It’s always a good idea to have coaching as soon as possible after starting a sport. Ideally, you first time on court would be with a coach, but the reality is that’s highly unlikely. The longer you wait to have coaching, the more bad habits you will have developed and the harder it will be to replace them with better ones.
I’m sure it’s not difficult for you to imagine how much easier it would be for you if you visited a coach after 3 months of playing than after 3 years of playing. But not everybody has access to a coach. That’s one of the reasons why people read squash articles and watch squash videos. So why not try to copy a pro player’s style and develop good habits that way?
In general, I think it’s probably a good idea, but you need to be careful that you copy the right things. But what are the right things? And why can’t you copy everything? One of my taglines is “You are not a pro!“. I say this because I want viewers to realise that they haven’t spent thousands of hours on court. They don’t spend hours, both on court and off the court, each week working to improve their game.
Specifically, you don’t have the physical conditioning to allow for certain movements or actions. Your forearm, shoulders, core and legs are as strong as a pro’s. Also if you misunderstand what a pro is doing and try it yourself, you may get injured. An example of that is a pro flicking the ball with their forearm at the front of the court. You could easily injured yourself if you bend your wrist instead of rotating your forearm.
Enough Warnings! Okay, with the warnings out of the way, let’s look at what is a good thing to copy.
Let’s start with the obvious one. Copying a player’s swing is generally a good idea, especially on the backhand. There are some pro players who have beautiful technique and others that have functional technique. I’m not going to analyse players’ swings in this article, but will say that no matter who you copy, you won’t be able to do it perfectly anyway and will always have some personal elements as part of it. That’s fine. Copying the fundamentals is enough, you don’t have to be a clone.
One thing that separates a pro from an amateur is consistency of swing. A pro’s swing is almost exactly the same all the time, and that takes practice. Don’t expect to watch a few slow motion videos of your chosen player and do a few shadow swings in front of the mirror and then suddenly the next time you play, you’d be doing it perfectly. OH NO! you will need to spend quite a few hours solo drilling to make that swing unconscious.
Personally, I love Amr Shabana and Fares Dessouky’s swing technique. I feel it’s perfect for players to try to copy; it’s safe, effective and not complicated. Perfect for beginners to aspire to and the same for advanced players to use.
Swing Takeaway: Understand that copying a swing will take time and effort, especially if you have been playing a long time and have developed bad habits. The Racketware Sensor would be a perfect tool as well as videoing yourself.
NO! You shouldn’t dive like Miguel! I bet that was your first thought. Moving like a pro requires strong legs and core. Do you have that? Maybe. The best things you can do to copy a pro’s movement is…
- Hit and move. Move immediately back to the best recovery position as soon as possible. Ideally, make the followthrough or back step the first part of that movement. use the momentum of the follow through to help you move.
- Use the split step, which is that little jump just before your opponent hits the ball to allow you to move very quickly.
- make your last step a little longer, so that you can transfer you weight into the ball. Not too big though as you will make it hard to move backwards quickly.
Over the last few years, it seems that pros have been taking the extra step after hitting the ball more and more. I generally recommend that you avoid doing this as you are simply not as quick as the pros, but it’s hard for me to keep recommending it when the pros don’t do it.
Movement Takeaway: Diving looks cool, but it should not be your focus. Split step, hit and move and finally, longer last steps should be what you copy from professional squash players’ movement.
Never forget that tactical choices are intimately linked with technical ability and fitness. But that doesn’t mean you can’t copy some ideas from the pros. It might surprise you to know that I feel copying James Wilstrop’s drop from the back is quite a good thing – as long as you have a swing that means you could hit other shots. If you simply position your racket to hit the drop and it’s obvious then it has less benefit.
I prefer players keep the ball tight to the wall, at any length, than weaker boasts or crosscourts. In fact, I have seen Wilstrop not hit one boast or crosscourt for a whole game, which is very impressive. Perhaps you prefer the volley-hunting style of Nick Matthew, or the flair of Ramy Ashour.
Style Takeaway: Whoever you choose, balance their style of effectiveness. There is no point copying a player’s style if you lose most of the points, so I suggest use a player as inspiration rather than trying to copy everything they do.
Mix And Match?
One final point. Feel free to mix and match different players, swing, movement and style into something that works for you. Be careful you don’t end up with Homer Simpson’s car though!
The relationship between swing and tactical decisions is very strong, so some swing styles won’t be suited to some types of shots. Picking the “best” from each player might not be as effective as you think it will be.
I prefer you be inspired by players rather than trying to be their clone. However, the act of trying to copying their swing will almost certainly be good for you. Always chose effectiveness over how cool something looks. Good Luck.