Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Major tactical changes, don't often get major results

Changing major tactics, is the best way? Not often, if the players are evenly matched.

I recently watched a high level match between two players. These two players have a relatively long history, and until recently the match record has been a relatively one way street. But now, the tide has been shifting, and the player who for years has been on the losing end, is now getting the upper hand.

Much of this balance shift is due to the very sharp improvement of this player on the backhand side of the court. This player has developed a very effective attack on this side, making use of their physical stature (height, stride length, and physical strength). Whereas most players play the backhand side very defensively, trying to keep out of trouble, and looking for a short ball, or mistake from the opponent, this particular player has completely changed their approach on the backhand side. This player has become very aggressive, and is constantly on the hunt, and pressuring their opponent(s) constantly.

Now, the player, that used to be on the upside in the past, is struggling with this particular opponent. In this most recent match it was obvious that this player had changed some tactics, and in the end it didn't pay off. This player normally will take an opponent's length shots off the back wall. In this recent match the player was trying to intercept as much as possible, half volleying, and full volleying the opponent's shots that were headed to the back court. The end result was that the player's volleying resulted in a low rate of accuracy. Far too many of the volleys were coming out into the middle, or were out from the wall, many to then be cut off for winners or nearly so.

To implement a completely new tactic, in a match that is nearly even, can often backfire. Why? For two basic reasons: 

One, when we try to hit a shot that we are not used to using under match pressure, almost invariably our control and accuracy are no where near good enough. Thus, not only are we not getting the intended - desired result, we might be providing a big opportunity for the opponent to put the ball away. 

Two, squash is so much about knowing and predicting the possible responses from an opponent in a given situation. Each time we add a new shot to our repertoire, we need time to build up our recognition of what opponents can do with this new shot, and thus be prepared to react and move. 

When you're facing an opponent with whom you're closely matched. Major changes in tactics are not usually the best way to get back on the winning side of the scoreline. 

It's usually the little things, that do the trick: a little higher and softer on the front wall for straight drives, from the front - cross court drives rather than cross court lobs, from the mid court - hitting drops a little harder and flatter. 

Winning comes from bringing the ball and rallies to your strengths, and doing what you can towards negating your opponent's strengths. You can't achieve either of these objectives if your shots are not accurate, and you're using new tactics that you are not familiar with.

Small adjustments are going to have a more positive impact on your performance, than making drastic tactical changes. Especially when you're in a close, tight match. A tough opponent means a tough match, no easy way out. But little things can make the difference, giving you the edge throughout many of the rallies. In the end you only need to win two more rallies than your opponent and the game is yours. Six rallies in your favor can win the match. 


  1. Are you referring to the Nicol vs Laura BO Final?

    Great observations!

    1. Yes, the specifics come from this match. But the concept is presented as something more universal. As players rise in ranking, or find themselves in tight matches, it is better to find and utilize tactics that feed into one's strengths, and negate or minimize the opponent's use of theirs.

  2. Nicol is a 7 time world champion, nothing wrong with her skill set. A few slight adjustments, to specifically take the ball away from Laura's strengths would very likely bring the rallies back into Nicol's favor.


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