Written by Martin Shippey. Martin has been playing squash for more years than he cares to remember. He is an ESR Level 1 coach and currently assisting in a programme to introduce inner city schoolchildren to squash.
“The more you play, the better you get!” – right? While it’s probably true that playing even three or four times a week will just about keep you up to a decent level, if you’re playing the same people all the time, you might be having a great time, but you will most probably not be improving. You might even be embedding some very bad habits which will take a lot of training to get out of, if you want to go up a level or two.
Speaking as someone who played “bash-and-dash” squash for years, and then one day seeing some county level players on court, I realised that they were playing a completely different game from the one I had been playing; one involving rallies of more than three shots – sometimes 50 or more! To all four corners of the court and containing astonishing feats of accuracy, skill, stamina and cunning, and a repertoire of shots I could only marvel at.
I was determined to get my game to a stage where I could hold my own against such players, and I immediately booked some regular coaching.
In about three months my game was transformed, and while it would take several years of coaching to get anywhere near the level of the players I had seen, my fitness and stamina increased rapidly. And because I was playing longer rallies against more skilled opponents, my enjoyment of the game was transformed as well. On top of that, the pleasure to be had from comfortably thrashing an opponent who has previously been torturing you is immense.
I can strongly recommend, if your budget supports it, taking some coaching. It can be more economical and just as worthwhile if two or more of you book a session with a coach, as a good coach will set exercises which pit you against each other. Most importantly, the exercises will be ones which will help you to play a better game.
However, if paid-for coaching is out of the question, book yourself a court, and instead of playing a match with your regular partner, play some drills. It should be noted that professional players’ training routines always include some time on court by themselves. However, just hitting the ball back to yourself or off the walls, with no plan, is probably no help at all.
So what drills can you do? Here is a simple drill which you can do – preferably once a week at least, and by yourself.
Firstly, begin by making sure you have the correct grip on your racket, warm the ball up to working temperature, then position yourself just to the right of the mid-court line (the one which separates the left and right sides of the court) slightly behind the right service box. Face the right hand wall and practice playing straight drives to the back of the court.
Your objective is to hit the front wall so that the ball’s first bounce is in the service box, towards the rear of it preferably. The ball must not hit the side wall before or after hitting the front wall. Its flight should be as close as you can get it to the side wall – say four floorboards’ width, and parallel, but don’t worry too much about this to begin with.
You will notice that if the ball does bounce towards the rear of the service box, it will be very difficult to hit if you wait for it to come off the back wall, so keep the ball moving by hitting it again just after it bounces, before it reaches the back wall.
You should aim to be able to hit ten consecutive balls off the front wall into the service box without hitting the side wall with the ball either on the way to or coming away from the front wall.
Do the same on the backhand wall, and ensure that you are able to play left and right straight drives equally well. (If a skilled opponent sees that you are weak on one hand or the other, guess where he’s going to put all his shots?)
I can assure you that this drill is not as easy as it sounds, but if you are able to do this comfortably, try a variation – hit the ball so that it hits the front wall below the service line. If you can regularly hit ten of those consecutively into the service box without hitting the side walls, put your name down for the team.
Being able to hit a straight drive to a good length is a fundamental part of developing your game.
Undertaking regular practice and drill sessions will definitely improve your accuracy and timing if performed properly – but don’t forget; when you are playing a real game you are not practicing – then, it’s all about scoring points, so don’t try to hold the drills in your head as you are playing or you are likely to stifle your game.