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The Skills Behind Squash Tactics


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  • Decision Making skills are the skills which drive players' actions
  • Squash players can train these skills as they train other skills
  • These skills are the basis of our tactical thinking.
Read about Developing Basic Skills to help put this page in context.

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PSA Squash TV - CIMB Malaysian Open 2012

Decision Making Skills

The basic elements of decision making in Squash are:
  • Judging the speed, direction, and bounce of the ball.
  • Making decisions on rally tactics.
  • How you hit the ball.
  • Your movement patterns and footwork when moving to the ball.
  • When hitting the ball and recovering from the shot
Read more about training the skills

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Anticipation

Anticipation/Judgement is the basis of good decision making, for example:
  • Being able to read the cues given off by your opponent helps in anticipating the speed and direction of their shot
  • Judging the bounce of the ball is crucial in executing your shot
More on Reading the Opponent's Cues

Squashgame Gold: Advanced Text and Video Content

Anticipation Cues

What to look for
The following factors provide information or cues as to the possible speed and direction of a Squash shot:
  • Length/height of backswing and speed and direction of downswing
  • The racket grip and angle of the wrist
  • The angle of the racket face approaching the ball and at the racket/ball contact point
  • The amount of pronation (rotation) of the forearm
  • Body and feet position relative to the ball
  • Movement of the head during the swing
  • History of the player`s decision making in similar situations (not a physical cue)

A guide to taking in as many clues as possible

Here is a guide to take advantage of the clues

Good Bad
As I watched the ball (wide focus), I noticed the opponent's swing, and contact position to get an early clue to whether it was going to be a drive to my forehand or a cross court shot to my backhand. This helped me get in position quickly. I had trouble volleying the ball since my swing was never ready in time.  
As I watched the ball, and contact point, I was able to judge if the return was a boast (by the position and angle of the contact), as well as the angle of the racket face, and length of the backswing. I kept getting caught back-pedalling as I thought by the hard swing the return would be a drive, thus getting caught struggling to the front to recover a boast.
When my opponent volleyed the ball well out in front it was either a cross court nick or a keep cross court volley. When my opponent was in front I had no idea where the ball was going.
I watched my opponent get to the ball early, but as soon as they hesitated before swinging I stopped, expecting a tricky drop or a delayed return. When my opponent got to the ball quickly I followed but when they stopped I had no idea what shot would be played.

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Tactical Decision Making

All tactics are built around the tactical fundamentals. Vary the tactics according to:
  • A game plan designed to exploit you opponents weaknesses and nullify their strengths. See About the Opponent
  • The strengths and weaknesses of your own game
  • Tactics and counter tactics during the match
  • The players' individuality and personality
The following points are also important in the getting your squash tactics right
  • As technical skills becomes more automated, it is easier to focus on your tactics
  • Remain task focused
  • See how your skill level may restrict the tactical choices you have
Improving your technical skills will increase your range of tactical choices.

Squashgame Gold: Advanced Text and Video Content

Decision Making Training

How to train the skills
You can accelerate your improvement in decision making by training these skills. Use the sequence below in structuring your training
  • Set up controlled situations with plenty of time to execute the required skills - (Well structured drills)
  • Gradually control the situation less by introducing more choices - (Open drills)
  • As skills improve, gradually decrease the amount of time available to execute the skills
  • Use the skills in low pressure practice rallies and games
  • Your new skills will gradually become part of your competitive play.
Here are some practical ways to improve your decision making skills:
Reading the cues
Start by observing matches and try to identify:
  • Rally tactics of the players
  • The cues each player gives off during their shot
  • Movement patterns of the players
  • The outcome of each rally due to the factors above
Now, try putting some of your knowledge into practice
  • Carefully watch your opponent hit the ball (as you're preparing for the next shot)
  • Consciously think of the options that they have, just before and during the swing
  • Begin the practice of narrowing down the shots you think they might play (eg very deep in the court, their only option might be to boast)
  • Start preparing yourself earlier, to cover the options available
  • This should be first used during practice routines, then practice matches
  • These skills will automaticaly flow into your competitive game.
Technical Decision Making
  • Reading cues better will help you get to the ball earlier and so give more time for the decision making process - you will not be as rushed when playing your shot
  • Aim to vary your range of shots, especially in situation where you tend to play that "favourite shot"
Elements of technique which increase your range of shots and which you need to practice are
  • Keep a comfortable distance away from the ball (approx 1 racket length)
  • Play with an open faced racket
  • Keeping more to the side of the ball when striking
Tactical Decision Making
  • Start by practicing hitting alternate shots from the one position:
    • Initially use two alternates (eg a drive or a boast from a simple half court ball) - Hit these two shots alternately
    • Then hit either shot at random
    • Have your training partner nominate which shot to hit
    • Hit the best shot according to your opponents position on court
  • Increase the complexity by including a third or fourth alternate
  • Practice these scenarios at different points on the court
  • Gradually incorporate these skills into your game at appropriate times
Read this article about learning to attack

Video Resources

Video chosing shots to keep the opponent guessing

Being able to play a variety of shots from the front of the court will keep the opponent guessing, particularly if the shot is disguised well.

A variety of returns from the front of the court which will keep the opponent off guard, particularly if the preparation for all shots is very similar and disguised.

Kill from the front of the court
In this video there are at least three choices from this position, especially if the opponent is held behind. However, if the opponent tries to move around anticipating the kill into the nick it is easy to change the shot to either a cross court nick, or a cross court drive.
By taking up a stance that gives a good view of the court (not just the corner), it makes it easier to know where the opponent is moving.

Video Resources

Video Clips Front Court Holds

Front Court Holds
Often as players we look at the result of a player's shots, but fail to comprehend the processes taking place to bring about this outcome.
It is evident from these three video clips that an opponent's mind and body are continually being challenged to bring about the appropriate response from:
  •  the eyes (to  see as many cues as possible)
  • the mind (to react to the cues put forward by the opponent/player)
  • body (to physically act according to the cues).
The sequence that each of these factors come into focus is evident when looking closely at each of these videos.  Whilst they are the same footage, each video highlights a different aspect as explained above.

Video Resources

Video Return of Serve Decision Making

What is the best return of serve off a serve?
There is no quick answer to this question as the return will often depend on the type of serve that is coming, eg lob, power, angle, deep.

Firstly, it is best to train with a partner setting up specific serve situations and keep repeating the serve, and then realising which is the best return to attempt from that type of serve.  What if we do not know what to do when the serve approaches:
  • we either get scared to hit it (might miss it, or might hit the racket on the wall)
  • are not sure whether to step in and take the ball before it hits the wall.
  • wait so long that it is too late to hit the ball and let it drop (often letting it "die" in the back corner.)
Once you do specific return of serve practice you will start to recognise the cues early and start to move into position much earlier, eg the height of the serve, the angle of the serve, the speed the serve is coming.

Video Resources

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