Today I'm going to talk about how to improve your chances of winning. This what we all want to know. Squash is a game with many variables and components to it. If we think about winning and losing points from a statistical standpoint we want to make better decisions and hit better shots than our opponents. This doesn't imply we will win every point where we do this, but over a large scale of shots and rallies there should be a noticeable difference and this is normally why one person wins over the other. Sometimes it is a small thing that is overlooked (like the serve) that makes a 1 or 2 point difference in a game or match which could make the difference between winning and losing. As we get better most people are generally pretty good at everything, but still there are fine lines and reasons one person wins and one doesn't.
Today I'm going to break down and compile a list of how to increase your chances of winning. I will start with what I believe are the most important factors for winning and work my way down. I will include the ability to execute specific shots, tactical play, psychological skills, and physical ability. All of these factors play a part in determining your current level and your chances of winning or losing each rally, game, and match you play.
Often we watch 2 people playing and it's hard to tell who is winning if we only see a few points. Sometimes the person with the better looking strokes doesn't win. Why does this happen? Let's take a look and see what influences the outcome of a match.
You're more likely to win if...
1) You hit better length than your opponent (consistently tighter, deeper, wider cross courts, pace, varying height, etc all play a part)
2) You are better prepared than your opponent (training leading up to the match/tournament)
3) You spend more time in front of your opponent and around the middle of the court
4) You hit more volleys than your opponent (is normally a result of doing the #1 item better)
5) You anticipate better than your opponent
6) You move more efficiently/take less steps and run less than your opponent
7) Your racquet preparation is better than your opponents (shape up earlier and a more consistent and compact swing)
8) You have a higher aerobic fitness base, a higher VO2max and lactic acid threshold than your opponent
9) You are faster than your opponent
10) You hit less unforced errors than your opponent and force more errors
11) You have the ability to play different styles and expose your opponents weaknesses better than your opponent
12) Your volleying ability is better than your opponents
13) You are more confident than your opponent
14) You maintain your focus and composure better than your opponent
15) You hit the ball harder than your opponent
16) Your return of serve is better than your opponents
17) Your serve is better than your opponents
18) You warmed up better than your opponent
19) You control your nerves at the start of the match better than your opponent
20) You get off to a better start in the match than your opponent
21) Your deception and disguise is better than your opponent
22) You have more experience than your opponent
23) You can hit higher quality shots under pressure better than your opponent
24) You are stronger than your opponent (more important in squash is the strength-weight ratio). Maximum strength is less important than strength endurance and also strength is more vital in specific muscles groups over others.
25) You had a better nights sleep than your opponent
26) You ate a healthier (and have superior fuel) pre game meal and are better hydrated than your opponent. Along with the proper quantities and timing.
27) You adapt quicker to different courts and the bounce of balls than your opponent
28) you hit more straight drive than your opponent
29) You play a higher T and get back to it more consistently than your opponent
30) You had a less physically and mentally demanding match prior (for tournaments if you both played earlier that day)
Obviously you want to focus more on yourself, but this list can be used to help you understand why you or someone else is winning or losing. We hit thousands of balls over the course of a match and what makes the difference in those tight matches? Regardless of your squash skill level, some of these areas you can control. You can take care of things like preparation leading into a match, your fitness, strength, eating, hydration, and sleeping habits. Some of the more difficult areas to improve are between the ears, but also have the biggest impact on performance. You want to be confident when you play and this doesn't diminish when you have a slow start or make a couple of mistakes. Confidence is trusting your ability and knowing you will be successful, as opposed to hoping to be.
I chose hitting better length as the #1, because I don't think I've ever lost to someone that I hit better length than they did. The more squash you play the more important you realize this is. This is what creates and relieves pressure. Good length sets up points and keeps you in front of your opponent and puts your opponent under pressure. There is a lot more to squash than length, but it's where most matches are won and lost. Even at the youngest levels, whoever gets more shots to reach the back wall will probably win. This includes their serves. Agains some areas, like serves are more critical to the outcome of a match at different levels. But regardless of the level a poor serve gives the receiver and advantage in the point where a good serve can cause a slightly weaker return and set up the point for you.
So what am else am I missing on my list? It was hard to organize them from most important feature to least. There are situations where some of the lower ranked ones will make the difference. I didn't even get into areas like travel time and time zone change to a tournament, meaning potential jet lag. And you'll notice I didn't include anything about equipment. Yes there are likely small advantages to having lighter shoes or superior string in your racquet, but unless your opponent is wearing shoes with holes in them or playing with a wooden frame I wouldn't include these in this discussion.
If you were interested in learning how to beat someone see how many of the areas above you do better than they do. The more you can do better the increased chances you have of winning. And if you can only focus on one, work on your basic length and width and obviously being prepared leading into a tournament gives you that all important confidence. You're certainly more likely to win if you believe that you can.