Sending the ball very close to the sidewall, time and time again, is a trademark of professional squash. However, even experienced club players are quite capable of doing almost the same, even though less frequently. Therefore, every player, from beginner to advanced, experiences close encounters of the solid kind! Beginners are faced with a problem, which they have not encountered in any other racket sport. They may be having a hard enough challenge when hitting a loose shot, let alone a ball that is glued to the sidewall. More advanced players find themselves playing against those who can send the ball close to the side, with greater consistency. Such players would be looking for a high rate of success, rather than a hit or miss technique.


So, which are the most important tips to consider, in order to obtain the highest rates of success? Apart from assuring that the player has a good basic technique, which allows considerable racket control, a couple of other points must be referred to. Balance is extremely important. The player must not be anxious to pounce onto the ball immediately, but rather, feel his position and sound weight distribution on the legs. Balance is critical because the player’s head must remain perfectly still during the swing. A lot can be learnt from the techniques which golfers use. The player must also remain far away from the sidewall, to allow room for an extended arm and racket.


An important error to avoid is that of taking the ball too early or in line with the left foot. Many consider this – ball in line with the left foot (forehand)- to be the ideal point of impact. However, this is not true, as shall be considered below. In fact, the ball should be struck early only if it is momentarily detached from the sidewall and is about to become closer and closer as it moves along. Presuming that the ball is travelling parallel to the sidewall, delaying the shot to a point of impact in line with the shoulder, would be ideal.








If the player decides to strike the ball in line with the left foot (green arrow), this photo illustrates the disadvantages. At point “A”, the maximum radius of the swing could well produce contact between the racket and wall. Even if such contact is avoided, at point “B”, the racket is already moving away from the ball. That is, the player may miss the ball, or send it towards the middle of the court. 



The photo above, illustrates how, at the intended point of impact (in line with the left foot), the racket follows its natural path and moves away from the ball.










Delaying the point of impact makes perfect sense. When the ball is in line with the shoulder, the arc produced by the swing, radius (green arrow), and ball, coincide.



When the ball is struck at point “A”, it should travel perfectly down the wall. The arrow “B” represents the ball’s ideal path down the wall. This arrow is the tangent to the circle created by the swing, and is at a 90° angle to the radius “A”.







The above descriptions of the forehand and backhand provided a detailed breakdown of the strokes. However, understanding a few concepts about the technique involved would help both players and coaches improve the shots.


I had previously mentioned that most players feel lack of power on the backhand. To overcome this difficulty, players must understand the importance of acceleration, speed, co-ordination, relaxation, and balance, and then try to apply this knowledge not just to hit the ball harder on the backhand, but also to achieve maximum power with least effort, when required.




It is true that the faster the racket head speed, the more powerful the shot produced as there is good impact with the ball. Remember though that at the beginning of the swing, the racket is still, or moving at 0 meters per second and will definitely not reach its maximum speed suddenly, but will rather build up speed to get to its maximum. So remember, there is no point in forcing things.


The human body and our muscles are unable to neither produce maximum power in a tiny fraction of a second nor keep up this level forever. Therefore, when the ball is struck, we must assure that the racket head has built up to maximum speed and does not slow down too early, otherwise our efforts would be in vain.




Previously, I had mentioned that the tip of the racket is the fastest moving part. It also has more leverage. Being the most distant point from the axis, the tip of the racket develops the greatest speed, and the further away, from the body, the greater the speed. Hence, a large swing, at a good distance from the body, will generate more speed.




Without co-ordination, any effort would be absolutely useless. Unfortunately, we take co-ordination for granted, but those unlucky enough to remain in plaster or in bed for a long period of time, realise that walking is not so simple. Also, running without bending the knees with accuracy and timing leads to less efficiency. Talented runners do not have this problem. Seeing the fluidity of Carl Lewis in action was proof. In producing complex movements, proper co-ordination is harder to identify and appreciate its importance. The racket swing, especially on the forehand is quite complex, and many muscle groups are involved. If a player were unable to contract the right muscle fibres at the right time, it would be impossible to develop the desired racket speed or have sufficient control.




Relaxation is very closely linked to co-ordination and is fundamental in making the right muscle work efficiently at the right moment. The human body is made up of opposing muscle groups. For example, muscles to bend the legs, while others to extend them. The abdominal muscles to bend forwards, while the lower back muscles to bend backwards. If opposing muscles contract at the same moment with equal intensity, there would be no movement. Less obviously but much more common is the case of an antagonist muscle that is slightly flexed while the principle muscle is at work. This would result in reduced sensitivity and a large degree of wasted energy.


Hence, when learning technique, the racket must not be gripped too firmly, and the player must not try to hit the ball hard. He should try to relax and be smooth, while feeling his muscles work. In other words, the right muscles should be working at the right time, and the player should try to feel which muscles should be active and which should be relaxed.




I cannot recall seeing any sportsman or woman produce a sound action without maintaining good balance. Even a goalkeeper maintains his sense of balance while diving in the air. It is more obvious in the case of a squash player. Good balance goes hand in hand with control. It is also important to note that if a player loses his balance, he may regain it by using certain muscles to push his body back into position. The problem arises when the muscles involved hinder the primary muscles that are at work to produce the desired action. To make things clearer, imagine a player who bends over too much to reach the ball and loses his balance; then tries to recover by straightening his back. At this point his lower back muscles are working hard and will hinder free rotation as he takes his swing. More will be said about this subject in the section on dynamic equilibrium.


 putting the elements together



The technique that has been explained above is composed of various individual movements put together in a precise sequence. Different joints and numerous muscles take part in the action. The role played by each of these, has its own great importance, but no single muscle or joint is sufficient to produce an effective shot. This shall be demonstrated below, to help explain how these various components contribute towards the resulting shot.


Let us first make the assumption that hitting the ball very hard is equivalent to effortlessly hitting a medium paced shot. When trying to send the ball fast down the full length of the court, our goal is to use a technique, which permits minimal energy input, but produces maximum output. This is important because when playing a game, the vast majority of our energy should be dedicated to court coverage.


When striking the ball, there is mobility at the waist, and the joints involved are those of the shoulder, elbow, and wrist. What would happen if the ball is struck by using only the shoulder joint?  Or by using only the elbow? The ball could be struck by using only the wrist. The ball could also be driven by rotating the whole upper body or even the whole body. Although the above five actions are possible, the results are extremely inefficient. However, when put together and synchronised as in a chain reaction, the outcome is exceptional.


Looking more closely at the components which have been separated in the clips above, a few interesting points can be seen. Remember that our objective is to have the racket head moving at maximum speed on impact- with some weight behind the ball- and that the maximum speed will only be attained through acceleration. When the ball is hit by using only the shoulders, the speed of the racket is low and the weight behind the shot is moderate. When only the elbow is used, racket speed increases but the weight behind the ball declines. When only the wrist is used, racket speed is at its maximum compared to all the other examples, but the weight is at a minimum. When using only the upper body through torsion at the waist, the racket speed is moderate but the weight behind the shot is greatest. In the last example where the feet do not provide anchorage or stability, most of the energy input is not transferred onto the ball and is hence, the least effective of actions. In fact, this is the only component, which should not be incorporated into sound technique.


Recalling what has been explained about the forehand in a previous section, we can now see how the individual elements described above, fit in. The first movement is fairly slow as the shoulders begin to rotate. Almost at the same time there is movement at the shoulder joint as the frontal shoulder muscles and pectoral muscles begin to contract, bringing the elbow forward. During the next phase, the triceps are at work, gradually straightening the arm. After which, the flexor muscles of the forearm contract and the wrist comes into action, bringing in the racket head forward even faster.


On impact the player has managed to sum up and multiply the forces and speeds. The action had started relatively slow and far away from the racket head and had little influence regarding its speed, then gradually the muscles and joints put to work got closer and closer to the racket, and had a more important effect on its movement. The tip of the racket started off close to the body and gradually moved further away, tracing an arc with an increasing radius, hence, contributing to speed and power.


Now let’s get back to the action. As mentioned before, the shot does not by any means end on impact. The follow-through is fundamental as the racket head must at least maintain its speed if not continue to accelerate before it starts its deceleration. A shot without a follow- through or with an abrupt ending would  imply that opposing muscles have been called in to act as breaks. A short follow-through would bring in the breaks too early and slow down the shot itself. There would also be excessive energy expenditure.


At this point, it is quite obvious that without precise co-ordination, the shot could not be executed well. Imagine beginning the shot by first moving the wrist, elbow, and then finally shoulder joint. The result would be a shot that would just about make it to the front wall. If the muscles work at the wrong time, the swing would be impeded.


Relaxation is also fundamental. Just think of what would happen if the rear shoulder muscles, biceps, and forearm extensors got into the action because the player is tense and fails to relax, or thinks that the more muscle power piled up into the movement, the more powerful the shot. Now think of those less experienced players who use their legs and lower back muscles while swinging. This is very noticeable when you see them push off with the legs and lose their balance too. Use of the lower body will lead to greater wasted effort and will slow down the shot. (Even worse, it will hinder accuracy and movement back to the T.)


Therefore, balance and stability are vital to keep the feet in their place.  While relaxation and the use of the right muscles is our guide towards perfecting any particular movement. Every muscle and joint must be employed in the right way and at the right time.





MAKE SURE YOU’VE GOT IT RIGHT to start off well,


To start off well, I would give the following  advise to coaches and players. A beginner who wants to get his technique right or an advanced player who is not satisfied with his technique should try this.


Let us first make it clear that it is vital to be able to hit the ball with an open racket face, and be able to slice the ball when required.


A couple of simple exercises would verify if the player is using his racket properly, and if not, force him to do so.


Start at the front of the court, very close to the front wall. The ball is set up by the player, if there is no one available to feed. If the player is a beginner, it is strongly advisable to have a coach setting up the ball and assisting. The player must then try to open the racket face as much as possible and hit the ball upward, aiming for the out-of-court line on the front wall. In other words, attempting to produce an extremely high lob.


After feeling comfortable with that, the player should go back to hitting the ball down the wall with an open racket face.


Another exercise which forces correct technique is that of volleying the ball down the wall. The point of impact must however, be at knee height or lower. It would be best to have the coach or partner set up this shot. Follow the video illustration to have a clear understanding of how this exercise should be carried out.


Starting off with the forehand, this first clip demonstrates how correct technique, which permits an open racket face, renders volleying a low ball quite simple. Or, put differently, how incorrect technique and a closed racket face make the shot impossible to execute well or with fluidity.






On the backhand, any player who doesn't manage to get the arm moving under the ball will realise the importance of  this key jest when he affronts this shot. It is clear how the player finds the shot very difficult when executed with a closed racket face, as in this video clip.  On the other hand, adopting sound technique makes the shot fairly easy as can be viewed here.




Apart from losing power and inability to lift the ball, the arm moving upwards on the follow-through (instead of moving up and across the body) forces the right leg to work harder when pushing back towards the T.




This is not the case in the two photos above, demonstrating correct technique. The racket face is well open, and the ball is struck cleanly. The resulting shot can be powerful or lifted high onto the front wall with ease. The follow-through in the correct direction unloads the weight off the right leg and returning to the T is made simple.