18 December 2022 / 3-Min Read
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Let's start by defining "an opportunity". Firstly, you have got your opponent out of position. You have managed to move them off the T area when you play your shot. That doesn't mean that they are right in the corner, but it does mean they can't cover the whole court. It also means you are almost certainly in front of your opponent. Secondly, you are well-balanced and not under any pressure.
I know that's a fairly simplistic view, but without going into too many variations, it seems a sensible working definition: your opponent is off the T and you are in control of the rally.
So let's look at why players don't take those opportunities.
I believe this to be the main reason. Squash happens so fast that moving, hitting, thinking, planning and winning all occur in split seconds, by the time you realise that you have a chance to win the point, it's gone. I am a firm believer in the concept that decisions are often the deciding factor in who wins matches. Not skill, not fitness, not fortitude, but decisions. I don't care how fit you are, how well you can control the ball and how much you want to win, if you choose the wrong shot each time, you are not going to win.
The way to improve your ability to recognise opportunities is to have coaching, but tell the coach that's what you want to work on. They can either play with you and point out issues, or have you play somebody and they can control from the balcony/glass back wall. Another way is to record yourself and watch the footage. Even without a coach, you can often see missed opportunities and can be more aware the next time you play.
Sometimes players tell me they are/were aware that they had created an opportunity, but were unable to hit the required shot. That's fair enough, in fact, that's a good thing because court awareness is sometimes harder to learn than a physical skill, so if you have it, that's great. Knowing that you can't hit certain shots is actually a good thing because it makes your progress plan much easier to plan. Can't hit a straight low kill? Then add that to your training, both solo drills and condition games.
I also find that players are too worried about hitting an easy short shot, but then give their opponent an easy mid-court shot anyway! Playing the right shot but hitting it poorly is the start of the process. It's much easier to focus on improving your drops and kills than it seems. They don't have to hit the nick every time, they don't have to have a lot (or any) deception - they just have to be hit at the right time.
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If your only attacking shot is hitting the ball hard and low, you will be more often than not missing opportunities. That type of shot can be effective, but only in the right case and you need alternatives. Players get into habits and in this case, I find that they attribute not winning the point to not playing their hard and low shot well enough, instead of realising it was not the best shot.
The key here is that "attacking" doesn't have to mean "hard and low". It means going for a winner that causes your opponent the most amount of work and trouble. Often that means putting the ball to the front of the court.
Being tired and/or losing patience is NOT an opportunity. Going for a winner when you are tired and then complaining that your tactics are not working, is silly. Yes, it's hard to keep the ball going when you are tired, but trying to hit winners when you should be playing defensive shots is a waste of a rally. If you and your opponent are out of position, is that really an opportunity? Maybe, but don't choose it because you are tired.
I see too many reverse angle shots that actually cause the player more trouble than they create. A well disguised and rarely played reverse angle is a beautiful shot, but club players generally can't disguise them, so all they do is give their opponent more time to get to the ball - remember it has to travel about two widths of the court.
From the same position, a simple straight puch into the corner will give them less time, less space and less angle to play their return. No, it's not as spectacular as a winning reverse angle, but it's much more effective.
Not all coaches will agree, but I prefer to see people playing the right shot poorly than seeing people hit the wrong shot but well. Most times, a simple push to the front of the court is the most effective, but I recognise it's not as much fun to hit as a hard and low drive.
The next time you play, try to take more opportunities than you miss. Even if you lose the match, at least you will have started to become more proactive in your approach. Just make sure you allocate time to improve your short shots!
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