You only have to look at today’s crop of emerging Egyptian players to realise that the game has changed dramatically since the attritional length battles that were played by legends of the game such as Geoff Hunt and Jonah Barrington. Today’s game is filled will flare, angles and a desire to attack the front corners when the opportunity presents itself.
A fundamental requirement of the modern game to possess what we call ‘ball skill’. This is a term that transcends all sports, you think of footballers such as Ronaldo or Messi, tennis players such as Federer, Basketball players such as Stephan Curry or golfers such as Phil Mickleson. These are all players who seem to have uncanny ability to control the ball and do something special with a degree of flare that others do not possess in quite the same way.
Practice makes perfect
Now it’s clear that ball skill comes more naturally to some than others. However, there is also no doubt in my mind that ball skill can be learned and practised. The more time spent doing kick-ups, chipping from a bunker or simply hitting a ball against a wall, the greater the degree of control that the person doing the practice will obtain.
Speaking from personal experience, I know that a period of my greatest improvement came at university when hitting partners were not always available meaning that I spent a great deal of time on court hitting balls. Sometimes this practice was structured and at other time it was a complete free for all where it may have looked like there was no real purpose to the training whatsoever. I would spend lots of time hitting the ball through the middle of the court, hitting nicks, charging to the front playing topspin drops shots, hitting reverse topspin drops with the wrong side of the racket face, practising Mizuki’s in an effort to hit the ball like Hisham Ashour. Many of these shots would never appear in a match. So you may ask, what’s the point in hitting a ball in a way that you will never use?
The answer is simple, it’s about developing ball skill and understanding what I could make the ball do by hitting it in a certain way. It was about understanding the effect of topspin, or sidespin, or understanding where the racket face ended up if I rolled the back of my hand completely over the top of the ball. It was about understanding the angles of the court and understanding where the nick was.
This was not the most structured practice and it may not have given me the most immediate benefits in the short term but what it do so was stand me in good stead for the rest of my squash career. I developed an ability to take the ball in short, to leave it up to the front, to attack the front corners and to deal with that awkward ball at my feet or to play a topspin counter drop at full extension if needed.
This was not the solid foundation upon which my whole game was built upon, but it did give me something else that bought variety and options to what was a bit of a one-dimensional game as a junior player.
Ball skill fundamentally means the ability to control the ball. Squash has so many intricacies and the ability to work the racket face around any part of the ball to make it shape or die in a certain way is key to becoming a better squash player. Being able to control the ball and consistently get it to do what you want it to do is incredibly important.
Benchmark your level
With the new website, we wanted to give players the ability to track their progress and track the amount of ball skill they possess. The squash testing section has a number of different exercises which you are able to take a quantitative test and record a score against. This gives you a yardstick against which you can measure your skill development. Whether it be simply hitting continuous drives into the service box or practising quick corner volleys you have the opportunity to enhance your control of the ball.
We have constructed specific ball control solo sessions that allow you to work on your ball skill and give you an opportunity to learn what you can do with the racket face. Some of the exercises do not specifically relate to any shot that you play on court but what they do do is give you an understanding of how your hands, the racket and the ball all work together. The timings are approximate and the exercises should give you some ideas about the type of practices you can do to develop ball skill. have fun with it and remember you don’t have to follow a rigid structure when training all the time.
Developing your ball skill will make the game easier, it will give you the ability to make the game more interesting and it will give you the ability to dig yourself out of sticky situations.
Why not take some of the ball skills tests, benchmark your level and get on court and do some solo sessions and see what a difference it makes to your game…
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