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Play Different Players Not Just Better Players – Part 1

There’s a misconception among club players that you “should only play against better players” and it is so far from the truth. Let me tell you why.

Play Different Players Not Just Better Players.

We all want to be challenged, stretched, made to work hard, and playing against better players does that. We come off court feeling as though we have trained hard. Perhaps we got close in one or two games and perhaps we didn’t, but either way, we are getting better, right? Yeah, probably, but are you maximizing your training time?

The difference between you and the better play is important, if it is too big then they win too easily, if it is just a little bit, then that’s better. The problem is that squash, and most other sports, doesn’t have a linear scale of “better”. The world rankings would suggest otherwise, but that’s because humans like lists. The reality is that play A beats player B, and player B beats player C, and sometimes player C beats player A! So who is the best player? it’s not a list any more, it’s a circle.

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AAAAHHH! I won.

Clearly, I am not suggesting that you shouldn’t play better players, that would be stupid. What I want you to do is play different players. Each player represents a different puzzle. A puzzle that must be solved. The skill and fitness level of a player is very important, but it’s more interesting than that. if you have played enough team squash, you have probably encountered players that are really hard for you to beat. At first glance, there is nothing special about their game, nothing that makes them look unbeatable. You see them playing somebody else and think “I can beat them“.

But then when you are on court, it’s a different story. Your best shots are easily reached, you can’t seem to find their weaknesses, nothing you try works. BAM! You lose. All you practice with the better players doesn’t matter any more because you didn’t solve the puzzle. This is why playing in leagues, ladders, inter-club team matches, tournaments and club night is so good for your game. It allows you to develop strategies and tactics, that can used used against lots of other players.

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Thought Experiment

Imagine you hire a pro to play with you twice a week for 3 months. No coaching, just playing. The pro plays to beat you, giving you no more than 2 or 3 points per game. The first week, you feel like a zombie. The second, a slightly less dead zombie and so on until the end of the 3 months. 12 times you played the pro and you definitely got better. Any points you get now, you have earned. They try to beat you to love, but you still get 1 or 2 points. You feel satisfied. You are definitely fitter, you definitely hit the ball cleaner, your footwork is smoother. All round, you have improved.

Now imagine that you played a different person twice a week for 3 months. The standard of the person is more or less the same as you: sometimes better, sometimes worse, sometimes the same. Some matches you win and some you lose. Each new player is a new puzzle. Will you get fitter from playing these players? Maybe. Will you get better at hitting the ball? Maybe. Will you get faster? Maybe. But what you will get is SMARTER. If you pay attention to the games and try to learn something from each one, I guarantee you will be a better squash player at the end of the three months.

Better than the person who played the pro? I don’t know. What I do know is that “different” is better than “better”.

2 Comments

  1. Due to geography, I have had only one or two squash partners for the past 4 years. The current one is much better than I and I thought that I was doing very well against him. Until…I got into a box league some ways away. I was getting killed by players I thought were well below my level. When we played I had no idea what they were going to do with the ball because it all seemed so random. Current partner and I play many conditioned games, mostly based on length. What had happened was that my T position had moved back about two feet! Box league players could not wait to go short and I was cought on my heels many times. So, solid advice on playing players of different levels.

    1. The point you raise about moving further back due to playing length games is very important, because it shows without experienced oversight – and I mean no disrespect by this – amateurs simply doing what they think is the right training can actually back fire. It’s planned for a future article, but I’ll introduce it here now. Basically, the length only game should be used as part of a progression not in isolation. So, you play the length game for 15 minutes a few times a week. As you notice an improvement, you introduce an additional rule, for example the receiver i.e. not the server, is allowed to volley short once or twice (previous agreed) per rally. The next time you play, you play one scored game or length only and one scored game of length only with one volley. When you feel you have improved, you swap the volley for a boast, or you allowed both players one volley short per rally.

      The idea being that you progress the conditions to include short shots, but you introduce them gradually. This counters the habit of hanging back. There are plenty of variations on the ones I mentioned and a coach will often choose different rules based on the needs of the players. As i said, I don’t mean any disrespect when I say amateurs make these mistakes (and even some coaches), we have to constantly ask, “how is this helping my competitive match play?”.

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