Monday, November 3, 2014

Repetition, Repetition, Repetition

Today I'm going to talk about the importance of repetition. But before getting into repetition it's important to make sure you're repeating proper technique. You can practice all you want, but if you're reinforcing doing something inefficiently you are doing yourself more harm than good. You may get slightly better at what you'e doing, but if the technique isn't correct you may be making it pretty tough on your coach. This is why kids improve at a faster rate than adults. Kids spend more time learning how to do things properly. Most adults don't do any drills, practice their court movement, solo hit or learn proper techniques. Most amateur adult players can practice as much as they want, but if you continue doing the same thing you will see little progress. This is why it's important to learn what needs to be changed and how to change it. Once you get to this stage then it's repetition, repetition, repetition.

Lets assume your technique is sound. What are some of the reasons that you're not hitting better shots? It could be a number of reasons, here's a few. Lack of physical strength, low fitness level, making poor tactical decisions, low confidence, misjudging the receiving ball, and your court movement isn't right or is too slow. You may also just be off by the smallest of margins when you hit the ball which is the difference between hitting a perfect drive or one that clips the sidewall first. The margins as you improve are smaller and smaller. For me, this is why repetition is so important in squash. When the ball is warm and moving fast and your heart rate is up how consistently accurate do you hit the ball? Even with good technique there is a human element and we aren't robots so we will never be 100% accurate. This is how even the best players can miss simple shots.

An important part of getting better at squash is to groove our swing. We have a consistent and repeatable swing for our drives, lobs, boasts, volley drops, counter drops, our servers, returns and getting a ball off the sidewall. When learning squash we spend most of our time working on the full swing and being able to drive the ball. But we must also learn how to change our swing for different shots. How does the racquet preparation and swing path differ for different shots? Do you want to hit the ball with a closed racquet face or with an open one? All of these various shots have a unique swing path and you need to groove each of them so they can be consistent under pressure in the heat of battle. How often do you practice each of these shots? Maybe it's time to add some new drills into your practice regiment.

Because of the small margin for error as we get better I feel that the top players don't need much coaching on technique yet still they are not as consistently accurate as they would like. Why is this? Is this the human error? A lack of concentration? The slightest misjudgment in the ball? We have to move quickly and get to an area where we anticipate we will be hitting our next shot from. This relates back t an older post I wrote about teeing up the ball The philosophy here is that similar to how we would tee up a golf ball on the driving range we want to do the same while playing squash to be as consistent as possible. Obviously we don't have very long to do this and are under time pressure and possible lacking efficient amount of space to do so so our accuracy suffers. This is why most people are much more accurate just standing and hitting drives by themselves as opposed to in a match.

Top players can hit good shots under pressure. Their technique holds up under pressure. This is something that most amateurs cannot do. As soon as they have to adapt their swing at all it falls apart and they spray the ball. A top player can alter their swing in a variety of ways to get the ball off the sidewall and out of the back corners. All of these swings have been developed and grooved over years and years of practice.

As good as professional players are they still miss shots and hit loose balls. Maybe not as often and their definition of loose is very different then ours. Why is this? Even with proper technique just the smallest misjudgement and their shot is not precise where they want it. Yes they can probably pick up a cold ball and do a few hundred figure 8's, but the ball won't be hitting the exact same spot on the front wall then sidewall on each shot. It may look like this, but it won't. As amateurs do the same thing the consistency of a drill like this is all over the place. As you improve your overall shot displacement should be more condensed. This means your accuracy is improving. The more repetitions you have with each swing path the more consistent it will become.

Most of us need to improve not only our accuracy by grooving our swing but also our strength endurance in our racquet arm. This is why I am a big fan of solo hitting. You can hit a couple of thousand balls in an hour. And although it's challenging to simulate the pressure you will be under in matches, you can groove your swing paths and create the muscle memory for these shots. When you get into a match you cannot think about your swing and what you need to do to. You don't have time and you need to recall the swing path automatically. This is why repetition is so important.

So the first stage is learning the different techniques required to hit the different shots. This is the acquiring stage. Then you need to practice it over and over to improve the consistency (grooving your swing). Then you can integrate it into drills, condition games, and you matches. Again, this is just for the technical requirement of the shot. There are still a number of other factors involved. But getting that correct technical repetition is so vital to improving your game. Some people have physical strength limitations while others have hit the ball for so long one way that it is very hard to drastically change how they hit the ball. If you didn't have the fortune of learning properly when you began playing, this is where you have to decide if it's worth the change or not. Otherwise you may have to do the best with what you got. After all the main thing is to have fun and get a good workout. We're not all aiming to join the tour!

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