Monday, 11 November 2013
'On Balance': Of primary concern in movement and hitting the ball
A simple concept, but one that requires time to not only master , but to also mentally make the adjustments to one's tactical awareness.
First let me define what is meant by the term 'On Balance':
On Balance refers to when the player is at the moment of hitting the ball, and comprises of two factors and awareness of one major tactical point:
1) The player is balanced, preferably nearly stationary, with his or her body weight (or also said, center of gravity) no longer moving towards or through the point of ball contact.
2) The player is balanced through the racket swing, and his or her feet are positioned in such a way as being prepared to at least begin a return movement towards the T, at the end of the swing.
Tactical point: If not On Balance, then the player should be hitting a defensive shot, preferably high and long. When the player is On Balance, then the full range of shots is open, because the player will have ability to recover to the T, and thus be able to cover the whole court and the likely returns that the opponent will choose from.
When a player is not On Balance, it means basically one of two things (at the moment of hitting the ball):
1) the player's body weight is still moving towards and through the point of ball contact, or
2) the player is stretched out reaching for the ball in such away that, after hitting the ball the player will need to first recover from the stretch, before being able to move towards the T.
In either case, the player is not able to begin returning to the T, immediately upon hitting the ball. Which means a further delay in recovery to the T, and thus frequently results in falling behind in the rally (under increased pressure).
So fundamentally the concept of On Balance means two things for the player, tactically:
1) If the player is not On Balance, not ready to return to the T immediately upon hitting the ball, then the player should choose a defensive shot.
2) If the player is On Balance at the moment of hitting the ball, then the player may hit any shot that is within their technical abilities and strategic style.
The underlying premise is this:
If a player is not On Balance, then they actually need more time to recover to the T. Hitting anything but a defensive shot will actually mean that the player is increasing the pressure on themselves, by not choosing a shot that would allow them to recover to an equal footing within the rally.
Most players at the beginning of their squash life are taught to always strive to hit the ball at the highest point of the bounce. The reason for this, is that this is actually the easiest moment for hitting the ball, as the technical difficulty of timing the swing is reduced.
The reality though, is that in order to hit the ball at its highest point, players often need to run through or stretch, to reach and hit the ball at its peak. This ends up being counter productive.
For players to continue their rise up the ladder of skill levels, they need to overcome this concept, and focus more on achieving an On Balance position for shots.
In today's game, Nick Matthew is probably the most clear example of the On Balance concept. While virtually all of the top players do exhibit 'On Balance', Mr. Matthew is probably the most precise and consistent with it, and it's very clearly seen on video, in particular in the back corners, and when hitting shots that come off the back wall.
If you watch Nick play balls from the corners and off the back wall, you should note that he invariably has his feet lined up and stationary prior to hitting the ball, that he frequently hits the ball below its peak, often hitting it from just above the floor, and that after hitting the ball, he is immediately moving towards the T.
You'll also note that the lower the point of ball contact (ie close to the floor) the more likely it is that Nick will hit a defensive shot.
Nick will sacrifice hitting the ball at a higher point, if it means that he would not be On Balance. Instead, he will allow the ball to drop from the higher point, and then hit it later in the ball's arc. This delay in hitting the ball, gives Nick time to get balanced and ready to return to the T.
Nick Matthew shows focus, and discipline (supreme patience) in his approach to the ball and his shot selection. Because Nick is willing to hit the ball after its peak, he's more often On Balance, and thus nearly always able to effectively return to the T. This is why Mr. Matthew has an incredible win-loss record against all the other English players and those who play a more traditional 'English length' game. He has the discipline and patience to always hit the ball when On Balance, and thus able to return to the T, which translates into regular control and edge in rallies.
The only players who give Nick trouble are those who with the pre-requisite physical stature, speed, techniques, and are tactically more aggressive in building pressure in the rally from the mid-court, as opposed to trying to dominate from the back court.
When you're watching top players, you may also note that often players are hitting and moving towards the T almost simultaneously. This is simply a further extension of the On Balance concept. The players are arriving to the ball, and they are setting up their On Balance position and they are swinging at the ball in such a way that the momentum of the swing is beginning the pull of their centre of gravity towards the T.
This is a relatively high level extension of the On Balance concept, because the top players are able to swing at the ball, start the shift in their body towards the T, while at the same time maintaining accuracy with the ball. To be able to do this, requires practice, and of course a wee bit more time to get to the ball and get On Balance.
The take away for aspiring players?
Get into a balanced position to hit the ball (before the swing), after hitting the ball the player should be moving back to the T.
Be willing to hit the ball later and lower in its arc, if this will give you the time needed to get On Balance.
If you're forced to hit the ball when not On Balance, but rather you're stretched out, or still moving to the ball while swinging and hitting, then consider hitting a defensive shot as your preferred option (high lob).