Yesterday I talked about the importance of repetition and more specifically the importance of repetition of the proper technique. I'm going to pick up where I left off. Today I'm going to discuss some methods for grooving your swing and to improve the consistency of a variety of shots. When I say groove a swing I am talking about how consistent is that stroke shot after shot; better players have a more repeatable swing and there are a number of different important swings we need to groove to become an elite player. I will list a variety of solo practices and 2 person drills that will help you groove your swing. I should say swings plural, because having good technique and a well grooved drive swing isn't going to mean much for your drops, lobs, or any other shot really. And you need to be able to change your drive swing when you have limited space or under time pressure.
Solo Drills To Groove Your Swing
Straight drives - aim to hit the floor and back wall. I like to see how many in a row I can get within a 2 or 3 floor boards. When you get to a high level it's about how frequently you can get the ball within 1. You can also use a target for the depth. Sometimes I will use the back line on the service box. When you do this you will have to hit the ball before the back wall. You'll notice that when you do this drill you have less time to prepare and the ball is travelling away from the front wall, rather than towards when you hit it off the back wall. Just a slight change like this can make it more challenging.
Figure 8's - this is one of the most popular as it builds up arm strength endurance. If you can't do volleys yet start on the bounce and work your way up. When you get better on the volley try and aim for the service line or under. This means you'll have to hit it with pace. It's not just about how many you can do in a row but how many you can do in a minute or 2 that is more challenging. On top of strengthening your arm this drill is also great for shortening your swing and having quick racquet preparation.
1 Corner Hard Drives - this is like doing half of a figure 8 drill but is tougher. For a right handed person you will hit hard and low forehand drives into the front right corner at an angle that makes the ball come back towards the middle of the court just in front of the T. For me I find this drill better than figure 8 volleys because where in figure 8's your follow through leads to the backswing for your next shot, this isn't the case in the drill. Here you have to hit the ball hard with a short swing and get your racquet set again quickly. This is my favourite drill for shortening and grooving my swing. It's also a very difficult one to do on the backhand side.
Short Hitting - this is similar to the 1 corner drives but you don't hit the sidewall. You stand just in front of the short line and hit the ball one the bounce back to yourself. This is basically just hitting a very short straight drive. As you get better you can hit with more pace and change which foot you hit off of. This is another good one for shortening your swing and increasing your strength.
Short Hitting Volleys - this is the same as above but you don't let the ball bounce. I've found that this drill has helped my volleys enormously. I can now volley pretty accurately even off of a tight ball. When you get good at this get it going with some good pace.
Self Feeding Drops On The Bounce - I like to do this after the ball is warm and by hitting a high 3 wall boast. I then hit a straight drop and then repeat on the other side. When the ball cools down a bit you do some short hitting or figure 8's and get it warm again. You can also do this with a blue dot or a 1 dot so the ball stays bouncy. You want to be able to play these drops when the opportunities present themselves. You can't be thinking about how to play them so you need to practice them over and over.
Self Feeding Drops On The Volley - you can do this as part of your figure 8's or as part of your short hitting volleys. I like standing around the short line and hitting 2 volley drives, then 1 volley drop and repeating over and over.
If you have trouble with some of these drills you have to ask if it's a lack of strength, poor preparation or if your technique is the issue. If the technique is the problem take a lesson. If it's a lack of strength or poor preparation keep trying and it will improve. Now lets take a look at some repetitive drills you can do with a partner to groove certain shots. Because there is only so much you can do solo hitting. Your shot is very much impacted by your opponents shot
Two Person Drills To Groove Your Swing
Drop, Drive - this is a basic one and is effective for both shots. You just need to maintain your focus. I find having targets is good for this. You can also switch say after the driver hits a target once or hits 10 drives. You can also move up on play volley drops. You can also slightly vary this drill to drive drive drop or drive drive drop drop.
Boast, Drive - this is one of my favourite and the most common warm up drills. It is very challenging to hit a tight straight drive off of a boast. Don't do it just as a warmup, have a goal and targets. See if you get hit lines like Shabana next time you do this one.
Rotating Drives - this is another very important drill. The straight drive is one of (or the most!) important shots in the game. You can spend years working on this. Focus on getting back up to the T, knowing when to overhit it and when you have a loose ball you can attack. Also important is to learn how to get back drives when you run out of real estate. Can you shorten your backswing and choke up on the racquet and get it back down the wall? Are you making good decisions about when to take it before the back wall and when to wait and hit it after.
Boast, Crosscourt Length, Straight Drive - this is a good drill to work on a number of areas. You can work on your volley off of their crosscourt length. You can also work on hitting good width or even your lobs off of the boast.
Drive, Drive, Boast - this is another favourite and a popular one. When you start volleying it can be a pretty intense and fast paced drill. You know what's coming next so your accuracy has to be high. When you get fatigued or are a little late to a boast how well does your swing hold up? Can you shorten your backswing and lift the ball and keep it right along the sidewall? Many people will try and crosscourt when this happens. You have to have great dexterity in your wrist to keep this shot running right along the sidewall.
Feeding Drops - although you can work on this while solo hitting there are certain incoming shots that are difficult to reproduce. You can do drop drive as I mentioned above or crosscourt drive, the person hits a straight volley drop and then hits a crosscourt drive back to you and you play your volley drop. You can do this on the bounce or the volley. This is a good one to break up some tougher drills.
Remember that the serve and return of serve are 2 of the most important shots. They should be hit without thinking about the technique. So be sure to incorporate these into your practices. Sometimes I will do rotating drives but start with a serve to get that extra bit of practice. Be sure to groove all of the swings of the shots you're going to use; your straight and crosscourt drives, lobs, drops, volley drops, boasts, trickle boasts, serves, return of serves, and so on. You need to be able to recall them when needed without thought.
When you get to a high standard you will focus on more advanced refinement. Shortening your swing without losing power, cutting the ball more, hitting it flatter, faster preparation, disguising your shot, deceptive shots and so on. As you get better the margin for error is also smaller. So when starting a good drive may be anywhere behind the service line on the same side of the court. Eventually it will be behind the service box and within the width of it. Then a good length will be half the service box width and then 5 or 6 floorboards. Eventually it will be only 1 or 2 floorboards off the sidewall and the depth will be just as important. This is a good way to progress and monitor your progression. Count how many you get within a specific target in a set amount of time or given number of attempts.
The danger with these repetitive drills is that you can get lazy with your feet and your focus. You can move without watching, not get to the proper spot on the T, and not having to think about which shot to play. This is why it's important to do drills with options and condition games. Hopefully you understand the importance of both types of practice. Maybe you're familiar with the terms blocked and random practice. In my masters program there was more of an emphasis on random practice but I know that blocked practice is essential for grooving a swing, learning how to play different shots, how to become more consistent with them and increasing your confidence to play them. The great thing about squash is that we can go and hit balls on our own. Golf or basketball are the other sports that come to mind in which it is easy to solo practice. But I've always enjoyed this part of squash. You want to get better, go in and spend the time hitting some balls, grooving your swing and the results will come.