Movement in Squash

To what will be a series of articles on squash, Hadrian Stiff, Irish National coach discusses movement.

Sound swing technique will influence how and where the ball. Great movement will place the body in the best position for swing technique to function. Without good movement, playing squash will always need a lot of effort no matter what standard is being played. There are many different styles of movement on the squash court but only a very few players ever really master the art of movement and make it look easy.

Beautiful, effective movement places a player anywhere they want to be on court with minimal effort and maximal effectiveness.  Strength and fitness provides a solid base, but does not automatically translate into on court fluency –- a source of frustration to the hard working athlete.

Every movement we make on a squash court requires that we create and control force. Force with the racket swing, force and we push off the floor and force as we have to slow down on the way to the ball. When movement is rushed and too many muscles are used to cover the court energy is wasted and movement patterns break down followed by shots and decision-making.

Movement is at the heart of my coaching philosophy. I aim to show players how to move around the court as easily as possible which in turn leads to better shot choices and control of rallies. Teaching good movement starts with an assessment of what the player’s body is capable of. Tests for balance, momentum control, the ability to drop the body weight over the feet effectively and the range of flexibility in the main muscle groups help to establish what each player needs to be working on. If any of these tests shows a major weakness then these must first be improved. For example: understanding how the foot contacts the floor during a lunge can transform the way a player steps into the shot.  Once all movement parts are functioning then simple patterns can be developed with ghosting, tennis ball feeds and coach feeds. As the movement fluency and timing improves then the speed and intensity of movement training can be increased.

The greatest squash mover of all time is Jansher Kahn. He is also the best player of all time according to many professionals. Jansher used so little energy on the court that playing matches for 2 hours had little effect on him. His opponents however often ended up destroyed physically and mentally. Jansher would contract and release muscles at exactly the right times while his upper body and lower body balance and relationship would always be perfectly aligned. Watch Roger Federer on a tennis court and you can see the same principles in action. Both players have long, incredibly successful careers with relatively few injuries. This is because of the relaxed and controlled nature of their movement.

Both Roger Federer and Jansher time their movements perfectly. If you can arrive at the ball at the best moment to hit your shot then you will find you have more time to choose your shot, more balance to execute your shot and your recovery will be much faster. Most of the time squash players are running too much, especially players new to the sport and also young players who are very exited. An essential principal to understand that most of the time it is only useful to move at the same speed as the ball. Here are some golden rules:

  • Float to the T position just before your opponent hits their shot and NOT before. This will help      to keep your movement in flow and avoid being still too long before your      opponent plays their shot.
  • Keep your T position relaxed with your body tall and feet at shoulder distance apart. Float on your toes  while watching the ball off your opponent’s strings.
  • After a quick first movement from the T start to slow down and relax the movement to allow for a softening of the hips and knees in the last step to the ball to bend low.
  • Arrive at the ball when it is at the top of the bounce. This will give you the option to attack your opponent with an early shot or delay the shot to break the opponent’s      movement patterns. Most players arrive before the top of the bounce or after meaning a loss of opportunities to create pressure and bad timing of  movement.

Learning the feeling of good movement is essential for it to function during the match. As a coach, using words and feelings to help players develop better movement is vital to help the player sense the process. For example be quiet with your steps, float to the T and link the movement to the swing in one motion. This is essential in helping the player feel the process rather than trying to do it. If you say to a player ‘come move faster!’ this is unlikely to work. So many players can be classed as lazy or slow when actually they just need to shown how to make their bodies’ function, then the speed will come. In order for movement to function during match play it needs to be natural, a feeling and a rhythm. By using simple exercises on and off the court to develop the awareness of how the body responds to the floor from the feet, through the ankles, knees, hips and upper body the player becomes ‘in the process’ not focused on the outcome (to move well).  This also applies when learning to hit shots better. Focus on the process of the shot, not the outcome. Use this theory during practice and it will help when you play.

Great movement is inside everyone and part of the challenge for the coach is to help the player find their body and its balances and postures. Once squash movement begins to function well, technique, shot selection and mental calm will follow. I know this because over the last 3 years the above principles have been applied from Mohamed el Shorbagy (world number 8), Arthur Gaskin, numerous elite level juniors all the way through to 4-year-old beginners and it is working!

I look forward to continuing to work with the Irish players bringing these principles and others to the juniors and seniors over the next season and beyond to help to create and build better players. Also to work with the coaches so we can all help to move squash forward in Ireland.