Friday, September 26, 2014

Play Better, Play Smarter

Today I'm going to discuss tactics once again. What it the goal of squash? How do you win? To win a point you have to make the ball bounce twice or your opponent makes a mistake. There are countless ways that this can happen. Do you have a strategy when you play? Does it change depending on your opponent?

If you haven't already done so, read Brad Gilbert's book Winning Ugly. As you can guess from the title. Brad talks about the importance of tactics are and how they are normally underdeveloped in even the most experienced athletes. Brad was by his own account a very average tennis player, but thought a lot about the game and came up with strategies to beat what others considered to be better tennis players. He didn't have the arsenal or the athleticism that many of the other other top players had, but he found a win to win and get into the 5 in the world.

A lot of squash players only play one way and are unable to make adjustments when things aren't working. Although just because a plan hasn't worked yet, it doesn't mean it won't in the future. You may be playing tactically sound squash, but unable to finish off the points. Maybe you are making too many mistakes, but I don't mind mistakes when you're trying to do something on the court. For years I played without any game plan. I just went in and basically reacted to what was happening and what my opponent did. I would sometimes learn to expect certain shots from different people, but I never thought about trying to dictate the points and rallies. I see this a lot when I'm watching people play at all ages and skills levels.

In a previous post I talk about tactics at the start of the match. I suggest a simple approach to settle into the match and establish your length. But this doesn't mean you have to do this. This may not suit your game or style you enjoy playing. However you want to play, it's more important going on court with a game plan. Still keep it simple, but what are you trying to do? What is your goal? What do you do well when you are playing your best squash? Are you trying to change the style you play? Maybe you're trying to use the front of the court more. If you don't have this consciously in your mind while you play you likely will continue playing the same way time and time again. You need to have that focus for each point and that mindset about what your doing out there. This is why it's important to keep it simple. If you think too much you will just be reacting and not in the right zone for playing in the flow.

I read a book written by Phil Jackson called Sacred Hoops where he discussed an idea of playing with basketball with a completely blank mind. I've tried to do this in squash and found it impossible. It felt forced and didn't work for me. When you're in the zone are you focused on something specific like your drives or getting to the T fast? Or are you playing absent minded? Or out of your mind? That's another post altogether. I'm going to get back on track here.

Tactics are an important part of squash. As you progress and learn more about your game and understand what's happening on court you can begin preparing for different opponents. Until you get to that point you will want to focus on your own game plan. But you can see how expecting a certain style from your opponent can allow you to have a counter game plan. This is why people refer to squash as a physical game of chess. Do you just move the pieces around without any intention or are you setting up rallies and combinations of shots? Are you trying to wear down your opponent and keep up the intensity?

Can you change your tactic if it's not working or your opponent has adapted to it? I like thinking outside of the box when this happens. There are lots of ways you can change the game. You can slow or speed the game up, during rallies and between. You can vary the pace more. You can be more patient, more aggressive, start holding the ball, throw in some working boasts, try some different serves, look to cut the ball off more, play straighter, play more cross courts, hit intentionally down the middle, at hand out serve to their forehand first, and so on. Especially in practice matches, think of having a game plan and try some different tactics that just may work better against one player than another. And some tactics will work indefinitely against some people, while others will have to be mixed in here and there.

Don't just play without any idea of what you're trying to do. Even a game plan that fails miserably provides a valuable learning experience. You will have to learn how to apply that tactic better or maybe try a different tactic next time. This is why just because you beat someone and lose to another person, that the person you beat could very well also beat the person you lost to. Different styles match up differently against different opponents. If you have one style that works against everyone you must be doing it extremely well. Otherwise, learn to add more to your game and be able to change the style you play. Play chess not checkers; and of course play better, play smarter!

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