Getting The Most Out Of Playing Against Weaker Opponents

I received two messages this week, both asking essentially the same question. It’s a situation that occurs quite a lot and the answer depends on how big the difference between the players is.

20 September 2022 / 3-Min Read / Translate↗

We often find ourselves in social situations where we are asked to play a game of squash against somebody at work, school, family or other situation where declining might seem rude. This article will hopefully give you some ideas on how to make the most of the situation.

There are three differences that give us three different answers. I’m not suggesting these are the only answers to this issue, but these should help you. I also want to say that experienced players playing newer players is one of the good things about the squash community. The example scores I give I really just to give you an idea of the difference, rather than some scientific measurement.

Huge Difference

The reality here is that if the difference between the players is huge, then the better player will almost certainly be unable to get any benefit from playing the much weaker opponent. Not from their skills of fitness point of view, anyway. if the better player played to win, the score would be 11-0. In cases like this it’s really just a case of feeding the opponent with challenging shots. You could argue that by trying to feed in specific spots the better player is working on their accuracy, but honestly, I don’t feel it translates well into real matches.

If you find yourself in this situation as the better player, just know that you are encouraging a new player who may become a lifelong squasher and that in itself is a good thing. Depending on your skill level, you could try using your non-dominant hand – I’ve had a lot of fun doing that.

If you find yourself in this situation as the weaker player, just do your best to have fun and keep the rallies going for as long as possible.

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Almost No Difference

The next case I want to talk about is when there is almost no difference between the players. But, enough difference that if the better player plays seriously the score is 11-6 or 11-7. The only time the weaker player gets points is when they play an exceptional shot, get lucky or the better player plays a very weak ball. This is the best case, because the better player needs all their concentration to win.

If you find yourself in this situation as the better player, you could definitely impose some conditions on yourself, and those rules would be based on your strengths and weaknesses. For example, if you have a great boast, then stop playing it. Try to win using your weaker shots.

If you find yourself in this situation as the weaker player, don’t go for winners at every opportunity because you won’t get better that way. Whether you lost 11/0 or 11-5, you still lost. The question is, did you use the opportunity to get better? The longer you keep your opponent on court, the better. It will improve your fitness, improve your patience and improv your ability to rally under pressure.

Big Difference

This is the most common case I find. Obviously case one and two happen, but this case is the one that causes the most questions. In these cases, the better player would win 11-2 or 11-3 if they played properly. The good news is that the better player can use the match to improve AND let the weaker player improve and have fun. One of the message senders rightly answered their own question by suggesting that they play everything above the service line or only play one short shot per rally.

If you find yourself in this situation as the better player, use limiting conditions that require effort for you to still win. There are two examples in the previous paragraph, but you could also use, only play the ball deep (a lot depends on the actual standard of both players as this might make it too difficult for the weaker player), no boasts, no volleys, no kills, only use 3/4 court, no power shots, easy serves, aiming for the back line of the service box. Essentially, something that makes it harder for you, while still giving your opponent a chance. ideally, they won’t even notice you are playing by certain conditions.

If you find yourself in this situation as the weaker player and realise that if the better player played seriously you won’t stand a chance, then accept that they have to limit themselves to make it far. I remember training with a professional (I won’t name him, but he was the number one in his country) at Wembley Squash Centre when I was the coach there and he could only hit straight and deep. It was challenging enough for him that he got a good workout and fun for me to try and beat him. When I eventually did win, the rules were changed to he could only hit deep, both straight and crosscourt.

To Openly Say Or keep It A Secret

The last point I want to make is to ask whether you should do this secretly or openly. Personally for the Huge and Big difference, I think you should be open and tell your opponent what you are doing, but I also recognise that some people react negatively to the idea that you are better than them and feel that they could beat you. In cases like this, they really don’t understand how small differences in level can make big differences in score. Decide what is the best thing to do based on their personality.

However, if the difference is Almost No Difference, then I suggest you keep it a secret. Some players will consider it insulting and clearly that’s not your intention. Playing to win 11-0, 11-0, 11-0 is demoralising for the loser and unless it’s in a very serious tournament with all players being experienced, I don’t believe it helps anybody. You might think that it’s impossible to win 11-0, 11-0, 11-0 if there is almost no difference, but I’ve seen it happen.

Final Thoughts

As long as everybody has fun then that’s what matters. If one or preferably both players get a chance to improve, even better. Select your conditions carefully, and don’t be afraid to change them if they are too hard or too easy for either player. Sometimes we have to play other people we might not choose to, but as I said at the beginning, the willingness of better squash players to play new players is one of the great things about the squash community! And remember, we were all beginners once.

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I am a squash coach with nearly 40 years experience, teaching complete beginners through to professionals.

Currently, I call myself an "online squash coach" as I rarely coach on court.

I enjoy working with club players and strive to present information in an entertaining and engaging way.

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