Five ways to improve your squash by James Willstrop

July 05 2022

James Willstrop discusses the five key ways to improving your squash: Find a friendly club; take solid advice from a smart coach; watch & learn from the best players; invest in a physio; make the most of every session; & enjoy it.

Find a home:
The best place to start is by finding & embracing a thriving squash club or community. You will meet players, glean inspiration & can join a league structure where you can compete & improve. You can find training partners & perhaps a good coach who will motivate you to practice & put in the hours required.

There is a social aspect to squash that usually enhances any efforts you make to improve. I now live further away from the squash club where I grew up playing in Pontefract, but I continue to go back there because it’s a warm & friendly club. We train in groups under the direction of my father Malcolm. The days when I have to train extra hard or do double sessions they are made much easier because of the atmosphere.

Search for good advice but don’t obsess over it:
Try to find a reputable coach or trainer. They are not particularly easy to come by so it’s not a disaster if you can’t find one or afford to pay for it.

People are obsessed with quick fixes & many fork out hundreds of pounds a month for a few 40-minute sessions with a coach. High standard coaching is highly effective if you want to keep improving, but no coach in the world does the work for you. You can improve so much from hard practice, training & putting in the hours yourself.

World-class coaches, fancy facilities & equipment are helpful but not essential. Hard work costs nothing but your time & energy – & you need lots of that if you want to get better at squash.

Practicing with technical faults is not ideal but there are plenty of world standard players who have reached high levels with what some experts might call dodgy technique. If you were to study the top 20 squash players in the world no technique is the same. There is no right way to play the sport because so many have done it so well so differently.

Watch, Watch, Watch:
Watch squash. Watch the best players play a lot & watch less good players sometimes. See how the best do it & see also when it’s done less well – if you can discern the difference.

When we watch, we absorb & try to emulate. When we see & store images & patterns of play we can call on them & take inspiration & ideas from them. It’s almost plagiarism.

Inspiration is hard to come by when your experiences give you nothing to work with. If you’ve seen it, you can draw upon it. Budding singers will listen to Pavarotti; writers will read Shakespeare; tennis players will enjoy Federer.

And squash? Try Amr Shabana or Ramy Ashour, whose videos are online, or if you can, go see the best players in the flesh.

Look after your body:
Squash places enormous stresses & imbalances on the body. There is a great deal of impact going through joints & muscles in every rally. Prepare the body as best you can with the time you have, in a very specific way.

If you only have two chances to train in a week, use them wisely. I’d advise against going for two five-mile runs or doing 10 sets of all-out arm curl efforts in front of the mirror. These exercises are little to do with the movements specific to squash.

Train, play & practice at different intensities:
Make sure there is some direction in every session you do. Your solo practice during your lunch break can be either valuable or useless depending on how you do it. Think about the best way to spend that time.

During much of your practise you will want to work with intent & intensity, because that is what is required in a tough match, so it’s wise to think about what you want to improve during the session.

Try to create a scenario where you concentrate for five-minute spells very intently. Avoid just hitting the ball any old way & thinking about dinner at the same time; make every shot you hit severe & purposeful. Shorten the session if you like but do what you do as well as you possibly can.

Think about the shots or plays that let you down in your previous match & work on them, making your concentration match-like. It’s not easy to do & requires effort. I’ve said it before, anyone can practice badly.

Conversely though, if you are training hard, make time for some sessions which are easy, not mentally taxing. Get into a group & simply enjoy it. That’s good for improvement too. If I’ve come off a hard tournament & tired I will try to give myself a few days of relaxed practice where the aim of the sessions is to enjoy it, having fun or maybe just messing about, hitting any shot I want.