The World of Squash
at Your Fingertips

About SP
Squash on TV
UK Counties
World Links

Online Store
Books, Subs, Videos

Squash Directory
Where to get it all

Classified Section
Job, Jobs, Jobs Something to sell ...


The Tactical Conundrum

The indispensable magazine for serious Squash Players
Subscribe to Squash Player Magazine Now

How to use variations

James Willstrop sets up his shot while Karim Abdel Gawad attempts to read the variation

In this free glimpse into Squash Player 2020, Issue 2, we continue our 10-part series on tactics and look into using variations.

Squash is a multi-sprint sport. There is approximately one and a half seconds between shots. That is one and a half seconds to get out of the starting blocks and return the ball each time. (Work it out for yourself. Find any match on YouTube, hit the pause button on the serve and impact, write down the time, hit play, then hit the pause button 10 shots later. You will get 14 seconds. That is 1.4 seconds per shot. Remarkable!)

In squash you are, in sprinting terms, trying to beat the starter’s gun and also work out where you have to run. To do that we need to use effective anticipation and decision-making. Brian Hemmings and Tim Holder explain this in depth in their book Applied Sports Psychology. They break he sequence down into three aspects; reading the opponent, deciding what to do and doing it (action/technique). “The need to anticipate what the opponent is going to do was explored and related to the concept of reaction time,” they explain of their analysis of different studies.

To win points we want to try to play a good attacking shot an opponent will not get to, but also will not be able to predict or read easily. If we play the same shot from the same position all the time, there is a danger it will become predictable. Our opponent will cut that 1.4 seconds down, perhaps saving hundreds of tenths of a second and possibly giving them the time to counter-attack.

One of the little axioms of squash is to ‘keep your opponent guessing’.

There are a number of different methods we use for this. Ramy Ashour, talking to Squash Player, put it very well: The sport is not to play drive and crosscourt. This is not squash. Squash is all about fooling and deceiving the other player. This is squash!”

Try to develop these tactics in your game and use them at the right time.

Play different shots from the same position and situation on court so our opponent does not know what shot is coming up. Variation is not just something we use on attacking shots but all shots, sometimes with subtle variations of length, pace and placement.

We can restrict ourselves to basic combinations until an opponent starts to move early and guess our intentions, then we can introduce a variation or pattern-breaker. Variations can be saved and introduced gradually.

Hold or delay
You are entitled to have ‘room to hit’ and can play the ball from wherever you like. You can hold your shot so your opponent has to clear or hold it so they must come up the court and cover all your options.

You can use the same set-up for a variety of shots so your opponent does not know what shot is coming.

You can show your opponent one shot, start to play it, hold it, wait for the opponent to move or commit and then change it to another shot (often with a wrist action.)

You can suddenly do something you haven’t done before. Maybe you will save this for a crucial time.

1. Practise playing different shots from the same position
2. Hold your shots when appropriate
3. Practice playing different shots from the same set-up
4. Use pattern-breakers and surprise