01 December 2022 / 4-Min Read / Translate↗
Here is the second in my monthly series of collaborations with CrossCourt Analytics (more about them at the bottom of this article). I’ll be using data supplied by them and comparing it to the average club player based on my coaching experience. if after reading this article, you feel you volley enough - well done. if not, it's time to get on your hunting gear and HUNT THAT VOLLEY!
Ali Farag hitting a volley to rush his opponent
There are lots of types of volley, so the question is does it matter what kind of volley you play? By playing a volley you are almost certainly rushing your opponent. By giving them less time, them often don’t get into a good hitting position and are making it harder for them to hit a good shot. Maybe not the first few times you do it, but over the course of a match, that feeling of being rushed begins to have an effect.
But that’s only true if your volleys are effective. So perhaps a better question would be Is it better to play a bad volley or let the ball pass and play a better drive? Well, that’s impossible to say. What I can say is that against some players, a bad volley will be better than a good drive because those players don’t respond well to being rushed. How do you know? By playing them and seeing the result.
Against other players, rushing them doesn’t see to cause them too many problems, so unless you can hit good volleys, perhaps you should avoid them. Now, nothing you have just read is insightful – it’s common sense: If it works, do it, if it doesn’t, don’t. But when it comes to volleys, you have to make the effort to play them.
To start with, you should develop a good volley block. That is a shorter swing, with a firm wrist that uses the power of the opponent’s shot to generate some power. A good example of that is the return of serve. Many club players try to “add interest” to a serve, when in fact, all you need to do it block it straight down the wall and make the server move. Solo drills are perfect for developing this volley block and I have embedded a video about it below. Pairs drills can also help, particularly the Front/Back Condition Game. Length-only games can also help develop the mindset of hunting the volley. It would be much harder, although still possible, to just play competitive matches and look to volley more.
In general, I believe that club players volley much less than pros. A lot depends on the player, but the hunting mindset seems to be absent. When I have suggested it to club players they often respond with things like “I can only just reach his drives, there’s no way I can hit the volley!“. And there is a lot of truth in that, but even just thinking about volleying more can be enough to see opportunities that you might have ignored previously.
Anyway, here are the stats. Please note that serves are not counted in these volley statistics.
The typical volley rate in the professional game is 1 in 5 shots. This is the same for the men’s tour (19% of shots) and the women’s tour (18%).CrossCourt Analytics
That’s higher than I expected. I thought it might be about 15%. That’s two or three volleys per rally, more or less. Can you honestly say that you volley that much?
Of course, that’s just an average and individually players vary.
There is relatively little variation in volley rates at the top of the women’s game: Joelle King volleys a little more frequently than most, while Nouran Gohar volleys slightly less often than her rivals.CrossCourt Analytics
So the women are more uniform than the men. Here’s the men.
The men’s side of the game shows more variation. Mostafa Asal volleys less than his rivals, on 17% of shots. Tarek Momen (21%) volleys more than average. But the most frequent volleyer on the men’s side of the tour is Ali Farag, who volleys 24% of his shots – almost 1 in 4. And he’s clinical with it: for every volley error Farag makes, he hits 2.7 volley winners.CrossCourt Analytics
OKAY! Now we get to some interesting data. There’s still variation between individual players as one would expect, but one player sticks out. Ali Farag at 24%! OMG, he must be able to read his opponent’s mind to do that. Or is it that he just is hunting more. Not only does he volley more, he hits almost 3 winners to every error he makes. Now, a large percentage of his volleys will be neither winners nor errors, they will be just volleys that force his opponents to rush and move. Would be fascinating to know how often he volleys two consecutive shots and if that second volley is an attempt at a winner.
There’s no way that you get between 1-in-5 and 1-in-4 volleys without hunting them down. You have to have the mindset to see those opportunities and the skillset to play them. You develop the skillset by doing specific practices, drills and condition games. You develop the mindset by making a conscious decision to play more volleys.
In the short-term that is likely to result in less than optimal rallies (a posh way of saying your are not going to play as well), but in the mid to long-term the benefit will become apparent.
One good thing to do would be to send CrossCourt Analytics a video of a typical game and note the volley percentage and then six months later (making sure you have a training plan that includes volley improvement) send them another representative game and note the difference. The investment in the service will encourage you to constantly think about volleying.
CrossCourt Analytics is a squash data services provider. In their words: “You send us the footage of your match and we compile, analyse and return the data straight to your inbox“. I’ve been in contact with them since just after their creation and found them very helpful. They have worked with the PSA, international teams and various coaches and players around the world. Their service is available to you for a very reasonable fee. If you are interested in learning more about them or using their services, visit their website. This monthly series of articles uses data provided by them. I am not connected with Cross Court Analytics in ANY way, and the links above are NOT affiliated links.
Volley more! Yeah, that’s it. Even if you volley once or twice more per match than last week, that’s an improvement. Do that for a year and you will be at 1 volley in 5 shots.