Thursday, November 27, 2014

The Knock Up

I thought about calling today's post the warm up, but that wouldn't be technically correct. Today I'm going to discuss the knock up. This is the 2 and a half minutes you get per side before starting the match. If you don't watch a lot of squash and pay careful attention to the knock up you likely won't understand just how important it is. Hopefully after I explain its importance today you will. Let's get right into it!

I have to begin by saying that the knock up is not the time to physically warm up. You should have done your warm up prior to going on court. Another pet peeve of mine in the knock up is when people hit the ball back to themselves countless times before they accidentally hit it over to their opponent. You should hit the ball no more than 3 times to yourself and then over to your opponent. You only have 2 and a half minutes per side and this should be shared equally. Before getting into what you should do in the knock up I want to make sure everyone is on the same page for these 2 areas. Warm up before going on court and hit the ball a maximum of 3 times to yourself before hitting it over. Let's move on.

So you're asking why the knock up is such an important topic that it requires an entire post all to itself? You're about to find out.  The knock up is a very important part of the match. Although you can't win or lose any points during it, it consistently influences the outcome. I see this all the time especially at the junior level. Here's how..

The first problem here is that it is easy to read a kids body language I can tell when they are intimidated by how good their opponent's swing looks. They also get nervous hearing how hard they crack the ball and by fast volleys and nice drops their opponent is hitting. Mostly kids psyche themselves out by watching in awe of how focused and prepared their opponent is. They're concentration is no longer on their hitting and what they can control. They've already begun thinking, 'oh oh.' Or it can go the other way and they may underestimate their opponent and think they don't need to play their best. I thought it would be helpful to make a list of Do's and Don'ts for the knock up. Some are more critical than others, but hopefully this will give you an idea about what I like to see during a knock up.

Knock Up Don'ts
- focus and watch your opponent in awe
- stand flat footed
- have your racquet by your ankles
- just hit aimlessly
- think about the outcome
- hit every shot as hard as you possibly can
- look all over the place, including outside the court
- this is not your time to stretch and warm up!
- this is for safety, but don't wear track pants that touch the floor as I've seen people slip

Knock Up Do's
- on your toes and moving around
- vary the pace of your shots
- hit some volleys
- keep your thoughts positive
- breathe to allow you to relax and calm the nerves
- keep your attention and vision inside the court and on the ball
- think about your strategy and reaffirm it
- adjust to ball and court but finding your length
- hit difficult width to your opponent and see how they fair on the volleys against pace and lobs
- have your shoe laces tied up!

I've seen some people still have their headphones in during the knock up. How can they hear the ref tell them to switch? Personally I don't like going in with headphones on. I think it's a little rude, but that's just me.

Their is a big mental side to the knock up. Don't underestimate it and pretend like it isn't important. A lot of the time the person that looks more focused and relaxed not only has a better start but also wins the first game. If you win the first game, well that surely helps you're case in winning the match! The knock up is to get the ball warm and adjust to the bounce of the ball. If it's bouncing weird or has a small crack in the seam you can always request a new ball. Depending on the level of the tournament  you may get a new one. If not, don't make a fuss and get upset about it. It's the same for both of you.

If during the knock up you can't help but thinking how good your opponent looks and that you have no chance. You need to tell yourself that you're prepared. I like to think that I've played squash my whole life and I'm ready for this. You never know how fit or fast someone is, what their shot selection is and how accurate they are under pressure. I've beaten a lot of people that were bigger and hit harder than me. Be confident and stay positive.

I should also mention that when a ref isn't there yet, many people will keep hitting for as long as possible and never switch. You don't have to time yourself, but as someone that has organized tournaments make sure to switch after a few minutes. Hopefully by the time you're ready to start the ref will be there. This can help keep the tournament running on time which helps everyone involved.

Even though I said that this post wasn't about the warm up prior to getting on court. I do have to mention that a prematch warm up routine helps not just to prepare the body, but also the mind. Which of course gets you into an optimal mindset for the knock up. I find a good warm up routine is very individualized. I wrote a short post a while back about the physiological benefits of warming up and cooling down. Here's the link if you're interested. But remember that these are just the physical reasons to warm up, to me the psychological reasons for having a warm up routine is as or more important.

I'm also going to write a post in the near future about imagery. Imagery is something that a lot of pros use as part of their warm up routine. If you're serious about your squash this is something I highly recommend.

Hope you enjoyed today's post. Maybe you'll pay a little more attention to the knock up in the future. Be honest, do you make match predictions during your knock ups? It may give you some clues to their weaknesses and assist you with a strategy, but you should never get ahead of yourself. If you don't know your opponent going into the match focus on your own game plan. Always expect and prepare to play your best squash, regardless of your opponent. Maybe you'll even win a few matches because of how good you look in the knock up!

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