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It's Duck for Dinner

Published: 22 Mar 2004 - 06:13 by theguru

Updated: 26 Nov 2020 - 16:10

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It says something of how far we have come in this world that the hardest thing many of us have to do to survive, is to go to the supermarket to buy our food. This occurred to me recently when speaking to the owner of this website, Rita Paulos.

Rita was raised in the outback of Australia and, as a child, lived in a timber slab hut with a dirt floor. Although some provisions were sourced from a relatively nearby settlement from time to time, normally their food was either taken from their modest collection of chickens and other farm animals, or was hunted by the man of the household with a trusty shotgun. Of course, many people in the world still live like this today although most in the west prefer others to deal with unpleasant business such as this.

But what has this got to do with Squash?

Whilst explaining the finer points of stroke play to a young hopeful, I overheard her say 'I can see you'll never get a duck for dinner!' It is illuminating that the student looked totally perplexed at this feedback - rather like telling a native of the deepest, darkest jungles of Africa that broadband internet access will come their way within 10 years - Uh?!.

I, of course, knew immediately what she was referring to and although I have taken a solemn vow never to shoot, kill or step on any living creature, this I know from my own childhood. The weapon may not have been powered by gunpowder, but if one were accurate the result would still be the same.

It is no good standing about as if talking on a mobile phone when trying to bag one's dinner - the lower portion of the body must be balanced and stabilised to hit one's target.

Furthermore, it is no good just hitting the desired subject, especially if using a shotgun, as a shot in the fleshy part of the animal will render it virtually inedible. And so it is with Squash. To hit a shot accurately to a target point, one must be balanced and stable to achieve a high degree of accuracy. (And I will not hear of any of this nonsense about the ball being the target!)

Now your task of playing a shot is simple:

  • Respond to your opponents shot before the shot is played
  • Take off with the speed of an Olympic sprinter to retrieve the ball, even though you are not totally sure where it is going.
  • When you reach the ball, stop running and play your shot so that you are totally balanced during the swing
  • Before the swing is even completed prepare for your return to the T
  • Return to the T with the speed at which you left it a second or two ago, being sure you give your opponent freedom to reach their next shot.

Is it any wonder so few Squash players can expect duck for dinner! To answer this challenge I spent many hours meditating in front of videos of my favourite international Squash players, playing classic matches. The footwork does not fit in with the traditional view of correct footwork found in past coaching manuals. (I have a number of them which make handy doorstops) If these were used a a measure the footwork would rate as a dog's breakfast rather than roast duck.

But watching these champions move is akin to observing a mountain stream - fluid, excited, seamless. As beautiful a creature it may be, but an elephant is not what squash players should move like. These champions move more like a butterfly, skipping across the court surface effortlessly, setting themselves only to hit the ball. They share the following characteristics:

  • The players were always stable and balanced when striking the ball (even when in unusual or extreme positions)
  • Racket preparation was consistent despite changing footwork patterns
  • There was a comfortable distance between the ball and the player
  • When it was possible they would move into the shot (transfer of weight from the back to the front foot
  • Knees were bent except when hitting overheads
  • There was a seamless transition from the approach stage to the hit stage to the recovery stage
  • When they have the time, they would make adjustments to their position with footwork, rather than improvise with their swing.

This Gold Video shows a range of feet adjustments. It is self evident that the professionals have the envy producing ability to make even the most difficult of retrievals, easy. Which gets me to thinking what mere mortals might do to achieve such skill. 

The short answer is, perhaps if we were relying on that duck for dinner we might concentrate a little harder on preparing to hit the target. The long answer? Well, the Guru will speak on that in time.

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From theguru - 26 Nov 2020 - 16:10

 it is over 16 years ago that i was inspired to write this post. when i was advised recently that there had been some unwanted activity attached to it, i followed up.

now i my declining and ever more critical years, i steeled myself to re reading the post, expecting it would be nothing but nonsense.

to my shock, i discovered that it was truly an inspiration and every sentence still has validity.

so if you are coming to this short attempt at inspiration and instruction in 2020 or beyond, be truly advised that all that is contained herein is gospel according to the guru.

perhaps the owners of this website should go further into how this state of excellence might be achieved

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From Adz - 16 Jun 2008 - 18:54

Agreed that when starting out you should learn to use your front foot slightly ahead of your back foot (in terms of closeness to the front wall), with shoulders square to the side wall. But in terms of better to advanced players, you really need to start working on developing a stable base regardless of leading foot. In many cases a better movement player  will have untraditional (open) stance footwork in the corners, whilst having traditional (closed) stance at the mid-court level.

This is a side-effect of the movement and the pivoting of the feet whilst having maximum flexibility and leg spread when lunging for the ball. On the T (which is the traditional starting point for better players, a single pivot and lunge to either service box, will see a twist and the front leg being that which is closer to the ball, so no problems in getting that traditional stance. However, unless you are in excess of 6ft tall, you won't be able to do this for the back corners for very deep and tight shots and the front corners for very short shots. To limit your movement and maximise your court coverage, you can cover these areas in a 2-step process (as opposed to the 1-step to cover the service box areas). This 2-step process will allow you to reach the deeper/shorter shots, still in a lunged position, but with your untraditional stance in place. This is why you often see pro-players (especially on the forehand) in this lunged position with an open (untraditional) stance. Great example is to look at the taller more flexible players e.g. Willstrop and Palmer.


It's all about the flow like Guru said in the initial article. Once you have the speed and explosiveness in place, you can reach shots which some people will find impossible and the speed you move at will look like lightening to someone who's movement is much poorer than your. At 16stone I was finding that I could move around the court faster than some people who are 3/4s of my weight! This is down to moving quickly, smoothly and most importantly efficiently!





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From theguru - 18 Jun 2004 - 18:01

Thank you for your interest and comments Craig. You have preceptively identified the point of the article but beware. Make sure you put your front foot towards the front wall if possible - not necessarily across to the ball. This produces maximum power with greatest balance.

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From missing_record4 - 15 Jun 2004 - 18:41

If I am getting the point of the article and it would be setting your platform so as to hit the best ball I see the difficulty is being able to convince the younger less experienced player to listen. My experience tells me that the way we dinosaurs were taught to play the game being front foot forward has worked extremely well and this should be the basis of coaching new players and then at some point in their career they will discover that the most important part is setting the platform to hit the ball and footwork is not so important. By setting the best platform we are also able to achieve the aim of clearing the ball and recovering to the 'T'.

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as Rippa Rit suggested I focused on what to do to get in the match rather than beating myself up over errors.

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