Watching the squash ball during a rally is the most important thing you can do to improve your game. Never ever, take your eyes off the ball during a rally. If you are afraid of watching the ball when behind you, wear protective eyewear.
It is impossible to reach your potential if you do not consistently keep your eyes on the ball. Watching the ball as it leaves your opponent’s racquet, in particular when the ball is behind you, will dramatically increase how you are able to:
Know and judge your opponent’s shot
You will get the first idea of where your opponent’s shot is going when the ball leaves his racquet. You can gather information on the direction, the trajectory, the speed, and the height of the shot for your brain to calculate where you will need to be to meet it. To accurately track the ball, it is necessary to keep your eye on the ball at all times. If you wait to see the ball come off the front wall, you have lost about half of the valuable trajectory input necessary to accurately judge the shot played.
Anticipate your opponent’s shot
Only by watching, the ball that split second at impact coming off your opponent’s racquet will let you anticipate his shot.
Important: if you are turning your head back to the front wall prior to impact, you are not anticipating, you are guessing! To volley well in particular you need to see the ball early to be on your way to intercept it. If you learn to anticipate if they are driving, dropping, boasting, or going cross-court then that is half the battle right there. Anticipation only works with watching the ball when it is behind you.
Research demonstrates that “expert “players can predict the opponent’s shot to a very high accuracy level up to 600 milliseconds before impact. Important cues for making anticipatory decisions – the movement of the arm and racquet especially 160-80ms, before impact and the flight of the ball immediately (up to 80ms) after impact.
According to professional players, the two main sources of information are:
- Probability – the opponent’s strategic habits, the opponent’s technical abilities, and his/her court position;
- Postural cues – watch out for when your opponent’s arm and racquet movement leading up to contact with the ball.
Research has shown that expert players do not have better “vision” than beginners nor do they look at different cues from beginners when searching for information on which to base their decision about what is about to happen. Rather, expert players appear to make better use of the information available – especially with regard to the opponent’s arm and racquet action.
Ironically, many expert players also identify or pick up patterns of play better than a Squash player at a beginner’s standard.
Anticipation skills range from the simple – predicting the bounce of the ball, through to the ability to read the play sufficiently well to volley a fast-paced ball hit from the front court by a “deceptive” player. These skills become automatic with experience but traditionally, we have only developed these skills by playing matches.
Move around to have a better rhythm
Watching the ball when it is behind you is vital for movement. This, in turn, will increase your speed to the ball and allow you to move at the appropriate speed, not overrunning the ball. Overrunning the ball is one of the biggest problems at a beginner level.
If you watch the front wall, you will only have the sound of your opponent hitting the ball or the ball coming into your peripheral vision to react to. This will often have your feet moving late or very late respectively, and make it a huge disadvantage in getting to your opponent’s tight shots.
Watching improves your speed around the court dramatically without getting any faster physically; professional players alike believe watching the ball well will get you much faster around the squash court than getting physically faster.
Only through consistently watching the ball coming off your opponent’s racquet when the ball is behind you in the backcourt will you learn a rhythm to move around the squash court.
Rhythm is an integral part of any sport, facilitating all movements.
Make better tactical decisions
The more time available, you have in this fast game, the better your decisions tend to be.
Play safer and avoid decisions against you.
Watching helps you get out of the way of the racket swing, and ball, while your opponent is returning the shot. Wear eyewear if you are afraid to watch. Without watching the ball your progress will be limited and can be dangerous. Watch the ball and if you are too close and within the “line of fire” move out of the way, but do not take your eye off the ball.
You cannot always go back to the T when you hit a loose shot. Move your T position if necessary.
The only downside of not watching the ball – this when your opponent is behind is that you may be guilty of not clearing, and even worse, not attempting to clear. That can be the difference between a stroke and a let.
Either way watching the motion of the ball is key to winning your Squash match – just make sure you observe Squash etiquette and wear protective eyewear.