Today I'm going to discuss what exactly the follow through tells us in squash and why it can help us hit better shots when we focus on having the correct mechanics on our follow through. After all, if your follow through is correct there is a very good chance that what happened before that was good too!
1) Direction Of Follow Through
Follow through to the target: this determines how accurate the shot will be. The height and angle of the trajectory is determined by your swing path and you should finish your shot towards your target. This holds true for any projectile sport. Things like wind or spin can interfere with where you are aiming and where you want the ball/object to finish up so in these instances you're follow through is not directly at where you envision the ball or object finishing up. This isn't a factor in squash so time to move on.
If you want to hit the ball high, such as a lob you should follow through high; whereas if you want to hit the ball low you want to keep your racquet low. What makes is challenging to keep your follow through low is that you want to keep the ball over the tin and if you're slicing a drop shot you're swing will be high to low, but you will have to flatten the swing out (when the ball is received low) at or just after contact to maximize slice, but keeping the ball over the tin.
In the picture below, Diego will continue his swing running right along the sidewall to ensure his drop stays on target, tight to the sidewall. The ball is low Diego is hitting the ball flatter, but if the ball was higher and tighter he would swing high to low as discussed above.
If you were balanced or not during your swing: if you were balanced and had a good base of support under you swing you should be able to hold your finish towards your target. If your follow through is too short or finishes low (even while aiming high) it can be caused by being off balanced while swinging. Maybe your spacing was incorrect, you could be under a lot of pressure of perhaps you were trying to swing too hard for the position you're in. You may also need to improve your strength endurance as your arm and shoulder could fatigue causing your racquet to drop at the end of your swing.
Use your follow through to deceive your opponent: there is an exception to this rule and this is when we don't follow through to our target on purpose to deceive our opponent. Sometimes using shoulder fakes with a follow through in one direction can catch your opponent flat footed or even going the wrong way. Have fun trying to do this in practice and see if you can a swing path that is deceptive. You can see Amr Shabana below how he finishes quite open while his hips and his follow through is further towards the middle of the court. Shabana can use his wrist and forearm to adjust the racquet head to keep the ball straight even though the rest of his body looks as though he is going to hit the ball crosscourt. This also happens when someone plays a deceptive trickle boast.
2) Length and Path Of Follow Through
What type of shot you hit: each shot will have a different follow through. Your full drive should be a bigger swing then your volley drop and your counter drop will be shorter still.
The amount of spin (or lack of) put on the ball: the angle of your racquet face during and at the completion of your follow through tells you how much spin you put on the ball. If you want to cut the ball you will finish with your racquet face open; if you want to hit the ball flat you should finish with the same flat racquet face. Doing this means less variation of racquet angle during the contact phase and more consistent shots.
If you're spacing was correct: if you crowd the ball (as most of us do) when you hit a shot it will change your swing and also the length of your follow through. The circumference of your follow through will be shorter when you're too tight to the ball which means you will have to make contact with your elbow still bent or your shoulders open early to compensate. You can also tell if someone transferred their kinetic energy by extending their elbow or not. If you finish your drive and your elbow is still bent you were too close to the ball.
If your swing was excessive and dangerous: For many beginners this is known as the 'helicopter' swing. When someone tries to over swing and has no feel for where their opponent some people will continue spinning after contact, even doing a full 360 degree spin!
You'll notice watching the professional men play that on the forehand they have a very compact racquet preparation and follow through. In the warm up they take full swings and then during their matches they become much more compact. This compact swing is to maximize deception, consistency (shorter swing circumference) without giving up on power. They are strong enough that on the forehand side most top men can hit very hard with an extremely short swing. This wasn't possible 20+ years ago when the racquets were twice the weight.
3) Speed and Tempo Of Follow Through
Swing Speed/Acceleration and Deceleration: keep your swing speed up/consistent through contact. Some people decelerate or almost completely stop their swing as they make contact with the ball. This happens the most during drop shots. It's important to keep your swing speed and the momentum up through the contact and follow through towards your target.
The pace you want to hit should match your swing tempo: just as different shots have different lengths of swings, softer shots should have a slower swing and follow through. Examples of these are lobs and drops. As I just mentioned above you need to keep the swing speed steady through contact. If you're hitting a softer shot it should be steady at a slower speed. Although this will not be the case when someone wants to put a lot of slice on the ball. In this instance they will swing faster then the ball will travel because the backspin is slowing the ball down.
Using Your Follow Through To Clear: while on the topic of follow throughs it's important to discuss the balance of swinging through towards your target to be accurate and taking too long to clear your shot. When you take a full swing you want to use your follow through to help you clear back towards the middle of the court. Clearing too early after contact will make your ball spray out into the middle. While standing over your shot and clearing too late will make you late back to the T and more susceptible to strokes. Learning to keep your follow through on target just long after after hitting the ball before you begin clearing will allow for the best combination of shot consistency with quick and efficient clearing.
Adapting Your Swing: I'd like to finish off by talking about how professional players can be out of position and still be accurate with their shots. Let's take a look at the below photo of Thierry Lincou. What shot is he going to hit? His hips and shoulders are open well before he's about to hit the ball so you would think a crosscourt drive, but he could decide to straighten up his swing path and follow through straight and hit a straight drive. Lincou could also hold the ball and play a little trickle boast. I would guess with the angle of his racquet face that a drop is now out of the question. Good players need to be able to adapt their swing even when their body is slightly out of position. Sometimes this will be because they are disguising their shots, while other times they do it because they are under pressure and don't have enough time to get set in an ideal position beside the ball. Luckily the racquets are so light now that they can adjust their swing speed and angle late, just prior to contact.
Even professional players aren't as accurate when they have to make so many adjustments because of poor positioning, so try your best to have good mechanics and a balanced swing/follow through as often as possible.
Summary of the 3 Main Follow Through Tips
1. Following through to your target.
2. Shorter shots (e.g., drops) will have a shorter follow through.
3. Swing speed should match the pace you want to hit and keep this speed consistent through contact.
Focus on your follow through next time in practice and you'll start to hit the ball more accurately. You may just find that having a full, balanced follow through might clean up your swing!
Interesting read. The points that resonated with me especially were the matching of the follow-through ot hte shot selection. I know that I'm guilty of 'stabbing' at shots when playing the ball short, especially from the mid-court area.
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