How To Win In Squash (Facts, Tactics, Game-plans)


The only objective in any squash contest is to win. Anything else achieved on the squash court, beyond that, is merely a by-product of competing in the sport.

How do you win in squash? Regardless of the format, in squash the winning player is the one who wins 3 games out of 5. This player will have come out on top as a result of dominating in at least some of the following areas – technique, stamina, mental strength, tactics and game-plan.

Now that we have addressed the broad overview, let us tackle the nuts and bolts, shall we. I will look at each of the main points above in detail, and get you thinking about how to improve your game.

Mental Strength

The most compelling aspect of squash, apart from the fact that it is a dynamic duel between two driven individuals, is that there are only two possible outcomes. It is either you win or you lose. Naturally, the latter is a more bitter pill for most to swallow.

There is no such thing as sharing the spoils here.

Every time you step into a squash arena – no matter how big or small –  you need to believe you can win. That is usually half the battle taken care of. The technical aspects of the game are normally difficult enough to manage as it is.

Being bombarded with all forms of mental distraction in the build-up to – and during – that fixture will not enhance your cause.

Acceptance

A key component to minimizing some of that mental clutter is learning to accept that there can only be one of two outcomes in this sporting code. At the risk of sounding disturbingly philosophical, life is a formidable force. Believing you can win does not mean that you will win. There are never any guarantees in squash.

The sooner you learn to accept that, the better your prospects of realizing some of your objectives. Given the technical nature of squash, anything, from the court conditions to the quality of the officiating, can determine the outcome of the match.

Failing to accept that there are external factors which could influence the outcome of a match will merely prolong your agony during that contest and it will limit your capacity to counter any of the adversity that might present itself.

Accept that your opponent might have a better day than you. Accept that your body – for whatever reason – might not be fully equipped to handle the physical challenges thrown at it on any given day.  

You might not win on any given day but failing to remove the clutter from you mind could be the difference between that and never winning at all.

Be Dynamic

Among the biggest mistakes people make in life – and sport – is the failure to adopt a multi prong approach. While winning in style is often the most compelling option, winning through attrition is always more rewarding and more memorable.

This ties in quite well with some of the points made on acceptance. Sometimes you just never know what circumstances will confront you on a squash court and no matter how well you planned for any given contest, the capacity to introduce and implement a Plan B is critical.

For example, sometimes you will not find your range and the situation will demand that you play more from the back corners and rely more heavily on your physical capacity to keep yourself in the contest.

Play The Angles Better

As is the case with most sports in the 21st century, squash has evolved in ways that nobody ever thought possible. Being a one-dimensional player is no longer a winning strategy. You have to master the art of playing with variety, and you have to be prepared to keep variety at the forefront of your game in different situations.

You have to also be unpredictable. Line and length is a phrase often bandied about on a cricket field. However, finding the right line and the right length has become more important than ever in squash.

At professional level, both players have equal capacity and the margins are very fine. However, for the amateur player, this kind of thing can prove to be a game changer. A winning tactic.

Play In The Moment

There is a human element to sport that not enough people pay attention to. The officials presiding over a game of squash – sometimes that is your opponent – are not immune to this. They will make questionable judgements and that just comes with the territory.

The downfall of many squash players is often the failure to move on from a questionable call. This ties in well with the points about mental fortitude and acceptance. But the officials aren’t the only ones making the bad decisions. Sometimes the blame lies squarely on you, whether that be a bad shot, bad anticipation or bad movement.

While scientists are actively trying to debunk what they believe are myths about the memory of a fish, we are going to run with it anyway…you need to learn to think like a goldfish.

Two things can happen under these circumstances. Either you embark on a downward spiral or you learn to soar like an eagle. The ball, as they say, is in your court and how you play it often determines whether you win in squash or not.

Do not be frustrated by the manner in which circumstances appear to unfold on court.

Know Your Strengths And Use Them

Part and parcel of the game’s evolution is better technology, better training techniques and better diets. Players are stronger and fitter than they have ever been. Deft touches are still welcome and handy to have in your arsenal.

But if you have a bazooka, use it. Choosing when to unleash is also critical. It is about mastering the art of deception. Deceptive speed is absolutely brutal, especially if your opponent is on the back foot. Never give him a chance to recover.

Give Yourself Time

Sometimes, when faced with adversity on a squash court, you need to give yourself time. Time to process what has transpired. Time to flush that out of the system. Slow the game down, as far as the rules will allow.

Conduct a brief assessment of the circumstances you are faced with and remind yourself what you came on court to do – that is to win. Experiencing a psychological meltdown will not help you realize that goal.

You also need to develop a capacity to accept responsibility for what has transpired on court. Yes, the call against you might be questionable. Yes, your opponent might have overstepped a boundary. Yes, the court might not be in the best of condition.

But in giving yourself that time, you need to learn to ask yourself what it was that you did wrong in that very moment. What could you have done to avoid the situation and the subsequent loss of a point?

There is every possibility that you exercised some poor judgement, put the ball in a bad area and gave your opponent the opening they needed to exploit the situation. The sooner you accept your culpability in this, the better your prospects of moving beyond it and ultimately winning.

Execution And Implementation

A phrase often bandied about in sports circles, regardless of your level, is muscle memory. That is teaching your body to react instinctively on the court and learning to trust it on court.

No matter how well you have prepared yourself for this, there are moments when your mind will need to go above and beyond. When it will need to step in when the rest of your body fails you.

What every squash player needs to accept – more so in this sport than any other – is that the game situation simply does not evolve in the same manner as the practice situation. It is perhaps an obvious element but one that is often taken for granted.

There is more to executing everything you practiced in a match situation. As a player you need to move beyond just the technical process.

Mastering Movement

One element that certainly goes a long way toward eliminating this obstacle is mastering your movement. At the risk of sounding like some pseudo intellectual, almost everything we do in life is determine by time. It is a critical component to deal with on a squash court.

Being in such a confined space demands that you give yourself as much time as is possible to negotiate everything the squash match throws at you. That includes executing and implementing what you have trained to do.

Speed is one thing but efficiency is often more telling. When Lewis Hamilton bolts around Silverstone, his capacity to generate speed down a straight is not what wins him the race – although it helps. Rather, it is his capacity to manage his tires and fuel that often determines the outcome of the race.

So, how do you manage your body on a squash court? That is the key. Traveling around the court like Usain Bolt is only half the job done. The one element about efficiency often taken for granted is how valuable a contribution it makes to physical stamina.

It is not just about getting to the squash ball quicker, attacking or defending better. It is about making sure you can do all of those things for longer in a squash match. They key to winning – according to a certain survival show hosted by Jeff Probst – is outlasting your opponent.

Naturally, that extends beyond efficient movement in the squash context. Elements like diet and lifestyle also need to be taken into account there.

Ultimately, the key is developing your capacity to reach all four corners of the court in as few steps as possible, managing your stride.

Speed And Agility

Being born with genuine speed is fantastic but this does not mean it will be the end of the world for those who do not belong to the X-Men. In the squash context, speed can still be developed. Much like the sister sport tennis, speed and agility in squash are very intensive but not particularly draining.

The best is to dedicate a significant component of your training to this, perhaps four or five times a week, depending on how serious you are about winning. There is no excuse for not dedicating that many hours to speed and agility training.

While the sessions themselves will be rather intensive – at about 100 percent perhaps – they can also be pretty short. So, again, there really is no excuse for doing less than the maximum output in this particular facet of the game.

It also makes no sense to do this speed training off court and it makes less sense if you are not replicating the movements that you would ordinarily make on a squash court. It would not harm you to do a speed and agility session, as part of your warm-up either. Call it a myth, if you will, but it just helps a little with developing that muscle memory.

Master Your Game Plan Against Lefties

In almost any sport that requires this level of hand-eye coordination, being a left hander comes with extraordinary advantages. It is often said lefties are just so elegant but that is a myth. People are just excited by the novelty of playing against a lefty. It never wears off.

Because there are so few of them and because they are so misunderstood, lefties are often the undoing of so many sporting greats. You can hold your own against right-handed players but your prospects of being the best can be hampered by an inability to negotiate the lefty on court.

Because there are so few lefties around, you genuinely have to prepare for these combat situations as an extra element of your training.

Underestimate the value of this training at your own peril – even if you are a lefty yourself.

Effective Speed

Developing speed is one thing. However, harnessing it effectively is a new beast altogether. A beast that not even the professionals are able to tame sometimes.

One way to achieve that is to try and create the initiative. Take the ball on early as often as you can. It is all well and good to use speed for defending but at the end of it all, the goal should be to play on the front foot.

Be ahead of the game instead of chasing it.

A lot of this has to do with tactical acumen, developing a decent read on the game. Getting into the mind of your opponent. Now that is winning squash. We accept it is often the case that defending is just as important as attacking but defending keeps you in the contest, while attacking takes you over the finish line.

Dictate the terms of the match, keep your opponents on the ropes.

Counter The Counter

In winning squash you need to develop the ability to ‘counter the counter.’

But what does that mean?

The best squash counter attacking options often present themselves at the front of the court. The drop shot and the trickle boast are two of the most effective tools to have in the arsenal. Again, not as important at professional level but doing this at amateur level can be absolutely deadly.

There are just so many points available when an opponent takes you to the front of the court and you show you can hit a drive, before blasting in a triple boast. If well executed, you can leave them rocking on their heels in the middle of the court.

The best part about it is how smug it can leave you feeling. Squash is all about confidence and when you feel like you are in total control, even when initially on the back foot, the match is ultimately yours to lose.

The two-wall working boast is among the most useful in squash and can be really valuable when pushing back against an opponent who appears to have the ascendancy in a match. There is a strong element of risk to playing the shot but if fine tuned and well executed it can be a winning shot.

Risk and reward, they say.

If you get it wrong, you will leave that ball a little high up in the court and your opponent will serve you up for breakfast. A key element to getting this right, is getting the racket head on the inside of the ball.

This would apply on both the forehand and the backhand.  All you are really doing is redirecting the shot here. It is not overly complicated in that sense. However, developing the right kind of feel is essential.

The working boast, successfully executed can make that squash court look really big for your opponent.

When all is said and done, it all boils down to variety and the element of surprise. Surprises win squash matches.

From A Scoring Perspective

Just to clarify, you win a squash match usually by winning 3 of the 5 available games.

A GAME is usually won when a player scores 11 points but on the odd occasion, it will require more than that. If both players find themselves on ten points, the GAME will only be completed when one of them is two points ahead. For example, 12-10 or 13-11. Winning a point means winning a rally.

Conclusion

How to win in squash is a huge topic, and one that has numerous facets.

Start with the basics. If you improve your technique, your fitness, and your general tactical strategy, then you will hopefully find yourself making progress, and winning some of the games that you would previously have lost.


Siyabonga Mchunu

Siyabonga has a lifelong passion for watching squash. He has worked in a range of jounalism roles in the world of sport, including as an article writer for Rugby 365, and as a reporter for the Caxton Media Group in his native South Africa.

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