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Shot Budget

One of the things I love about coaching is encountering ideas and concepts from other fields of endeavour, and adapting them for use in squash. A little while ago, I was reading some Reddit posts and one was about “finance and how to spend your money” and it got me thinking about whether I could use the concept in squash. After a little pondering, I came up with this shot selection system that I call “The Shot Budget” and as far as I know, it’s a new way of looking at things.

The Squash Shot Budget

Under normal circumstances, I would have experimented with the idea using it with my pupils before posting about it, but as I no longer coach “on-court”, I have to admit, I haven’t tried it in a real-world situation.

Therefore, the purpose of this article is to not only introduce the concept to coaches, but also hopefully generate discussion and dissection with a view to develop, modify and improve it. In addition, I hope self-motivated squash players may read this, try it for themselves and then have a new way of thinking about which shot to play and why.

I believe that its core concept has value for most standards of players above improver level, but is really aimed at players who currently lack the willpower or self-control to not go for winners when they are not well positioned to do so and those who lack any framework for choosing shots when they play.

For the sake of simplicity, I will be using Dollars, but you could easily use any currency, including made up ones that appeal to younger players.

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions!

When we play squash or any sport that requires shot selection decisions; where to hit the ball, how fast , how high etc, having some gameplan or strategy means that some decisions are easier to make, or at least can be made faster or earlier.

I call these types of shots “Default Shots” – shots that almost choose themselves based on the situation. You could argue that with that definition, *all* shots are default shots as the situation is most often the deciding factor in shot selection, but a default shot covers situations where the choice of best shot is very limited.

The Shot Budget

Imagine you find yourself in the back right hand corner of a squash court. 

The ball has come off the back wall enough to allow you to play any shot you want. What shot do you choose?

Well, the list of factors include;

  • what your skills are (both at the moment and in general)
  • the part of the rally (at the beginning, after 10 shots or 20 shots)
  • exactly where the ball is
  • how fast it is moving
  • how well positioned you are
  • where your opponent is
  • the score
  • what happened in the previous point
  • what happened the previous time you were in a very similar situation
  • or even, heaven forbid, your mood!

And here lies your dilemma. You’ve got too many factors to consider, especially when you have to make your decision in a split second.

Unless your opponent is off the T or their return is very weak, the chances are that another shot to the back is required in an attempt to create a better opportunity for you to attack. It’s incredibly tempting to want to go for something more adventurous, especially if you are tired, but often that’s too risky. That’s why I believe that more often than not, at club level the difference between two evenly matched players is not skill or fitness, but shot selection. It’s also why more experienced players can sometimes beat their younger and fitter opponents.

Time To Pay The Piper

Now imagine that you had to “pay” for each type of shot you play, that there was a “cost” to each choice. A straight drive to the back is 1 dollar. A crosscourt is 2 dollars and a boast is 5 dollars and a drop to the front is 15 dollars.

If you have unlimited funds, then the cost is no problem, but what if you don’t? What if you actually had to limit your spending. No, I’m not actually suggesting that players keep a mental running total in their head or a friend calculates the cost from the balcony and shouts it out! That would be unworkable. 

The key issue is deciding the price of each and every shot for a variety of positions. Clearly that’s not feasible. The objective is to get the player to become more aware of an imaginary cost of each shot. Simply knowing the “price” of each type of shot may be enough to have them become more selective in their choices.

My Initial Pricing Structure

I’ve discussed the traffic light system of shot selection before, both in articles and videos, and it may be possible to combine both ideas.

A red light shot (defensive shots) costs 1 Dollar, an amber light shot (probing shots) costs 5 Dollars and a green light shot (attacking shoots) costs 10 or 15 Dollars. This price list might be easy enough to mentally monitor during a rally, by both the player and perhaps their “accountant” (a person designated to keep a running total), but as I have already said, I’m not expecting players to keep the score in their head as they play, but they should be able to “see” the cost of their choice as they prepare to play it. 

The Shot Budget

Updated Pricing Structure

After spending a few days pondering the above pricing structure and feeling it would be too complicated, I now have an alternative “pricing structure” to propose.

  • Defensive shots are free.
  • Probing shots cost 1 Dollar
  • Attacking shots cost 5 Dollars
  • Kill shots cost 15 Dollars
  • * Winning the point incurs a minus 15 Dollars charge.
  • * Losing the point incurs a 15 Dollar charge

It’s important to clarify the exact definition of each type of shot with the player before using them in a real match to avoid confusion, and of course, a coach would also use the system in training extensively first to ensure that the player was fully comfortable with it.

I would suggest that coaches work with players to define the types of shots, tailor the cost per shot-type to the needs of each player. 

As a starting guide, I offer these definitions:

Defensive: A shot played to allow the player to recover. Probably slower than most shots and quite possibly high. Examples would be lobs, wide crosscourts to stop opponents volleying, high counter drops etc. I made this type of shot free because we really need to encourage playing these types of shots.

Probing: A shot whose purpose is to create weak returns from your opponent, but also doesn’t allow them to be too attacking with their shot. Examples include straight drives, working boasts etc. These types of shots are cheap because they shouldn’t allow your opponents to many easy opportunities and players should be playing these types of shots a LOT!

Attacking: A shot whose objective is to force a very weak return, but might be considered a little risky. Examples include working boasts aimed closer to the tin and short straight volleys etc. These types of shots are more expensive because they have a higher risk.

Kill: These shots are when the player is trying to hit the nick or hit an outright winner. Clearly the most expensive type of shot, but when played at the right time can “save” you a lot of money.

* Winning Rally Points: Winning the rally could incur a negative cost, either a fixed charge or a variable charge based on the number of shots in the rally (one Dollar per shot? or ranges; 1 to 10 shots equal 10 Dollars, 11 to 20 equal 20 Dollars). The variable charge is probably too complicated. The fixed charge of incurring a minus 15 Dollars charge per point sounds better, although the 15 Dollars is just a figure I plucked out of the blue and would need to be experimented with!

* Losing Rally Points: Losing the rally could also incur a charge, but this just might be too unfair. Especially if the rally was long and the player went for a winner at the right time, but missed.

I also considered the idea of a very high cost for an “Unforced Error”, but this needs more thought and consideration, and doubtless actual experimentation.

Two Ways To Use It

I see at least two ways to use the system. Firstly, a coach would video a match and then perform a cost analysis with the player while watching the recording. Particularly risky or inappropriate shots could be analyzed with the player, and the coach would ask them to define the type of shot and explain their reason for playing the shot – if they remember it. The player would then have the opportunity to suggest better shots from the same position and recalculate the cost using the better option. At the end of the analysis the difference in price might be surprising, although it’s all guess work after the first recalculation.

The second way would be for the player to actually use the system as they are playing. No! They would not be expected to keep a running total as they play! That would clearly be almost impossible, but they could perhaps use the system before each shot to guide their decisions. Simply knowing what each type of shot costs and knowing that they have to be careful “spending” their money, may be enough to temper some over-adventurous players.

Fake Money Specifically For Juniors?

It may even be possible to use fake money (Monopoly style) that junior players are given before a match and must “pay up” with at the end. This could be linked to actual rewards or prizes within homogeneous squads for the most “budget conscious” player. This would need some careful experimentation, but the actual physical fake money may be the catalyst to allow juniors to experience the purpose of the system. This idea may be controversial and certainly has its drawbacks. I offer it here, simply to start the conversation.

Post-Match Cost Analysis

Once a personalized working system has been created, it may, and I stress *may*, be possible to do a simple post-match analysis based purely on a numerical/financial basis.

The Shot Budget

Now, before you write and tell me that assessing a match in such simplistic terms would be silly and probably useless, I say “you could be right”, but sometimes all we need to do is draw players’ attention to thinking patterns, and then offer alternatives or mental tools for them to see things from a different perspective.

There may be players who would win matches at a very high cost and others who win matches much more efficiently, even though the score is more or less the same. We might find that against certain styles of players, players fair better than against others and this may open the doors to exploring new gameplans or strategies.

To Summarize

Shots are split into different types. Each type has a “cost”. The coach and player can adjust the definitions and pricing to suit their needs. The system can then be used as a post-match analysis to highlight shot selection that can be improved or by the player during the match as a simple guide and framework.

It may be possible to keep “accounting sheets” of matches to track the cost of matches against particular players or various types of players, and then hopefully see a reduction in cost per match.

The Shot Budget Poster

Click the image below to view a high-resolution PDF file that can be downloaded to your phone/computer/tablet or printed.

Shot Budget Poster

Your Thoughts

So there you have it, the Shot Budget. Perhaps it’s a terrible idea, but I don’t think so. As I have previously said, my aim with this article is to open the concept up for discussion and get some players to see shot selection in a different way, a way that allows them to try to be much more analytical and less emotional. 

For some players it will be a disaster as it will interfere with their usual mental processes, but for others it might be the catalyst they need to change their game.

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