Friday, July 12, 2024

Andy Whipp: Developing individual technique is far more important than creating squash clones

‘Every top Egyptian player has a very different, unique style’
By ANDY WHIPP – Squash Mad Columnist

I am pleased to offer some advice on technique for all you keen squash players out there. Please read on to find out what the Egyptian coaches do right and what many other coaches (in general) often do wrong!

Squash technique is an interesting thing. There is definitely a way to make contact with the ball which helps every shot, and for almost every shot that way is to have a slightly open racket face when you strike the ball.

By that I mean the head of your racket is slightly facing up towards the ceiling. To explain: If a completely flat shot is hit with the strings parallel to the front wall then let’s say that is zero degrees. A completely open shot would have the strings parallel to the ceiling, so 90 degrees.

For most shots coaches would recommend an angle of 35-45 degrees. However, there are times when some shots have to played with a flatter angle, for example when you scrape the ball off the backhand wall in the front corner, or if the ball comes at your feet very quickly; and there are other times when it is beneficial to have a more open racket face, like when the ball is behind your body.

For me, this “contact phase” is the most important aspect of technique – not what your arm does before you make contact with the ball.

I would actually put more emphasis on your follow-through (what your arm does after you have made contact with the ball) than your arm preparation (backswing). I would put much more importance on movement, balance and body position above arm preparation.

For this blog we will just look at the arm, not the movement.

We have just been through a period of time in England where the emphasis of elite coaching has been placed on the wrong aspect of technique, the backswing – leading to a characteristic “England Squash technique” in many players and especially juniors.

Nick Matthew is one of the greatest ever players and I’ve always enjoyed watching him play. But just because his technique worked perfectly for him and helped form his signature forehand volley drop, it does not mean it is the right technique for everyone else. Making “clones” is not the right way to coach.

Egyptian players are a great example of this. They all have different techniques. Their backswings / arm preparations are unique to each and every player.

Nouran Gohar differs greatly from Raneem El Welily. Mohamed ElShorbagy has a low, compact backswing, as does Zahed Salem, which I really like. Yet Tarek Momen has a much loopier backhand preparation when he has the time. Ali Farag has a loose, “wristy” approach and Mohamed Abouelghar’s forehand preparation looks like he will make contact with the ball “too flat”, as often does Marwan’s.

Ali Farag and Mohamed Abouelghar have developed different techniques

But the one thing they all have in common is that they all connect with the ball precisely how they want to and they can execute superb shots time after time.

The key to a “good technique” is a swing which will allow the player to make contact with the ball exactly how they want to – irrelevant of what their arm did before contact. There is not just one “good technique”.

Quality shot execution comes from understanding how to play the shot in terms of the racket face. Expecting to only ever hit a squash shot one way is naive and foolish. Tarek Momen knows when he has time to take a bigger, loopier preparation and he also knows when he needs a shorter preparation – and he can do both.

Marwan ElShorbagy knows exactly when to hit the ball with more slice (a more open racket face) and when to hit the ball flatter (a more closed racket face). This is what makes a great technique – one which functions at the highest level of the game and in every situation.

Squash is so fast often there isn’t time for any preparation. I feel if many of these Egyptian players had been English they would have had their natural techniques coached out of them in their early teens, and they would have developed a solid, but less adaptive style of play. Their ability to hit any shot in any situation would be massively reduced, and hence, they would be worse players than they are now.

If you look at the French players, too, many look alike because they move in very similar ways to each other, yet their techniques are different.

Gregoire Marche’s swing comes from over the ball height more than Gregory Gaultier’s does, for example, and they’re both lovely, classy players.

Mathieu Castagnet has a different swing again, sometimes “winding up” and sometimes “poking” with little backswing.

Gaultier, in particular, has the wonderful ability to hit the ball hard, to hit soft, to hit with a lot of slice around the outside of the ball, and to hit the ball flat – and all from a very relaxed “racket down” kind of approach – all of which has made him one of the best players ever, and personally my favourite player to watch for the past 15 years.

Malcolm Willstrop has helped to produce some exceptional players (Simon Parke, Lee Beachill, James Willstrop and Saurav Ghosal just to name a few).

He has always seemed to have the right idea, considering shot quality, shot selection and overall style of play to be of more importance than technique.

Patrick Rooney, who has recently trained a lot with James Willstrop in Pontefract, has a nice fluid technique and can make lightning adjustments to create interesting angles in a rally. He just needs to be confident enough to express himself and not be too conservative / too “traditionally English” in his tactical approach when he plays higher ranked opponents.

I hope he can make his move up the rankings soon because he’s already 23. His excellent performance against Joel Makin in the Black Ball Open in Egypt last week (taking the battle to his opponent and losing narrowly in the fifth after 75 minutes) certainly suggests he is heading in the right direction.

Occasionally technique goes out the window altogether and you simply need to manipulate the wrist in order to hit a decent shot – but you need to be loose enough in your arm and your brain that you can react, and that your “go-to” technique isn’t so ingrained that you can’t adjust in a split second.

Technical input is very important if anyone is going to make it to the top of the game, but it cannot be the same rigid input churned out over and over again. Technical coaching must put forward essential principles but be flexible from player to player.

Nick Matthew’s forehand volley was a wonderful weapon

Nick Matthew saw the article and commented:

Hi Whippy. Interesting article and enjoyable read. More recently I actually believe there’s a lack of identity in coaching in this country rather than a case of creating clones but thanks for the compliment on my swing which took many years of undoing bad habits from my teens rather than the other way round.

Couple of things; Simon Parke was primarily coached by David Pearson not Malcolm and Saurav Ghosal, like Mohamed and Marwan, spent a large part of his squash education here so something is obviously going right in this country to add to their own national heritage.

You are right; we need to learn from Egypt but I also think that it’s easier to write about how than actually teach someone how! Looking forward to the proof in the pudding of your coaching protégées!

I replied:
Hi Nick. I know your swing was a result of doing more or less the opposite of what you used to have as a junior, as your swing in those days was pretty tight to your body. I think Mark Hornby’s greatest achievement in those early days was to embed a pretty awesome volleying ethic which you are well known for.

I agree, Egypt don’t have all the answers, but a combination of all knowledge would be perfect. I actually like the Aussie swing, too. Stewart Boswell was a lovely player with his Rodney Martin technique.

Andy Whipp Squash Consultancy

AWsome Sports creator Andy Whipp is now offering squash consultancy / sports club consultancy. Given his many years’ experience of all things squash at every level of the sport, and after countless people asking for his advice on a range of squash and club matters, he has decided to use his expertise to offer a FREE squash consultancy service!
AWsome Sports are happy to help with league and club committee ideas and decisions, as well as squash advice to parents and professionals.
So if you need some general advice, inspiration, fresh ideas, or a mediator for your club or league committee debates – please contact Andy at [email protected] for more information.

Pictures courtesy of PSA


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