Thursday, July 24, 2014

Target Practice

Today I'm going to talk about using targets. Using targets keeps you more focused on the accuracy of your shots and can also be a lot of fun. When it comes down to it, the top players have precise control to any part of the court from any position. As we get tired or are put under pressure everyone's accuracy suffers. Those that are accurate under pressure, that have the ability to go from being under pressure to applying pressure on a single shot are pretty special. Even though in my last post I discussed the important of using height when under pressure, often when you have less time to hit, your opponent also has less time to return to the T and prepare for your return shot. Deciding to defend or counter attack while under pressure can be a risky proposition. Knowing when to do which depends on the individual and their opponent and I like to think of it all in percentages (high or low).

What to use for targets: I got a little sidetracked there, but back to target talk now. You can use a number of objects as targets. I often use tape to outline an area, or a small pylon, I'll use a shoe. If working with a lower level player use a larger target like a racquet, the service box, the ball machine, or even yourself. Using yourself as a target make sure they are hitting the front wall first. It's important to match the target size to the skill level or the player may get discouraged as they struggle to hit it. Once in a while I will use tape to define a target on the side or front wall. You can do this for practicing boasts, drops, or where you want a serve to hit on the side wall. If you're not the coach at your club I recommend taking the tape off after your practice session.

Where to place targets: It's important to think about where you want to place your targets and why. Are you working on attacking drives or hitting your drives deeper (a rallying/neutral drive)? Depending on which shot you are practicing is where you should place the target. This will also vary depending on how bouncy the ball is and how hard you hit the ball. When practicing drop shots I like to have the target pretty short meaning I would work my opponent far up into the front corner. I find many people hit heavy drops and although I don't want them floating their drops that I like to call a 'lob-drop,' I also don't want them to hit their drops too heavy and deep. When I watch professionals hit drops I always notice how precise they are with their short game and how small of a margin they have over the tin. For this reason I don't emphasize hitting x# of drops in a row without a mistake. I don't want people to become passive with their drop shot and think negatively, such as 'don't hit the tin.'

When to use targets: You can use targets in all types of drills, condition games and just regular matches. At the squash club I work at we have regular 'cup tournaments' where we place 8-10 cups on the court, 4-5 on a side. You play someone for 30 minutes without a break and get 1 point for winning a rally and 5 bonus points if you hit a cup before the 2nd bounce. At the end of the tournament whoever hits the most cups at each level gets a prize. Most people have a lot of fun playing these tournaments. I also find that people tend to volley trying to protect the cups. I have found that volleying and protecting your opponent from hitting a target is another added benefit to using targets. Other times I use targets when doing technical testing. I would give someone 2 minutes of solo hitting and count how many drives they hit within x# of floorboards. Similar but without the time pressure, I give my student a certain # of attempts (e.g., 20) and count how many they hit within the target. If they player is very strong make the target smaller and challenging and have a larger target for lower level players. As the lower level players improve start shrinking the targets. You can do the same thing for drops, volleys, crosscourt drives, boasts, or lobs. I find this is an effective method for measuring improvement in various of areas of your game. And it gives the athlete direct feedback on what they can work on and how much they have improved.

Consequences for hitting a target: A lot of times I'll put a condition when a target is hit. It might mean that the other player has to do 10 pushups or court sprints. Other times I'll let the player that hit the target move the target to wherever they like. Or like in the cup tournaments the player just gets bonus points for hitting a target. I learned using a shoe as a target from Rob Brooks. He would give 3 bonus points for hitting the shoe and 5 for putting the ball inside the shoe. The kids always loved that game. Other times I'll do a drill like rotating drives and go until the first person hits the target 3 times. This improves their concentration for more basic drills. You can use targets in any drill and you can use any consequence when one is hit. Be creative and have fun with it.

Try using some of these tips and introduce targets into your practices. You can do this during solo hitting or your standard drill session. Don't just hit the ball into an area of the court, hit it to a precise location with a purpose. Practicing with targets regularly will increase you ability to do so.

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