Today I'm going to discuss the challenges of hitting accurate depth. Even after playing for most of my life it is still a challenge to hit the right weight of shot; why is that? And how can we improve our ability to control the weight of our shot. Let's get started.
There are a lot of reasons why it is so difficult to control the weight of our shot. The first is that there is inconsistency in the bounce of the ball. A new ball is bouncier, so is it when you play on a warmer day, or against someone that hits the ball really hard. A ball also slows down the more you use it and our muscles fatigue, so over the course of the match you will need to slightly adjust your targets. Also the pace and angle of your receiving shots are quite variable. This isn't like hitting a golf ball off a tee, where you know your distances with each club within a few yards. Our string tension also slightly changes as we use our racquet. If we change racquets or use our backup this again will make the spring much different.
I also notice many people hold the squash racquet directly in their palm, as opposed to more towards the bottom of their fingers. Holding your racquet right in your palm or squeezing your grip very tight won't allow you to have that soft feel that you need to control the weight of different shots. This means you are probably more of a 1 pace ball basher. If your biomechanics aren't repeatable or are inefficient then you will also have difficulty controlling the weight of shot.
Another reason we have trouble weighting our shot is that we are rarely hitting from the exact same spot with an identical posture. We are under various amounts of pressure throughout a rally. As you well know squash is a fast paced sport played in an open environment. This makes it very difficult to get the repetitions required to fine tune your weight. Another golf example is if you never practiced the same length of putt twice in a row on the practice green. Hmm, put that may be onto something. How we set up practice in squash is normally blocked/repetitive. Even hitting boast and drive or drop - drive we slightly vary where we hit from, but we also are always hitting the same shots and trying to find the same target over and over. But I'll get back to this topic shortly.
I find another big reason most people struggle with the weight of there shot is because they never paid mush attention to it as they developed as a player. We focus most of our efforts on hitting it hard and/or tight. Until you've played a lot of squash you don't realize how importance the weight of your shots are. Knowing when you want to intentionally overhit your drive and when you get an opening and know you have to get the ball to bounce twice before the back wall. These are the subtleties you learn as you progress in the sport, but I feel you can enhance your skills by concentrating on the weight of shot in drills.
If you play a tournament or a league match at another court, the bounce on the court will vary from what you are familiar with. Going from panel to plaster is always a challenge. Whenever I'm in these positions I always focus on finding my weight of drives at the beginning of the match. Whoever can adjust to the conditions quicker has the best chance of winning.
Here are a few methods for practicing where you can concentrate on the weight of your shots.
1) Hit rotating drives or a length game, if a ball lands in the service box the other person can go short.
2) Player 1 cannot let the ball hit the back wall on the bounce or they lose the rally. Player 2 can hit anything.
3) You have to hit 3 shots behind the service boxes before you can go short.
4) You have to hit every other shot over the service line.
5) Player 1 hits straight or crosscourt length from the front, player 2 hits straight drop or boast. You can also make a switch if player 2 volley drives player 1's shot.
6) Practice with different types of balls (make, colour of dot, etc)
7) Change to a new ball between games
8) Practice with your backup racquet. Does it have the same type and tension of string? How long ago was it strung? The tension loosens up as you play with it.
9) Game with targets for bonus points placed along the sidewalls.
10) Get the ball really warm (after doing some figure 8 volleys) and then play a game or do some drives.
I also like doing drills with targets. Not just are you trying to hit the ball tight, but also find the right height and pace to get the ball to land at the appropriate depth. If you can get your drop or boast to sty a little shorter it means your opponent will be under that much more pressure. You can try just setting up a single target or you can make things more challenging but executing 2 or 3 different targets. The could all even be for variations of the same shot.
For example, you could set up various targets for your drops to bounce depending on the angle, depth, pace and height you hit them from. Instead of having the same target regardless of where you are hitting from, it should vary slightly.
This may be more obvious if I talk about drives. Here's an example during drop - drive. Set up a target in the middle of the service box, at the bottom of the service box and then midway between the back of the service box and the back wall. The idea here is that you go hard and low for the first target and then slightly raise or hit harder as you aim for the 2nd and then 3rd target. You can imagine how this goes from an attacking drive to an overhit, rallying length.
You can also focus on your weight of shot when you're solo hitting. See how many shots in a row you can hit in the service box. Then aim for the back line on the service box and then aim for 1 bounce and off the back wall. I truly believe that if you focus more on your weight of your shot in practice you will improve your ability to hit those invisible targets in your games. Not only this but you will increase your understanding of the importance of the weight of shot.
As mentioned, not only do you need to think about your weight of shot, but also about when to play which weight. Aiming for a 'perfect' dying length may not be ideal when your out of position and under pressure. I also find most amateurs generally hit their drives too short, especially on the forehand. And then when players get to a high level they have a tendency to miss out on opportunities and overhit all of their drives.
Hopefully you can now appreciate the importance of weight of shot. It's something that great players make look so simple, but now you know is anything but.