Technical things about the game
The dangers on the squash court are when you are hit by a ball, when are hit by a racket and when you suffer an injury.
Two things are paramount: that glasses are worn by 17 year olds and under, and that you are able to flinch - to quickly get you eye tightly shut and start to turn your head away from any danger. Glasses and a flinch will save your eyes over and over. They are both worth practicing.
But putting the boot on the other foot, it's just not cricket if you let your racket or your shot hit your opponent. You should always know where your opponent is standing before you play your shot, and you should ask for a let if you would hit your opponent with your ball or your racket when playing your shot. And receiver should not be standing close enough to impede your racket, or in front of you and in the way of your ball. So, having wrapped both your knuckles for loose play, let's look at what players can do to minimise the risk. Mistakes happen.
A ball will hurt, but a ball near the eye is dangerous. If you are watching your opponent properly, you must be ready to flinch, shutting your nearest eye, fast enough to be in no danger, even if the ball is coming straight to your face. But be aware that a ball coming directly towards your eyes is the hardest to follow, so be ready to flinch very quickly if you can't see any sideways travel on the ball.
There's a maxim used by pilots when they see another plane at their flight level. If the plane appears not to be moving, you can be sure it is on course for a collision with you. In the same way, if you see the ball moving as it leaves your opponent's racket, you are safe - it will pass to the side of your head. If you can't see it move, it's heading straight for your eyes. Got the flinching bit ?
To reduce the chances of getting clouted round the head with the racket, all you can do as receiver is to avoid getting in the way of your opponent's backswing or follow through, and as striker to be aware of your opponent and to ask for a let rather than let go with a mighty shot.
If you want to reduce the chances of sprains and worse, you must avoid over stretching, you must always be conscious and in control of how you are stretching and moving, and you must reduce twisting to a minimum.
To avoid twisting, you should try to move into your stretch and back again on as straight a path as you can. The better you can judge early where you should be when you play a shot, the less you will have to twist at the last moment, when the ball isn't quite where you expected it to be. It's all down to smooth movement, anticipation, good stroke style and fitness again.
|Double yellow spot
|Single yellow spot
|Intermediate or cold weather
|Improver in cold weather
|Blue or unmarked or large
Squash balls are available in most of these grades, though the rules only require single and double yellow dot balls.
Some suppliers offer a green dot as equivalent to a white dot, while some do not offer a white dot at all.
Many club players insist on playing with a double yellow dot. I suspect it's a machismo thing. Professionals and advanced amateurs hit the ball hard and fast, and their double yellow dot ball gets very warm and quite bouncy. For a less advanced club amateur to play an equivalent game with the ball consistently reaching the back of the court, without wrenching their shoulder out, they should play with a single yellow dot, or even a white dot in winter if the court is cold.
A ball will get shiny and grey with age. This is because its velvety surface gets clogged with paint dust from the walls. It no longer reacts with the correct degree of friction when it hits the wall, taking spin, and it appears to skid off the wall. There is nothing wrong with giving an old ball a good scrub with a little detergent and water, and drying it off. It will regain its matt surface, and look and play almost as good as new.
When a ball splits, you will know it. Its bounce will be dead. I write this on a day when I had to throw out a ball that had developed a weak area where the rubber appeared thinner and more pliable than usual. The ball was coming off the walls in a very inconsistent manner. Any inconsistency of bounce and your ball should be destined for the round file.
There are cheap ones and expensive ones. There are heavy and light ones, with thick or thin grips, tightly or softly strung. Here I have listed some qualities you should bear in mind when you are choosing a racket.
With a heavy racket you will find it harder to react quickly to the ball - you will have to be more deliberate in your stroke and plan your shot earlier. On the other hand, the racket will transmit less shock to your arm when it hits the ball. If you miss the sweet spot, a heavier racket is more forgiving - it will do more of the work for you.
A lighter racket lets you flick a drop shot or a lob more quickly, surprising your opponent, and it is a lot better if you need to react quickly when you and your opponent are both up near the front of the court.
A tightly strung racket is generally better for control - drop shots and gentle but accurate down the wall strokes. It was considered for some time, and I agree, that a racket with less string tension will help you put more power into your stroke. Slap a racket against your hand, so the base of your palm bounces in the middle of the strung area, and listen to the pitch of the sound to get an idea of string tension.
A higher pitched 'pling' means a higher tension - tighter string - than a racket that makes a lower pitched 'thunk'. To change the tension of your strings you need a complete restring, which currently should cost upwards of £20 depending on your choice of string.
A long grip is useful if you like to change the position of your hand for different shots, but it is not so good if you like to hold the racket at the inner end of the grip, with your index finger round the narrower end of the grip. A thick grip is sometimes harder for small hands to hold.
Racquets with more strings - with smaller squares between the strings - will be more robust, but a racket with fewer strings will grip the ball better and allow you to get more spin onto the ball.
There are many different kinds of strings that you can ask your restringer to use when you have your racket restrung. Leaving aside expensive natural gut, there are solid strings, strings with a multifibre core, and there are strings of different colours and textures.
There are generally four thicknesses of string available, gauge 16, 17, 18 and 19.
Gauge 16 is the normal thickish string that may be on a new racket when you buy it, and is the normal gauge for tennis stringing. It makes for a robust squash string.
Gauge 17, the normal gauge for a restringer to use on a squash racket, and gauge 18, are thinner, and give a little more grip on the ball (for spin) and result in less air resistance to the swing.
Gauge 19 is going too thin for the amateur club player.
When I restring rackets, I currently offer a white synthetic gut 16 gauge by Prince, and multifibre gauge 17 and gauge 18 strings by Ashaway or Technifibre. The thinner strings do seem better at imparting spin to the ball.
Squash rackets are typically strung with a tension of 22-32lb. Be aware that one stringer's 25lb may be another stringer's 27lb. Stringers may not have calibrated their machines recently, and in any case an individual stringer's style, how he anchors the strings and how he orientates the racket during the stringing process, will result in small differences. If you stick with one stringer, and he is competent and records the tension he uses on each racket, you should be all right.
A higher tension is better for delicate drops and accurate direction control simply because the string bed deforms less during contact with the ball, while a lower tension lets the ball create a dip in the string bed, and if this dip is not central in the racket face, then the angle of the string bed to the flat of the racket will differ from one side of the ball to the other.
This will impart a force on the ball that is not perpendicular to the racket face, and the ball will go off at the wrong angle to the racket.
On the other hand, a higher tension results in a smaller sweet spot in the racket. If you hit the ball off centre on the racket face, a lower tension string bed deforms and the force on the ball is transmitted fairly evenly around the frame, while a higher tension means that the racket will instantly twist from the off centre force, and you lose accuracy.
A lower tension will give you more power because it lets the string bed stretch more during impact. A tighter bed means the ball will deform more, deadening the stroke - the ball is a very dead commodity compared to the string bed. The lighter tension string bed treats the ball more like a more solid object and the strings do the elastic work of propelling the ball, and they take longer to do it. The result is more energy transfer, and a ball that is flung out of the deformed string bed with more pace.
I string my personal rackets with gauge 17 or 18 string at 22/23lb, but I string clients' rackets 25/26lb with 17 gauge string, and 23/24lb with 18 gauge string unless the racket is obviously tightly or loosely strung before I get it. The double measurement is because the I string the cross strings slightly tighter than the mains. I also up the tension on the last string or two before I knot. Both of these practices are open to question and debate, and on the forums they get a lot of the latter !
I said above that 22-32lb was accepted practice for squash stringing. There were reports from a tournament in Manchester a year or so back that Gregoire Gaultier was having his rackets strung at 16lb. Even taking into account that the advanced machines used by tournament stringers will lose less tension during stringing than a typical club stringer can manage, this does suggest that stretching the envelope can bring results.
The nick is the junction between and side wall and the floor, or occasionally between the side wall and the front wall. A ball that bounces almost in the nick loses a lot of its pace, and can be unplayable. So a cross court drop or forcing shot that is angled down so that it lands in the nick is often a winner.
But I am including this point in my technical section because of what follows. It is important, once you are good enough to get these shots within a few inches of the nick, to understand how the a ball bouncing near the nick behaves.
Remember Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, imprisoned in solitary, whiling away the time by throwing a base ball against the floor and catching in in his mitt ? The ball hits the floor, and gains forward spin. When the ball bounces up and hits the wall this forward spin causes the ball to climb up the wall and float through the air back to you.
If the ball is thown to hit the wall first, and it is dropping when it does hit the wall, it gains backwards spin, so when it then hits the floor the spin causes it to shoot out away from the wall.
With this in mind, it is usually better to play the ball so that it hits the side wall before the floor, causing the ball to stay low. If the ball bounces on the floor first, then although the ball moves into court less, meaning opponent must run further to take the shot, the spin causes the ball to stay in the air for longer, giving opponent more chance to reach it.
Copyright (C) Richard Hart 2015 - 2022