout. The short answer, she hates playing with me. As compatible as we are off court, we are incompatible on court: it has something to do with me shouting at her. In the interest of our friendship, we’ve decided it’s best that we support each other from the balcony. Competing together can be a real test of a friendship, and a bad loss can be a difficult to overcome. That being said, there is nothing better than a great win with a great friend.

Regardless of whom you are playing with, open communication from the start will set the dynamic of your team. New partner or old, spending some time talking about your strengths and weaknesses and how they relate to the match ahead is time well spent. Be honest with your partner.

Communication affects who does what. Letting balls go to the back of the court is only possible if you trust your partner to scamper back and retrieve them. This is especially true if you like to play high up the court, near the front wall. Another key decision is balls down the middle. We’ve all seen the ball blast down the middle that neither player takes a swing at. It’s amazing how often that happens at 14-14. A short conversation could perhaps have avoided it. Another area is terminology. Partners should discuss if you want to call out “yours” or “mine.” Talking about these areas of the game is helpful even if you’ve played with someone multiple times. Good days and bad days happen and choices may change from match to match, opponent to opponent.

One of the areas that can be hard to talk about is who is the shot maker in your partnership (pro tip: it’s not both of you.). It may not even be obvious until you start the match but it needs to be acknowledged. The shot maker is the person who gets to shoot and who gets to make the errors. Those tin sounds mount up really quickly when you’re both making them and a game can wizz by before you know it.

For a long time I partnered with Narelle Krizek. On our team, I saw myself as Krizek’s backup. My job was to support her, put the ball in smart places, keep us out of trouble while creating openings for her to do what she does best—which is shoot the lights out. I worked hard on the court, covered a lot of ground, and got to witness some of the most spectacular winners you’ll ever see. That didn’t mean that I wouldn’t take openings when they came to me, that I didn’t have the ability to shoot myself or that I was a passive participant in the match. It just meant that of the two of us, Krizek was better at putting the ball away at crucial points in a match. I like to think that her ability to execute under pressure came in part from knowing I was ready for the pickup and a simple reset, so she could go for it again later in the rally or the next point. This allowed her more margin for error and more freedom to swing and be creative.

What all this boils down to is communication and trust. Your partner doesn’t need to be your best friend but they do need to be someone who you respect and can communicate with. Squash doubles is a team sport and as the old adage goes, there is no I in team but there is an I in consolation (draw).