I have to start by saying that this article would definitely be better as a video and by having photos, but unfortunately I am not able to add them at the moment, not make the video - but I will one day!
I often say "Watch the ball hit your strings!" and it is one of the fundamental elements of squash (and other racket sports too, by the way!), and even knowing nothing about squash this action will help you strike the ball better, cleaner and with more control. Taking this concept one step further become much more aware about the point of contact can help even more.
For the sake of simplicity, I want you to image we are looking down on the player and court from directly above. There is the other axis (z) that we will be ignoring for this article - that would definitely be better as a video! Also, don't worry, I'm not going to be getting too geometrical. My aim with this article, is to get you to become more aware of how you make contact with the ball and how that affects its flight.
In Relation To Your Knee
The first concept I want to explore is where you make contact with the ball in relation to your knee. Obviously, a lot depends on whether it is a forehand or backhand, as well as which leg is leading. Coaches use the knee as a guide because, besides the hand and arm, it is the closest part of your body to the ball and that final step is so important when talking about contact. The knee is also used because the distance between it and the ball can be crucial. Sometimes this position is dictated by the situation, i.e. the ball is behind you, and sometimes it is dictated by you i.e. you decide where to make contact with it.
Making contact with the ball quite far forward of the knee can make it harder to hit the ball straight and you would have to consciously adjust the angle of the racket head via your wrist to ensure the ball goes straight. Players and coaches like to think of a "push" in this case. We do that because "push" implies something moving in a straight line.
Making contact well behind the knee, especially on the backhand where you are more likely to sue the traditional leading leg requires a strong forearm to get the ball straight. It can often be a guide as to how well a player swings.
As a general guide for average club players, hitting the ball well in front of the knee means a crosscourt and well behind the knee might mean a boast. That is certainly not always true and changes in this position as part of a deceptive player's arsenal.
Your Homework: The next time you get on court, pay attention to where you make contact with the ball in relation to your knee during different shots. Can you adjust that position and still hit the same shot? If you can, you now have made it a little harder for your opponent to read your shots.
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The Part Of The Ball
Let's now focus on the ball, not the knee for a moment. Imagine a player hits a drive from the middle of the court. Let's say it is a forehand from a right-handed player who is leading with their left leg, i.e. the traditional stance. Most times contact with the ball will be behind the knee. If the player made contact on the outside part of the back area of the ball, it would go crosscourt. If they made contact in the middle of the back are of the ball, it would go straight and if they made contact with the inside (nearest you) it would go away from you. This could hit the side wall and be a bad length or if hit far enough around could be a boast.
All those differences, and many minor variations between them, are amde with the angle of the racket head, not by changing the position the ball is struck in relation to the knee. Think about that for a second: you can hit the ball to different parts of the court by either changing where you make contact with the ball in relation to your knee AND/OR by changing where your racket head makes contact with the different areas of the ball.
It's how better players are able to hit crosscourt shots from way behind them, it's how advanced players are able to hit deceptive shots. By using those two concepts you can cause your opponent problems reading your game, as well as understanding how to get the ball straight when it is behind you.
Your Homework: The next time you get on court, pay attention to what PART of the ball your racket head makes contact with. Very small changes in the area, changes exactly where the ball goes.
Now Watch Your Opponent
For club players, the main reason you "shouldn't watch the ball at all times" is because watching your opponent can tell you more about where they are going to hit the ball to than simply watching the ball. By noticing where they make contact with the ball in relation to their knee and also what part of the ball they hit you can often see much sooner where the ball is going.
It's one of the reasons better players and coaches can read lower-level players' reverse angles so easily. The point of contact makes it obvious.
If you have never "zoomed out" and watched the player when they hit the ball, especially at the front of the court where it's easier, you might be shocked at how obvious the average club player is. It can almost be a revelation.
All I want to happen the next time you get on court is for you to become a little more aware about the two aspect of contact I have mentioned above. Ideally, you would experiment with small changes to see if helps you hit the ball better as well as causing your opponent problems.
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