It says something of how far we have come in this world that the hardest thing many of us have to do to survive, is to go to the supermarket to buy our food. This occurred to me recently when speaking to a Squash coaching associate, Rita Paulos.Rita was raised in the outback of Australia and, as a child, lived in a timber slab hut with a dirt floor. Although some provisions were sourced from a relatively nearby settlement from time to time, normally their food was either taken from their modest collection of chickens and other farm animals, or was hunted by the man of the household with a trusty shotgun.
Of course, many people in the world still live like this today although most in the west prefer others to deal with unpleasant business such killing one's dinner. But what has this got to do with Squash?.Whilst explaining the finer points of Squash stroke play to a young hopeful, I overheard her say 'I can see you'll never get a duck for dinner!' It is illuminating that the student looked totally perplexed at this feedback - rather like telling a native of the deepest, darkest jungles of Africa that broadband internet access will come their way within 10 years - Uh?!.I, of course, knew immediately what she was referring to and although I have taken a solemn vow never to shoot, kill or step on any living creature, this I know from my own childhood. The weapon may not have been powered by gunpowder, but if one were accurate the result would still be the same.
It is no good standing about as if talking on a mobile phone when trying to bag one's dinner - the lower portion of the body must be balanced and stabilised to hit one's target. Furthermore, it is no good just hitting the desired subject, especially if using a shotgun, as a shot in the fleshy part of the animal will render it virtually inedible.And so it is with Squash. To hit a shot accurately to a target point, one must be balanced and stable to achieve a high degree of accuracy.
(And I will not hear of any of this nonsense about the ball being the target!) Now your task of playing a shot is simple:
Is it any wonder so few Squash players can expect duck for dinner!.To answer this challenge I spent many hours meditating in front of videos of my favourite international Squash players, playing classic matches. The footwork does not fit in with the traditional view of correct footwork found in past coaching manuals. (I have a number of them which make handy doorstops) If these were used a a measure the footwork would rate as a dog's breakfast rather than roast duck.
- Respond to your opponents shot before the shot is played.
- Take off with the speed of an Olympic sprinter to retrieve the ball, even though you are not totally sure where it is going..
- When you reach the ball, stop running and play your shot so that you are totally balanced during the swing.
- Before the swing is even completed prepare for your return to the T.
- Return to the T with the speed at which you left it a second or two ago, being sure you give your opponent freedom to reach their next shot.
But watching these champions move is akin to observing a mountain stream - fluid, excited, seamless. As beautiful a creature it may be, but an elephant is not what squash players should move like. These champions move more like a butterfly, skipping across the court surface effortlessly, setting themselves only to hit the ball. They share the following characteristics:
.It is self evident that the professionals have the envy producing ability to make even the most difficult of retrievals, easy. Which gets me to thinking what mere mortals might do to achieve such skill.
- The players were always stable and balanced when striking the ball (even when in unusual or extreme positions).
- Racket preparation was consistent despite changing footwork patterns.
- There was a comfortable distance between the ball and the player.
- When it was possible they would move into the shot (transfer of weight from the back to the front foot.
- Knees were bent except when hitting overheads.
- There was a seamless transition from the approach stage to the hit stage to the recovery stage.
- When they have the time, they would make adjustments to their position with footwork, rather than improvise with their swing.
The short answer is, perhaps if we were relying on that duck for dinner we might concentrate a little harder on preparing to hit the target. The long answer? Well, you will have to wait fr my prognostications on that subject..
Ray Strach provides off centre commentary on Squash. His articles, widely read in the Squash community, seek to highlight the parallels between Squash and life, although possibly not life as we know it. See more of Ray Strach's articles at squashgame.
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By: Ray Strach