Coaching Squash Front-Court Tactics with a Ball Machine

Most squash coaches use a squash ball machine solely for technical training – often working with their players to groove one particular shot – or hitting several shots from the same, identical feed.  This training, although it can be valuable, is “closed” training and does not improve a player’s “squash intelligence”.

Ideally, we should try and improve our player’s technique within a  “tactical context” – where our player is forced to “read” the situation and make a decision – preferably training a) their movement to the ball to play the shot; b) the shot (s) itself – hopefully the most frequent or common tactical response(s); c) their recovery and the next (or follow-up) shot.  This is an example of a  “tactics first” approach to squash training.

Nearly all of “normal” squash drilling is “non-tactical” – there are no decisions to be made, and often the patterns being drilled may get you into trouble in a real game – the boast-drive drill (and variations) being a perfect example of this.  Rarely will either male or female pro players drive straight from the front off an opponent’s boast (especially from the front right) due to the danger of a stroke being called if their drive is loose. They usually will play a cross-court drive or lob, or a straight drop.  I put together the a few “front-court” points from the last five minutes of a WISPA Grainger-Grinham match – they only drive straight from the front twice in the entire five minutes – twice a stroke against Grainger (at :20 and 1:58), and once against Grinham (forehand side).

Even some of the world’s smartest players insist on this type of closed, boast-drive drill, as we see in this Jonathon Power video clip example below. Admittedly there are constraints when drilling in pairs (you have to hit to a known, convenient location for the drill to continue), and this type of non-tactical drilling can be great physical training (versus doing your aerobic training on a bike).

A squash ball machine, in combination with a drilling partner can overcome the drawbacks of the two types of “closed” training described above – allowing both tactical improvement along with continuous, game-like physical efforts.  Wesleyan’s University’s Shona Kerr and I put together a video demonstrating another approach to training drops and drives in the front court with the ball machine as an example of a “tactics first” approach.  Here are the six steps (we see the first four involving the ball machine in the video):

  1. Train the most common tactical situation.
  2. Train the second most likely tactical choice.
  3. Alternate the two shot choices.
  4. Randomize the two choices.
  5. Train the two choices in a conditioned game (where the game “rules” force the tactical patterns to occur more frequently than n a real match)
  6. Use and evaluate the tactics and shots in a real match.

One Response to Coaching Squash Front-Court Tactics with a Ball Machine

  1. Melanie Jans says:

    Tim, I agree that hitting a cross court drive from the front of the court is a suitable option for less skilled players to avoid a stroke situation as you said. Heather Wallace, (11 time National Canadian Champ and former top 3 player in the world) pointed out that too often, even the Pros, chose this cross court option which became predictable. She recommended the straight drive off of a boast (or straight drop). I tested this out and it felt strange but it did catch my opponents off guard and when it was a tight drive it just put that much more pressure on them. The clip with Grainger and Grinham shows the danger in hitting a loose straight drive but I’d say if we were to watch most of their matches, it would become clear that the straight drive would help more than hinder their play. Especially Grainger who can fool her opponents into thinking she’s hitting the cross!
    So, the take home message of what I’m trying to say is:
    Use a variety of shots from the front of the court, including the straight drive. Just practice it to death!
    Love your site….thanks!
    Melanie Jans, Squash Pro in Vancouver, BC

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