Feel and flow come first
By HADRIAN STIFF – Squash Mad Coaching Columnist
In the endless search for better ball striking, accuracy and control, the debate around technique will always sit at the front of any discussion. In this article I will investigate ways in which I work towards these goals but primarily to help find that feeling where player and coach look at each other and say ‘Wow, that was nice!’ and why this feeling can lead to many other great things on the court.
For me, rhythm and timing come first in every lesson, before any changes or tweaks in technique. Long before wrist positions, shoulder angles, follow through shapes or any other technical views, the first question is ‘does this process flow?’
Once a player can find the rhythm of movement and swing in one continuous sequence to and from the ball the majority of technical elements will likely have already melted into place.
I believe we massively underestimate our body’s ability to discover what really works for us and we often block these instincts with information that clutters up what is naturally available and successful. One of the main challenges for the coach is what information to give to help find the best results and how to avoid information that can potentially block or clutter up what already feels natural.
We all have our own views over what looks right and coaches are likely to have stronger views than most as they often live and breathe the sport so their power to influence the player is huge. For these reasons it is vital to be mindful of the individual and do the best to sense and feel what they respond to well, what makes them feel good and confident.
The mind and body relationship
In order to truly access the wonderful feeling that comes with linking movement and swing into one rhythmical cycle it is vital to be able to distract or release the conscious mind in order to feel the process.
Generally, the more advanced the player, the easier it will be to trust in ‘just doing it’ because these players just know how to play a drop shot for example. It then follows that the execution will be quite simple as far as what their mind is thinking. Something along the lines of ‘play drop and look for the next shot’.
This process for less confident players could include anything from ‘Get your racket preparation in the correct position’. ‘open the face’, ‘don’t hit it down’, ‘will my opponent see it coming?’ and so on.
Our conscious mind loves to get involved in an attempt to protect and control the moment, and to let go of this can feel scary and the opposite of controlled. That’s because the numerous subconscious movement processes for any shot can be very hard to articulate and therefore difficult to apply consistently. There is no set formula we can turn to, otherwise squash would be very easy.
I love the ancient Chinese phrase ‘once the shoe fits the foot is forgotten’. I understand this in the context of ball striking as once the movements to hit the ball feel easy and effortless we can forget all technical thoughts and move and hit with total freedom and limitless potential. The goal each time we play is to re-discover the good feelings of rhythm and timing.
In order to develop a feeling of rhythm and timing on the court the mind must disappear into the whole process, free from technical criticism, right or wrong even where the ball is going. Instead search for feelings of restriction, tension and disjointedness then let these things go, get them out of the way of what instinctually feels natural and smooth.
Once in this state player and coach are easily able to steer swing and movement into more effective patterns. This could include opening the racket face a little more, sinking lower into the lunge or simply relaxing more.
The important point here is that the body and mind are free, relaxed and receptive to direction from the coach. Things are in a happy state and player and coach are both feeling a good rhythm and can take this wherever they want.
Language and the nervous system
Integral to developing the mind body balance on the court is the language used by coach and player to help this emerge. For example in order to find natural swing and movement rhythm words like release, relax, float and drift will directly effect the nervous system in a positive way allowing bodies to let go and lead the awareness into the physical processes which are happening rather than the outcomes of the ball.
As the body and mind let go and work together, teaching a person in this state is an extremely powerful experience, and the moments when both player and coach look at each other, laugh and say ‘Wow…that was nice!’ happen more and more.
TIMING AND RHYTHM
18th April 2016
Picture by PATRICK LAUSON