Friday, October 31, 2014

Twinkle Toes

Today I'm going to talk about the importance of being light on your feet. Some people stomp around the court like an elephant while others sound like they're wearing slippers. Sometimes it has to do with size difference, but even light and small players can be loud moving around the court just as bigger people can float around.

Agility and Coordination: lets start off by discussing the athletic traits does being light on your feet incorporates. The first athletic component I'm going to discuss is agility. Agility is extremely important in squash because we are always stopping and starting and changing directions and we have to do so very rapidly. You can imagine how tough this would be for most athletes that are only use to going in 1 direction. To move quickly and have explosive movement off the T you need to have strong legs. Being on your toes and having strong calves are most important here. But this also has to do with the width of your stance. If your too upright on the T your centre of gravity is high and you do not have a wide base of support. This means you will be less explosive off the mark. This is why a sprinter doesn't start from a standing position. But in sprint the runners are only going straight. Pretend that depending on the type of starter sound they may have to take off in a different direction. Clearly their c of g is too low and their body weight is only going to go in 1 direction. So they would need to adapt and you would see something more like a squash player on the T. 

Strength, Strength-Endurance and Speed-Strength: a sprinter having to take off in a number of directions is a good visual picture for us to start with. But what about if a second starter sound could go off just after the first one? That would just be cruel wouldn't it? Well that's what deception does. A player begins to shift their body weight one direction and it makes it much more difficult to stop and change direction. This takes a lot of strength in our legs and you can see a players leg strength falter and slow after a few of these recovery movements. So on top of having strong calves we also need to have strong quadriceps. When I say strong I don't mean maximum strength. A big strong person will likely stomp around the court if they are too large and lose their agility. Strength endurance is more important than how much someone could squat for just a few reps. In a typical squash match you have to do hundreds of various deep lunges and having strong quads like Gauliter allows you to stay more balanced while stretched out and to recover quicker after a shot, and change direction faster. I should mention here that having strong hamstrings is also important. The hamstrings are antagonist with the quadriceps, which means one relaxes as the other contracts. The hamstring and quadricep work in unison and if you only strengthen one you are more prone to injury and will not be as powerful with your movement. 

10 On Court Exercises To Increase Your Agility and Strength
1. Toe tin tap - here you alternate touching your toes on the top of the tin. The goal is to be quiet and not kick the tin. Get your knees up high. This is a good one for strengthening your calves, hamstrings and glutes. 
2. Quick continuous jumps - you stand along any wall and jump continuously staying on your toes. You never put your heel down and this will strengthen up your calves nicely. 
3. Pointing and ghosting - here 1 person waits at the front wall and points to the left or right. The person on the T has to move as quickly as possible to either side and either ghost a shot or touch the side wall. Wait until they get back to the T and then point to either side again. You can progress to using the 4 corners to make it more challenging. You can also do this by throwing a squash ball to tier side of someone and they have to react and catch it. The faster or further away you throw it the tougher it is. 
4. Split screen mirror - here you split the court into halves. The 2 people face one another and one has to follow exactly (mirror) what the other person does. You can get creative with this one and it is pretty fun and good for improving your agility. 
5. Race moving squash balls - here you have 1 person racing another. There is a racquet in each corner with the head of the racquet facing the middle of the court. In the centre of the court I normally use a frisbee or something similar. I start with 2 or 3 squash balls on the frisbee and 2 or 3 spread out on the outside racquets. One person is trying to putt all the squash balls on the outside racquets while the other is racing them and trying to bring the balls (one at a time) back to the middle onto the frisbee. If one person gets back to the middle and there are no more balls they win. But normally I just do this of 30 seconds because it can go on for a long time and is very challenging. 
6. Line hops - you pick any line of the court and hop back and forth over it as fast as possible. You can do this forwards and backwards or side to side. You can also make this more challenging by doing this on 1 leg. 
7. Agility ladder with cones - I like putting the agility ladder on 1 side of the court and cones on the other half. After going through the agility ladder you go through the cones and then back to the ladder. You can get pretty creative with the agility ladder.  You can add more exercises in the mix if you like. I often add in 10 or 20 toe tin taps after each ladder set. 
8. Skipping - this has to be one of the most popular ways to get lighter on your feet and strengthen your calves. Keep as skipping rope in your bag and get into a routine using it before or after you play. You can also do simple calve raises with or without weights. 
9. Grab a ball and move it - this similar to a couple of the ones above. I have 1 person at the from pointing and there other is on the T. I spread out some racquets with a few balls on each of them. The person points to a location and the person has to run and grab a ball and come back to the T and put it either to a collection racquet or to perhaps a racquet that you point to on the other side of the court (or you can use a front/back split). 
10. Circuits - here you can combine some or all of the above exercises into a circuit. You can mix in other exercises as well, but but squash players I believe it's helpful to keep some of these agility exercises included. 

I like using variety in exercises to keep it fresh and more exciting. Some of the exercises I've listed you can only do in small groups (or individually) while others you can do with larger numbers. You can use some agility exercises as your warmup or incorporate them into a workout on their own. If you improve at these exercises you will improve your court movement. You will be softer, quieter and not only is this easier on your body, your opponent won't always know exactly where you are. When I'm at the front of the court I'm listening for footsteps and I can generally hear them charging in or not moving at all. This can make my shot selection quite simple. 

Remember that a lot of your explosive T movement has to do with your positioning on the T. So practicing in the agility ladder or skipping will not improve that aspect of your game. While other exercises like pointing and ghosting, grab a ball and move it, race moving squash balls and the split screen mirror will. It doesn't mean all you should do is sport specific movements, but you shouldn't forget about them or not do them just because they are more challenging for you. 

My last points have to do with your actual style of running and hitting. Some people try and stomp harder when they want to hit the ball harder. This isn't necessary and it will be pretty obvious anyways that you're going to hit it hard. Unless you can work this into being deceptive it isn't the most efficient way to hit the ball with pace. Sometimes I'll see someone run and they land flatfooted. This is how people are told to run in books preaching barefoot running. But in squash this isn't a safe way to move or lunge into a shot. To avoid injury and maintain balance we need to land heel-toe when lunging. I only normally see flat footed movement in novice squash players. 

Are you a twinkle toes or a stampy the elephant? Next time you play listen to your movement? Listen to your opponent. Watch the top players at your club. Are they quiet or do you hear them stomping around? Normally good players appear to float or glide around the court. If you want to become a better squash player learn to move more efficiently and quietly. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

12 Common Problems On Clearing Back To The T

Today I'm going to talk about getting back to the T. Getting back near the middle of the court after hitting a shot is always one of the most common errors for players of all levels. Many people watch their shot, hop back, or take the incorrect path back. I will cover some common problems with this seemingly simple yet very challenging concept.

Even some pros move incorrectly back To the T, especially from the front corners. They play a counter drop and move directly back to the T or stand over their shot. The rules state that you must give your opponent the direct path to the ball. I really dislike playing players that do this. I would like to see them penalized more severely for this infraction in the rules. Always, lets move away from those that intentionally move back incorrectly. This topic is about how to properly move back to the middle of the court.

Common Problems
1) You move directly back to the T
2) You stand and watching/admiring your shot
3) You don't expect the next shot to come back
4) You are fatigued and think this is a chance to grab a quick break/breather
5) You take the wrong and long route back to the T
6) You take too many small steps/hop back to the T
7) You don't get to the correct area around the T (this is shot dependant)
8) You expect you're opponent to hit a certain shot and they don't (this ties into #7)
9) You turn and run back to the T
10) You don't get back to the T faster when you've hit a weak shot
11) You go back to the T when you hit a loose ball
12) You are positioned incorrectly on the T

I should also mention that I've heard that getting back to the T too quickly can also be a problem. You get back there and have so long that you lose that spring and spend too much energy and have to do multiple split steps before moving again. This is pretty rare, but I think I did this once upon a time. But I digress again, let's look more closely as the common problems I've listed above and what you can do to correct them.

#1 You Move Directly Back To The T
I already mentioned this is an issue in professional squash and is also a problem with amateurs. They have simply been told to get back to the T, but have not learned to circle around their opponent. This is an infraction of the rules and if you are constantly bumping into players you are likely guilty of this.

#2 You Stand And Watch/Admire Your Shot
This is pretty common as well. Even just a split second of watching your shot before recovering to the T will cost you against a good player. This also happens often after people serve. After they serve they are still standing in the service box watching and are vulnerable to get beat on a simple straight drive or a hard crosscourt hit right at them.

#3 You Don't Expect The Next Shot To Come Back
This is similar to #2, but is not always the same. Some people watch their shots regardless of who good it is while others are just surprised that the shot comes back at all. This often happens when you're not used to playing against someone as quick as your current opponent.

#4 You Are Fatigued 
You will see this happen more and more as the match goes on. As people fatigue they begin to get flat footed and walk back to the middle.

#5 You Take The Wrong And Incorrect Route To The T
This can be the same as # 1, but also includes when someone runs too far out of the way to clear and then back to the T. Many people do this because they don't feel comfortable moving along their opponent as they hit into the same corner. This ends up being a waste of energy and you get to the T later than you should. Sometimes in the back corners you may feel pushed further out wide against opponents that take too much space or are large. This is a tough situation and won't be an enjoyable free flowing match. You either give them the extra space and take the extra steps or you take the correct path and give them an appropriate amount of room to get into the corner and you may bump into them a few times. This will either results in let decisions or your opponent adjusting.

#6 You Take Too Many Small Steps Or Hop Back To The T
This is very common. If you watch the pros moving back to the T, especially from the back of the court they simply put one foot in front of the other once they get to the middle line. This is not only more efficient, but is faster.

#7 You Don't Get To The Correct Area Around The T
Many people think the T is the actual T line. This is rarely the case. Other people hang way too far back, while some don't move their T side to side when they anticipate a specific shot. You'll often hear the term, 'floating T' because it isn't an exact point. Watch some of the pros and you'll see that their T position depends on their shot and the anticipated shot of their opponent. If they hit a good pressure shot they may be nowhere near the T trying to poach and continue the assault.

#8 You Expect Your Opponent To Hit A Certain Shot And They Don't
This ties into # 7. Sometimes you don't expect your opponent to go short from the back of the court so you're caught hanging way to far back on the T. This has to do with anticipation and knowing your opponent. If an opponent is really crafty it may happen quite a bit. If you play the same player often this shouldn't happen too often. Are you anticipating or cheating for the next shot?

#9 You Turn And Run Back To The T
This is very common for new squash players. It's a last resort way of moving as you don't want to turn your back to the ball, your opponent and the front wall. When you do this you can have trouble picking up the play again. Although this may be the fastest way back sometimes it is not efficient and does not get you back into an ideal set T position. When I see someone do this from the front of the court I simply hit the next one short again.

#10) You Don't Get Back To The T Faster When You Hit A Poor Shot
This is why it's so tough to put away a top player. They realize instantly that they hit a loose shot and get back to the T as fast as possible. The rule of thumb is to get back by the time your opponent hits their shot. If you hit a poor shot and they are going to hit the ball sooner than normal, you have to get back in position quicker than you normally do.

#11 You Go Back To The T After Hitting A Loose Ball
This is normally only an issue for novice players. Most of us that have played for awhile know that if we hit the ball near the T we can't go back there. We must give our opponent the whole front wall to hit their shot.

#12 You Are Positioned Incorrectly On The T
I could write a while post about this topic. Many people are flatfooted, have their racquet by their ankles, don't turn their head and watch their opponent hit the ball from the back, or completely turn their body and watch their opponent hit. Knowing how you want to be set when you get back to the T is very important for anticipation, covering a variety of shots, for quick reactions and for volleying. Some people that don't wear goggles don't want to turn and watch their opponent because they fear getting hit. But some eyguards and watch your opponent as they hit the ball. If you don't you will never get to a good shot with enough time and set properly. I like my racquet to be around waist height, but this also changes if I hit a poor shot and am under pressure. When this happens my racquet will be low as I know I am going to have to scramble just to get my racquet on the next ball. As for your body position, this depends on the quality of your shot and what options your opponent has. If for example, you opponent is in the back right corner and has a number of options available my rule of thumb is to have your bellybutton pointed towards the front wall sidewall joint. Keep your racquet more in front of you can get beat if they hit it the other direction.

Proper Court Movement
In most situations you want to clear back towards the middle of the court slightly and then back towards the T. But don't clear to the other half of the court unless you hit a very loose ball.

If you hit into the same corner that you're in you have to clear quicker and towards the middle. This is why many people boast, hit crosscourt drives and crosscourt drops. They don't have to worry about clearing correctly.

If you hit a drop or trickle boast from the front of the court you have to get back to the T even faster because your opponent is going to hit the ball sooner than if you hit the ball deep.

Always anticipate the next ball coming back into play, so until the ball has bounced twice get back into a position ready for the next shot to come back. It may not against your current opponent, but against others it will and you will be prepared for it.

If you get too close to the ball you will often find it difficult to get to the middle and out of the way of your opponent. Try and stay further from the sidewalls so you are closer to the mid-court line and closer to the T.

As you improve your anticipation you will learn when and where to move around the 'floating T.' This is important if you want to volley and cut the ball off.

Some people have a lot of difficulty adapting their T position to different players and different courts. If you play a more attacking player you need to be more on your toes and higher on the T. The same things goes for if you're using a colder ball. If you are playing with a really bouncy ball or someone that only hits length you can get away with a deeper T, but this isn't an ideal spot to be volleying short from. If you're too deep your opponent could be back up in front of you by the time you are going to hit your volley.

Another area I haven't mentioned yet is when people try and clear their shot before they've hit the ball. This often leads to a poor shot. If you watch professional players in slow motion you will notice that they begin to clear almost immediately after making contact with the ball. And sometimes when they are in a difficult position they will have no other choice but to try and clear as they are hitting the ball. What happens to most amateur players when they begin to clear before they are finished hitting say a straight drive is that it comes out towards the middle of the court. If you pause the frame at the point of contact you will likely see their shoulders are no longer squared up the sidewall and this causes the loose shot. The fraction of a second they gain in getting back to the T quicker is worthless when they quality of the shot is so poor. I also find that this tends to happen on the forehand more frequently.

Reminder: if you and your opponent move properly around one another there should be little physical contact and very few let decisions.

Drills For Improving Movement Patterns and Speed Back To The T
1. Improve you fitness so you can get back to the T for the entire match
2. Circling/ghosting around another player
3. Rotating Drives but you have to get right up to the actual T line which is a bit higher than most people normally play
4. Rotating drives but you have to touch the floor with the butt of your racquet keeping your hand on the grip. This means you have to get back even faster
5. Boast, drop, straight or crosscourt drive. This drill will punch someone for clearing to the sidewall after hitting a drop. It also makes you have to clear back to the T fast after hitting a drop from the front
6. Boast drive getting to the T after each shot. The boaster can go directly to the T afterwards because they have hit the boast to a different corner and will not be running into their opponent
7. Rotating drives with the option to boast. This makes sure the player on the T plays high enough on the T.
8. Improve your agility and coordination so you can be quicker and lighter on your feet.
9. Strengthen your core and your lower body. This will help you explode off the T faster and clear quicker after you hit the ball. You will be able to stay further from the ball and closer to the T.
10. Any drill or condition game with options for 1 player. You can also have 1 player always have to hit into the same corner they are hitting from so they learn how to circle around their opponent properly.
11. If you play too deep of a T. Maybe you need to get better at volleying up above your shoulders. Or maybe you need to improve the efficiency of your movement into the back corners.
12. Watch yourself on tape and chart your T position. Does it change as you get tired?
13. Take a lesson! Well you'll need more than one to change your movement patterns.

Ok, so that's it for today. I feel like I had a lot to talk about and still have more I could write about. This is an area that almost every squash player in the world can improve. Get to more balls, volley more, and play more free flowing squash by learning to clear properly.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Training To Train Stage Of the LTAD

Today's post is about how to train/practice for kids during the training to train stage of the LTAD. This is for boys from ages 12-16 and girls 11-15. This is typically the age groups I deal with and find it rewarding and not without its challenges. Today I'm going to discuss some of the challenges and my thought about squash training for kids this age.

I should start by saying the LTAD is approximate and isn't always spot on for everyone. It's a guideline for coaches, parents, and athletes. Is there a reasons people can't train to compete and to win during the train to train stage? Isn't that what most are trying to do? Those that are successful at this stage are most likely to be successful as they get older and are in the training to compete stage. Anyways, that's not the point of today's post so I digress.

I find the toughest challenge about group training for this stage the amount of non-squash training to do. I would say off court, but we do most of our training on court. I  use a variety of circuit training, on court fitness testing, and ghosting. Obviously fitness is an important part of squash. How much of this training is too much? In this stage of the LTAD the kids are just learning how to train, why to train, how much to train, and so on. I believe this is where it's important to help train a variety of fitness compartments and ideally prepare them for training to compete when they are in grade 12 or get to university. This is where I feel that I have a duty to not only prepare them for their competitions during the season, but for a future where they continue to work on their fitness along with their squash game.

If people are aspiring to do well provincially and nationally doing some non-squash training is essential. Could you do excel with just playing squash? Probably, but I think just playing squash we won't target certain muscle groups and it can be difficult to improve our court movement. This is also where training years comes into place. You can only get so much stronger, faster, or fitter within a year. It's the annual build up of training years that allows you to gradually become stronger, faster, and fitter.

The challenge I have is with some kids wanting to put in the effort on a daily basis for the long term results. Another challenge is that squash should be fun at this age. If it's too hard and they aren't enjoying it at all they are likely to quit if they're not having any success or at some point during their life. I want these kids not only to do well now, but to play for life and enjoy the game. It's this enjoyment of the game, working hard, achieving goals, being motivated and driven that makes hard physical training enjoyable. At some point most people actually enjoy working out and going to the gym and the feeling of improving their fitness and squash game. It's a great feeling if you're physically prepared going into a tournament. Win or lose you know you did everything within your power to prepare yourself to the best of your ability. If you can say that then you should be able to live with the results.

During every stage of the LTAD we should be learning how to play the game smarter. During the training to train stage some of the kids are still working on their technical skills, while others are working more on advanced skills such as volley drops, shortening their swings, or deception. Finding a balance between doing all of this and getting them fitter is always a challenge. Do you worry only that everyone has as much fun as possible? Or that everyone learns as much as possible? Or that you prepare each athlete physically as well as possible and as a result risk having a couple of people drop out? This depends on the group.

What I want to accomplish is first and foremost make sure the kids love squash and are motivate to improve. Once they get to this stage they will be more willing to push themselves and do off court or non-squash training. Their are many benefits of training a group or team, but also other challenges. If one person doesn't work as hard or goofs around they can bring the rest of the group down. They can also do the opposite and pick one another up.

When kids are first getting into squash they do so just for the fun and pure enjoyment. Hopefully they continue to enjoy it and as they begin to have a bit of success they are learning the reasons for training and why it's important. Ideally they will get to university and be ready and prepared to train with their team on a daily basis and enjoy this. I find it very satisfying to get fitter, stronger, and faster. It really elevates your game. But it's a slow transition getting a teenager to this stage.

If you only have limited time with a group the best thing to do is on court training. You can come up with drills and condition games that work on both fitness, movement, tactical and technical development. I like trying to train a few different traits at once, but understand the importance of off court training. Nobody really enjoys court sprints or suicide sprints (there should be a better name for it than that!), but it is extremely satisfying after you've done them and given it all you had.

What are your thoughts on training kids at this level of the LTAD? If you are this age how much or what type of off court training do you do?

For someone in the training to train stage of the LTAD (11-16 years of age) which of the following would you categorize as most to least important? Fun and enjoyment. Skill and technical development. Tactical development. Physical fitness development. Psychological growth and development. Winning and results in competition.

Ideally we'd like to have them all and they are all important, but we often can't focus on all of them equally. What type of balance do you think is important for the long term development and enjoyment and success of the athletes at this age group?  

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Dangers Of Being Up Two Games To Love

Here we go, as promised! Today I'm going to talk about the dangers of being up two games to love. This past weekend I saw many people in the 2-0 trap. Their opponent picks up their game a bit and next thing you know we have a battle on our hands. I saw a couple of people come back from being down 2 games and even down with a handful of match balls. I also saw one boy come back from down 10-4 in the fifth! I posted recently about the importance of never giving up and playing every rally the same, but clearly some of the kids aren't following my blog!

So why do people lose a game when they're up 2 and in control of the match? Do they drop their game or does the opponent pick up theirs? Often it is a bit of both. Sometimes the worse thing is to win a game too easily. It's easy to drop off your game and think ahead that the match is over. It can be quite challenging to remain in the zone and focused when you're not coming up against much resistance.

When you're down 2 games to love some juniors in particular mail it in. They have been beaten psychologically and don't have any belief that they can comeback. Often if they feel this way that is what will happen. If someone is down and out, don't give them any sign of life. Let them go down quickly. Don't mess around and try and get some rallies or a workout. Do what you've been doing those first 2 games until the match it over.

If you do mistakenly let your opponent get a bit of belief that can become quite dangerous. That is why it is much harder to finish off an opponent that never quits. When they're back is up against the wall, as in being down 2 games to love they are going to come out and throw everything at you. They may try and change up their gameplay. You should expect they are going to either pick up the pace or lengthen the rallies. If you're going to beat a player like this it isn't going to be without a fight. This is the mentality you have to expect from your opponent. Expect that they are going to give it everything they've got even if they played a poor game or 2 previously. If you are expecting a battle you will be more focused on the present and your tactics. When we begin to think things are over and we look ahead to the finish line we get in trouble. This is when we are prone to an attack. Don't let yourself be caught in this mindset daydreaming about how well you're playing and what's for lunch. Momentum is a big thing in squash. When you lose it and lose control of the rallies it can be tough if not impossible to get back in control again and this is why we see so many people lose the 3rd game after being up 2 love.

Another reason we are vulnerable when we're up 2 games to love is that we may try and do something different. You shouldn't mess with a winning formula. But if you're opponent adjusts and changes things you have to be able to counter this. Sometimes it takes a game or 2 to figure out an opponent and then all of the sudden you get used to their game and begin to make inroads. This happens when you're playing someone that fatigues or someone you're playing for the first time.

So what can you do when you're up 2 love? How do you keep your focus and intensity up? Here are a few methods I like to use.
1) Have a between point routine that keeps you focused or refocused at the start of each point
2) Expect a tough game
3) Aim to get to 5 points first so you come out of the blocks in the 3rd game flying and killing any dreams of a comeback from your opponent
4) Often people lose focus between games when they start talking about things other than the current match. Keep your talk and mindset on what's happening until the match is complete.
5) Challenge yourself to see how few points you can give up in the next game

In practice it is difficult to recreate this situation. You can play momentum games where you have to win x# of rallies in a row to win a game. This makes you stay focused for each point as every point if important. You can also play a normal match, but whoever wins the first game counts as 2 games! This is a good one for slow starters too!

What can you do when you're down 2 love? You're opponent is susceptible in this situation so don't give away the match. Look at these as opportunities and challenges! It's not over 'til it's over. Here are a few methods I like.
1) Try and make the 3rd game as long as possible
2) Just get every ball back. Fight for every single point and don't go down without laying it all on the line
3) Try a different strategy. Speed it up, slow it down, look to volley more, etc
4) Try and get to 5 points first
5) Only use positive self-talk. It's easy to get down on yourself because things aren't going your way, but don't beat yourself up over it
6) Stop thinking about winning or losing. Focus on the basics, simply finding better length and width

Often when you're down 2 love you relax because you do think it's over. You start going for shots that you normally don't try or make, but because you're so relaxed and not worrying about winning anymore you play your best squash. This happens in golf all the time. After people have a bad first 9, they have a beer at the turn and loosen up and stop thinking about their great score they want to shoot that day. This can also happen in squash. It shows how important being able to control our nerves and anxiety. If we can play relaxed and almost carefree we tend to play better. Everyone is different though. Some people need to be intense and focused to play well.

Anyways, I hope you've enjoyed this topic. I see the 2 love trap happen all the time. With experience it should happen less. Next time you're up or down 2 games try some of my strategies to either finish off the match or get back in it.

Are there any other methods for turning around a match that you find effective? What about for closing out a match when you're up 2 love?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

How Canadian Junior Squash Has Changed In 20 Years

So I know I promised a Monday post about being up 2 games to love, but you'll have to wait 1 more day for that, but it is on the way. When I got home from the tournament I started thinking about how the game has changed; how good are the kids these days compared to when I played. Then I remembered I have a couple of my matches on video from way back in the day. So today I decided to write about how the game has changed over the past 20 years. And I can only use my own videos and memory for comparison. But surely with all the coaching and technology available to us our kids are doing better and improving faster...

The quality of my video is poor and the camera angles are not much better. But I decided to watch them and see if they would answer some of my questions. This it did, and then some I've watched these matches before, but it was a few years back and I understand the game a lot better now. Watching these games made me realize just how important coaching can be and the challenges of being a smaller kid. Here's the link if you want to take a look Can you tell which kid is me?

I know it's backwards, but this is how I received these copies of my matches and I don't know how to edit it. The first video if the last junior match I have recored of myself. I was playing the national semifinals against a much bigger opponent named Danny Rutherford. But basically my tactics were all wrong. I was an attacking player and would go short from anywhere on the court. Against some opponents this worked, but against a bigger and stronger opponent it didn't. If I just hit a few more lengths and waited for a better opening I would have won that match. But it's easy from the sidelines and to think about what could have been. But I didn't understand this at the time. For me, every time I had a chance to go short I took it.

The second match on the video is my under 12 finals against Matt Giuffre. We were 11 in this video so my attacking squash worked better. Especially since Matt was about the same size as me. Going up 1 age group and playing the under 14 against Danny was much tougher. I don't think his racquet skill was any better than mine, but he was physically stronger and his tactics were better that day. He did also go on to play professionally and make the top 40 in the world!

You'll have to excuse the last 30 minutes or so of the link.  I don't know how to edit it out, but there are 2 girls playing who were from my club and I'm thinking that maybe one of their dads recorded the matches on his camera.

After watching these matches there were a few things that stood out to me. The first was my poor racquet prep, especially on the forehand side. But back then my racquet was about 150 or 160 grams. Still, when I was under a bit of pressure I had trouble on the forehand. Would it be the same if I used a 100 gram racquet? I don't know, but it must have helped developed my strength. And really it made me have to prepare quicker and have a compact swing. Because of this poor preparation I didn't have a very good straight drop. I often waited until the ball was dropping again and played a topspin type drop by my feet. I think my backhand racquet pre was pretty good though and I did look to volley. I just didn't have much power on my backhand volley.

I also felt like my trickle boast was very effective. I did mention that a few posts back ( So here's proof! I was pretty deceptive when I had time at the front of the court as well. When I got a loose ball I prepared early, mixed it up well and had a number of options from a single setup. The last thing I noticed was that I was fearless. Against Danny I went for a crosscourt nick return of serve down match ball at 8-4. I hit it, at least close enough and came back to tie things at 8 before losing in extra points. Anyways, I played 1 style and didn't adapt it for anyone and the score. I'm just guessing that my coaches back then were letting me play how I wanted and didn't try and interfere with the way I enjoyed and wanted to play. Or perhaps I just didn't listen. I can't recall. But was this right or wrong? It made me think about the kids that I coach that around this age or level. Do you tell them to not do something right now so they will be more successful even if it means they are just keeping the ball in play and not playing how they want to play? At the end of the day I had a lot of success at that age. Would it work as you get older and play better, faster, fitter, stronger opponents, as the ball gets warmer and bouncier? Well it didn't against Danny. So if I was coaching myself I would try and get more balance between my attacking shots and my lengths.

So that's about it. I was curious how the game has changed in the past 20 years. I wrote a post about this awhile back about if I could time travel and coach myself ( I know I'm dating myself here and it's hard to now where the time went, but the next thing you know you're all grown up and trying to help people learn from your experiences.

Clearly the racquets make a difference, but I still see kids with their racquets down by their ankles. But I also don't see many kids in Canada playing the attacking style of squash that I liked to play back then. Is that because it isn't successful or that coaches are focusing more on length and getting kids to build a solid base first? Back then I would solo hit almost every day and worked nonstop on my short game. So was my short game back then better than kids that age today? Probably. But my length probably wasn't. Back then I didn't understand how important length was or even what a good length was. I mixed up the pace and I knew tight was important, but it takes time to learn what you're trying to do with length and to have a purpose behind all of your shots. Most of the time I hit length was just because it wasn't a good enough opportunity to attack short.

If you've been around coaching or playing for the past 2 decades what have you noticed that's changed? If you watched my matches, what did you notice is different from back then? Besides the poor camera quality! Canada doesn't have as many highly ranked international players anymore? Have the tactics and coaching changed? Or do more people are playing from around the world? I know all I have to go on on are a couple of my matches and my memory, so it's hard to say for sure.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

@SMUSsquash Twitter Account

Today is a very short post. I'm away with a group of kids from St. Michaels for a tournament in Vancouver. For those that are interested in following our group on our new twitter account you can follow us @SMUSsquash

Look for a new post on Monday about the dangers of being up 2 games to love. This weekend I've seen a few people lose their focus, let their guard down and end up losing. This is a painful but invaluable lesson that we all have or will experience.

Is winning a game too easily a bad thing? Is winning 2 games too comfortably make you even more susceptible? How can you avoid these situations and finish the match off in 3? Find out on Monday!

Friday, October 24, 2014

My Favourite Condition Games

Today I'm going to talk about what of my favourite subject, condition games. There are a number of reasons why you should play condition games. One of the main reasons I like them is that they allow to play different shots than normal in a competitive setting. Especially if we keep playing the same people we tend to play similar shots and get into patterns. This may be that we are just better at certain shots than others, lack confidence in some shots, or don't even consider some of the other options available to us. Whatever the reason, a good condition game makes us think and try new shots. This is an effective method for improving our tactics, creativity, and an increased understanding of or strengths and weaknesses.

Some condition games are just a lot of fun while others can extend rallies and improve our conditioning. We can also use condition games to make a matchup more challenging for the stronger player. In drill we generally hit shots in a set pattern, or sometimes have an option. In condition games we normally have options, but we can also limit our options on 1 or both players as we focus on improving the shot quality. I believe that set drill have a place in practice. Normally I use them to warmup, learn a movement pattern, or improve the technique of a shot. Once a person is pretty good technically they need to use more condition games and drills with options. Adding options into a practice makes the player have to anticipate and make decisions. As when we do set drills and know where the next ball is going we often move to the area before the shot was hit. So try and incorporate some drills with options or condition games into your practices. Here's a list of some of my favourites.

My Favourite Condition Games
1a. 1 player has to hit everything straight vs. anything 1 b. both players hit only straight (off the drop you can trickle boast. this prevents cheating after your drop).
2a. length game. 2b. length game and short on the volley 2c. length game and only short if you volley a crosscourt 2d. length for 1 player only, anything for the other player 2e. if you volley you can hit anything, if you don't you can only hit straight drives (for 1 player or both)
3a. short vs. deep 3b. change front to back if the back player volleys the front players length
4. if the ball hits the back wall on the bounce you win the point (or the other player has to hit a boast)
5. only 1 short shot allowed per rally (for 1 or both players)
6. must hit 2 volleys to length before going short
7. must hit 10 lengths before going short
8. if you don't volley the serve you lose the point
9. 1 player hits only length vs. 1 player that hits only straight
10. crosscourt game (short or deep)
11. allowed 1 crosscourt drive per rally (1 or both players)
12. not allowed to boast
13. start the rally with a back wall boast (1 player serves the whole game or you can switch depending on who wins the point)
14a. every shot over the service line (for 1 or both players). 14b. allowed 1 shot under the service line per rally (1 player or both)
15. front of court game (no pace allowed, every shot lands in front of the short line, the serve is a boast)

These are some of my favourites. You can pick and choose some depending on what area of your game needs attention. If you crosscourt too much, don't volley enough, want to work on your shot selection from a specific area of the court, etc than pick a condition game that makes you hit straight, look to volley, or make decisions.

You can also put other conditions like 1 player serves the entire game. This will allow 1 player to work on their serve and 1 to work on their return. Also giving 1 player a few points to start the game with can make it more challenging. Other times I will ask people to start at random scores and finish off the game, say 8-9 or 9-6. I'll also play normal rallies with a momentum game where you have to win x# of consecutive rallies to win the game (while also making sure your opponent doesn't do this before you do). If the players are different levels I may say 1 person has to win just 2 rallies in a row while the other (and stronger) person has to win 4 or 5. I also will use targets for bonus points that encourage people to hit different shots that I want them to practice. You can also play 2 corner or 3 corner court. You can play a game to 20 where you eliminate 1 corner that you're allowed to hit into after you get to 5, and then another at 10, and one more at 15. There are plenty of condition games to keep practice exciting, competitive and challenging.

What's your favourite condition game? Is it on my list or am I missing it?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Prevent and Cure Low Energy

Today I'm going to talk about what you can do if you're low on energy before or during a match or training. Obviously squash is a sport that we expend a lot of energy and burn a lot of calories playing. Once in awhile we all have those groggy days where we can't get out feet moving. If this is happening on a regular basis you will have to ask yourself if you're getting enough sleep and if you are eating the right type of fuel for playing squash. But for most of us this low energy just happens irregularly and I have a few tricks that you can try to get you going to feel and play better.

Prevention: the first part I want to talk about is prevention. This is clearly better than waiting to feel low on energy and then dealing with it. So what are some common reasons and cures for feeling tired and low on energy. The first is obvious. We didn't get enough sleep. It sounds like a simple fix, just get more sleep. But often this is more difficult than it sounds. Some people get nervous while they are in competition and have difficulty sleeping. If this is the case you may benefit from breathing, meditation, or muscles relaxation techniques. Sometimes some relaxing music can help. Even if you don't fall asleep, just lying down and relaxing can help you feel rejuvenated.

If you're tired I always recommend finding time for a short power nap. Even just 30 minutes of sleep at some point during the day can make a big difference. A lot of professional athletes do this after their morning training and before their night game. If we are training and playing a to of squash we likely need  more sleep than we're getting. So try getting into a routine of taking a nap, at least during competitions or tough training days.

Another reasons people get low on energy is their diet. If you eat pretty healthy and stay avoid things like sugar, caffeine, and alcohol you will stay on a more even energy platform. This will also improve your sleeping and therefore your squash. It can be challenging to eat similar and healthy when on trips for competition, but this is when it's most important. Have a look at this previous post if you want to know more about squash nutrition This may seem obvious, but when people are worried about shedding a few pounds this can become an issue; it's important to eat more food when you've increased your training and expending more energy. Eating a big within 30 minutes of exercise also helps your body to refuel faster which again is essential to performing well in tournament play.

I should also mention here that sometimes when your energy level is abnormally low it can be a sign of getting sick or stress. So getting some extra sleep and eating well is very important. But what happens when it's just because you've had a long day? If you're at a tournament, I always try and get out for some fresh air and not spend the entire day sitting inside watching other matches. It's good to separate yourself from the squash club for a while and get your mind off of squash.

Cures: so far I've talked about preventative measures. But what can you do once you're at training or a tournament and you've been hit by a low spell of energy? The first tip I have is something I heard that Rafa Nadal does before every match. Rafa has a cold shower. This shocks the body and wakes up the mind. If you don't want to do the whole cold shower you can always try splashing some cold water on your face. Another tip is to have a more rigorous warmup than normal. Often the toughest part is just getting going, but once you get the hear rate up you will start waking up and feeling better. So if you're feeling tired and low on energy get your hear rate up and work up a sweat before you go out on court.

As I mentioned above, sometimes low energy has to do with our nutrition. I always keep some snacks in my bag. Everyone is different, but I suggest keeping something that has some carbs, electrolytes, and protein in your bag. You can also keep some power gels in your bag as they are easily digested. You'll see some of the pros use these between games. It's a quick way to replenish electrolytes and carbs. Mostly long distance runners use these and shouldn't have to rely on them, but if you're feeling low on energy before or during a match a quick gel pack could help give you a boost.

The last suggestion I have for you is only something you can do at practice. Whenever I felt low on energy I would push myself harder physically. I liked using a treadmill so I could set the speed and make sure I worked harder than normal. I think the psychology behind this really worked for me. Some people don't want to snap out of feeling low on energy because it's quite difficult. I would punish my body and challenge my mind when this happened. I know how long and how fast I would run and it would always be tough, but I wouldn't stop until I couldn't take another step. After a really tough run I always felt much better.

There is one more area that needs to be discussed. Although I liked to physically push myself when I felt really low on energy, sometimes you need to listen to your body and take a day off. Maybe you need to change your rest day to today. Obviously you can't do that at a tournament. Going through the motions in drills or in the gym isn't going to help you. If you go on court or to work out, only do it when you're going to give it your best effort. If you're low on energy maybe you're better watching some squash, taking a nap, doing a solo hit, or even taking the day off.

What works for you when you're feeling low on energy? Do you have any tricks to get you up for a match or for training?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Never Give Up

Today I'm going to talk about sport psychology. There are a lot of areas that impact a squash match and your performance. I'm going to talk about one in particular in a couple of specific situations. Today I'm going to talk about focus toward the end of games and matches. Unless the score if pretty tight many people tend to ease up near the end of the game. We think that the game is over before it actually is. It's human nature to predict what seems inevitable. I'll get into some reasons why you should always play out the game regardless of the score. I'll also give you some tips on how to keep fighting and maintain your focus when things are going too easy or you feel like there's no hope.

The first reason we should never give up is pretty obvious, just take a look at the Dessouki vs. Gawad match at the US Open. Dessouki was down 10-5 and 2-0 in games. Yet somehow he came back and won the game and eventual the match. When Gawad got to match ball he started trying to showoff and showboat and went for some extravagant shots. This not only shows up your opponent but is a lack in concentration because Gawad thought the match was over. So learn from this example that anything can happen. If you give your opponent just a slight hint of belief they may just run with it. I think the saying goes, 'let a sleeping dog lie.' It may not happen often, but at some point in your career you will have this type of comeback and likely also let one of these matches slip away.

The next reason to fight for every point, even if you're down 10-0 in a game is to try and create some momentum and confidence going into the next game and at the same time stop your opponents. If you're having a bad game and way down it's easy to throw away the game, but clearly you're not hitting your targets or playing your best squash. It's normally pretty easy to relax and mentally you may give up the game but you are still fighting and trying to play better points. You may not come back and win this game, but you may begin to find your length and hit your stride. Maybe you are just getting adjusted rot your opponents style of play.

Another reason you want to fight for every point regardless of the score is because this is a certain continuous level of concentration and focus. Even if you're way down this is your zone for playing squash. I like to think of playing with a poker face. Not showing or giving away too much. Like when Roger Federer plays tennis. It's hard to tell if he's churning on the inside, he always appears calm and in control. If you are giving up and starting to try again it doesn't always work. When you're up against the wall keep your focus and grit. Continue fighting for every point as if winning that point could turn around the match. Sometimes it very well can.

The next reason you should fight for every point has to do with all of the above reasons. Anything can happen, you can change the momentum if you continue fighting and maintain your focus. Because there is a chance that you're opponent will begin to slow down, tire, lose their focus, even if just momentarily this may be all it takes to swing things around in your favour. And even if you don't quite make a comeback this time, it sends a message that the next time you two play you expect to do better. You've proven that you can be competitive with this player and are close to beating them. Sport is very psychological. A lot of the time the match is won or lost before it starts. If you've created some doubt in your opponent and given yourself some belief for the next time you are 1 step closer to making it a reality.

Another reason to never give up regardless of the score is because you should be focusing on your game and playing your best squash possible. Don't focus so much on winning and losing, or the score. The score is the result of the process. Focus on the process and maintain a high standard of play at all times. This will allow you to play more consistently at a higher level. A lot of time we get to wrapped up about the score and play not too lose. This is a timid way to play and is normally not very enjoyable. I like to express myself on court and not play to the score. Sure maybe at 9 or 10 all I might make sure that I attack on a good opening, but this post is about being up or down by a good margin in a game or match.

The last reasons you should never let up is because you should expect you're opponent won't. Psychological skill and strength is something that may not reflect your performance if the skill levels are not evenly matched. But fighting all the way through builds mental strength. I like to expect the best from my opponent and I never ease up because I know that leaves me vulnerable and more prone to all of the above, along with getting injured.

So yes, there is an exception for people that are out of shape, badly winded, older. Maybe you're up 2 games to love and you get down early in the 3rd. So if this is you and you're playing some young buck that you can't run with, then sure maybe you don't want to throw everything at them or you won't be able to play the 4th or 5th game if needed. But if you're conditioning is in check, always play out the game and match. How exactly do you do this? Here are some tips.

Focus on the process, not the score.
Focus on the present, 1 shot (2 target) and 1 rally at a time.
Focus on playing your best squash. Don't play down to the level of your opponent.
Have a goal for each point. Reiterate your plan (the process) during your preserve routine.
Tell yourself that giving up is a sign of weakness.
This is a time where your focus is vulnerable to drift. Be sure to stick to your between rally routine.
Think of this situations as challenges. Accept and rise to the challenge.
Momentum is difficult to quantify but exists. Don't let go of it when you have it.
Use positive self-talk only.

Have you had any historic comebacks? I remember one time I was up 8-0 in the 5th game in the semi-finals of the national college squash championships. This was when we played to 9. I ended up winning 10-9 in the fifth after missing a lot of opportunities to close out the match. I remember at the time I was thinking how I had to work too hard and I would not have enough left for my next match. Clearly a terrible and destructible thing to think while you're playing. Anyways, after this match I vividly recall someone saying how they couldn't believe I almost lost this match after being up 8-0. And this actually never entered my mind. I was happy that I was able to let that lead sip away and still come through and win the match in extra points. I learned a lot from that one match. The challenge and importance to focus on the present and even that current match. And also that I can remain calm and look at what others view as a partial collapse as a challenge and an obstacle. Because I as able to do this, I was able to still hang on and win the match. Unfortunately, what I thought during this match was true. I didn't have enough steam left for the finals. But I almost never made it there because I got ahead of myself.

I'd like to hear about some of your most epic comebacks and loses. We learn from these. These situations reveal how important psychology is in our sport. We need to learn from these occasions and have a plan to learn from out mistakes. This is also what makes sport so interesting to watch and play. Anything can happen. And if you're mentally tough and fight for every point you have a better chance of being on the positive side of epic turnarounds. I always tell kids to never give up on a ball. Always try and get it back until it's bounced twice. The same goes for each point, game, and match. It's never over until it's over. Don't count yourself out until the match is actually finished and you've shaken your opponents hand. If only there was a better method to assess, measure, and monitor mental strength. On a scale of 1 to 10 how would you rate yourself? Never give up a point regardless of the score! It's how we play the game that counts.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Disguise From The Back Corners

Today I'm going to talk about something that is often overlooked by most amateur players, disguise and deception from the back corners. It's tough enough to hit a good length out of the back corner that most people can't focus on disguising their shot or using deception from the back. But the lack of disguise makes it very easy for good players to control the T. Especially if someone is receiving a pretty good drive, all they can really hope to do is get it back down the wall and possibly even play a boast. Today I'll explain why when you play stronger players they can cut off even your best drives and what you can do about it.

The idea about using disguise from the back of the court is the same as the from the front, only one thing is much more challenging. What makes this tougher is that most people are restricted in the back corners with the side and back wall and are lucky to just hit a straightish drive. To be able to disguise your shot you need to have time. If you're under pressure in the back of the court you won't have any options, you'll just be trying to return the ball. But if you have time and space (to take a full or almost a full swing) from the back corners you should have some options.

I feel that this part of the game isn't noticed when watching the top players. But from the back of the court if the ball is overhit and not right on the side wall, all the top pros have a number of options. From a singe setup position they can hit straight or crosscourt drive, straight drop, a boast, or a straight kill. I know Shorbagy really likes his backhand revers boast too, but we'll leave that out of the discussion for safety reasons.

Okay, so you get to the ball with the same setup, your racquet preparation and your spacing is the same. Now can you each of the various shots I listed above without telegraphing your intention? Just using variety if it isn't disguised will not work against a top player. So how can you practice this? Well I use to practice these with hours of solo hitting. Set up a camera/phone and film yourself and see how similar you can prepare for these various shots. You can also practice them using a number of drills and condition games. Here's a few

1. player A can hit boast or drive to self then boast, player B hits straight drive from the front
2. player A can hit straight or crosscourt length, player B can hit straight drives
2b) I like to add an option here where if player B volleys player A's length they can go short.
3. rotating drives with option to boast
3b) same as 3 with option to trickle boast off the boast
4. length game plus 1 short shot each per rally
5. player A has to hit everything to 1 back corner, player B can hit anything
5b) player A has to hit straight drives, player B can hit anything
6) player A can hit straight drop or boast (from the back court), player B hits straight drive
6b) player A can also hit a straight kill drive
7) straight game (short or deep)
7b) straight game with option to boast

Remember that first thing you need to be able to do is get to the ball with time and space. Having a good early racquet preparation gives you options. But if you're opponent hits a good length and put you under pressure this isn't the time to be thinking disguise or deception. Having good footwork into the back corners is an important factor to give you the time and space needed to use a variety of shots. And you also need to reinforce your length (drives especially) to make a straight drop, kill or boast from the back more effective. Being further from the front wall and having the receiving ball travelling now back towards the front wall makes these short shots more challenging, but I feel they are important shots for top players to learn. Use them sparingly and you will keep your opponent off the T and off balanced.

Next time you watch some top pros play, see how the prepare and what shots they hit from the back corners. If their opponent knows they have to hit straight drive the quality has to be almost perfect of their opponent will be waiting to pick it off on the volley.

The last thing I should add is that it is also possibly to show one shot and hit another from the back, but much more challenging to do this from this area of the court than the front. It takes a lot or practice and forearm strength to say, show a drop and get enough mustard on your drive to hurt your opponent for leaning the wrong way. A number or players do this more commonly, some to varying success. They open their shoulders as if they were going to crosscourt and hit a straight drive. This is also a similar idea to Shorbagy's reverse boast. It looks like a crosscourt because he opens up to hit it that direction. They can tell he's going to hit it hard, and then he does, but a bit wider than expected and this is why it works. But again this particular shot will only work if played very infrequently.

That's it for today. I hope I've got you thinking a bit more about this area of the game. It's a part that I have always enjoyed. Now you know why the better players are always waiting for your length to cut it off, they can read you too easily. If you suspect they are cheating/poaching, then try and add in an attacking boast or crosscourt from the same setup, or maybe even a hard struck down the middle shot!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Preparing For The Unexpected

Today is going to be a rather unique topic. I'm going to talk about what happens when unexpected things happened during a match. This includes when you get injured, are bleeding, the ball breaks, your string or racquet breaks, your shoelace breaks, and so on. It can also be equally distracting when something happens to your opponent. If they get sick or injured it is easy to loose your focus and let your guard down. How can you avoid this happening? Obviously some of these scenarios can be prepared for, such as having an identical backup racquet, while others are more challenging.

I started thinking of this topic because of the first aid course I took on the weekend. Whenever I travel to a tournament with kids I always bring a first aid kit. It has the basics in it, bandaids, tensor bandages, sports tape and so on. This brought back memories of one of the more memorable practices from last season. I was trying to prepare the kids for things that may occur at a competition. So we played challenge matches and mid-match I would pretend their ball broke and make them warm up and continue on with a new ball. I also would pretend their strings or racquet broke and they would have to play with their backup. Some of the kids really didn't like their backup racquet and complained about this. Some of the backups were not identical racquets and this really threw them off. This is why for any serious squash player to be prepared and have at least 2 identical racquets with the same tension and type of string, the same grip with the same thickness. This will allow for the easiest transition. It's important to be prepared for these situations. Have a look at this post on for what to pack for a tournament.

If you break your strings or racquet during a point, how do you finish the rally? You probably have 1 or 2 good chances to attempt a winning shot, otherwise the more shots you hit the looser your strings well get and the less accuracy you will get. Don't just stop and give away the point, play it out and use your legs to try and win the rally. It can really frustrate an opponent when they lose a rally to a broken frame or string.

So going back to the first aid scenario. Do you know how long you have if you get inured in a match? This of course depends on if it was self inflicted or not. This also depends on if there was any blood. The blood rules states that the players gets as long as it takes to clean up the blood and bandage the wound. Once you begin play if blood shows up from the same wound you will be stopped immediately and you're opponent will be awarded the game. You will then only have the regular allotted time between games to put a new bandage on and hope this doesn't happen again. If this happens in the 5th game you'll lose the match.

As for injuries, if it is a self-inflicted injury you have up to 3 minutes for any treatment before you have to be back on court. If your opponent is at fault you are entitled to the match. If it is contributed by both players you have up to an hour before shaving to begin play again. Here is a link to an abbreviated list of the rules

It wouldn't be a wise use of practice to use to long of delays during a match, but for a touring pro I would practice these situations as it will happen at some point and it is very challenging to get back your focus and your game. It's almost harder if it's your opponent that gets inured. You may start wondering if they'll continue and if you should change your game plan. Unless it was a serious injury it's important to focus on yourself and your own shots. Keep playing the way you've been playing. If you haven't been playing well this stop in momentum may prove to be helpful.

One situation we practiced as group was coming off court for an injury timeout and having to go back on and play with some tape on a joint or a bandaid on your hand. We had some fun with this one and had tape wrapped around one of the kids heads. It was maybe a little over the top, but it got a bunch of laughs and definitely threw him off his game. When something changes your focus it is hard to play your best squash. You can use situations just like the ones I've listed to rehearse for these. They may not happen often, but they do, and they are situations you can practice for. It can also be a lot of fun at the same time.

I'll finish off with some other unusual situations that I have either seen occur or have heard about. What happens if you rip a hole in your shorts? I've heard about a bra snapping as well and a foot going through a shoe. What do you do? We can only prepare for so many things before it gets a little ridiculous. But keeping extra socks, shorts, shirt, racquets eye guards and maybe even shoes are all important. Having some standard first aid equipment is also useful for tournaments. And if you want to be really prepared, try having to make some of these adjustments in practice. Remember it's not really about the physical changing of the equipment or the rapping of an injury, it's about the mental focus. If your opponent does this do you stay on court and continue hitting? Or take a break and get a drink and talk to your coach?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sherbini and Shorbagy

How does the author of Serious Squash miss a post on world squash day? Well I spent the day doing a first aid and cpr course! So I didn't even have time to get on a squash court, but I did get to watch the replays of the finals of the US Open when I got home. That also meant I had to avoid all social media sites to avoid finding out what happened. Today I'm going to write about one of the winners of the US Open and the new #1, Mohamed El Shorbagy. and the women's finalist Nour El Sherbini. I should mention that I correctly predicted Shorbagy and David to win the titles. Not that the David pick is surprising. In my opinion Shorbagy only played his best squash against Gaultier, which is when it mattered most. I also think that Shorbagy is far from being at his peak. I'll get into this a little later on.

Before going into the men's final and Shorbagy I want to touch base on the women's event. I should write another entire post on Nicol David, but today is about Nour El Sherbini. Not only does Nour have a great attacking game, but I think she has the best straight hard attacking drives from the back corners on both sides of the court. In particular her forehand straight drive is so accurate for the pace she hits it with. It's only a matter of time before she takes over Nicol's top spot. Nicol won because of a variety of reasons, her experience, her steadiness, her mental strength, and her retrieving. Nour as with many of the Egytpians still make too many errors and force the play and haven't found the right balance of attack and patience. But I think the deception Nour has, her attacking skills, her retrieving, and her amazing straight drives will make her world # 1 someday soon.

I know Raeem El Weleily is also super talented and has this potential and has beaten Nicol a few times. But when I watched them play in the semis I couldn't understand why Raneen went for so many return of serve crosscourt nicks. Nicol has a very good serve and Raneem only hit 1 or 2 out of at least a dozen attempts. Surely she could pick a better time to go for a nick than off of Nicol David's serve. I always tell my athletes that they should only go for this type of shot when they have the momentum and are feeling it. If you're behind, nervous, anxious, lost a number of points in a row this shot rarely seems to work. Raneem proved this point well in this match. I did enjoy the way Raneem changed the pace and used a lob from all over the court. Nicol is a small person and a good lob has as good of chance as any hard struck ball to produce an opening to attack. I also like Raneem's fearless attitude, but I still think she needs to reign it in a bit if she ever wants to dominate the tour.

In the men's semi-final and final it was evident that there was some pressure on the players because the #1 ranking was on the line for November. Because of all of this talk I don't think we got anyones best squash. Shabana played great against Matthew and Shorbagy played great against Gaultier, but unfortunately neither match saw both players playing at their best at the same time. Shorbagy is much younger than all the other semifinalists and proved that this is a major factor. He also wisely played within the rules and asked for a new ball after the 2nd game in both the semifinal and final. When the ball is bouncy there is almost nothing he can't get back. He even chokes up on the racquet and crowds the ball and still he gets everything back. The relentless pace he plays at is also so impressive. All squash players train for a high pace and want to hit it hard, but Shorbagy is in a league of his own. Nobody else is even close. I've seen Ramy play at that pace for a game against Matthew once, but I've never seen anyone maintain that pace for such long durations.

In my opinion there are still a number of areas that Shorbagy can improve. He missed a lot of forehand volley drops in the final because he tries to put so much cut on the ball. In all of his matches besides his semifinal his length was pretty loose. He gets away with it just because of his sheer power and his retrieving ability. Although somehow his length was best when it mattered most against Gaultier. He also played a lot of lobs against Greg. I think he played more lobs in this one match than I've ever seen him play combined. I feel like Shorbagy just outhit Shabana and hit his way out of trouble. This won't always work all of the time though. It may against these older pros, but if they are on their game and they're making Shorbagy do all of the running it won't. I've said before that I really like Shorbagy's forehand deceptive drop and I also enjoy his straight kills on both sides. He's such a presence on the court. You can tell he's been trained by the great Jonah Barrington. It's a combination of the Egyptian attacking squash and power with Jonah's commitment to fitness and conditioning. Shorbagy proves that even on a glass court with a lowered tin a relentless pace, speed, and fitness can overwhelm even the best players in the world. I can't wait to see a healthy Ramy take on Shorbagy. You're not really #1 in the world until you beat Ramy when he's healthy.

Unfortunately the men's semis and finals were both pretty chippy. I think all 4 of the men disrespected the refs and reacted inappropriately after some of the decisions. Even if they completely disagree with a call there is a respectful way to make your point. Simply ask for a review or ask calmly for an explanation. This is something that for the most part is much better on the women's side. I feel like the match between Dessouki and Gawad was a sour spot for the refereeing and the players. There is a lot on the line in these events, but at the end of the day there are rules to follow. It's up to the referee to make sure the players are abiding by these rules. Some of the players are quite large in stature and there is going to be some contact. I'd like to see more no lets and strokes used. More no lets when there is minimal interference and more strokes when someone doesn't give their opponent a direct route to the ball, even if they are standing on the T.

Who else impressed you at the US Open? Adrian Waller had some good wins. Max Lee looks like he's on a collision course for the top 5. Dessouki had some big wins and made it to the quarters. Rosner really pushed Gaultier and should be ranked in the top 10 soon, but how high can he get? Shabana had a great tournament and shows he has a lot more left in the tank. What about on the women's side? Yathreb Adel is only 18 and has a much lower ranking than her skill level. She looks like one to watch for the future along with Sherbini. It looks like the Egyptians are taking over both the PSA & WSA tours. I don't mind, they are awfully exciting to watch.

Friday, October 17, 2014

US Open Semifinals Preview

I feel like i haven't been writing as regularly on here as I've been busy with work and when I'm not I've been watching replays of the US Open. I'm finally all caught up and ready for the semis tonight. So today I'm going to write about the mens semifinals, the strengths and weaknesses of each player, and of course who I think will win. If you've read my post on Facebook a few days ago you would know who my pick is, but I'll get to that in a moment.

To begin with, I haven't watched all of the women's matches, so it's hard for me to assess the 4 semifinalists. Maybe I've picked the wrong women's matches to watch, but most of the ones I've seen have had exceptionally short rallies, games, and matches. There's probably a few reasons for this (the lack of experience for some on the glass court begin one), but that is the opposite of women's tennis. I know a lot of people prefer women's tennis because the rallies are longer, but at least at this tournament this doesn't appear to be the case. If women's squash is going to take off and become as popular or more popular than men's squash I think they need to consistently have longer rallies. I know a few of the guys steamroll opponents too and have quick matches as well. Even the quarterfinal match Shabana and Mosaad was disappointing and had quite short points. I'll watch the women's semis and hopefully see some good evenly matched and long points.

So on to the men. I'm going to start with Gaultier. Gaultier is so strong and fast. If Gaultier doesn't make errors he is almost impossible to beat. The best way to beat Gaultier is to let him beat himself. He will lose his focus and get upset and is prone to making some poor unforced errors. This has happened less over the last year and is why he's at #1. I also think his body is more prone to break down over a very long match because of the length and strength used for his lunging. If Gaultier ends up having to do equal work with a young Shorbagy, I like the Egyptians chances. I also feel that Gaultier is susceptible to a good attacking boast from the back of the court because he often turns his head to the front wall just before his opponent hits the ball. I don't know how he gets away with this. The nay other area I think Gaultier could improve is his use of height. He rarely lifts the ball and changes the pace. I guess with how fast he is he feels like he can always hit an attacking shot. He almost paid the price for this against Rosner. Rosner was overly aggressive and was trying to volley almost everything Gaultier hit, even guessing a number of times. Gaultier looked very fatigued at the end of this match and did not play enough lobs against an overly aggressive Rosner.

Shorbagy to me is the fittest of them all. Shorbagy can play at a relentless pace and I've rarely seen him ever ease up and show a sign of fatigue. Shorbagy in my opinion gets too close to the ball quite often but still recovers quite brilliantly. He also is probably the loosest of the 4 semifinalist, but manages to make up for it most of the time because he hits it so hard and is so fast. If Shorbagy is going to beat Gaultier tonight he's going to have to tighten it up and play at a high pace for 4 or 5 games to break down Gaultier. If he can make Gaultier do the same amount of work as he does he will beat him. Easier said than done!

Shabana has a long list of strengths. He hits the best lines as his drives are always running parallel to the side wall. He very rarely clips the sidewall on his drive before they get to the back. Besides this he can attack from everywhere on the court, he mixes the pace the best in the game, and is the 2nd best at the front of the court (behind Ashour). Shabana also has all the experience, but so does Matthew. I like Matthew to win this match though. I think Shabana has slowed down a little. We saw this against Max Lee and also at the final of the Netsuite Open against Gaultier. As much as I enjoy watching Shabana play, speed is one athletic quality that is necessary to compete against these top 3 guys and is why I think his tournament will end tonight. Sorry Shabana!

I've never enjoyed watching Nick Matthew play, but I respect his ability..and that' correct I haven't read his book. He volleys so much and has improved his short game. He will be tough for anyone to beat in this event and has had the easiest path to the semis. He is coming off knee surgery a few months ago, but came back and won the commonwealth games right after, so I don't suspect that will bother him. I still think his backhand is not as strong as some of the other players. Although Nick has improved his attacking game, he did not grow up playing this way and is why he often loses to Ramy and will have trouble if he plays Shorbagy in the final. I think Shabana will make him work for it, but I think Matthew is too quick and fit for Shabana. This won't be the case in the finals though. What Matthew has going for him is a potentially less physically demanding semifinal match. I anticipate a real war between Gaultier and Shorbagy. At the end of a tournament it doesn't always come down to the best player, but the freshest.

So I'm going to stick with my original pick and say Shorbagy will beat Matthew in the final. I don't feel too confident with this after watching how loose Shorbagy was against Waller. He will have to play much better tonight if he's going to take down the world #1. Good luck Mohamed!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Max Lee

Today I'm going to talk about Max Lee. I just got around to watching his 2nd round match against Shabana and I was very impressed. There is a lot we can learn from this match and watching this young player as he rises up the ranks. Lee is currently ranked 20th in the world and I feel like he's a potential top 5 player. Here's why.

To start with Lee is unbelievably fast. His feet are very quick and he didn't appear to slow down much even after a long 78 minute battle with Shabana. Of course Max was playing an older player and he has played Shabana before so he read him quite well. To pass my quickness test I'd like to see him get on court with Shorbagy or Gaultier. Those two guys for me are relentless in their hitting and cover the court the best in the game. Maybe Max looked faster playing an again Shabana. Even still he is undoubtably super fast. Part of this I feel is because he has a good muscle mass to strength ratio. He's strong but not too heavy to slow him down. He also reads the game extremely well. Lee seemed to anticipate and move before Shabana had hit the ball. Shabana is normally so creative at the front of the court, but he was pretty predictable because he was a bit late getting to the ball. This meant he really only had 2 options most of the time, a lob or a counter drop. I think if Shabana was a little quicker to the front and used more delays in his shots he would have had more success from the front of the court. Whenever I play someone that seems to be on the ball before I'm done hitting I assume they are reading me and leaving early, so try a flick and a delay and see if you catch them leaving early and going the wrong way.

Okay, so moving on from Lee's incredible speed. I was also impressed by how far up he played on the T. He plays as high or even higher than Matthew. For a guy who's only 5'9 this was fun to watch. He basically said you're not beating me short from the back and was in a better position to volley when he got a loose ball being up so high. I know to the average amateur they will fatigue playing up this high and doing a few rotating drives, but for a professional that does this all the time they should be fit enough. Having good footwork to the back and quick back to the T is essential if you're playing high on the T. With a lower tine and a glass court I'm surprised I don't see more of the players up this high.

Two more things really impressed me about Lee. The first is that on top of his retrieving he hit some fantastic winners and barely made any unforced errors the entire match. Shabana made a lot more unforced errors and I thought Lee was going to sneak out the win. Next time I think it will be a different story. So Lee isn't just a retriever, if you give him an opening his hands are soft and he takes the ball in short with a high degree of accuracy.

The last thing that really impressed me was how Lee hung in and kept fighting. He didn't appear to be satisfied with just getting a game or 2. Max wasn't intimated by the great Amr Shabana. Max was there to win and looked like he believed he could. He had a good game plan and almost pulled it off. I think many young players in Lee's shoes would have not really believed they could have won. I get the feeling Max would go in the same way against any of the top players. Even if he loses 10 or 20 times in a row to Matthew or Gaultier, I think every time he plays he will believe that this is his turn and he will always give his best effort.

So yes, Max Lee did a lot of things to impress me. What would I recommend he work on as his coach? For me the biggest thing is just experience against the top guys. I think he has all the tools. The one area that might get him in trouble is that he leaves too early sometimes. But Shabana didn't make him pay for this too often, so maybe he could make this adjustment. The only other thing I would like to see is that early in the match Lee tried to call some minimal interference lets. Luckily the video judge overturned the calls and gave him no lets and Lee started playing more free flowing squash. This is certainly a habit I don't endorse and after watching the Gawad and Dessouki match I feel is something I would make a point of and not tolerate as a coach.

I didn't see much else wrong with Lee. It will be interesting to see just how high he can get. Before giving him too much credit I'd like to see him play the top 3 guys. Shabana couldn't handle Gaultier at the finals of the Netsuite and I think has slowed down just a notch and I don't think his fitness levels are as good as the top 3 are. If Lee can hang in there and learn to even out the retrieving and attacking against those top 3 guys he could have a long career in the top 5 of the rankings. He's very hard to win a point off because he's so fast, hits good length, doesn't make many poor decisions, and hits very few unforced errors. Of course if he had won, how would he have been able to back that up? Is he fit and strong enough to have 70+ minute intense matches on back to back days?

Did you watch this match? Have you seen Max Lee play before? What are your opinions? How high do you think he'll get up in the rankings?

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

US Open Dessouki vs. Gawad

Today I'm going to talk about a specific match I just watched on replay from the US Open. I was eager to watch Egyptian Karim Abdel Gawad play his younger countryman Fares Dessouki. I saw just the beginning earlier before having to go back to work. They are both attacking players and I expected lots of quick fire rallies and exciting shot making. If you haven't watched this match I recommend it. As you're about to find out, I'm not recommending watching it for the quality of the squash, but for other reasons. There's a lot we can learn from one of the ugliest matches and biggest comebacks I've ever seen.

The first thing I have to mention from the match is to play the match all the way through. Gawad was cruising up 2-0 in games and 10-5 when he started going for some exhibition shots. A few tins and minutes later Dessouki had saved 5 match balls and eventually went on to take the game in extra points. In the 4th game Gawad came out refocused and went up 9-3 and looked to bounce back well. Dessouki did it once again and went on to win the 4th game in extra points once again. Gawad ends up losing 11-9 in the fifth and it has to be one of the toughest loses of his career. Even at this level he lost his focus for just a few points and let a sleeping giant wake up and back into the match. Learn from Gawad's mistake and finish out your match regardless of the score. This of course goes for the person trailing as well. Never give up and keep fighting as you never know what can happen. Maybe you'll pull off the next Dessouki come back!

So the come back was amazing, but it isn't the most important lesson to be learnt from the match. There was a ridiculous amount of let calls. Both players were not clearing their shots and were also guilty of asking for a let with any slight interference. Both players also would look to play their opponent and get cheap lets and strokes instead of playing the ball. It was quite frustrating and took away from what could have been a very exciting and epic match. Instead it will go down in history as an ugly scrappy match. A match like this makes me remember the Pro Squash League let rule where each player gets only 1 let per game (I can't remember, but it's something like this). Originally I read that they were going to use eliminate the 'let' decisions altogether and only use 'no lets' and 'stokes.' It may be hard to imagine how this can work, but from what I've heard it really cleans up the game and makes it free flowing. If someone doesn't clear their shot and give a direct line for their opponent they should be penalized. After watching this match tonight, maybe this is something the PSA should consider.

I think one major error from this match tonight was the referee. The ref awarded too many minimal interference lets early in the match. He should have weeded out the blocking and cheap lets right from the start of the 1st game. He tried to make a stance later in the match, but by then it was too late. You could tell by his voice he was not happy about giving out lets in the 4th and 5th games and actually made some poor calls that were simple lets just because he was trying to make up for his poor decisions early in the match. A referee should be consistent and tonight he was not. I know it would have been tough to call no matter what. Sometimes it's difficult to pick up if a player is intentionally blocking or looking for their opponent instead of the ball, but giving the players the benefit of the doubt can make a mess of a match. It looks bad for squash, the US Open, the PSA and the fans don't get into it.

This is why it is important to now the rules, as a player and how to take control of a match when someone is trying to manipulate the rues. Remember that a player is allowed a direct path to the ball. Just because you are on your way to the T and happened to block their path, it is your opponent who has the right away. Gaultier has been known to take extra space around the middle of the court and I can only imagine how frustrating this would be to play against if you didn't get any help from your ref.

So two important lessons were taught from this ugly comeback. Never give up or ease up no matter the score...and especially in the round of 16 at the US Open! And when refereeing take charge of the match early if someone is taking advantage of the rules. Don't let 1 or either player bully the other around. I've seen many big people move fine around one another. I think some of the congestion between the guys tonight was due to them hanging back far on the T mixed in with a lot of loose balls. As for you playing, take your appropriate space when hitting a ball, but you have to give your opponent access afterwards. I see quite a few of the PSA & WSA players stand on top of their drops from the front of the court and after hitting a straight volley drive or kill move straight back towards the T but also into their opponents line. On the other hand some players also get the slightest contact around the T and stop and ask for a let. If you hit a loose shot, unless your opponent is directly in your line, play through minimal contact and go get the ball.

Keep the game clean, free flowing and enjoyable to watch and play. I don't want to see the rules changed because of matches like tonight, but that may just be where we're heading.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Trickle Boast

Today I'm going to talk about a shot that won me a lot of tournaments when I was a junior, the trickle boast. I still win a lot of points on this shot. I remember as I was growing up hearing that this wasn't a smart shot to play as it leaves you exposed at the front of the court. But if you disguise this well and play it at the right times it can be very effective at any level. We still see this shot played successfully at the pro level. And although mostly by Egyptian players, it's a shot that we can all learn and add into our bag of tricks. I'll give you some tips about what makes a trickle boast effective and when to play it.

For me, the trickle boast needs to be disguised with your straight drive. So for this it helps filming the two. I like to set up a ball machine hitting a lose boast to the front of the court. You need to focus on keeping the same 1) approach 2) racquet preparation/shape up the same 3) spacing to the ball and 4) swing speed/tempo.

The approach: many people feel they are set up squared to the side wall and look like they are going to drive, but their approach to the ball doesn't look the same. The way you approach and begin shaping up for your shot tells a lot about what shot you are going to hit. If you don't approach the ball looking like you're going to hit the ball with pace your opponent may not be waiting for a drive and can recover even a well disguised trickle boast.

Racquet preparation: as with every shot you play this is essential for proper execution. When you are approaching the ball you begin to shape up for your shot. You should get your racquet to the same set position you would use for your straight drive. Show power with getting into a crouched position with your racquet set accordingly. If you have a shorter backswing and are too upright this may give away your true intentions.

Spacing: some people get so close when approaching a boast that they cannot hit a straight drive with any authority and are at risk of giving up a stroke. Make sure your spacing is correct so your opponent has to respect that you are going to hit a good attacking straight drive. When you're too close an easier shot to hit is a boast and although this will make it easier to execute the shot a skilled opponent will pick up on your spacing when you begin your swing. Being too close will also make it difficult to take a full uninhibited swing which tells your opponent, here comes a shot with power, meaning to the back of the court.

Swing speed and tempo: this is an important part of the deception. Many people slow down their swing when they play the trickle boast. If you can learn to hit with the same swing speed, while delaying your wrist extension (so you hit the ball slightly late and into the side wall) your deception will be much more effective. This means your opponent will at best have to wait until after you hit the trickle boast to react and move to your shot. They will likely be on their heels and have their weight leaning backwards, especially if you have set up the trickle boast by hitting a number of straight drives first.

So those are my 4 keys to hitting a good deceptive trickle boast. But these 4 alone are not enough to ensure you are successful. To properly set up your trickle boast you need to hit some straight drives to confirm your opponents expectations. The more you hit a straight drive from the front the more your opponent will likely expect this shot the next time. Of course you can look at this from the other perspective, keep hitting the trickle boast until they show you they can get it back and then play the straight drive. If you disguise these 2 shots well it will drive your opponent nuts. This may mean they will make more mistakes going short or stop going short altogether because they have trouble reading you up there.

Differences between the forehand and the backhand trickle boast. This is just for me personally, but I play the backhand trickle boast with more of an open racquet face. This means you can hit a straight drive with the ball slightly close to you and being able to inside out your swing. Although you won't hit it hard hard this way, it does allow a 3rd option of hitting a crosscourt drive. On the forehand side it is easier to delay your swing and accelerate your wrist more rapidly to hit a number of shots even later in swing or with a shorter swing. Players also hit it harder on the forehand so their opponent has to respect the pace that can be generated from the front forehand corner. This means your opponent may be a little further back on the T and more on their heals and more susceptible to a trickle boast.

You can also show drop and hit a trickle boast. You see this hit by some of the pros from time to time. They have a sense that their opponent is rushing in for a straight drop and at the last second they flick their wrist and hit side wall first. It's a difficult shot to play with much angle and therefore you are at risk of your opponent getting it back or receiving a stroke. But if you have a quick write this is another shot you can add to your repertoire.

There is also an aussie boast which is like a trickle boast but hit from the back of the court. It isn't the same as a 2 wall attacking boast A 2 twill attacking boast goes to the opposite from corner. An aussie boast is like a straight kill but just hits the side awl first and comes towards the middle of the court but doesn't make it back to the T before it bounces twice. This shot is played less frequently and because of this it can be very effective if you practice it. It's also easier to disguise because you the angle isn't as sharp as a trickle boast from the front.

I won't get into the reverse boast, but some people have success with this because they setup looks like a crosscourt drive. Again this shot is played rarely so most people struggle reading it. Which other shots are rarely used that can catch your opponent off guard? Perhaps volleying a boast or back wall boast? A straight slice low kill from the back of the forehand side. Try and experiment with some shots in practice that are not taught very often or played often. If you get good at them you can bring them out sparingly in your matches and you may find that your opponents have difficulty reading them because they are not played very often. Another one of my personal favourites is deception on the volley. This is something I've had a lot of success with and isn't done very often except at the pro level. There comes a point where you'll play an opponent will get a lost everything back if you telegraph it, no matter how well you execute your shots. Having a few tricks up your sleeve will open up the court for you and tire out your opponents legs more as they have to change direction and push harder off the T.

I was lucky that I grew up watching Jonathon Power play and his creative style always appealed to me. I don't recall JP having a great trickle boast, but I'm sure he could play it well as he had quick wrist and could accelerate and decelerate his swing speed and direction mid swing.

On a side note. I was watching Squash TV tonight and during the Gaultier vs. Clyne match they started discussing some of the points I brought up in this article Maybe it was just by chance or maybe they actually read my post. Anyways it was encouraging to hear the commentators agree with some of my points and mention that they will get there one day. I guess we need more people to get Squash TV memberships so they make more money and can improve the game. So if you haven't already done so, sign up here it's only around $130 for the year and there is an archive section so you can watch old footage of your favourite players. And last note from the Clyne vs. Gaultier match. I only picked this up in the 2nd game but did anyone else notice that Clyne rarely split stepped? I don't know if he just got spent and this happened when he got fatigued or if he always does this.