Hopefully, all healthy squash clubs around the world have a good junior section where there is a vast array of younger playing and loving the game.
The keener juniors will start to take part in clubs box leagues and playing against and with adults at club night sessions or formally arranged matches. These juniors are improving rapidly and have a lot of assets on their side. Saying that there will still likely to be some fundamental flaws that you should be aware of if you are wanting to get a few more wins in before they improve so quickly in such a short space of time that it will be hard to even get close to them. I have a lot of firsthand experience and I have a foot in both camps. At my club, a lot of juniors play the adults very early on. I coach both the juniors and adults and advise them accordingly. This blog will look at it from the perspective of the adult player competing with the quickly improving juniors.
Often the juniors mental state can be fragile. If you are able to expose this fragility you may gain an advantage and get quite a lot of cheap points. Juniors tend to berate themselves quite a lot when things are not going their way. I have seen so many juniors be in full control but then a few bad choices, a few bad decisions and their heads start to explode. Keep a lookout for signs of this and be ready to exploit them once you spot them. When you see or hear the junior getting upset be sure to try and string together a few points in a row as this can compound the anguish for them and they can lose a run of points very easily.
Be slightly unorthodox
Quite often juniors are taught very correct squash, and this is brilliant. But this can also be one of their downfalls as sometimes they get so stuck and focused on the technical and tactical structure of ‘proper’ squash. Being able to break up their rhythm, flow and timing by being a little unorthodox yourself can really take the good junior of their comfort zone. I often see the odd reverse boast, the good drop-lob tactic and the odd hack down the middle of the court win points. Playing traditional up and down the wall for multiple shots will likely play into their hands and go towards what they are already good at. Often juniors have not seen the full array of players out there and they train with other very correct juniors. Being unorthodox and tricky can be a very new experience for them but be aware to not overdo it as could also leave you massively exposed.
This one varies a lot but let’s assume the junior is relatively fit and in really good shape and can compete for long periods of time. They are likely very active during the week in squash and other activities so trying to take them on with a long and grinding game plan and attempting to wear them down could be a losing battle for yourself. This is not to say you should not try and expose a slightly unfit junior if you can spot it but on the whole, their fitness levels could be a lot higher than yours. Considering this, you may look to make the rallies slightly shorted and not get embroiled in long rallies to the back of the court. If you are able to get in front and take a few balls in short earlier in the rally this could benefit you as to not expose your potential lower fitness levels than your opponent.
Linked to the above topic of fitness, on the whole, the junior players may be fit but they may not have developed the appropriate strength yet. This could be core, leg or upper body strength so looking to expose some of these areas could be a good tactic to look to employ. This is a tricky area to try and expose but playing soft little drops and high up lobs is a good way to try and expose the lack of strength they may currently have. Often the lunge quality of a junior will be inconsistent, they may get to the first ball but be a little off-balance for the follow-up recovery. If you spot this then look to get them moving to the extremes of the court and be ready to pounce on the next ball as their recovery, due to lack of strength, will be compromised and bigger gaps will appear in the court.
Slightly linked to the mentality of a junior, I tend to find their consistency levels can be up and down. If you are able to accept they will play some very neat, tidy and clinical squash but in the back of your mind be aware that a level of inconsistency can appear at any moment. It’s about you then playing a style of game and putting them in enough tough positions to expose this inconsistency they may have. This is linked a little to being unorthodox also as if you settle in for a long game up and down the side walls then you may be playing into their hands a little.
High on the volley
This tactic is linked to strength and I do not often see a junior really good high up on the volley. This is especially relevant high up on the backhand volley and a lot of traction can be gained by putting the ball up high into this area of the court. You need to be sure to execute a shot of quality in order to expose the junior high on the volley but keep persisting and putting the ball up there. They may often get the shot back but with not a huge amount of quality or control. This is now your time to come alive and pounce on the slightly weaker return. Also, there is nothing wrong with putting multiple shots high on the volley with the thought that soon enough you’ll take the next ball in low and attacking. This is a deadly combination to start to employ against a junior.
The above list is not exhaustive, and some juniors will be more developed in some areas than others. It’s about trying out what can work best in regard to making the most impact and the key areas that will put you at a better advantage.
This blog may seem very unfair to the improving junior but in my experience, the wider range of players and abilities and styles they can come across early on puts them in a good place to be very adaptable later in their careers. It is worth noting that I am not trying to put juniors off the game (and by no means do I condone any form of bullying) by writing tactics in this blog and a good support system should be in place around these juniors. This is in order to encourage them to keep entering the field of battle against the adult players. Often juniors can get very frustrated and want to give up playing adults for a lot of the above reasons and it is wise to talk to them and try make them understand that this is all part of the learning process for them in the big picture.