Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The relative 'Truth' about tactics and strategy

The relative 'Truth'

Many places where we look for advice on tactics and or strategy in squash, we invariably run across a number of suggested lists of rules: Top Ten, Top Twenty, Fifty Tactics, Twenty Seven and counting.

As a player, either recreational or competitive, and most certainly as a coach working with players, I believe that the more 'rules' there are about how to think and approach winning a match, the more difficult it becomes to learn the game.

Every player in the top ten of squash at almost any time in history has had their own unique skill set, as well as (and possibly more importantly...) their physical attributes, strengths and weaknesses.

In a way, this is part of the interest in watching matches on TV, YouTube, DVD, or in person. Seeing how different players with different skills, physical strengths, and different tactical approaches to the game square up. I would venture to say that putting aside nationalistic fervor, most of us will be cheering for the player that we most associate with, maybe even try to emulate when we're on the court ourselves.

The quandary that I've always had as a player, and even more so as a coach, is how to reduce all the rules into a usable premise from which to begin building our own game and tactical approach to winning on the court. 

>Foremost Idea:

Squash is a game of your position, relative to the position of your opponent. What I mean is that your options, your opportunities at any given moment are dependent on basically three things: 1. where is your opponent on the court; 2. where are you on the court; 3. what shots are you able to choose from to hit a decent shot?

>When you are 'behind' -

If, when you want to hit the ball, your opponent is in or near the middle of the court, what everyone calls the 'T', then your options are not only reduced, but the safer options will typically be defensive (prolonging the rally) from a tactical perspective.

If you are behind your opponent (they're on the T) when you are going to hit the ball, then again, in general the safer options tend to be more about keeping the rally going. 

>When you are in 'front' -

If you are in front of the opponent when you are hitting the ball, now you have options opening up, that will allow you to either attack for the winner or at least increase the pressure on your opponent. 

Whether to go for a winner or just increase or maintain pressure on your opponent depends more on not just if you're in front of the opponent, but where on the court you are: right in the middle on the T, in the middle but near the rear of the service boxes, or are you in front of the short service line.

When your in the middle with the opponent behind, attacking shots are those shots that are generally hit short with the intent that they will bounce twice before the opponent could reach them. 

Shots that maintain pressure, or potentially increase the pressure, are typically  fast long drops shots, and hard flat shots to the back court. Both of these are meant to force the opponent into stretching and reaching for the ball,  hopefully getting a weak return which can then be attacked by placing the ball into the open court.

>Being in 'front' does not always mean attack -

When  you are up against players who are fit, who are fast, or who are very experienced, attacking from the middle by going short with the ball is more effective from further back in the court, where you have the opponent behind you. If you attack one of these afore mentioned players while in the middle but closer to the front or in between the service boxes then it's not really an attack, because with their fitness, speed, and or experience they will get your attacking shot back.

That doesn't mean it's not the right shot, it just means that you shouldn't expect it to be a winner. You therefore have to be continuing to think ahead to the next shot.

>In all scenarios on the squash court, you basically have four situations: 

1. You're on the defensive, scrambling to get the ball. In this case high and long is almost always the correct choice.

2. You're about equal in the rally, and you should be hitting shots that 'probe' trying to elicit a weak or errant shot.

3. Your opponent has hit a ball that is weak and gives you an opportunity put significant pressure on them.

4. Your opponent has hit a particularly weak or poor choice shot, and you have time and space to hit a shot that should be either an outright winner, or most nearly so.

> So where are we?

When I work with players I try to help them understand that they have four situations. The first step for the player, is to recognize which of the four situations they are in. I try to simplify the explanation as follows:

You are: 

1. On the run, on the defensive
2. On an equal footing with the opponent
3. In a position of advantage, typically meaning the opponent is behind you
4. In a position where there is a significant area of open-unguarded court

> This then leads to the player understanding that they have prefered shots for each of these situations:

1.  When on the defensive, hitting high, and very importantly long, is the safe objective

2. When on equal footing, hitting shots that are generally flatter looking for the inaccurate shot off the opponent's racket

3. When in a position of advantage (in or near the middle of the court), hitting fast shots away from the opponent, and possibly down, with intent of forcing a very weak shot

4. When in a position with the opponent trapped along one side or in a corner, then hitting into the open court area, going for the winner


So then naturally most players ask: 'What should I hit in each of those situations?' or 'What are the best shot options in those situations?'

To this the honest answer is that each player is different. So what is right for one, may not be right for another.

The correct shot is the one that you can hit with control and accuracy. If you choose the shot you can accurately hit it, getting the result you want, then you will be at least maintaining your position in the rally. And thus working towards your goal of winning 11 rallies before your opponent.

Referring back to the comment that each top ten player is unique, in watching videos of their play, one can observe that in each of these four situations, players will differ in what they hit. In a defensive situation they'll in general, strategically play a defensive shot, but they may differ on whether it's straight or crosscourt or a flat lob versus a floating lob. These differences depend more on the technical skills each player has and their ability to move on the court and cover the next shot.

To my players, I often say: 'Go watch your favorite players on video, then come back and tell me what shots you want to use in each situation.' And thus, we have a point from where to start developing and then honing the skill set for each player individually.

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