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During Matches

20 , 2002 by Dan Kneipp (Kah-nipe)    

Any squash players who has played
some sort of team squash competition like a league will be familiar with
coaching during matches. The frantic two minute break between games when
the poor player is desperately trying to get some air into his lungs and
water in his body while his team mates are desperately trying to get some
sense into his head and strategy into his game.

Squash has appropriately been called
chess at 100km/h. For any two players who have a vaguely similar level
of squash the winner will always be the one who is smarter on court. There
are four basic parts to on-court intelligence and how to analyse what
is going right or wrong.

1. What are my weaknesses during this
match, where am I losing points?
2. What are my strengths and how is he handling them?
3. What are my opponents strengths that are causing him to win points?
4. What are his weaknesses that are allowing me to win points?

Joe Kneipp and Sarah Fitz-Gerald
at the Commonwealth Games Opening Night (photo © 2002 Liz Irving)

An important part of this may not
necessarily be a strength or weakness but just a habit. Your opponent
may tend to always go crosscourt when they’re given a backhand overhead
lob for example. This is only a weakness because it’s a predictable pattern
that can be played upon. “He likes crossing, therefore I’ll jump onto
the volley with a drop shot. If he gets there I’ll hit a cross and make
him do some court sprints”. It’s not uncommon to see players win against
someone who has better racquet skills or who is fitter. But it’s rare
to see someone lose to a smarter player.

Coaching between games is all about
briefly looking over someone else’s shoulder and giving them some help
with their game of chess. Perhaps they’ve missed an obvious strength or
weakness in their game or their opponent’s game.

Working with Joe between games will
usually involve a few things. First and foremost playing a strong solid
game irrespective of who he’s on court with. “Is he hitting good length?
Is he volleying as much as possible? Is he not making any unforced errors
or going for too much?” If these are all good half the job is already
done. We may also be working on a particular element of his game and it’ll
be important to discuss that.

Some of the pro players that I’ve
spoken to have a game plan that revolves solely around their game and
its implementation. They’ll play the exact same game regardless of who
is sharing the court with them. This is good only to an extent. It’s very
important to play the game that you’re best at, but there will always
be modifications for particular players. Some players are lethal if they
are at the front of the court, so you’ll be especially cautious going
short. Joe has a very good back hand drop shot, but if he plays against
someone who is particularly strong at the front on their backhand, then
we’ll steer clear of the hitting drops there. Before walking on court
we’ll discuss his game and how we may have to modify it for his upcoming

So then between games we already have
a few things to work on. How is his basic game going? Is he sticking to
the game plan we had? Is it working? Is there anything else obvious in
the four basic parts of the game analysis? Then you also have the problem
of not giving too much information to work on: “You’re cross courting
too much, he’s reading your counter-drops so lob more, don’t forget body
serves because he’s going for nicks, your backhand working boasts are
working well so keep doing them, and don’t forget he looks for strokes
on the forehand so make sure you clear the ball well when you go down
the line”. He’s not going to remember all of this so then you have to
either concentrate on the more important points, or try to clarify it
without causing information overload.

A crucial part of coaching during
games that I think many people tend to ignore is that you are able to
see the game much differently to the person actually playing it. He can’t
see how his opponent is reacting when he hits the ball from the front
of the court. Try watching a game and ignore the player on your team.
Watch what his opponent is doing, while still being aware which part of
the court the ball is being played to. It’s rare that this won’t give
you some important piece of information that will help in winning.

Joe was playing a guy who is in the
top ten and I noticed that every time Joe was hitting a backhand from
the back of the court his opponent (no names here) was already moving
forward looking for the backhand volley. If Joe did go cross court he
was still quick enough to change his direction even though he was slightly
committing to moving forwards. But once Joe knew this he started hitting
his cross courts much wider and a bit faster than usual. The small initial
movement foreword motion that his opponent was making was enough to mean
he was too slow attempting to get to the wide cross court, and was scrambling
to get the ball off the back wall. Another player was rocking back on
his feet whenever Joe was in front of him. This means he’s very prepared
for a ball to the back of the court, but will be slow off the mark moving
forward. Little subtle things like that can be the difference between
a win and a loss at the pro level.

Since working with Joe I’ve also learnt
that there’s a strict ethical code between players when it comes to coaching
each other between matches. Most players don’t have a coach with them
so players from the same country or mates will help each other out. There’s
some unspoken rules about this. This article is already getting pretty
long so I’ll write about Coaching Ethics in one of the next articles.

Tournament Upsets?
It’s rare for the top 16 players of a tournament to all go through the
first round without some upsets. So far this year in the bigger tournaments
it has averaged that three of the top sixteen players don’t make it through
their first round encounter. The Hong Kong Open is on very soon and we’re
keen to see if some of SquashTalk’s readers can predict where the upsets
will be in the first round.

Email us at
with the subject of Hong Kong Prediction and lets see how many people
are on the ball. Just send us the names of the winners. According to seeding
(which never goes truly to plan) the players that will make it through
qualifying are Stefan Casteleyn, Renan Lavigne, Mohammed Abbas, Graham
Ryding, Wael El Hindi, Nick Taylor, Tommy Berden and Stephen Meads, so
don’t forget that just because a player is up against a qualifier it doesn’t
mean they’re through to the next round.

The matches are:

Peter Nicol vs Omar Elborolossy; David
Evans vs Joe Kneipp; John White vs Qualifier; Lee Beechill vs Qualifier;
Stewart Boswell vs Qualifier; Martin Heath vs Karim Darwish; Ong Beng
Hee vs Del Harris; Chris Walker vs Mansoor Zaman; Anthony Ricketts vs
Qualifier; Mark Chaloner vs Qualifier; Amr Shabana vs Oli Touminen; David
Palmer vs Shahid Zaman; Alex Gough vs Qualifier; Thierry Lincou vs Qualifier;
Paul Price vs Qualifier; Jonathon Power vs Paul Johnson

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