Monday, January 27, 2020

Hitting Straighter On A More Consistent Basis

One area that almost all squash players have in common is that we are always trying to hit the ball closer to the sidewall on a more consistent basis. Most people when they start playing just get the ball back ands a lot of their shots tend to end up in the middle of the court. With a lot of practice and patience we eventually start to get shots within the width of the service boxes and after a few more year ideally right along the sidewall.

There tighter we hit a shot the less likely it is that your opponent will be able to attack. The closer the ball is to the sidewall the further your opponent has to to go from the T to play their shot and it will also limit their ball control. When the ball is right on the sidewall only the top inch or two of the racquet will be making contact with the ball and this makes it quite challenging to get back let alone control. Even at the pro level there are countless points won every match because a ball was glued to the sidewall.

Even with this early understanding and relentless pursuit of hitting the ball tight, it's still something we can all improve upon. As we are under pressure the way we have to adapt our body and swing to play a shot makes it even less likely that our accuracy will hold up and we often pop out shots towards that dangerous middle area. This is where many swing break down because people don't have the correct swing mechanics or the they lack strength and mobility to get their body into the ideal hitting posture at top speed.

In the most recent episode of Squash Shots (episode 37) I demonstrate 3 solo drills which are geared towards intermediate players which focus on hitting the ball straighter and tighter. Below is the video of the episode and then I will follow it up with a brief description of each exercise.

In drill #1 I am trying to hit the ball into the service box without letting the ball hit the sidewall. For many years of playing squash I didn't pay attention to where my length was hitting the sidewall. Even at a pretty high level I was using the sidewall to help straighten my shots up, but as I now know this slows the ball down and it often won't get to the back wall against a top level player. You'll easily notice this if you play on a court with sticky sidewalls where the ball doesn't tend to slide down the wall like it does on some courts. A glass court is a good example of this where the ball just pops out towards the middle of the court.

In drill #2 I have a target (cone) around the short line. By doing this I don't have to worry about the back corner (which many people struggle with up to a certain point). So this is a drill that allows you to really concentrate on the direction you are hitting the ball and also focusing on the weight of shot. If your short drive clips the sidewall it will likely pop out and not hit the target so this simple drill can be very effective for keeping your swing going straight through during the contact part of the swing. When I do this drill with very new players I have them start up by the front wall and every time they hit a target I get them to move back their target by 1 racquet length.

In the third drill I am doing sidewall drives, but aiming to hit the short line with each of my drives. This another good way to work on technique and the angle of your shots without worrying about the back corners. This can be modified to hit into the widths of the services boxes too. It also doesn't allow the use of the sidewalls to subtlety straighten up your drives.

At the end of the video I demonstrate a couple of ways to practice hitting the ball to focus on your posture. Our alignment as we hit the shot will play a large factor in the accuracy of our shot. If we line up parallel to the sidewall as we hit and can maintain this posture throughout our swing we have the beast chance of hitting the ball straight. Many players crowd the ball and open their hips and shoulders when they swing, like a baseball player who pulls the ball when they want to hit for power. When you do this you tend to pull the ball out towards the middle of the court and this is a big reason many amateurs play more crosscourt shots than straight ones. If you practice hitting a shot balancing on 1 leg or on your knees you won't be able to spin with your swing making them ideal teaching tools for understanding and improving ones hitting posture.

There are a pile of drills and condition games which can also allow you to learn how to play straighter, and even begin to win by playing straight shots. The most common drills would have to be boast, drive or rotating drives. A lot of players do these drills regularly which bring the focus to hitting the ball tight on a more consistent basis. As for condition games I'd have to say the my favourite 2 are: alley games, where every shot of each rally has to be played on the same half of the court for both players. When I was in university I had a lot of difficulty playing straight and deep on the forehand side and this exercise really helped me. The second condition game is where 1 player has to hit only straight and the other player can hit anything. Sometimes when I do this in training the player who has to only hit straight can only hit to length and they 2 players don't switch until the player with the condition has won a rally. If you do this against a strong opponent this can take upwards of 1-2 minutes so it's also an excellent way to improve your physical conditioning.

Often times at the beginning of my matches I start off just playing straight drives knowing that if I can get a lead and create pressure with just this 1 shot everything else is going to fall into place once I decide to open up the court. It's also something I resort back to when I'm in a tough patch in the match and I need to get back on track. Even though I am an attacking style player, I still play best when I am hitting the ball tight and applying a lot of pressure with my straight drives, drops and kill shots.

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