I dont believe there is such a thing as a correct technique and choose not to teach the swing in isolation of movement or involving any set ideas on what it ‘should’ look like.
Having played squash for over 35 years and taught for 25 years, it is very clear that the ongoing quest for more effective ways to play and teach never ends. I have had many technical influences as a junior and senior player that ranged from the compact simplicity of Rodney Martin to the relaxed ‘whip crack’ of John White. Having spent the last 10 years focusing in detail on the most effective ways of teaching players, my views on the swing have evolved from a rather Western view of classical swing shape involving firm wrist, open face, follow through direction etc, to an approach focused more on the sensations and rhythms of the swing and movement process for each player. The reasons for this are much time spent studying and teaching effective movement fluency and realising that swing is movement and when player strikes the ball at its best the whole body is involved in a flowing rhythm.
Working with Mohamed and Marwan ElShorbagy has certainly helped influence and reinforce a belief in natural, personal styles with more focus on how easily the ball is hit rather than what technique is being used. If it feels good, goes in the right direction and looks natural then things are good, let’s not even describe what is happening, safer to say it is working! These two incredibly successful brothers love the feeling of hitting the ball and often smile during sessions when shots are extra special in a kind of mini celebration of great ball striking. Squash is fun for them and finding new ways of keeping their opponents guessing is part of their enjoyment. Meanwhile, numerous Egyptian players are surging through the rankings all possessing such beautiful rhythm and ease on the court which naturally supports their exceptional skill and creative options. I love watching them for many reasons, but mainly the clear evidence of the natural freedom of mind and body on the court. Nothing is limited even when things are not going as planned they will back their skills to bring results. Exciting and interesting times for squash!
Good feelings, not technical jargon
So where do we start when teaching players to hit the ball? Where is that easy feeling we enjoy when things are working? Let’s take an imaginary case study: Megan is a 14-year-old up and coming junior, she has recently grown and is not finding court coverage as easy as she did a year ago when her legs were not so long. When we begin the process of ball striking and court movement with Megan, where is the start point? Bear in mind she has a history of natural movement and coordination patterns that have been evolving ever since her first movements have occurred. The way she hits the ball and covers the court are her own patterns and she will instinctively know what this feels like when it’s good and bad. When beginning the project with Megan, the question for me would be where do we start with this individual, what is globally noticeable about the way she moves and strikes the ball? And then what can be done to start to make this more effective and easier to for her? Not, does she fit the model of some pre-conceived notion of what a squash player should look like. Because we are all different, right? It seems to me this crucial factor is often forgotten. As anyone who has coached will be aware there is a delicate relationship with pupils when teaching how to hit the ball and everyone can quickly lose confidence and enjoyment, particularly if there is a sense of ‘doing it wrong’ or the process not feeling natural.
So let’s not deconstruct, instead let’s search for some good feelings during the ball striking process, enthuse about them, discuss them and ask how they feel. There is plenty of time to blend in any technical shapes as the body and mind relax and feel more open to new patterns. Because the reality is, when we hit the ball at our best it is not conscious but natural and free and this is the golden sensation to search for prior to any technical structures.
Watching the most effective players throughout history it is clear each technique is different, each body is different and they each have their own ways of playing the game. Think about the contrasting styles between Jansher Khan, Nicol David, Michelle Martin, Ramy Ashour, Nick Matthew and Mohamed Elshorbagy. All world number 1 players but each technique is very different and all clearly very effective. Their techniques and game styles are their own although some I would argue are more natural than others. So it is clear that all top class players are different and yet all successful in their own way, but one thing is common to all of them: When they play it looks easy, they have rhythm and timing to the highest level and the greatest posses this even beyond their most formidable opponents. Jansher Khan would be an exceptional example of this.
Is there an ideal way to hit the ball? I believe not. I do believe however that when movement and swing blend easily together and the natural rhythm of the process is at its best, then this is worth pursuing and developing. In the next article I will discuss the search for rhythm and fluency and how when body and mind dance together amazing things are possible.
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