During a rally your opponent will be either in front, behind, or parallel to you. 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. If you are afraid of watching the ball when it goes behind you, wear protective eyewear. It is impossible to reach your full potential as a player if you don’t consistently keep your eyes on the ball.
When your opponent is in front of you, it is easy to see where and when your opponent is going to hit the ball. By watching the ball as it leaves your opponent’s racquet, especially when the ball is behind you, increases your ability on the following:
a. You can better judge the kind of shot your opponent is likely to play
b. You will get the first idea of where your opponent’s shot is going when the ball leaves his racquet.
c. You can gather information on the direction, the trajectory, the speed and the height of the shot
d. By processing all this information in a split second your brain will calculate where you will need to be to
meet the ball.
If you wait to see the ball come off of the front wall you have lost about half of the valuable trajectory input necessary to accurately judge the shot played. You have also lost valuable time that could have you onto the ball quickly thereby speeding up the game and putting your opponent under pressure. By only watching 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 too. This will often have your feet moving late and could have you “overrunning” the ball or not getting to your opponent’s tight shots.
Only by watching the ball can you anticipate the kind of shot your opponent is intending to hit. If you are turning your head back to the front wall before impact of the ball onto your opponents racket you are not anticipating, you are guessing!
To volley well you need to see the ball early and intercept it early. If you learn to anticipate if they’re 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 their opponent’s shot to a very high accuracy level up to 600 milliseconds before impact. Important clues for making anticipatory decisions are :
1. Movement of the arm and racquet before impact
2. Flight of the ball immediately after impact.
3. Probability – the opponent’s strategic habits, the opponent’s technical abilities and his/her court position
4. Postural position of the opponent
It has been proven that expert players do not have better “vision” than beginners nor do they look at different clues to beginners on which to base their decision about what is about to happen, they just make better use of the information available to them and can therefore anticipate better. Anticipation is:
a. predicting the bounce of the ball,
b. predicting the pace of the ball through the air
c. ability to read the angle of the racket and arm
d. make better tactical decisions
e. gives you more time
These skills become automatic with experience but are developed by playing many matches. They allow for better movement, speed and rhythm around the court. Watching the ball when it is behind you is vital for movement and improving your speed around the court without getting any faster physically. I believe watching the ball well will get you way 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 back court will you learn the rhythm of how to move around the squash court.
By watching the ball you can also play safer and avoiding decisions against you. Watching helps you getting out of the way of the racket swing, and ball, while your opponent is returning the shot. Without watching the ball your progress will be limited and can be dangerous. Watch the ball and if you are too close or within the “line of fire” move out of the way, but do not take your eye off the ball. You can’t always go back to the T when you hit a loose shot. Move your T position if necessary. The downside of not watching the ball 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.