PROLOGUE

 

The Beauty of Squash

 

Squash is undoubtedly a very beautiful game. A game that is full of action and excitement. At the same time, full of elegance and clever thinking. It provides a player the opportunity to express qualities of speed and power, as well as extreme sensitivity and control. This is a true game of body and mind. The head is essential in keeping calm, controlling the shots and movement, making quick accurate decisions, understanding the opponent, and making optimal use of a player’s resources. However, without the physique, the ability to move fast and accurately, stretch down for the ball, and last for as long as it takes, winning against a tough opponent would be impossible. A player without the necessary physical conditioning, would not have the opportunity to move onto the ball and play the shot as he would like to. In other words, the mind must control the body, but the body must be capable of executing orders.

            

It is incredible how squash is so much like a game of chess. Controlling the centre, laying out the foundations for attaining good defence when required, planning ahead for the attack, and using the various weapons  to keep the adversary tied down. Watching capable players illustrates how they are determined to stay on the T and try to manoeuvre each other until one player may dominate and go for the kill. The amazing thing about squash though, is that it is all that and more. Not only do players have so many shots at their disposal, but also there are also many dimensions to the game. Players can vary the speed of their shots, use the sidewalls to create angles, as well as send the ball high up, or down just above the tin. These added dimensions enhance creative tactical play. Tactics are also influenced by the players’ court coverage abilities.  

 

Squash is also a very tough game, both physically and mentally. Rallies are often long and hard. At the same time a player must be capable of making sound decisions and maintain his patience. Experience is extremely important in attaining the right balance. It is also this element of toughness, which makes the game so attractive to play. No wonder, so many people prefer participating rather than watching. Most players are also very competitive, and although they may play primarily to enjoying themselves, they always prefer to play at their best and win.

My passion for this game has driven me to play and train hard for the past 31 years, and try to help others improve their game. Apart from the satisfaction attained from coaching beginners and working with some of the world’s top players, I had devised the Shot Squash 2000 training system. Having done that, my aim was to give further advise to interested players. This e-book is an attempt to explain and illustrate every possible detail to players and coaches. It also tries to offer solutions for errors of every type. Although this book has much detailed information, which a recreational player may find inapplicable, it hopefully provides enjoyable reading and viewing. Besides, a recreational player may decide to follow whichever particular advise he wishes to. He may not be very interested in making great sacrifices to become the fittest squash player, but may like to work hard at improving his racket skills, deception or tactics. Another player may be very interested in the weight training, and would prefer having a more powerful game.

 

So, whichever type of player you are, beginner or professional, you will find some interesting information, which will improve your game. Coaches will also find the material of interest and help them find different means to solving their pupils’ problems. For now, sit back and enjoy!

THE RACKET -  OLD AND NEW

 

 

The racket is obviously a very important piece of equipment. All the effort made by a player during the execution of a shot are concentrated on, and serve the purpose, of moving the racket with a certain degree of control at a particular speed. Therefore, the racket has to be manageable and “comfortable”. It is also the racket (not forgetting the strings!), which makes contact with the ball on impact to give it speed and direction, which are both very important in allowing the player to send the ball where he/she wants to.

 

The racket being manageable and “ comfortable ” to use means that it must not be too heavy as to impede quick effortless movement, especially during the back swing or when using the wrist in particular situations. This will be explained later in the book when other arguments such as technique, deception, and defence are discussed. It must also be well balanced and not be excessively “top” or “bottom heavy” in order to give the player enough “feel” in determining and sensing the racket’s position at all times.

 

A good racket will make the strings work well by keeping them accurately in place while allowing them to absorb the ball’s impact and rebound with precision. Another very important factor is to absorb the vibrations (if produced on impact) without rendering the ball “insignificant”. This means that the player still feels the impact of the ball in order to apply sensitivity to his shots.

 

In other words, a racket must not be so powerful, elastic, and totally shock absorbing (spongy) as to transmit to the player the same sensation on impact regardless of the speed of the oncoming ball or that of the racket swing.

 

The ideal area of impact or sweet spot on the racket string surface must not be too small or too large. The disadvantages due to the former are quit obvious while that of the latter rather less so. If the sweet spot is too big, this will imply that there exists a “false” sweet spot. I refer to it as false, because less sensitive players would not distinguish where impact took place. A sweet spot which is too big may give the player a false impression that he did hit the ball well even when in reality, impact was well off-centre. Impact may be regularly off-centre due to bad technique that is constantly ignored, hence, creating further problems or lack of progress.

 

With this in mind, we should remember that not long ago, wooden rackets with a reduced head size were the norm. These rackets were extremely difficult to use when compared to modern oversize carbon/graphite/ or kevlar rackets. Nonetheless, there have been great, admirable players who used the wooden frames with astonishing skills. I would advise players who haven’t  seen these objects in circulation to try to get their hands on old videos to see the skills and precision of players like Qamar Zaman or the power of Hidy Jahan’s shots.

 

 

HOW THE GAME HAS CHANGED

 

The rackets we use today have made life very different for players. Control, and especially power, has been greatly enhanced. Even a player on the receiving end of powerful accurate shots of an opponent -thanks to the modern racket- finds assistance in his efforts to defend. For example, the defender despite being fully stretched, finds enough “push” from the racket to send the ball to the back of the court, and get himself out of trouble.

 

Theoretically, a lighter racket favours deceptive play too. It has become easier to hold a shot till the last moment, and also easier to use the wrist. This will be referred to later.

 

It would be safe to say that hitting the ball while not under pressure has become easier, and that players find themselves doing things differently, causing the game to change together with the racket’s evolution. Generally speaking, the pace of play and frequency of shots have increased, making the game even faster than it used to be.

 

At professional level, the tin has also been lowered by 5cms. This has favoured more shot making and attacking play. Players have been provided an added incentive to play short and fine-tune such attacking shots. At the same time, they have had to prepare themselves, fitness wise, even better in order to move faster and retrieve their opponents more difficult shots. Generally speaking, the rallies have become slightly shorter but more intense.             

 

Even though the tin height has been lowered only for P.S.A players, others who play on a regular tin have been influenced by the changes. Watching the top pro's attacking more has convinced others to try adopting a similar stile of play. An increased pace of play with more volley drops, and volley boasts has become more common.

 

 

 

MAKING THE RIGHT CHOICE           

 

 

Which is the best racket for me? Probably a very frequent question in the minds of players of all levels. Some less serious players consider aesthetics as a priority while professionals may evaluate the merits of a sponsor’s contract. The vast majority of squash players, though, look for different qualities.

 

Having discussed the importance of this most valuable instrument, our choice must consider all that has been mentioned above. A good racket must provide control and power, be light enough for manageability, but not too light to the extent of not giving enough feedback to the player’s hand, regarding the racket head’s speed and position. If a racket is too light and lacks material, it may not be solid enough to absorb the impact, hence, making the ball seem heavier and difficult to manage.

 

In other words, players must be wise to consider all aspects. Players differ in structure, strength, and sensitivity. What may feel right for one may not be so for another. So, there is no “best racket in the world”. A sensible choice must be made to select the racket most adept to help the player accomplish his goal. Brand names are important, though to some extent. A company, which constantly invests in research to find the best materials, frame structures, and innovative ideas, should not be overlooked. A racket producer which works harder than the others to maintain a leading edge, is more likely to guarantee it's players, top quality rackets.

 

One common factor must exist however, and that is strength or resistance against breakage. I would avoid all rackets that break easily or brands that have a “fragile” reputation. Squash is fast and there are too many walls to spend money on things that break easily.

 

Returning to the point about how players are physically different, and vary in playing style, rackets also, come in different materials, weights, shapes and sizes. The variations found between rackets offer players with different needs, the appropriate solution. The frame shape is one of the most important characteristics of a squash racket, and shall be considered first. Racket head shapes could be grouped into four categories.

 

 

-                                         Oversize     wide and narrow

-                                         Drop shape (or long string)

-                                         Drop shape with a flat top

-                                         Mid-size

 

The oversize racket makes life very easy for beginners, especially if it is also light, but may create a false sense of security. With this racket, beginners would miss hit the ball less frequently and produce more powerful shots. This type of racket would also be suitable for better players who move the wrist excessively during the back swing and the beginning stages of the swing itself.

 

The only real disadvantage being the excessive sweet spot area, which makes it difficult for players to individuate the exact correct spot where contact should be made with the ball for maximum precision.

 

 

I would also advise very tall, big players not to use this type of racket. It is also important to note that as this type of racket has a large frame, only recently has it been possible to produce a lightweight version, thanks to the use of modern materials such as titanium.

 

 

The oversize narrow racket (top) is very similar to the oversize racket (bottom), but obviously has a narrower sweet spot. Hence, this racket is not as friendly to beginners, but will force them to concentrate more on the accuracy of their swing in order to make good contact with the ball.

 

The more rigid frame is suitable for advanced players. This racket provides accuracy plus the benefits of the long string for powerful shots.

 

 

 

The drop shaped racket head is a good compromise. The head is big enough to produce powerful shots, but also of acceptable size to provide control. It is important for the player using this type of racket, to note that the sweet spot is a little off-centre towards the top end.

 

 

The drop shaped head with a flat top, is normally a head-heavy racket. That is, most of its weight is tipped towards the top end. As this racket has a flat top, it is also very wide at the top of the head and becomes very narrow moving towards the racket throat. This means that the sweet spot is even further towards the tip of the racket. I would highly recommend this racket for a very tall, heavily built player. Very tall players find it hard to go down on their legs. Heavily built ones, even more. Reaching down with their arm to hit a low-lying ball is made easier with this type of racket, which has its sweet spot very close to the tip.

 

It is also true that when hitting a ball that is close to the sidewall, a point of impact close to the top of the frame is ideal with this racket shape.

 

 

The sweet spot close to the top end of the racket provides another advantage for a long armed player. The distance between the player’s hand and the point of impact is greater compared to other rackets and consequently more proportional to that between the player’s hand and his elbow. Therefore, the player has greater leverage, which could be used to accelerate the racket head and hit the ball very hard when required. This greater leverage together with the heavier racket head would probably be uncomfortable for an average sized player and render the racket uncontrollable. Of course, a few more grams added to the tip will not disturb a heavily built player.

 

(I would add here that any player, regardless of build, who is not interested enough to get his technique corrected and continues to have a slow swing, would be able to hit the ball harder with this top heavy racket).

 

 

The mid-size racket, generally of an oval or squarish shape, is the ideal racket for top players or those who would like to play with good technique and are constantly searching for accuracy. These rackets, offer precise feedback to the sensitive player. The exact quality and point of impact can be felt. Hence, a player will adjust his timing, technique and precision. He/she will be able to get the most out of the racket and enhance his/her abilities and performance. This racket may not be the easiest to use, but with some patience and practise, would provide extreme accuracy and power.

 

 

 

         

 THE RACKET THROAT AND SHAFT

 

So far, we have talked about the racket head, but there are other important areas of the racket frame. The racket throat, for example, may vary significantly. Some rackets are very thick in this area, while others are thin. The same applies for the shaft.

 

A thick racket throat should make the racket head distort less and pass less vibration to the player’s hand when the ball isn’t hit well. This would give the player more control. It is important that a massive frame should have an aerodynamic profile and be constructed of lightweight material; otherwise the racket would be unmanageable.

 

The racket shaft could be constructed on similar lines, to enhance speed, power, and control.

If a player chooses a racket with a very thin shaft, he must make sure that it is not too flexible, as this will undoubtedly give excellent ball speed, but not directional accuracy.

 

In conclusion, it is very important to read the racket tests published in squash magazines and listen to your coach’s advise. Remember also to read the manufacturer’s notes on technical characteristics, construction, and use of material, in their brochures and on the pamphlet attached to the rackets.

 

MATERIALS USED FOR RACKET FRAM CONSTRUCTION AND HOW THEY VARY

 

Rackets are made of materials such as graphite, carbon fibre, kevlar, or titanium. Some cheap rackets are also made of aluminium. The aluminium rackets had the advantage of being very economical for those who wanted to try the game and spend the minimal amount of money. These rackets are however, relatively heavy and deform easily. Today, some carbon fibre rackets cost very little and provide the same price advantage. These rackets are undoubtedly of better quality, lighter and last longer.

 

Graphite rackets are more robust, and had been introduced after the carbon fibre ones. In fact, both materials are used together, but nowadays less so. Graphite rackets are generally more rigid. Kevlar is an even tougher material. Strong materials, which are also shock, absorbing, permit racket constructors to make very light rackets, which could take all the punishment on a squash court. The latest material now used is titanium, which is even lighter. The most recent titanium models are a joy to play with. Very powerful accurate shots are made much easier, while delicate shots are even more controllable.

 

The use of tough, resistant materials is vital. Shots that are very close to the sidewall and deep in the corners must be hit with confidence. A fragile racket would probably compromise the player’s concentration if he has to worry too much about not harming his racket.

 

 

 A WORD ON STRINGS

 

Without getting into much detail, some understanding of a few general concepts is important. A player must be able to distinguish between degrees of string tension, such as tight, very tight, loose, and very loose. It is also important to know that looser strings push the ball faster while tighter strings generally provide more control. Each player has to experiment with attention and sensitivity to establish what works best for him or her.

 

Strings also come in different shapes and sizes. Apart from the natural gut strings, which are hardly used, any more, there is a huge variety of synthetics from the most complex and thin, to the most simple and thick calibres. Thick strings generally last longer while the opposite goes for thin ones. Thinner strings usually give more control, too.

 

The surface of the material used is what makes contact with the ball. Most players avoid strings which are too smooth. They provide less grip on the ball and consequently less control, especially when using a slice action. These factors are to be considered and tried in order to make a good choice.

 

String flexibility is important to identify. Strings that are too rigid don’t provide much power and are not easy to adapt to. However, flexible strings provide a nice big sweet spot and   lots of power. A note of attention though. It is important to adopt a slightly higher string tension when using the flexible types, as they will stretch. If they are ideally set at the beginning, they will become too loose after some hours of play.