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A Brief Introduction To Shot Selection In Squash

Shot selection is an “art”, not a “science”. Put simply: shot selection is what shot you choose to play. There are many factors that must be considered when selecting shots and the “art” part comes from deciding which factors are important. All in a split-second!

Let’s start by briefly looking at what can affect shot selection at club or recreational level. It’s not an exhaustive list, but enough to get us started. I’ll add a brief note by each factor. It’s important to note that the list is not in any particular order. After that I’ll explore some basic principles.

Your Strengths and Weakness: What you are good at and bad at ON THE DAY ON THE MATCH.

Your Opponent’s Strengths and Weakness: What your opponents are good at and bad at ON THE DAY ON THE MATCH.

Fitness Level: Both you and your opponent, at the moment of the shot.

Court Situation: Is it a hot or cold court? Does it have a high or low ceiling? Is it a fast or slow court?

Score: Is it 1-1 all in the first game or 9-9 all in the fifth game?

Players’ Position: Where are you and where is your opponent when you play the ball?

Ball’s Position and Vector: Where is it, how fast is it moving and in what direction?

Your Style: Almost the same as strengths and weaknesses, but not quite.

Match Situation: Is this an important match or just training?

Gameplan: What are your strategic goals and tactical actions?

Fitness Level

It’s not the most important factor, but at club level it is very important. I’ve seen players making terrible decisions on court, and they get much fitter and suddenly they are making much better choices. Nothing has changed about their game, they were just able to wait a little longer in each rally before attacking. When you lack fitness, you often go for attacking shots because you just want to end the rally. You hope that you’ll win the point, but often you don’t.

Getting fitter can help you wait for the right opportunity in a rally.

Your Strengths And Weaknesses

I’m going to use myself as an embarrassing example. I remember first starting to play squash and the thought of flicking a shot from one back corner to the other back corner and catching my opponent by surprise, somehow seemed to take root in my silly little mind. I spent the next 30 years trying to get rid of that terrible habit. In the video below, (from 1985) you can see me do it – Silly Philly.

It became a tactical habit. Every now and again, I would hit a fantastic shot and really would catch my opponent by surprise but it was probably 1 shot in 10! What a terrible percentage. The problem is, and this will be true for many other readers, is that the one winner completely overshadows the weak or losing shots.

Strangely enough, I am actually pretty good at hitting straight shots and the few times I have managed to control myself, I have played some good squash. Much of my early playing was thoughtless – no gameplan, no awareness – just hit each ball because it was my turn. I started at 15 years old and got my first lesson at 25 years old. Up until then, I just picked things up as I went.

Be honest with yourself about what you are good and bad at. Create good habits by keeping things simple.

A Bad Gameplan Is Better Than No Gameplan

I have written about Strategy and Tactics before, but essentially, strategy is what you are trying to achieve and tactics are how you do it. For example, my strategy against you might be to limit your option and get you frustrated. My tactics would be to keep the ball tight, play it high, play only wide crosscourts, very few boasts. Obviously, I can hit other shots, but the majority of times I will play within my gameplan – especially at important points.

So what if it’s the wrong gameplan? Well, at least you have some focus and form to your game. If you lose, at least you know was probably doesn’t work against that opponent. If every rally is a different idea, you’ll never really develop an understand of which tactics are effective.

By having a gameplan, you remove a few shot options and can better concentrate on the ones you believe will work.

The Ball’s Position and Vector

RED ZONE: If the ball is close to one of the side walls, back wall or in the corners, let’s call that the Red Zone, you should probably be playing a defensive shot. If you are under pressure, even if the ball is not near the Red Zone, you should play a defensive shot. By under pressure, I mean rushed, caught by surprise (maybe by one of may incredible corner flicks!) or simply out of position.

AMBER ZONE: Most other positions and shots you will be in the Amber Zone. You probably have little chance of a winner, but you are not under any pressure either. I suspect this is around 60 percent of the shots club players play. I believe that at more advanced levels it jumps to around 80% – but that’s for another article. The shots you play here,I call “probing shots”. These are shots that you hope get you a weak return but won’t put you at risk either. The perfect example is the deep drive to the corner.

GREEN ZONE: You have created an opportunity from an amber shot and now is the time to take advantage of that situation. Go for a winner!

The above is a great guide for playing, but within each zone, you still have plenty of shot selection options. The choice you make will be based on all of the other factors mentioned in the list at the beginning of this article.

Final Thoughts

You probably hoped I would tell you what shot you should play, at what time, didn’t you? Well, sorry, but I can’t. I can tell you to play more lobs, because the chances are you don’t play enough. I can tell you to think more about your crosscourts and where they hit the wall. I can tell you that the fancy shots you like to play probably aren’t as effective as you believe them to be.

And I can tell you that good squash selection is often doing the basic things well: keep the ball tight, rush your opponent, but give yourself time.

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Hi, I'm Phillip, your online squash coach.


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