A few days ago, I wrote the article entitled Pay Attention To Your Point Of Contact With The Ball. In it, I talked about which part of the ball to make contact with and how it can help you disguise your shot from your opponent. Well, in today's article, I again want you to pay attention to something. It's important to notice that I am not asking to "do" anything, just pay attention to something. Sometimes, just becoming aware of something can highlight the changes you might need to make. Think of it as subconsciously coaching yourself.
This time, I want you to become more aware of the distance between you and the ball. Believe it or not, many club players are too close to the ball when they hit it. Being too close means you moved more than you needed to, which seems counter-intuitive for club players, but it actually takes more leg, core and back strength to lunge on the last step and stay low (yes, I know pros often over-run, but as I enjoy saying "YOU ARE NOT A PRO!")
Let's look at the three possibilities.
Being Too Close
The first thing that you will notice about being too close to the squash ball when you hit it, is that it will feel cramped. You will feel that you have little space to adjust your position and body. I'm not saying you will actually hit yourself with the racket, on the knee for example, but it is possible. Being too close leves you few options for making changes at the last moment.
Just as importantly as the lack of space, your momentum will be lost. If you are too close to the ball when you hit it, you won't be transferring your weight, or most of it, into the ball. You might even be moving backwards as you try to adjust your distance. Your momentum is important for hitting the ball without huge swings and big muscles. Putting 50kg or more "into" the ball is very effective when done correctly.
The last point to make about being too close to the ball is that you might have taken an extra half a step to get there, which menas you'll need to take that half a step to get back to where you should have been when hitting the ball. One extra step per shots soon becomes a lot of wasted effort. Perhaps more importantly though is the fact that hitting the ball straight might now not be your best option as you could be too close to the ball as it passes you. By being too close you have limited your shot selection options - and that's definitely NOT a good thing.
Being Too Far Away
Being too close is far more common than being too far away, but it does happen, and not just on boast retrieval or reaching for drop shots. It happens on some shots where you hit and stare, instead of hitting and moving. You realise too late where the ball is going and you do your best to get there, but find that even at full lunge you are just not well-positioned.
Mishits occur quite often when you are too far away, with the majority being frame hits. Clearly, in these cases you have almost no option for adjustment as you just can't reach a little further otherwise you would have.
The key to these types of situations is faster recovery to the T. It won't stop all situations of being too far away, but for most club players I have found it to be the most common cause.
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Being Just The Right Distance Away
The first thing you might notice when you are the right distance away from the ball is how easy it feels. Most of your momentum has been transferred into the ball, you swing is compact yet full, the moment of contact doesn't make the racket head twist or vibrate (this is more than just the distance from the ball, but being the right distance allows the other things to happen).
You also have the option of being able to move a fraction closer or a fraction further away from the ball to adjust to unexpected bounces or spins.
You should feel as though you are reaching towards the ball, but certainly not over-balanced in any way.
Different Distances For Different Shots
There is not "one distance" that is correct for all shots or all players. Two players may find better results from different distances. Of course we are only talking about differences of centimetres, but it's still a difference. That's why this whole article is about YOU becoming more aware of that distance, not me telling you that when you hit a forehand drive and make contact with the ball at 65 centimetres from the floor, you must be exactly 101.5 centimetres away from the ball - that's just rubbish!
In addition, a volley, a drop, a counter-drop, a boast, a drive off the back wall, a kill, a drive etc etc, all have slightly different distances that work best. That's a lot of shots and the best way to start is with drives and ideally when you are doing solo drills. That way, you have no pressure to win the point, you can just begin to notice the distance and sometimes it will feel perfect, that could be the distance that works best for you. Now try to recreate that distance, then get a little closer and a little further away from the ball at the moment of contact - do you notice a difference in how the shot feels?
I know most of you reading this are not coaches, but you don't need to be. Do you need to be a chef to know what tastes right to you? No, and the same is true for this. You might not be the perfect distance away from the ball every time you hit it, but by becoming more aware of that distance you are taking a proactive approach to your squash improvement.
Feel free to share your stories about distance between you and the ball with me via email.
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