In any sport we are told, “Keep your eye on the ball,” “Watch the ball,” “Don’t drop the ball,” if we want to play well and so win. There is no doubt that watching the ball is critical if you want to really be in the game.
Squash is no different. In an earlier article I referred to the three basic actions we do repeatedly when we play squash. They were WATCH – MOVE – STROKE. They are discrete actions in that, on most occasions, you only perform one at a time. Sometimes, if you are under pressure you have to hit the ball on the run (usually with a less than perfect result).
The exception to this is watching. If you have ever seen a super slow motion shot of Roger Federer you will see the intensity of his gaze and note the fact that his eyes never leave the ball. Might have something to do with the fact he is one of the greatest tennis players of all time.
We have all seen players who hit their shot and immediately look to the front wall for the return shot. Logically we know the ball must come from the front wall so you should look there, right? If you do you will see the ball – eventually.
If you do that certain other things will occur. You will be surprised at the height, speed and direction of the ball. This will cause you to rush at the ball, get too close and be unable to stroke the ball freely. Or you will be left flat footed and lose the point. Why does this occur?
Simply stated, you did not watch the ball from your racquet to your opponent’s racquet and back to the front wall and so are “late to the ball” causing error. Many players set themselves to return a service by looking intently at the front wall and then wonder why they cannot attack their opponent’s serve.
The answer is lack of observation time. Our minds are brilliant at calculating speed, direction and distance of the ball. IF WE HAVE TIME. Do yourself a favour, watch the ball from your opponent’s racquet and be amazed at how much time you actually have to prepare your response.
I have a number of drills I use with my students for this very purpose. At first they are quite clumsy but, very rapidly they begin to appreciate just how much time they have and they stop hurrying to get to the ball.
There is another reason we are reluctant to watch the ball right from the racquet, both your opponent’s and yours. We have an inbuilt protection mechanism where we avert our gaze in the face of a collision. We have to steel ourselves to face the collision of ball and racquet.
Yet another reason is we flick our eyes away from the opponent’s racquet. We are trying to “get ahead” of the game by anticipating the path of the ball. That is we MOVE before we know where the ball is going.
It is the hardest thing to really watch the ball for the entire point. Many players use “anticipation” to get ahead of the game. I will look at this in the next article as we tend to create our own problems on the court.
As I have stated elsewhere there are three things you need to be aware of; the position of your opponent, your own position and the position of the ball. All three are the only things that move in the game and one of them moves much faster; the ball.
So, WATCH and you will create all the time you need to play well.
Yours in squash excellence