Thursday, July 17, 2014

Speed Accuracy Trade Off

Today's post is about the speed-accuracy trade off in squash. This reminds me back to a 4th year kinesiology class I took at Western called Strategy & Tactics in Sport. I found this course quite interesting and I remember this speed-accuracy term being defined and explained very well. In target sports such as squash our accuracy deteriorates as we hit the ball harder. That probably isn't much of a surprise to anyone, but what is also a fact is that our accuracy deteriorates once our speed falls too low. What that point is I can't say and is probably different for everyone. But you can test this out by hitting a variety of drives. Have someone feed you from the back and start by hitting a hard and low drive, then aim for medium height and high to medium pace (just below the service line), then aim for the service line hitting medium pace, then hit half way between the service line and the out of court line, and then finally right up just below the out of court line with the least amount of pace. Ask yourself which shot was most difficult (or were you the most inaccurate with), interestingly enough it will not always be the hardest struck ball, but for many it will be the slowest and highest one.

When playing a game, if under pressure most people have heard the term, 'lift the ball.' This will give you time to get back to the T before your opponent hits the next shot. I agree that this is a tremendous asset, but unfortunately with the rules of speed-accuracy we are asking someone to play the most delicate and challenging shot under pressure. Plus most people don't practice hitting lobs. This combination is what makes it so difficult to hit a good lob. On the other hand if you just hit the ball hard under pressure than if the shot isn't accurate enough you will not have enough time to regain the T and your opponent will have a lot of space to hit a winning shot into. So what can you do?

I recommend practicing a lot of drills/condition games using the lob. Most people practice their short game much more than they do lifting the ball. Here is a list of some of my favourite lob drills/condition games. You will see some require that you must lob, while others give you the option to lob, as it is not just about learning to lob, but learning when to do so.

1. boast, crosscourt lob, straight drive
2. boast, crosscourt (lob or drive), straight drive
3. boast, straight or crosscourt lob, straight drive
4. boast, straight or crosscourt (lob or length), straight drive
5. boast, straight or crosscourt (lob or length), straight drive (if you can volley the straight drive you can hit straight drop instead of boasting)
6. drive (over the service line), drive (over the service line), boast
7. length game with the option to boast (lob off of boast)
8. length game with option to boast (straight or crosscourt length or lob off of boast)
9. boast, straight drive or crosscourt lob, straight drive to self and then boast
10. normal rallies but every shot has to be over the service line (can put this condition on 1 or both players).
11. normal rallies, but you are allowed to hit only 1 shot per rally under the service line

So there are some of my favourite drills and condition games for practicing your lob. If you are doing a repetitive drill, try and wait back at the T longer before your opponent boast so you put yourself under a little bit of pressure to hit your lob.

Here are some tips for hitting a good lob.
1. picture where you are hitting the ball. get right underneath it so you are contacting the bottom part of the ball
2. doing #1 well requires you to get low and get under the ball
3. follow through high towards your target
4. in practice think 'high and soft' or getting lots of 'air under the ball'. In practice I want the ball to have as much air time as possible. I'm not concerned about hitting the ball out. In fact I try and keep the ball in on the front wall aiming for the lights/ceiling while the ball would still land before the back wall.
5. Use a flick of the wrist when you don't have the balance or time to hold a nice follow through
6. The most important characteristic of a good lob is height, not hitting the side wall, so get the ball high and soft fist, when you can do this well then sure, now try and hit the side wall. If you can do this consistently you can go from defence to offence in 1 shot.

So take some time to practice your lob and also learn when to play it. This will allow you to reset yourself in points and it will make it difficult for your opponent to keep you under pressure for multiple shots in a row.

Here are my final thoughts about the speed-accuracy trade off. I prefer attacking squash and when learning I want someone to err on the side of being too aggressive as opposed to being too passive. So I like to encourage people to hit it with pace and attack when they have time. If you are inaccurate when you hit with pace you may be setting up late and not have the time allowed to execute this type of swing. From my experience when people try and swing harder their backswings get longer which means they are normally late hitting the ball. So if you want to hit it hard, try doing so without exaggerating your backswing or if you do this try shaping up (getting your racquet prepared and your shoulders rotated) earlier than normal. Just like needing to practice the lob, if you want to be accurate at hitting it hard than you need to practice hitting with pace. You may get away with poor accuracy when you hit hard against some players, but try playing some stronger opponents or practice using some targets to see how accurate you really are when you hit the ball hard. These tips should improve your accuracy when hitting with pace.

And lastly, try practicing various speeds and heights of swings. If you hit one plane and speed most often you are grooving that swing and it will become more consistent, but to be an all around player you need to be able to have a larger variety of 'pitches.' Yes, like a baseball pitcher that can mix locations and vary speeds well. Some pitchers are very good at this and don't need to have a blazing fastball to get out batters. While other pitchers that have the ability to throw hard yet like to throw every pitch at the same speed are often a little wild and get hit even with their tremendous velocity. Even if your fast paced game works most of the time, you will eventually play someone that hits it harder or is very fast and can handle your pace. When this happen as you hit the ball harder it is actually putting more pressure on yourself not your opponent.

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