Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Length is Relative

Often it is the only thing that players and coaches talk about, in particular coaches. And every instructional book out there talks about it. Every list of top squash tips mentions it. If one scanned all the material out there it would be pretty clear that great length on the drives is the single most important contributor to winning matches.

So if great length on straight drives is the most common piece of coaching out there, what else could be said about it? Well, maybe let's start with why 'length' is important, by identifying what great length achieves.

The other most common coaching tip out there, is to control the T, meaning always strive to get back to the T after every shot. So this is where 'length' comes in. If you hit the ball to the back corner then you are forcing your opponent to leave the T and go chase the ball, while you simultaneously move to  take up position on the T.

The basic premise is, that the player who spends more time on the T, will dominant the rallies, and likely win the games and match. Much like a football team that keeps the ball in the opponent's half of the field, controlling possession, increasing scoring opportunities, while denying the opponents their opportunities. 

So assuming that your opponent has heard this advice, we know that he or she will be laying claim to the T area, just as you surely wish to do. And thus, this is where 'length' comes onto the scene. It is the long shots going towards the back corners that forces your opponent away from the T, and gives you the opportunity to step into the position of control.

What's important for new and intermediate players to understand is that length is relative. Meaning the shot into the back court does not have to be like those hard flat long drives that we see the professionals hitting (sometimes monotonously). 

Really, what a shot to the back court needs to do is achieve three things: 

1) The shot needs to take the opponent away from the T. 
2) The shot needs to force the opponent to turn and move away from the central area, towards the back. 
3) The shot needs to give us the time and space, to move into the T area. Or at a minimum, allow us to move to a position that is further up in the court, with our opponent behind us, as they are hitting the ball. 

If our shot accomplishes these three objectives, then we've given ourselves a dominant position on the court, and the pressure is now on the opponent.

To be honest if we hit any shot that achieves these three objectives, then we've succeeded in putting pressure on our opponent. It could be the hard flat drive to the corner (this is the shot everyone talks about), it could be a high slow lob, it could be a cross court drive that hits the side wall and gets behind the opponent, it could be a slow but slightly high drive, it could be a medium high but slightly faster lob. 

At beginner and intermediate levels of play we can often achieve these objectives without ever having to hit the flat deep drive to the corner. And that's the key point here. As competitors, we don't need to be thinking 'hit long and hard to the corner', what we need to be thinking is: "Make the opponent turn, and move towards the back of the court, and let me get in front."

As players get better (meaning probably about high C grade and up), the hard deep fast drive to the corners becomes the predominant shot hit for length. But up to that high intermediate level, the hard drive is not the only effective means to achieve our objectives. In fact there are world class players who continue to use a wider variety of shots to push their opponents to the back.

I want my students to be aware and thinking about what they want to accomplish with a shot. They need to know the 'why.' If you know that the 'why' is that we want the opponent turning and moving to the rear, and we want the T for ourselves, then it's easier to focus on the 'what' (what shots will achieve this).

The takeaway here?

Any shot that makes your opponent turn and move towards the back, while you're able to step to a central spot near the T, has put heaps of pressure on your opponent, and given you a favorable position on the court.

Whatever level you play, the shot you hit, if it makes the opponent turn and move away from the T moving back, giving you control of the central area, then you've hit a great length ;-)

Length is Relative: relative to the abilities of your opponent, relative to your position and that of your opponent, relative to the pressure you can exert on the opponent. 

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