Many beginners to squash find the backhand a harder shot to master, and even more experienced players are always looking for ways to improve their power and sometimes accuracy on this side. Because of the shorter swing possible for the backhand, generating force in the shot without losing precision is a key element of a successful backhand technique.
How can you improve the technique of your backhand? For a backhand squash shot a lot of power should come from the rotation in your shoulders and hips before impact. Stay a long way from the ball, and you should have your arm fully extended at the moment of contact.
There is a huge amount that goes into the mechanics of a successful backhand, and plenty of backhand drills can really help the process. Working on one of these elements at a time can in the end develop an ingrained technique that should then last a liftetime. I have done a lot of research into this, and come up with the 20 best tips I can find to help you improve your backhand.
Please note I have written this from the perspective of a right-hander, but everything applies the same to left-handers looking to improve their game, just with the right and left reversed in the description.
1. Shoulder Rotation
This is a key element that is often missing in the backhands of beginners.
It is also something that makes the backhand quite a different shot to the forehand.
The idea of shoulder rotation in the backhand is that it generates a lot of extra power. Without it, you have only the power coming from the backswing (which is always going to be less extensive than on the forehand side).
The shoulder rotation is partly sideways and partly vertical. The front shoulde will begin low and towards the sidewall, and end up high and facing more towards the front wall.
Watch the pros, and look at the amazing amount of rotation they achieve.
2. Hip Rotation
I have started with the two major contributors to power in the backhand. First, was the shoulder rotation which is the real biggie.
But coming in second is hip rotation.
Once again there is a mixture of sideways movement and vertical movement.
In some ways the hips lead the shoulders, and start the whipping action that you get from the torso. Check this out in the way the pros play the shot, and then give it a go! It will feel a bit weird at first if you’ve not tried it, but you will probably see how it helps with power, even if your accuracy suffers to start with.
3. Low Elbow As A Starting Point
Keep your elbow low as you begin to wind back your backswing. This helps to really coil your body, before the explosion in the rotation and whip through the ball.
4. Stay Well Away From Ball
This is a crucial point, and maybe the leading error that beginners make with their backhands.
If you are too close to the ball on impact then your swing will suffer in the following ways:
- You cannot extend your arm fully through the shot
- You may break your wrist through the shot
- You will not be able to the angle of the racket head through the impact
- You will be unable to get low when playing the shot, which negatively effects power and accuracy.
Simply move further away from the ball. It will feel strange at first. Often when you try to improve in squash you will temporarily get worse!
Try to stay low and hit the ball as far away from you as you can whilst keeping a cocked wrist and a full swing.
Keeping well away from the ball is a crucial part of developing accuracy in your squash shots.
5. Shoulder Underneath The Chin
This is a great tip to just get you started on the right path to a good looking backhand.
Simply think of the first movement of the backhand to be putting your right shoulder directly underneath your chin. This simple movement will start a lot of processes:
- It will keep your elbow low
- It will start your backswing
- It will begin the crucial shoulder rotation that we talked about before
Give it a go. Again, it is not a natural move at first, but you will feel a bit like you are playing a shot that you have seen before.
6. Cocked Wrist
This is another key area that often goes wrong for beginners.
I know one coach that makes his students wear wrist guards for the entire forty minute training session he does with them, so they can never break their wrist during any shot throughout the time.
But what is the big deal about a cocked wrist?
In squash the cocked wrist is a massive issue for accuracy in shots. It helps maintain stability in the racket head through the shot. It also keeps the racket head travelling in the right direction through the shot.
The cocked wrist is often more of a problem on the backhand side than the frehand. Just by wary of this. There is no need to wip your wrist at all.
7. Play Off The Leading Right Foot
This is quite a straightforward piece of advice, but it is one that is often ignored.
Get your feet right!
In many sports if you have a stable base, you will be much more likely to hit the ball cleanly through the contact.
A firm base leads to a stiller head position, and also helps the mechanics of the swing operate in a more balanced way. The easiest way to achieve this is use the standard footwork. Use you right foot as the lead in the backswing (again if you are left-handed reverse this).
You may well see many professionals playing large numbers of backhands off the wrong foot, and it is tempting to copy this. Don’t! At least to start with get it right the easy way. When you can do that you can move on to hitting the shot off either foot.
8. Develop The Shot Off The Wrong Foot As Well
The reason that professionals often hit the ball of the ‘wrong’ foot (i.e. the left foot leading) is because it is quicker for them to get back to the T.
By hitting off the wrong foot they achieve the following:
- Fewer footsteps to the ball
- Fewer steps back
- Quicker time back to the T
- They use less energy
- They have to move in less of a hurry
Clearly, then, there are benefits to doing this. However, it makes the shot much harder.
It is better to master the shot off the correct first, before moving on to this.
However, if that is you and you have become a master of sorts off the correct foot, then adding the backhand shot off the wrong foot to your game will definitely pay dividends.
I would recommending practising this a lot, however, before really adopting it in your game.
9. Arm Locked Out At The Moment Of Contact
In the classic backhand your arm will be fully locked out at the moment of impact with the ball.
This helps generate maximum power, as your lever will be as long as possible.
It also helps with accuracy, and, just like the cocked wrists, keeps the racket head stable and going through the ball in the right direction.
The most common reason why a player is not locking out their arm is that they are not getting far enough away from the ball. Remedy this, and you will be the road to playing more powerful and accurate backhands.
Another reason is some players try to whip their backhands, using a whip-like action with their wrist and arm. This will never really work beyond a certain level. If this is you then it is time to get back to basics!
10. Watch Ball Onto The Strings
This is the classic piece of advice that you have probably heard many times. However, the backhand is often an area where this happens less, and this can cause problems.
If you are not watching the ball onto the strings on the backhand, it is normally for one of these reasons:
- You are looking at where it is going too soon. This is the most common reason
- You might be looking at your oppponent, or at least thinking about how to avoid them getting back to the T
- You might be thinking about the next shot. Don’t! Take one shot at a time.
If you find that perhaps you are making this mistake, then it is good to really exaggerate the movement of looking during practice. Really overdo it! Watch the ball hit the strings, and only when you are sure you have seen that happen should you follow the shot with your eyes.
This will eliminate some mishits and those air shots that many beginners play.
11. Impact In Front Of Right Foot
The hitting zones are different for both the forehand and the backhand shots.
For the forehand you want to be hitting the ball directly beneath your head, usually at a point in between your feet.
However, the hitting zone for the backhand is further in front of this. Ideally you want to be striking the ball on an imaginary line that goes a little in front of your leading foot.
Hit the ball in this impact zone and you will find that you will be able to lock your arm out better, cock your wrist, and generally have the other mechanics looking and working well.
12. Backswing Well Away From Body
Another common error in beginners is to have their backswing too close to their body for the backswing, giving themselves no momentum to get power into the shot.
Get your racket up high, and away from your body, and you will be able to rotate better through the shot.
13. Same Set-Up For Drops Or Boasts
You want to become the master of disguise!
All the shots you play on the backhand side should ideally have the same set-up. This includes drops, boasts, cross-courts and lobs.
Ideally you want to be using a similar backswing, and also have your general stance and address of the ball to look the same for all shots.
Here are some points for the different shots:
- Crosscourts – It is good to be shaping up to hit down the line, but angle the swing of your racket differently to achieve the cross court. If you open your stance too early, it will be clear that you are hitting a cross-court, and your opponent could easily anticipate it. They may well win the point by intercepting a forehand volley which they could drop or kill.
- Drops – A backhand set-up can easily be converted into a successful backhand drop shot. Keep the high backlift, and try to maintain some other features as well, such as a bit of initial shoulder and hip rotation. Simply slow the backswing as you approach the ball, and a bit of slice on the ball will take pace out of the shot as well.
- Lobs – Again try to maintain your sideways body position, although you will normally be hitting this cross-court. Keep the body shape consistent through the shot, and the lob should be a real surprise, maybe wrong footing your opponent. The lob is such an important shot in squash, and learning the lob shot will really positively impact your game.
- Boasts – The same principles apply. Keep the backhand set-up and this shot will be more of a surprise weapon.
14. Push Back To T Off Leading Foot
Not only is your quality of shot important, but also it is good to think about how to get to the back effectively and also come out of the shot in a way that gets you quickly back to the T.
There are several things that can help getting back to the T quicker:
- Push off from your leading foot as you play the shot so you can propel yourself back
- Use your backswing from the shot to swing your momentum back in the direction of the T
- Playing lots of volleys is also good for getting back to the T quickly, as you have less of a distance to travel to get back there
Getting back to the T quickly helps in lots of ways:
- You are ready for the next shot
- You are balanced when your opponent is hitting their shot
- You are able to move forward or backwards equally efficiently
- You can cover the whole court
15. Accuracy Over Power
Your backhand is very rarely ever going to be nearly as powerful as your forehand, so often it is just best to accept this and concentrate on accuracy.
Certainly an accurate backhand is more of a weapon than a powerful one.
Experiment and find out at what level you hit your best backhands. Is it 80% or maximum power? Is it 90%? So what works best and go with that.
Think about target areas during every backhand. It helps to know exactly whereabouts on the front wall you want to be striking, and where you want the ball to be ending up.
16. Vary Power And Height
Even when you have grooved a successful and effective backhand, you don’t want to play the identical shot again and again like a robot.
In squash you need to get your opponent thinking, and variety is a big part of this. If they never fully know what they are going to get, then your opponent can never properly settle, and has to think and respond continually.
Try hitting different weights of shot. Hit higher up the front wall for gentler shots.
Try some max power drives just above the tin.
Again, only do any of this if you can play the shots quite tight consistently. If you can’t, then just do what you can do, and keeping length and tightness is the most important thing.
17. Watch The Pros
Along with reading articles such as this one, it is good to see the technique in action.
Watch professional games and check out their technique. It often helps to analyse one technical point at a time. How are they rotating their shoulders for example? How far are the hitting the ball away from themselves?
This will put mental pictures in your head of how it is meant to look, and then you can try and replicate some of these pieces of technique in your own game.
18. Use Your Thumb For Accuracy
A coach I know well inducted me into the information that the thumb plays a huge part in the accuracy of the backhand.
This is why you want to have your thumb pointing slightly away from the rest of the hand in a classic squash grip.
My coaching friend says that the pointing index finger in the squash grip has a great impact on accuracy, especially in the forehand. It also has some impact on racket head stability in the backhand, but it is the thumb that has the most to offer.
Make sure you are using an effective grip: check out a few youtube videos to make sure. It really is something it is worth getting right as early on as you can.
19. The Diamond
You may well have heard of the backhand ‘diamond’ from other articles or from televised squash matches.
The diamond is basically the shape that you want to see in the racket preparation before beginning the down-swing for the backhand shot.
The four sides of the diamond are basically the upper arm and lower arm as the two sides of the diamond at the bottom, and you racket as one of the sides at the top. The fourth side of the diamond is imaginary.
To create a ‘diamond’ requires body rotation. You must rotate your shoulders, and keep you shoulder below your chin.
If this rotation doesn’t happen then you will just get a square shape.
The idea of the diamond is not just to make a pretty shape just for the sake of it. From this coiled position you are best ready to exploit all your pivots through the shot.
20. Follow Through
To play successful backhands you want to have a fluent and smooth follow through.
Exactly what the follow through looks like is more determined by the player’s individual style. The most important thing is that it happens.
Many players have very minimal follow-through, and this means they are more jabbing the ball than striking it.
A good follow-through will normally mean that the mechanics are right through the impact zone.
The follow-through will also give you momentum to get back quicker to the T.
Strike through the ball in the line that you want it to travel, and just let the racket naturally follow this line.
Be aware of where your opponent is, and make sure your follow-through isn’t dangerous. If you can’t follow through because they are in the way, then stop and ask for a stroke or let.
How do you play a squash backhand return of serve? To play a squash backhand return, try to volley the ball if possible. Keep your racket well up in preparation for the ball, and keep side-on to the sidewall. Use the pace on the ball to deflect it back down the line.
What solo drills can you use to practise your backhand? There are many solo drills for your squash backhand. You can play side to sides, where you stand in the the middle of the court and hit backhands at the sidewall back over your head to the opposite wall to be struck again. You can also play drills hitting backhands down the line.
How do you play a backhand drop shot? To play a squash backhand dropshot move quickly to the ball, and stay low. Your right foot leads in the shot. Keep the same backswing that you use for all backhand shots but slow up before impact, aiming for just above the tin and keeping the ball tight to the sidewall.