Skills that fly under the squash radar – CONTROL THE ‘T’ SPORTS

Control the ‘T’ Sports

By Alex Robertson


Certain skills often steal the spotlight in squash: strength, fitness, deception, shot making, and drive accuracy, to name a few. However, so many more subtle skills go unnoticed or unappreciated.
These less celebrated abilities could be your key to stepping up your game to the next level too.
Let’s talk about them…

The Counter Drop

I’ve been noticing this shot being used more and more on the PSA World Tour and, when executed right, is incredibly effective. The counter drop involves one player playing a drop shot, which is then met by another, even softer drop shot from the opponent.

One of the reasons this shot is so dangerous yet effective is that it puts immediate pressure on the initial dropper, forcing them to change directions quick. It’s great for catching your opponent off-guard, especially if they are expecting a defensive shot or a lob, you just need to make sure that you get onto it as early as you can.

When executing a counter drop, make sure to take note of how far up the court you are. You need to hit your counter drop incredibly soft. You don’t want it bouncing further back out toward your opponent as you’ll be punished for it, and, if your counter is loose, you may risk giving away a stroke.
By keeping the ball tight to the side wall, the counter drop minimises the opponent’s time to react and gives players a good chance to move their opponent incredibly deep into the front corner, so, even if they retrieve the counter drop, if you can move them into the back corner again, they’ll have had to do a lot of work!

Executing a counter-attack is an excellent way to change the tempo of the rally. It disrupts the opponent’s rhythm and can create openings for more aggressive shots.

Note: When practicing counter drops, make sure you warm the ball up plenty beforehand and take breaks during the drill to warm it back up again as it will get cold fast.

Fluid and Efficient Movement

Fluid, smooth movement is a cornerstone of high-level squash play.

Fast, explosive movements, dives, and tough retrievals always look good because they clearly demonstrate power and aggression; however, often, when someone is moving very well, you don’t even notice it because it just looks comfortable and normal.

It’s the kind of skill that, when executed perfectly, appears almost invisible. However, it’s possibly one of the biggest strengths a squash player can have!

The perfect example is the current World No.1, Ali Farag. He’s renowned for his incredible movement to and from the ball. No matter how good his opponent’s shot is, he always seems to be able to get to it and return it with an even better shot.

The key word I haven’t mentioned in detail yet is efficiency.

This smooth and fluid movement does an excellent job of allowing players to conserve energy and not tire as quickly physically. Players who move smoothly and efficiently like Farag often look as fresh in the fifth game as they did in the first.

Slow, purposeful ghosting is one of the best ways to find the weakness in your movement. Don’t worry about moving fast and trying to get to the ball quickly, instead, move at around 30-40% of your maximum speed from corner to corner (going back to the T each time).

Take note of how many steps you’re taking moving into certain corners. Are you taking too many, or are you taking too few? Do you move better into a certain area of the court and can that be replicated when moving into other areas of the court?

Try to work on your split step and then move back to a positive stance on the T after every single movement. This is ideally half a step or so behind the centre of the T lines.

Resetting Rallies and Recovering

That’s another crucial but often overlooked skill in squash.

This skill involves not just retrieving the ball but doing so in a way that gives you time to regain your position and composure. Part of the trick is knowing when to lift the ball vs when to use pace. Remember, sometimes the counter-attack isn’t the right move!

The most common approach for resetting the rally is through lifts, using high lobs, and deep drives that push their opponents to the back of the court, turning a defensive situation into a more neutral one and setting up for the next phase of the rally.

Hitting your targets is the key to an effective counterattack, however, doing so when you’re under pressure is certainly a different kettle of fish.

Simple sequence drills where one player is at the back playing a straight drop and the other player is playing a cross-court lob are a good place to start. One player boasting from the back with the other moving into the front and hitting a straight lob is another good option.

You want your cross-court lobs to hit very high on the side wall (to restrict your opponent’s ability to volley it), then you want it to land on the floor before hitting the back wall. If you get this just right, it’ll die in the back.

For straight lobs, tightness is your best friend.

If your opponent can’t volley it, then it was a successful reset in my opinion. It has given you extra time to get back in position on the T.

Once the feeding-style drills are done, you can try upping the pressure a little bit by playing a bit more of a front vs back game. The player at the back can play any shot that lands in the front of the court, and, the player from the front has to lob every shot.

Positive Mindset

When we think of someone who is mentally strong, we think of someone who is gritty, doesn’t get frustrated, and always keeps pushing, which is, in a sense, a positive mindset (or perhaps a dedicated/focused one).

But the best way to describe someone with the type of positive mindset I’m talking about is people who look forward to their matches and never go on the court with a defeatist attitude, even if they’re playing someone far better than themselves.

Players with a genuinely positive outlook can focus on their strengths, learn from their mistakes, and approach each match as an opportunity rather than just a ‘win or lose’ challenge.
Of course, everybody is capable of feeling down, unsure of their abilities, unconfident, or just frustrated, and that’s completely normal and okay, but, it’s the extent to which you let it affect you is what counts.

Instead of getting discouraged, players who are able to shift their mindset can view setbacks as learning opportunities, allowing them to stay composed and continue fighting for every point while enjoying the process, despite being on the losing side.

I know that, when I’m really enjoying my squash, I play my absolute best.

Some good approaches for this involve reflecting on what went well and what can be improved after each match. Instead of dwelling on mistakes, focus on the lessons learned and how you can apply them in future matches. Also, try to engage with coaches, teammates, and friends who support and encourage you. A positive support network can reinforce your own positive mindset.

Shot Selection

For good shot selection, you’ve got to know where your opponent is, where they’re moving to, you need to be aware of whether you’re on the front or back foot in a rally, and, you’ve got to take into account contextual factors like your opponent’s style or how far along the match has gone on for so far.

However, none of those things/thoughts are visible when you’re watching someone else play a match, so, it can sometimes be hard to tell why someone played the shot that they play.
In fact, it can generally be hard to appreciate someone else’s shot selection as a whole, because, when watching someone else play, this skill is only visible after multiple rallies and perhaps games. This is why it often flies under the radar.

When a player consistently chooses the right shot, it can make the game look effortless and fluid (as though they’re not even trying), while their opponent appears to be constantly struggling.
Effective shot selection requires a deep understanding of the game (something I’ll talk more about next), strategic thinking, and the ability to quickly assess and react to the situation on court.
It’s about knowing when to play a defensive lob to buy time, when to go for a more-risky attacking shot, and when to simply keep the rally going with a safe, neutral shot.

The first drill that springs to mind for shot selection is one of my favourites.

It’s basically a full court conditioned game where every shot has to land first bounce behind the second line (or second bounce behind the second line if you want to speed the rallies up a little), and, each player only gets one shot to the front per rally.

This basically forces players to make the absolute most of that shot to the front and they have to execute it at just the right time to make it count.

Ability To Read The Game

The ability to read and predict the game is a skill that often comes with time and experience. That’s why it’s a skill held by every single professional squash player.

However, it’s another one that goes somewhat unnoticed because it’s quite subtle.

Older veterans of the sport are another demographic that are notoriously good at this. Many of them have managed to neutralise the physical disadvantage they may have due to their age by utilising their experience to predict shots and position themselves to take balls very very early.

This skill is about recognising patterns and accurately anticipating what your opponent is doing and going to do. It’s a subtle yet crucial aspect of squash that can give players a significant edge.
It isn’t just luck or intuition, it’s the result of countless hours spent on court, honing their ability to read the game. Players who can anticipate their opponent’s next move can position themselves more effectively, conserve energy, and execute their own shots with greater precision.

It’s about understanding the tendencies of your opponent, picking up on their habits, and predicting their next move based on the patterns they exhibit during play, something that is very tough to master!

But, there are things you can actively do to get better at it faster, for example, making an active effort to study your opponents before and during matches, observing them closely and concisely when you get the chance.

Take note of their favorite shots, their body language, and any patterns in their play.

The more you understand your opponent’s game, the better you can anticipate their shot selection, movements, and positioning. You can also record and watch back replays of your own matches and those of top players too.

Pay attention to how points are constructed and how players react to different situations. This can help you recognise common patterns of squash, and, improve your own anticipation skills too.
But, ultimately, experience is the best teacher when it comes to reading the game.