Everyone knows a weekend warrior, maybe an ex-college athlete, who claims that their sport is the ultimate. Maybe this description fits you? Swimming, track, football, tennis, cycling are all difficult in their own respect, but how about squash?
In short, is squash hard to play? There are many aspects of squash that make it a hard sport to play well. The game places a high premium on fitness, aerobic and anaerobic capacity, eye-hand coordination and mental toughness, but the basics of the game are fairly simple.
Where does squash rank among sports as far as the level of difficulty?
To succeed in the most challenging, most difficult of sports, ranking the athletic endeavor is in itself a competition when trading stories around the water cooler at work or at the gym and squash players are no different.
In this article we will explore squash and answer this basic question: Is squash hard to play?
Is Squash Hard To Play?
The sport of squash is hard. It is lightning fast and super competitive. In order to play squash well, you need to be well-conditioned, have exceptional eye-hand coordination, proper technique and tactics, and superb mental toughness.
Top squash players need to be able to move around the court easily and without getting tired quickly. If you can’t do this you won’t be able to play the game the way it was meant to be played. As with any sport, being physically fit is important, but in squash it is mandatory.
A Killer Workout in 45 Minutes
In about 45 minutes a squash match will replicate the toughest aerobic workout you can get. You will be moving constantly, following a ball that is unpredictable and making contact with that ball by swinging a racket.
You will also be generating power from your core and legs as you move about the court to strike the ball and your body will be put in demanding positions all the while trying to avoid slamming into an opponent performing the same actions as you. Oh, and you both do this while running on a hardwood surface enclosed in a glass cage. Sounds fun, right?
The thing with squash is that if you aren’t in good shape before taking up the sport, you soon will be if you stick with it. In fact, you’ll find that competition breeds conditioning.
If you find you’re getting waxed on a regular basis, huffing, puffing and making mental errors and even struggling to see the ball, you’ll find your competitive juices flowing in the direction of getting in shape to play.
“That’s the last time that’s going to happen.” It’s a refrain spoken by our inner voice and often said out loud.
The mental and physical strain that squash puts on your body is what makes it a great game. There is no one dominating style that will always work, so it forces you to constantly be thinking and adapting your game to who you are playing against and what they are doing. – Julian Illingworth
This quote from 9-time U.S. National Champion Julian Illingworth speaks to the level of complexity, both mentally and physically, that one will experience through playing squash.
Let’s explore some of the components that make squash a hard game to play well.
Supreme Eye-Hand Coordination
During the match, you are faced with balls careening off walls and bouncing crazily all over the court. Your objective? Not only to hit a ball that may be hurtling towards your nose but also to anticipate where that ball will hit so that you can effectively return it. This may sound easy on paper but is extremely difficult while in the midst of a frenzied rally.
Without supreme eye-hand coordination, you won’t have the skill to strike the ball and score points, making the game of squash an exercise in frustration. While there are things one can work on to improve eye-hand coordination, this is a skill that you have to have some natural ability to begin with. Without this innate ability, squash may not be the game for you.
Play Individually Or Team
Similar with tennis, squash can be played both individually or as part of a doubles team. What makes squash more difficult is the fact that you’re playing it in the confines of a walled court.
Your shortcomings might be covered by playing with a partner who complements your game with his own. Playing individually forces you to be the best in all aspects of the game while covering the entire court and takes squash up a few notches as far as how difficult it is to play well.
Squash Can Be Expensive
Let’s face it; squash isn’t cheap. And we have to include this in our assessment of how hard squash is to play. You could be the most gifted, supremely conditioned athlete in the world but if you can’t afford the sport it makes it tough to progress or even play.
Unlike basketball or soccer, squash requires joining a club and with that come fees. Along with that you’ll have equipment costs and often hourly court fees on top of your club membership. The costs can add up quickly.
Factor in shoes, balls, rackets, warm-up gear, sports bag, supplements and clothing and you’re looking at a fairly sizeable investment. The deeper you become involved in the sport, you’ll find you’ll be exposed to better equipment. And who doesn’t want the latest racket or pair of shoes?
And if you want to advance your game you’ll incur steep costs for squash camps, coaching sessions, private lessons and additional court time to practice.
Mental And Physical Toughness
Players that are physically and athletically fit have only part of what it takes to be a competitive squash player. The mental game is just as, if not more important. In squash, you have to be as tough mentally as you are physically.
Add in the fact that squash is an extremely fast-paced game battled in what basically amounts to a walled cage and novices soon learn what it takes to play this game well.
Closing out a game or a match often involves winning the mental battle which helps us calm our body down to a level that allows us to effectively execute shots.
Focus On Your Game
We all have certainly had times where we wish errors upon our opponent so that we don’t have to do the hard work in winning the point. There is no shame in that, even the pros admit as much. Instead, put that mental energy towards what you must do to win. Count on the fact that your opponent won’t screw up. You’ve got to make the shot to beat him
Being able to do the hard work, to bear down and count on yourself and winning the point when the match hangs in the balance, instead of hoping your opponent makes an error, is a key to being a competitive squash player. And when you pull it off is supremely more satifsying.
You not only have to make sure you are making contact with the ball and racquet; you also need to anticipate where you need to be on the court to make the next hit.
When novice players get tired they tend to stop hitting the ball straight because they don’t want to have to keep clearing it. Instead, they will hit it cross-court to give themselves a rest. This is an example of the mental battle between playing a shot we know is correct and playing a shot that is easy so that we can have a break.
Sure, there are times in a game when a strategically placed lob gives us a chance to breathe. On the other hand, avoiding kills shots because you aren’t mentally focused will catch up to you sooner or later.
What makes squash hard to play is that you also need to try and get in your opponent’s head, while also remaining in your own. Spending the mental energy to make your opponent think you are going to place a shot a certain way while actually doing the opposite is no easy feat while moving with speed and brandishing a racket.
Given two players of equal physical ability and conditioning the player with a stronger mental game will prevail more often than not. This is certainly true at the professional level. The pros are all in top shape athletically. They’ve seen and played every shot in the book. At this level the match usually comes down to who has the mental wherewithal to win.
As you progress in your club career you’ll find that you’ll beat players of lesser physical ability but when you start competing against players that possess physical skills equal or superior to yours you’ll depend more on your mental toughness to keep you in a match.
Gain A Deeper Understanding
Whether you’re competing at the club level in cycling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, or swimming any competitive sport will require a different range of abilities and skills to succeed. It’s the same with squash.
To excel, to be able to play squash competitively takes a deeper understanding of the components that coalesce to make up that particular sport.
Each sport mentioned above has a set of skills required for success and this is especially true with a sport that combines as many different skills as squash. In taking a larger view, all sports can be systematically divided into four major components.
We’ll take a look at each of them and see how they apply to the game of squash. Being aware of these components, regardless of your sport, will put you on the path to thinking like an elite athlete, and ultimately succeeding in squash.
The first component we will consider is the technique. Without this most basic element, all else will fall by the wayside. No matter how many practice hours you put in if your technique is wrong you’ll just get better at doing things the wrong way.
Technique in squash consists primarily of hitting the ball (anticipation, grip, swing) and movement (positioning, alignment, and footwork). Top players have been coached in all aspects of these techniques to the point where it is now just a function of muscle memory.
Working with an experienced coach can help you establish the technical foundation for your game and build good techniques from the outset. Video training is also incredibly useful, either watching yourself or watching pros practice and play.
Tactics play a role in all sports. In squash, it’s all about how you analyze the structure of a match, your shot selection, and the decisions you make within a rally.
Of course, you’ll be thinking tactically while in the heat of battle, spending mental energy as well as using your physical reserves in response to your opponent. This is one reason squash can be a very difficult game to play well. Except for your opponent, you’re alone out on the court.
Successful squash players know the importance of knowing themselves, their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as analyzing and cataloging what their opponents do and don’t do well.
Think of the physical component as the foundation upon which all other components are built. If you’re not in shape your technique or tactics aren’t going to matter as you won’t be able to keep pace with your opponent. In squash you will need endurance, speed, power, stability and flexibility.
Being in top physical condition will keep these elements from breaking down during a match.
Squash is extremely challenging physically and requires your body to produce a high amount of energy to achieve optimal performance. The physical component in squash is one of the great things about the sport as sometimes a better-conditioned player can beat a more skilled opponent through physical domination.
Workouts such as sprinting, resistance training, and swimming all offer the chance to obtain a higher level of conditioning that will directly translate to success on the squash court.
We’ve touched on this aspect as it relates to squash, as well as the other components but the mental game deserves a deeper dive.
The mental side of squash, or any sport, is probably more difficult to quantify. A good way to define it is to say that it has to do with how a player performs under pressure in challenging situations.
Much can be gained by watching professional players dealing with pressure. Rarely will you see them succumb to making unforced errors, or become rattled by an opponent. They are generally cool, calm and collected.
Some players believe that the psychological aspects of squash are often the most neglected. Dealing with pressure or even pre-match jitters and keeping a positive, winning mindset requires a level of attention and practice that rivals any of the physical or technical components of the sport. It can be a key to winning but many players avoid addressing it.
In fact, this is another aspect of the sport that makes squash a hard sport to play well. Squash is a claustrophobic and fiercely contested game played at high speed. Players that can understand and improve their mental toughness will put another weapon in their arsenal and reap the rewards during matches.
If you can be aware of and understand these four components then you’ll be able to assemble a plan to develop yourself in each one and improve your game.
How can I improve my mental game?
Improving your mental game doesn’t have to entail seeing a sports psychologist; maybe save that for when you hit the pro tour. There are plenty of books written on the subject.
The Science of Sport: Squash by Stafford Murray and Improve Mental Toughness In Squash By Using Meditation: Reveal Your True Potential By Controlling Your Inner Thoughts by Joseph Correa are two examples of sport-specific books on how to improve your mental toughness in squash.
The web also offers a plethora of sites where one can find information and tips on the subject. For articles, coaching, podcasts, and videos on the subject try:
What sports specific exercises can help improve my game?
Drills such as running ladders, the 3 and 4 cone shuttle, weight lifting including squats, lunges and hang-cleans will improve your speed, agility, strength and core power. This will definitely translate to improved performance on the court. Check out this video on YouTube to see some sport-specific training for squash. Remember to exercise proper form, especially when handling weights:
Is squash a hard game to play? It is a hard game to play well. Squash demands a high level of physical fitness, impeccable technique and a strong mind fueling a positive, winning spirit.
The typical match at most clubs is in the range of 40 minutes and involves near constant movement. Players must lunge, twist, bend and react to and strike a ball moving at upwards of 160mph while at the same time trying to avoid colliding with their opponent. This all takes place in what amounts to a gladiatorial pit surrounded by walls and glass.
For these reasons, we feel that squash is among the most difficult sports in the world to play. And to play it well takes all the components we’ve mentioned, plus time and money.
Having a super-competitive streak doesn’t hurt either.