This post is going to be about one of my favourite topics in squash..it's about how to disguise your shot, or as Roger Flynn calls it 'coupling.' Disguising or coupling a shot is shaping up/preparing the same way for 2 or more shots. You could couple your straight and crosscut drives, or you straight drive and straight drop, or your straight drive and attacking boast, etc. There are lots of shots you can couple. If you can disguise/couple your shots well you will benefit greatly and your opponent will have to work much harder.
Let's start off by discussing why coupling a shot is beneficial for your game. I find many recreational players very easy to read, they just set up for a shot and hit it. When this happens I will move or at least be leaning my weight to one food and getting my racquet prepared to pounce on their next shot. Whereas coupling a shot well would mean that I would be uncertain about which shot is coming. If this happens I have to wait until later in their swing to move (or if they are really good at this until after the ball is hit). This makes the court play bigger and also makes your opponent have less time allowed when and if they retrieve your shot. This tires out your opponents legs quite quickly and also increases the intensity of the rallies.
So now you know why I like disguising/coupling my shots so much. How do you do it? I practiced a lot of option drills to get good at this. Here are a few I really enjoy.
1) the front player hits straight or crosscourt length, the back player just boasts (trying to volley or at least hit before the ball hits the back wall). This allows the front player to coupe their straight and crosscourt attacking drives. They also receive immediate feedback if they are doing this successfully.
2) the front player hits straight drive or straight drop. the back player either counter drops or boasts the drive. you can also have the option for the back player to drive the drop so they switch. This is an effective drill for coupling the straight drive and the drop (which I find much more challenging than coupling the direction).
3) the back player boast, the front player hits straight or crosscourt drop, the back player has to play a straight counter drop, the front player hits straight (or if you're really mean straight or crosscourt drive). this allows the front player to couple their straight and crosscourt drops.
4) both players play rotating drives and one or both have the option to boast. if your focus is to coupe the attacking boast, you need to get to the ball early enough to prepare and shape up like a drive.
Here is a twist I do with some of my students and you can do this with any of the above mentioned drills. The coach calls out a '1' or '2' for which shot the player has to hit. The later the number is called out the more challenging it will be for the player to hit the called out shot. This forces the player to keep their body in a good position to be able to hit either shot. For people that have done this drill and get good at it I try and wait until the ball hits the floor before calling out the number. You can also add in a 3rd option if you have a really talented player..you may need a ball machine for this, but it can be a very effective exercise. For example, the player is in the front right and has to hit a straight drive if you call out '1', a crosscourt drive if you call out '2' a drop if you call out '3' and even a trickle boast if you call out '4'. You can have fun with this one.
Using video can help a person see how similar they are at preparing for their shots. Often people have a tell, like in poker. Most often it is where their racquet is or how they approach the ball. I've found I usually can't even pick it up during a match, but I just know they aren't the same. So you need to really work at this one to make them the same for as late into the swing as possible. This is also a skill that can be enhanced by having a strong wrist/forearm as you can accelerate later in your swing to get enough power to drive the ball deep. Disguise can also be obstructing your opponent from viewing you actually contact the ball. Often this happens by accidence, especially against larger opponents, but is something that is taught at a higher level. If your opponent can't see the ball hit the strings it is difficult for them to anticipate and leave the T with proper timing. Lastly, remember that to couple a shot well you need to actually play the 2nd or 3rd shot from time to time. Even if you disguise your shot really well if you always hit the same shot your opponent will probably (or at least should) pick up on this.
I hope you're eager to try some of these drills and see if you can disguise your shot. This is a great way to slow down an opponent that is leaving slightly early that appears to be on your shots very fast. In a later post one day I'll talk about another one of my favourite topics, deception. Deception you are trying to set up for one shot and hit another, or you can deceive your opponent about when you are going to strike the ball. If you can learn to disguise your shots and add in some deception you will be moving up on your club ladder and your national ranking list quickly.