Thursday, July 3, 2014

Developing Touch

This post relates to my previous post called 'Long Term Tactical Development'. In my past post I talk about playing the right shot at the right time, learning to play squash, not avoiding a shot because you make a few mistakes. In my opinion if you lose confidence and give up on your short game you are no longer playing to win, but not to lose.

This post is more about how to improve your touch and feel so that you can have an effective short game and also lob well (touch and feel isn't just important for the short game). One area that you should be aware of first is how tight you are holding the racquet. If you are squeezing the grip tightly your muscles are contracted and you will not be able to play finesse shots and you will likely never develop good touch. Ramy Ashour shows us that a player can develop great touch with an unconventional grip. So I am hesitant to say that you have to hold the racquet a certain way, but I do feel you need to have a trigger finger, or about the gap of a finger between your index and middle finger. I also recommend having your thumb angled up slightly instead of begin parallel and touching your middle finger. In an article I read recently they discuss how should focus on your thumb and your index finer (and be vey relaxed in the rest of your fingers) when hitting drop shots. The article had tips on the short game by David Palmer, so I guess he knows what he's talking about. Although he doesn't have Jonathan Power or Egyptian touch (but who does?), but I think he makes a good point. I would like to know what the top players like Palmer would do if they could do it all over again...I suspect many wish they have spent more time on their short game when they are developing?

Last thing about the grip is the actual grip itself. If a grip is slippery, too big or too small it can impact your touch. Children and people with smaller hands should use a thinner grip, likely just a single replacement grip and perhaps with an overgrip. Play around with the thickness of your grip and find the one that allows you to hold the racquet naturally and enables you to hold it with little to no physical strain in your hand. I've used pu karakul grips for a number of years and find they are the best for me. I don't use an overwrap, and wrap my grip fairly tight to keep it thin (but too tight does not absorb sweat very well so be careful).

I also find the string and tension makes a big difference to the amount of spin I get and the feel I have for the ball. I prefer technifibre string out of all the string I have tried over the years as I find it has the best control without compromising power. I use a thinner gauge (18 or 1.1mm) which does not last me long (maybe a week), but when you've hit a lot of squash balls it's hard to give up what feels best for improved durability. Some other strings, especially cheap factory string doesn't have much bite to them and these racquets are often strung too tight. Although tighter string have better touch (as there is less trampoline effect as in loser strings), I prefer stringing my racquet at 29lbs. Too tight of string can cause arm/elbow problems and does hinder your power.

So now you know about what type of equipment I like to help me, but what can you actually do to improve your short game. Well I recommend spending a large portion of your time solo hitting on your drops and volley drops. This is the best way to improve your confidence in these shots. When you hit enough of them you should gain confidence in being able to ht all of these shots in a game setting. I also like solo hitting with a blue dot to make the ball bouncier so it is slightly more challenging to take the ball in short well (plus the a double hello dot cools down when you work on the front court).

I also recommend trying some fun condition games like the nick game or the short game. Most kids know and love the nick game, but this ends up being more self set smashes as opposed to soft counter drops and various touch shots. The short game is played like a normal rally but every shot is hit first bounce in front of the short line and you cannot hit any of the shots with pace. Start each rally with a boast as your serve. This is also a good one for developing your leg strength as there is a lot of lunging into the front corners.

I also like doing feeding drills. Here are a few good two person ones.
1. Player 1 hits a crosscourt drive to player 2, player 2 hits straight volley drop and then hits a crosscourt drive to player 1. Player 1 hits a straight volley drop and then repeat. You can do the same drill on the bounce.
2. One player is in the front and hits straight drives and the other player hits straight volley drops..
2B. Same as above but the drives can be on the bounce or volley.
2C. Same as above but the back player can boast to switch sides.
2D. The front player hits crosscourt drives the back player hits straight volley drops. Can also be done on the bounce, or a variation of the two.
2E. The front player hits crosscourt drive, the back player hits straight volley drop, the front player hits straight volley drive and the back player hits a straight volley drop. In this sequence the player gets to practice a straight volley drop on both sides of the court and off of different angled receiving balls (one off of a straight drive and the other a crosscourt.
2F. The front player has to hit every shot back through a single service bow while the back player can hit anywhere short (should be all volleys). I also like doing this with a switch when there is a mistake from the back player.

Here are some other simple tricks you can try to improve your short game and touch. When doing boast drive, let the front player drop to themselves before driving (the use of a target on the from wall or floor can help). Do condition games that focus on attacking squash. Also do drills that focus and force you to play counter drops and lobs and don't penalize you for making mistakes on an attacking shot. If you aren't afraid of making a mistake and losing a point you will hit the ball with more confidence and this should result in a more positively struck drop shot.

You can also try a simple solo activity. Hit the ball against the wall and then catch the ball on your strings without the ball bouncing. Start close to the wall and hit the ball soft, as you get better move back and hit the ball harder. Do this on both sides of your racquet (forehand and backhand grips). You can also set up a ball machine and do this with kids. Like a game of 500 you play as a kid when someone throws up a ball. If the kids catches the ball without it bouncing they get x number of pints, if they catch it but it bounces a few times then they gets half the points.

I believe that you have to learn and develop this touch and feel at a young age when you begin playing as it gets more difficult to pick up later in your squash career. I can't think of too many English players who after they became accomplished professional players developed an exceptional touch and feel. My guess was they spent most of their time hitting drives and even though that is great it is one dimensional. So if you have 'stone hands' or you want to have a master class short game then try some of these drills and routines. It may just save a few miles on your legs and put a few more on your opponents.

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