Thursday, September 17, 2015

Drop It Like Shabana

Today I'm going to talk about furniture, a clock and Amr Shabana. I know strange combo, right? Well I'm going to use pictures of Shabana to demonstrate how to vary your swing path for different types of drop shots. The furniture and clock parts are things that I like to use for visualizing the swing paths of various drop shots. As you learn to do this your swing path will stay on line and your drops will become more consistent; perhaps even resembling the great Maestro!

Shabana hitting a forehand counter drop
The height you receive the ball is the main determining factor for your swing path.  The distance off the sidewall and pace of the ball are all factors as well, but today I will only get into the receiving height and how this influences your swing path. Let's get right into and use some examples for you.

Dropping From The Height You Want To Hit On The Front Wall
Below we have a low coffee table. I like to use this as an image when explaining how to hit drops that are hit just above the tin. You are hitting the ball at a height that is already at the target you want to hit on the front wall, so you simply swing right across the low coffee table. I find many people drop their follow through or start with their racquet to high for this shot. The length of the swing can greatly vary even at the highest level.
We can also look at this picture of Shabana and visualize how his swing would have been right along the above low coffee table. Basically the height of the ball is just about where he is aiming on the front wall so we will be swinging parallel to the floor and following through on this same line. Considering I don't see his opponent in sight, I think it's safe to assume he won this point!

Shabana swinging across the low coffee table with a relatively flat racquet face on this forehand drop.
Dropping From Above The Height Of The Tin
If you are going to hit a drop from higher on the bounce or the volley you want to aim down, meaning you will have to swing high to low. The amount you swing from high to low depends on the angle you have. The higher the ball is at contact the more severely you can cut down on the ball. You can either lift the back part of the coffee table, or think of a the hands on a clock as an example. For example if using the clock, you can swing from 2:00 to 8:00. In the example below you would swing from approximately 2:00 (high) to 8:00 (low). 
Shabana about to slot this into the nick swinging from high (2:00) to low (8:00) with an open racquet face.
Also important to note here is the angle of the racquet face. If your racquet face is closed and your swing path is from high to low you have a good chance of hitting the ball into the floor or the tin, or at least hitting the ball too hard. So having an open racquet is an important characteristic of a drop when making contact from higher than your target on the front wall. I don't want to get too complex here, but very skilled players will actually swing from high to low (like the clock above) and will finish up again, close to the height they initiated their swing from. This means their swing path is high to low, straightening up through contact and then back to high again. This allows them to put a lot of slice on the ball and also keep the ball above the tin as the follow through has a major influence over the direction of the shot.

Dropping From Below The Height Of The Tin
If we look at a drop which is struck from under the height of the tin it is easy to visualize how we need to start our swing low (under the ball) and finish higher then we started (see another great example of Shabana doing this below). You can tell Shabana had struck the ball below the height of the tin and because of this the ball is rising on the way to the front wall. This is how he can get the ball over the tin. The problem with this is that we are hitting up on the ball and that once the ball hits the front wall it is almost surely to still be rising slightly. If you also include that the swing preparation for hitting a drop lacks deception, you can tell why it isn't hit very often from below the height of the tin. If done it is almost only done so well from the very front of the court as counter attacks where deception doesn't matter and we are hitting the ball so softly it won't rise much (or at all) after contacting the front wall. 

Shabana swinging with an open racquet from low to high on a forehand counter drop.

Shabana playing an overspin forehand counter drop off of a low and tight receiving ball.
In the above picture you will see that Shabana has received a tight ball and it was pretty low to the floor. To get under the ball and keep it tight, Shabana used a slight overspin/topspin shot. You'll see the pros do this most of the time when the ball is really tight and once in a while from mid-court if they are really feeling it! It's a much easier to play on the forehand side.

I felt like it was fitting to pay some homage to the recently retired Maestro, Amr Shabana. I normally wouldn't use a lefty for examples, but he is one of the very few lefties that I've ever seen with an exceptionally smooth swing. If you want to have a smooth swing path and drop it like the Maestro, try visualizing a clock,  low coffee table, or some other piece of furniture you have in your house. It goes back to what an earlier post I wrote about the follow through. The ball 'usually' goes where our swing is aiming. If you want to ensure you hit your target, make sure that just prior and just after contact your swing is going towards your target and you will increase your accuracy. 

You can visualize different objects to help you with all types of shots. For some people the clock works, others like to use items. You could for example hit a lob from below your hip to above your head. Or to a kid you could say you want them to swing up along a slide. There are lots of ways that people learn. Find one that works for you. If you're good at billiards or geometry you will probably enjoy squash. If you've played any net game you should also have a decent understanding about angles and when the best opportunities are to attack vs. defend based on the reception height of your shot. 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Ease Your Way Back Into It

Alright, I'm back after a busy start to the season. I know that some people play and train all season while others haven't touched a racquet in months. If you're the latter group, this post is for you. If you trained and played all summer, then you're probably already feeling fit and playing at a high standard and you can come back and read this post for after you have a long break.

Over my years of playing squash I've played year round, and I've also taken a few months off. As we get older taking time off makes it tougher to get back. When I was a kid I could miss a month and within a week be back to where I left off. Nowadays I think it's more about doubles the time I miss to get back to where I was. When I was in my early 20's and didn't play for the summer it would take me 3 or 4 months to feel like I was back playing well and fit again. This is why I learned to always keep playing over the summer, even if it's just once a week.

If you're one of those people that have take the summer off and are all ready and set to get back into full swing I have a few tips for you. (and no, that picture above is not me, lol)

1) Ease your way back into t - almost all of us will overdo it and this can lead to injuries.

2) Don't play a hard match your first time back on court.

3) When you play your first match, make the next day an easy one.

4) A cool down/stretch can save you a lot of pain the first few times back on the court.

5) Have realistic expectations. Don't expect to be right back where you were when you stopped playing. Sure, some people you were close to before may be ahead of you now. Just focus on yourself and the long term goals. Write them out and set time lines.

6) Don't play any tournaments until you've been back for at least a month or your asking for trouble. At least if you play at a high level.

7) Use your first 2 or 3 tournaments of the season as training tools. Have lower expectations and just go see where your game and fitness is, while remembering that your bigger goals are focused on more important tournaments later in the season.

8) Remember that especially in these situations, less is more!

If you follow these steps you are more likely to get back to where you left off and stay healthy. Sometimes the hardest step to take is the first one after a layoff. This is why I suggest not getting right back into matchplay.

Squash is such a tough sport if you've taken a layoff. You'll likely get squash butt and hurt in places you haven't felt in months or years! That's why it's important to ease your way back into it. Maybe you start with a solo hit, some easy drills; a few days later maybe get up to a single game at the end of your drill session. You can also do some ghosting or movement drills to get your body prepared for the squash specific movements that your body will about to endure.

Easing back into squash is extremely difficult. We want to work hard and get back to where we think we should be and often do too much too soon. Knowing when to say enough is enough for right now and I'm not quite ready for that is key. Normally we never want to admit we can't do something or that we're too exhausted, especially to do well in squash. Give yourself some slack the first month 2 back and you're body will thank you for it later in the season!