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Have you reached a plateau and can't progress? maybe your movement needs some work...

Movement is the Key
By David Pearson, England National Coach

One of the basics of coaching, often taught inadequately, is the importance of correct movement.

Many of our talented junior players struggle to make the difficult transition into the senior game because the physical approach to their game has often been neglected in their formative playing years. Squash is one of the most physically demanding games in the world and the shock of the hard professional game proves in many cases too demanding due to lack of insight at the junior level. The game is tough enough for players who have been prepared, so those who arrive at the senior game with incorrect preparation so often fall by the wayside.

A strongly debated point between many coaches and parents is whether children should be taught as professionals. I believe, controversially perhaps, that children should be taught the exact movement patterns that I would teach to our top professional players. The difference should only be that a junior is taught in shorter bursts, that quality not quantity should be the secret. I have seen too many young professionals, with tremendous racket ability and fitness, arrive for coaching oblivious to correct movement patterns. They are underachieving because they are frustrated, not understanding why their game has reached a plateau.

Having just returned from the women's World Championships in Kuala Lumpur it was obvious that the top five women players in the world who are dominating the game have not only the skills shared by many others, but that they were set apart by superb movement. Our own Cassie Jackman, who always had tremendous skills, reached her own 'plateau' ahead of the majority but falling short of the Australians. She has now overcome that obstacle by concentrating on movement and opening her forehand.
Cassie was prepared to regress for a season, whilst concentrating on learning new movement patterns, before going forward (with superb timing!) to reach the final of the women's World Championships and beat, in the team event, Michelle Martin, the world number one, for the first time. Cassie endorsed this win by beating Michelle again a week later in New York.
This consistency, lacking in her game before, has taken place due to her new hard-learned movement patterns becoming, at last, second nature. This improvement in movement coupled with her already excellent existing skills has given her confidence which in turn has toughened her mental approach to the game.

The common denominator among many of our top players, Peter Marshall, Simon Parke, Del Harris, Peter Nicol, Chris Walker and Mark Chaloner is that they have all been influenced by coaches who recognize the importance of good movement. When Jansher Khan first appeared on the world scene it was his movement, not his racket skills, that singled him out and held all the top squash experts in awe.

Good Movement in Squash is not a million miles away from the disciplines taught and encompassed in Gymnastics and dancing. Poise, balance, elegance and power are all essential ingredients to successful, watchable squash. It is very hard to explain good and bad movement by the written word but I have listed some characteristics of both correct and incorrect patterns. They do not entirely apply to the more advanced concepts of deception and delay of shot but may act as a guideline for basic shots hit in rhythm:

1. Good movement stems from reading the game and watching the ball at all times. Players must never commit to a shot until sure where the ball is going to end up.

2. Generally take long strides to the ball so the body is stretching when playing the ball.

3. Try to vary the amount of stretch in relation to the T area, your opponent and the shot being played.

4. If, as a piece of elastic, the player stretches to the ball, so the player will have the recoil to spring back to the T in a split second.

5. To create the poise, strength and balance essential to good movement a split step is needed from the T to start the initial movement into the ball. This movement is very fast which creates good body language into the shot.

6. After the split step the player must prepare for the longer stride pattern ready to strike the ball.

7. By moving in the way outlined in point 6, the player is building up power and momentum into the shot.

8. This power is not released until the racket head makes impact with the ball.

Signs of bad movement

1. Many players tend to take a succession of short steps to the ball, giving them no firm base from which to hit the ball.

2. Too many steps take the player too far from the T and by the time the shot is played, good or bad, there is no time to recover the T in order to cover the next shot.

3. No space is created to allow good early racket preparation to maximize choice of shot.

4. A succession of short steps leaves the player too close to the ball and again no space is created to allow correct choice of shot.

5. When players fail to stretch to the shot when clearing the ball, they can not clear to the T fast enough. They will be busy trying to get away from the line of the ball, often moving back to the T via the wrong route.

6. Incorrect movement affects breathing. Little steps force the short shallow breaths which accelerate tiredness.

7. Short steps involve NO stretching patterns so there is no flow to the game, resulting in a rushed frantic style with little time to consider tactics.

8. Bad movement makes players rigid and tense with no feeling of freedom as they play, affecting RHYTHM which is fundamental to the game of squash.

9. Technique is restricted causing errors to occur when under pressure.

10. Incorrect movement can take players to a certain level if they have speed and a good eye for the ball. However it will stop them short when playing against a good astute tactician who will pull them in as surely as a fish on a line.

Derek says "Combine long and short steps to position yourself correctly; finish on a long step, stretching to the ball".