Thursday, February 19, 2015

Tactical Talk: Meat and Potatoes With A Side Of Gravy

Today I'm going to talk about tactics. In particular a simple and effective strategy for playing a solid game of squash. You need to have the basics, which I refer to as the meat and potatoes. The basics are the length, width, serve and return of serve. If you do the basics well you will beat most people. The basics is the area that most kids don't enjoy practicing because they don't understand the importance of what exactly defines good length and width; they prefer practicing hitting winners. The fancy finishing shots is the gravy, but without the meat and potatoes to go with the gravy it will just sit unused in the gravy boat.

I like to play and coach an attacking style of squash, but this doesn't always suit everyone's game. Personally I never enjoyed just keeping the ball in play until the opponent made a mistake. This may make sense in a few tactical situations (e.g., your opponent is exhausted or self-destructing). If you hit a good length and force a loose ball, do something with it! This is the gravy part that takes a lot of practice to refine and this territory comes with a few mistakes, especially as you are learning and refining these shots. Many people make mistakes and shy away from the front of the court altogether. While some shooters don't have the basics down and force the ball short and make lots of unforced errors. If you can try and stick to a basic strategy of going for what you've set up, you'll improve and reduce your unforced errors. If you create a good opening go for it. This is what the purpose of good length is cause at a high level you won't win a bunch of points hitting everything to the back.

If you do the basics exceptionally well you may be able to go on the attack very early in the rally and roll over someone quite quickly. If you aren't applying any pressure with your serve, return or length you likely won't get many chances to attack the front of the court from a good position. I see strong attacking players completely give up on their length when they are unable to apply any pressure with their length against a stronger opponent. This will vey rarely ever work. Attacking from the back on occasion can be done quite successfully, but only if you can consistently get the ball by your opponent and have them struggle in the back corners. When this happens they will tend to start hanging back to cover the corners as this is where you've been hitting most of your shots into anyways.

I should also mention the positioning of you and your opponent when you go on the attack. If you're opponent is so far out of the picture you don't need to hit an inch above the tin. Hit the ball with conviction, but with a few extra inches for margin of error. Aim to hit it tight just in case your opponent makes a heroic effort and gets the ball back. You don't need to hit an outright winner, keep the pressure on without giving up cheap points on unforced errors from attacking positions. If you want to have a great attacking game (the gravy) you need to relentlessly work at it. For a lot of kids this isn't a problem; they love playing the nick game, but most adults don't spend time doing drills or getting the reps on short shots. So of course when they make an error or two they don't have the confidence to go for the next one and if they do it will probably be a couple of feet over the tin. Practice your gravy shots, but they are generally not what will win or loose you matches. This brings me to my next point.

I see people hit a great attacking shot and stand and admire it. All of the sudden their opponent gets it back and either wins the rally or you are struggling to get back a mediocre reply. Always expect the ball to come back until it's bounced twice. Get back into position as you're watching your shot and the play develop. Be ready for the next one and if your opponent is under pressure you should be expecting a certain reply. If you go short you have to cover your shot which is why many people don't like to drop right up at the front of the court. They are too far from the T and if their opponent hits it deep they will be under lots of pressure if they can get the ball back at all. This can also be an issue if you're mobility is limited or you're playing a very fast opponent. If you don't move well or your opponent is fast you'll have to really practice those attacking shots so they apply more pressure of be more selective about when to attack short.

So what's the best part of your game? The meat and potatoes or the gravy? The gravy is more fun of course, but you need the meat and potatoes first. But also don't neglect the gravy or you'll be stuck playing long arduous rallies. The earlier you begin incorporating some attacking shots as you develop and learn the game the better off you'll be down the road. Set it up, attack and cover!


  1. Thank you Chris! The last paragraph resumes everything, and is the trigger and goal to keep in mind in battle!

    1. Diego, your game is already filet mignon with au poivre sauce!


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