Sunday, March 13, 2016

Tactics For Wining Now Or Later?

First off I just want to mention that I just started a new Serious Squash Instagram account (username serioussquash) where I will post squash video clips and tips. Today I'm going to discuss an issue that all of us contemplate and often we don't even know we are. I'm gong to talk about your shot selection and are you making the choices you do because you want to win now or to win later? This isn't always the same thing you see. Most people will avoid playing lob serves because they are afraid of hitting it out which would impact their odds of winning today. I feel like most of us are so caught up in winning this point, game and match that we don't dare try to play shots out of our comfort zone.

So do you play high percentage squash? That's clearly the best way to win, right? Minimize risk and avoid making poor mistakes. I like to think about Ramy Ashour when I talk about this subject, because he clearly has hit a pile of tin over the years learning to play low percentage shots and I'm sure he lost a lot of points and games he could have grinder out, but was committed to his long term goal; at least that's my best guess.

When I watch a lot amateurs and especially juniors play, I see then pass up a lot of good openings and hit it back to their opponent. I understand there are big points late in games and matches where playing a big more conservative can be beneficial, but passing up going short for the fear of making an error or setting up your opponent may make you tougher to beat that day, but what about long term? I feel that passive players will learn how to be disciplined and physically fit because they learn to play attritional style of squash. But are there consequences too?

If kids are taught just to avoid mistakes how will they learn to play the tactically sound shot? And there are a lot of different ways to win at squash. Have you ever played someone that was very aggressive on court and attacking short a lot? They may make a lot of mistakes, but they don't allow you into a rhythm. A player that is willing to take some risk in the short term, I believe will also have more room to grow long term because they are open minded. The one concern I do have is the value of discipline and focus that are taught by playing long boring rallies. But I digress. I guess you can see which side of this argument I am leaning towards.

Here is an old clip of me playing when I was 11 and 12 years old. For more squash videos check out my Youtube channel at cchsquashpro. Yes, I'm the little one. The first match is when I lost in the semis of Canadian Junior Nationals (under 14). I know the video isn't the greatest quality, but it was the early 90's! Anyways, what I want to talk about is my style of play in this first match and how it relates to today's topic. I'll let you watch it now and then I'll discuss it below.

So I was a tiny kid and not very fast, but I still liked to play super attacking. I hit as many balls short as I did deep. Yes, I lost this match in 3 but the games were close. It's easy to look back now and say 'wow, what the heck was I doing out there?' I could have used just a little bit of balance in my game and I probably would have won that match. And then perhaps I would go on and win in the finals and repeat as a national champion. I mean, what kid wouldn't want that?

As much as I would have liked to win that match, I do enjoy being the one dictating play and my fearless style of play. I liked hitting winners; I still do! I would solo hit almost everyday and work on my attacking shots. Back then the game was to 9 and you had to serve to get a point, so this probably didn't suit my style. This is also when the racquets had just become oversize and lighter and you could actually start to do more with the ball.

What do you think would happen if someone developed as a junior from the bottom with the style I liked to play here in this video? What if they were actually fast, a little bigger and could hit with a bit more pace? I'd like to think this is what some of the Egyptians do now. I don't see a single player in Canada playing like this now. And of course there isn't. All top kids have a coach and as a coach how could you let your athlete play so risky and shoot from all over the court? It's our job to help them.

I certainly don't coach anyone to play like I did here. But it makes me wonder what I would do if I came across a kid like this, would I try and get them to play more traditional to be more successful in the immediate future or would I be open minded to let them experiment with a variety of shots and this open style of squash? I'd like to say I'm pretty open minded, but I don't know for sure what I would do. I guess the main thing I would say is that they would have to work on their attacking game non-stop. I would also try and help them learn when their opponent is starting to hang around up front and to bury them back a bit and then go on the attack again. I believe in coaching the kid to a style that best suits their game. Some of us are better suited as grinders than others. I do feel like a lot of kids are all being coached to play the same style and it just comes down to who works harder and can do it better.

So you may be wondering what happened to me? That I'm a perfect case study to show that playing this style as a youth is not possible. But I still believe it is. I got to a pretty high level, but had some other areas hold me back. For the right person, with the right passion, dedication and physical traits, I believe they could develop as a super aggressive player and have a successful career. I think finding that right person to play that style is few and far between though.

This post was focused on shot selection and how we can play to not lose or play to win. I believe we should play the right shot, given we have a decent skill set to do so. I don't worry about making errors if it's the right decision. The shots will get better if we try them, if we avoid them because we're not very good at them we may never get better at them and our ceiling for our potential will be lower. This doesn't mean I'm suggesting you go out and start trying to hit nicks from all over the place, but just think about what shots you avoid playing because they are difficult.

Some of the most often passed up tactically correct shots I see are lob serves, volleying a tough serve, hitting counter drops, hitting straight from the front of the court, hitting straight on the forehand off the bounce and the volley and attacking short on loose balls from mid-court. If you want to achieve your potential you should work on all of these areas and any others you feel you are avoiding in your game. If you want to win more now, practice those areas more and more and the results will come sooner than later.

If you do make a mistake playing the tactically correct shot in matchplay, learn to tell yourself that it was the right shot and to continue playing it. In the end I always wanted to become the best I could be and I knew to do that I had to make mistakes and play shots I couldn't execute 100% of the time. I believe you can play to win now, while also not comprising your ability to improve and becoming the best you can be in the future. But if you could only pick one, which would you choose? I find that kids generally will take more risks than adults and if they can't do something they will continue trying to do it until they can. Adults are more 'sensible' and generally play within their abilities. It's no wonder kids improve faster!


  1. Interesting post, you went completely the opposite way to what I thought when I read the title, but that makes perfect sense coming from a competitive player.

    That is personally, having come into squash as an adult and never having had formal coaching until very recently, I learned to play with a very attacking style from the get go. And in order to get better and to "win later" as you put it, I had to learn and force myself to play a consistent game instead! I could get close scores against many players I had no business beating just from hitting crazy winners, but I could never reach that next level until I learned to only hit those crazy winners when I was balanced & in position and my opponent was not.

    So long winded way of saying this principle goes both ways - for playing more attacking squash AND for playing more consistent squash.

  2. Fantastic post and a very important subject I think, not just for Squash but sport in general. Watching that video put a smile on my face seeing you buzzing around the Court, dropping from everywhere. Intermittently here in England, basically every two years when the national football team fail miserably in international tournaments, there is a discussion as to why they can’t compete at the top level, and there is always a strong voice that suggests it is because youngsters don’t take the game seriously enough. The implication being that they don’t want to win badly enough. This has always struck me as an absurd theory. My own experience is that children are constantly told how important it is to win, and the more they’re told this the worse things get. Being told that you have to win doesn’t make you more creative, or more of a risk taker, it has the opposite effect. Young players are rendered so afraid of losing that they become increasingly conservative, and less willing to take any kind of risks. Play becomes reactive, and consideration of creative problem solving disappears. The fear of failure is far too high, and it’s something that’s being coached.

  3. Also, just wanted to say that I really enjoy reading your blog.

  4. Chris don't know if you'll get this comment, but your article above is excellent, I see Canadians as totally boring players who have been overcoached. Case in point: I grew up at my club in Toronto watching Sabir Butt and JPower when they were young. Sabir was a great player who lacked imagination and played up and down the wall, Then I saw Jonathan at 13 trying overhand topspins, crazy cross court nicks, all kinds of unconventional shots; he was having fun, Sabir looked like practising was more of a job. Needless to say we know where their careers went to. I too watch even the pro level where in the front off a drop the 90% play is crosscourt smash vs down the wall for an easy winner.


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