How to Play Squash – Learn with Videos and Pictures

Learn to play squashIt’s true that at the semi-pro or pro level, the game of squash is won on fine differences in skill, accuracy and willpower.

But for beginners, we have good news!

All you need to dominate other players is understanding the squash strategy and learning the basic techniques.

And even if you want to play just for fun, learning to play squash properly would make you game easier and much more entertaining.

So let’s start!

 

Before you start

What Do You Need?

You don’t need a lot of equipment to start playing squash – just a basic racket, balls, shoes without dark soles (so they don’t make marks over the court) – plus an eye protection if possible.

Another option is to borrow the racket and balls at the club.

squash racket, balls and shoes

Get Familiar With the Rules

To be able to play with your friends, you should make yourself familiar with the squash rules (I cover those on a separate page, along with the scoring system).

Don’t worry, everything is pretty simple 🙂

theory, praxis and passionImproving in Squash

Whenever you learn a new skill, you do it via the classical theory and praxis approach, learning the correct technique and then practising it until it becomes ingrained in your head.

Here I would like to recommend you a nice article which talks about these aspects in relation to squash – training, stimulating your brain and becoming a better player as quickly as possible.

  • Also, watch videos of better players, study their style and tactics. There are many videos of pros available, but watching rallies of players just above your skill level may be even more beneficial. Why? Because their tactics and playing styles are much easier to try on your own – compared to the pros where often you’ll just think "wow, there’s no way I could execute that".
  • And if you are serious about squash, get some occasional lessons from a skilled player, trainer or (ideally) a pro. Look: videos and pictures can only get you so far, but a mentor can correct your swing, grip or footwork right at the start and prevent any bad habits.

 

The Basics

I guess all you want is just start playing, right?

But wait a moment here, let’s address some important things first – they will form solid foundations to base your squash skills on.

The Grip – Learn How To Hold the Racket Correctly

Good grip is extremely important – it allows your wrist and forearm to move in the most efficient way as you strike the ball.

A natural begginers’ tendency is to hold the racquet like a hammer so be careful to avoid it – particularly the control of the ball and backhand swing will suffer with that grip.

The “V” Position

You can see the right grip in the videos and pictures below:

squash grip - the V position

  • Form a “V” shape using your thumb and index finger.
  • Extend your index finger a bit from the other fingers for better control.
  • Also, hold the handle firmly but not too hard – don’t stress your arm.
   See Videos

Footwork – Moving To the Ball

Another extremely important piece of the puzzle is footwork – it’s simple: if you can’t get to the ball in time, it doesn’t matter how good your forehand or backhand is.

And like with the grip, beginners often take it all backwards here as well – after hitting the ball they stay on the same place, wait to see where their opponent will send the ball to and then run over the court to reach it.

But there’s an easy fix – remember:

It is crucial to get back to the center of the court (called the T position) right after you hit the ball.

A demonstration:

2016 Men's College Squash Team Championships (Potter Cup): St. Lawrence and Harvard #1s

  • So right after you swing, use your front foot to push yourself back (transferring weight to the other foot) and then move towards the T.

Do Not Run

Want some good news? It’s not necessary to run – the distance from the T to other parts of the court is not that big. So rather keep a nice, balanced, easy rhythm and use skips, hops, strides and crossovers with your legs.

Power Squash Part 2 3 Defending

And a few more tips by Razik (also shows a nice trick for maintaining balance) and Nick Matthew:

   See Videos

Racket Position

correct racket postion at the THere’s the deal: as you approach the spot where you’ll strike the ball, the racket should already be in the ready to strike position.

How to achieve that?

  • While at the T, hold the racket slightly above the waist level, not below – it’s easier to switch to backhand, plus you will be ready to volley if the opportunity arises.
  • And as you start moving towards the ball, start moving racket to the back. If there’s enough time it will go there automatically, but when volleying or under pressure it really helps to focus on that – especially on the backhand side.
   See Video

 

Hitting the Ball

Now it’s the time you’ll start hitting the ball!

Just before we approach practising your forehand and backhand, let’s mention a few tips that apply to both these swings:

Bend / Lunge When Striking the Ball

We have touched this point briefly in the Footwork section – lunging and bending when striking the ball will allow you to spring back to the T more easily. Plus keeping balance over your front foot enables a more efficient shoulder movement and swing.

Here is that video again:

Razik's Squash Quick Tips 2 (Footwork)

Also, avoid the classical beginner mistake to face the front wall during a stroke. For the majority of your shots, you want to face the side wall – watch the video above to get the idea.

Short Hitting vs Full Swing

Both in forehand and backhand you are going to vary your swing length – from short-hitting all the way to the full swing. It all depends on:

  • How much time do you have
  • What are you trying to accomplish – longer swing gives you more power, a shorter one enables you to control the racket head (and direct the ball) better.
  • Sometimes also how much space do you have (for example in corners)

Forehand or Backhand?

Some beginners try to play most of their shots using a forehand – which clearly is a mistake. The rule is simple:

Play forehand strokes only from the forehand side of the court and switch to backhand strokes on the opposite side.

At first, your control of the ball on backhand strokes would probably suffer – but don’t worry, after some time and practice you’ll be able to control your backhand swings nicely.

 

Forehand

Start your swing practice with a basic forehand technique:

  1. 1. Racket back, at about shoulder height
  2. 2. Drop your forearm
  3. 3. Keep the racket parallel to the ground as you strike the ball (“hold the line”)

To get the feeling of the arm and wrist movement, imagine skimming a stone across a pond 🙂

Razik's Squash Quick Tips 3 (Forehand)

   More Videos

Full Swing

After you become comfortable with a shorter forehand stroke, try the longer, more powerful one. The main points are slightly different now:

  1. 1. Elbow high
  2. 2. Shoulders turned
  3. 3. Use left arm for balance
   See Video

Backhand

Now let’s try the basic backhand technique which is a bit harder:

  1. 1. Square shoulders
  2. 2. Cocked wrist
  3. 3. Racket away from your body, not too close
  4. 4. Racket back and tilted a bit towards the the front (see the video)
  5. 5. Racket drops
  6. 6. Hit through the ball and nice follow through to the target

The follow through to the target (where the ball is going to hit the front wall) is very important – it helps to transfer maximum power and aids in directing the ball.

Razik's Squash Quick Tips 4 (Backhand)

   More Video

Full Swing

And again, after you become comfortable with a shorter backhand stroke, try to add some power!

  1. 1. Elbow back
  2. 2. Leading shoulder releases, nice follow through
  3. 3. Use left arm for balance
   See Video

Straight drive, Cross court drive and Boast

So now you are familiar with the basic squash swings – but that’s not all, you have also a few options where to aim the ball:

Straight drive lands on the same side of court – it is the basic play in squash and when played tight to the side wall, it severely limits your opponent’s next play.

straight drive diagram

Cross court drive lands on the other half of the court – the disadvantage is that it is difficult to control where the ball will land and you can even present your opponent with a volleying opportunity. If he’s ready on the T, you don’t want to go for the cross court.

So when to play this shot?

If your opponent is expecting a straight drive from you, use a cross court drive to surprise him! If he didn’t bother to return to the T properly, he’ll have a hard time retrieving this shot.

cross court drive diagram

And then we have the Boast where you hit the side wall first – there are several situations where such play is useful and we will cover them later on.

boast diagram

And of course, the key is to combine all the shot types effectively.

Volley

Volleying in squash is very effective and you should do it whenever you are able to with enough control. Why?

Because it takes time away from your opponent and puts him under pressure – that means more attacking opportunities for you and sometimes even winning the rally right away.

Razik's Squash Quick Tips 5 (Volley)

So again, a few points to keep in mind:

  1. 1. Firm wrist
  2. 2. Square shoulders, facing the side wall
  3. 3. A shorter, more compact swing
  4. 4. Power comes from the follow through

And in the next video, you can find some more tips, drills and exercises for practising your volley:

   See Video

Serve

Every rally starts with a serve – if you’re the one serving, obviously you don’t want to enable your opponent an opportunity to attack right away, but rather force him into defense (we will discuss the attacking and defending principle in the next section so don’t worry if you are not sure what does that mean).

That’s why you want the ball to go deep into the side wall and land in the back corner, making it difficult to retrieve. How to do that?

  1. Forehand serve: aim the ball just right of the center of the front wall (if you are right-handed of course)
  2. Backhand serve: aim straight at the middle of the front wall

Razik's Squash Quick Tips 6 (Serve)

Some more types of serve:

   See Video

Serve Return

Because of ball coming off the side wall, returning the serve would be probably the most difficult type of shot for you to learn, especially on the backhand side.

So take a look how to manage this uncomfortable situation:

Power Squash Part 1 3 The Basics

  • Firm up the grip
  • Keep you eye on the ball
  • Shorten the swing
  • Follow through to the target
  • Return to the T

The safest option is to send the ball straight down the near wall. But make sure to mix it up a bit to avoid being too predicable – you can find the main types of service returns here.

 

Wrapping up the basics

Now you should be able to play a nice basic rally with your friend. Remember, when playing with similarly skilled opponent at this stage, all you need to do is play enough “winners” – shots too difficult for him to retrieve.

So keep it simple and focus on 2 things only:

  • Footwork and movement
  • Technique

As always, practice makes perfect, so incorporate also some solo training into your squash sessions, doing the exercises and drills shown in the videos above over and over, particularly those you have the most difficulties with. It is paramount to get all those movements ingrained in your body.

It’s a good idea to actually move back to the T after every shot even during these exercises. You wouldn’t probably have enough time for the entire movement but even a few steps here and there will simulate a real game much better than just standing still.

Also, don’t hit the ball as hard as you can every time. Just relax, try to feel the ball and experiment with controlling it.

Points to Remember

  • Return to the T after stroke.
  • Don’t run, use skips, hops and strides.
  • Bend or lunge when hitting and face the side wall.
  • Hit backhand shots on the backhand side of the court and forehand shots on the forehand side.
  • Hit the ball away from your opponent, making him run.
  • Hit the ball to the corners and close to the side walls
  • Volley whenever you are able to with control

Warm-up and Stretching

Squash is a fast game that requires a huge amount of short rapid movements – therefore a proper warm-up (before) and stretching (after) is paramount to keep your body in a good shape, avoid injuries or stiff muscles.

We won’t go into detail here as these topics are widely covered over the internet – but let’s mention some tips where to start:

Nick Matthew talking about warming up:

Nick Matthew Squash Coaching Tips Part 1 – The Warm Up

And a nice set of stretching exercises after a squash session: http://www.scottishsport.co.uk/squash/stretch.htm

To learn more advanced techniques and understand the “philosophy” of a squash game, continue to the next section!

Advanced Techniques

By now you have learned the basic squash strokes, how to move over the court and hold the racket correctly. But as your skill increases and you start playing better opponents, hitting difficult shots just won’t be enough to win the game for you – your opponent will retrieve them far too often.

So what to do instead?

Instead of depending on a single shot, it becomes more important to put your opponent under pressure and wear him down – then you’ll score a winning point or force an error from him.

The goal in squash is to maintain or steal an attacking position from you opponent and prevent him from playing an attacking shot himself.

The attacking & defending principle is the basis of a squash game and you’ll see we will refer to it very often. It’s even connected with the three positions on the court:

  • Front court: attacking or defending
  • Mid-court: almost always attacking, often on the volley
  • Back of the court: defending

Serve Revisited

In the previous section about serve, we mentioned the importance of forcing your opponent into defense right from the start.

The key is getting the ball to the back of the court – we call it “good length” (now you know what it means if some racket is good for a “length game”). Besides preventing an attacking shot from our opponent, it gives us time to get back to the T and may even present an attacking opportunity for the next shot.

Power Squash Part 1 3 The Basics

And now let’s discuss the real defensive and attacking situations!

Defense

So why is a good defensive game so important?

It’s simple, you need to get back in control as quickly as possible, turning the rally to your advantage and make your opponent the one who has to defend himself. Or at least buy enough time to get back to the T and be ready for the next shot.

And remember, the tighter you hit your shots to the corners, the more successful your defense will be.

Defensive boast

The term "boast" means it hits the side wall first, before hitting the front wall. Note that it’s a disadvantageous shot, we use it only when it’s not possible to get the ball straight to the front wall.

defensive boast diagram

Here are the three steps mentioned in the following video:

  • Racket back before the bounce
  • Strike the ball in front of an imaginary line between your leading foot and the corner
  • Follow through to the target on the side wall

Power Squash Part 2 3 Defending

   More Video

Dig

The dig is more difficult than Defensive boast but without the disadvantage of hitting the side wall first.

dig diagram

You aim straight on the front wall, buying time to recover to the T and (ideally) also making the ball too difficult for your opponent to continue with another attacking shot.

Power Squash Part 2 3 Defending

Lob

Now let’s shift our focus to the front court, the lob is an elegant way how to switch from defense to attack. You want the ball to go up towards the ceiling and then die in the back corner – the disadvantage is that if you execute it badly, you present your opponent with a volleying opportunity from the mid court.

lob diagram

And again, the crucial points from the video:

  • Strong wrist position, short swing
  • Hit well under the ball and well in front of the leading foot
  • Aim high onto the front wall

Power Squash Part 2 3 Defending

   More Video

Counter drop

Counter drop is a nice alternative to the Lob, and without the disadvantage of giving your opponent a volleying opportunity if the shot goes bad.

counter drop diagram

Again, you hit the ball well in front of the leading foot but instead of aiming high, you just extend the racket and shove the ball to the same corner you’re receiving it from.

Power Squash Part 2 3 Defending

Defense

And now let’s talk about offensive shots and how to make the game as difficult for your opponent as possible:

Attacking boast

We have already talked about the defensive boast, the attacking version is quite similar, but executed mostly from mid-court with your opponent behind you. You aim the ball into the side wall so it hits the front wall near the middle and bounce twice before it reaches the opposite side wall.

attacking boast diagram

The crucial part is hitting the ball later in the stance, close to the ground – just before the second bounce.

Power Squash Part 3 3 Attacking

Volley boast

Very similar to the Attacking boast, only this time you’re intercepting the ball before it bounces off the ground.

volley boast diagram

It’s easier to hit the ball when it’s between your knee and shoulder so start with that first, then also try hitting it overhead.

Power Squash Part 3 3 Attacking

Drop shot

A popular attacking shot which can be really effective when executed properly – close to the nick and towards the corner, to get it as close to the side wall as possible.

drop shot diagram

It’s important to get low to the ball, plus keep your wrist firm but not too tight.

Razik's Squash Quick Tips 7 (Drop Shot)

And some more videos:

   More Video

Volley drop

And you can even execute the Drop shot on the volley. The grip should be firm and a short backswing is enough as there is not much time.

volley drop diagram

On the other hand, it’s necessary to keep the ball low and slow it down – so cutting the ball is very important here.

Power Squash Part 3 3 Attacking

 

More squash tips

 

Watch the Ball

In squash, the basic rule where to focus your attention is simple:

Most of the time, keep your eyes on the ball.

And I mean exactly on the ball, many players make the mistake of turning their eyes towards the front wall a moment before their opponent actually hits the ball.

That’s wrong, you need to see the actual impact and as much of the ball’s trajectory as possible – giving your brain enough information to calculate where you should meet the ball.

  • Watch for little clues that can reveal the type of shot your opponent is planning, take into account his positioning and also the direction of his racket’s head during the swing.

Footwork Revisited

And right after you have enough information, start moving towards the place of return.

A quick tip:

To break the short moment of inactivity (if there’s any) and initiate the movement in advance, make a short hop just before your opponent hits the ball.

You could have already seen it in the Razik’s video about footwork, here’s that part again:

Razik's Squash Quick Tips 2 (Footwork)

Watch Your Opponent

“What? You told us to watch the ball most of the time and now you’re telling us to watch our opponent?” you might be wondering. Don’t worry, I’ll explain.

The point is to be aware of your opponent’s position and movement using your peripheral vision – and while watching the ball.

Why does it matter?

We have already mentioned you should hit the ball away from your opponent – and that’s exactly it. Make him run, move him up and down the walls, wear him out!

Deception

As the level of your squash game gets better and better, deception becomes an important part of your overall strategy:

  • Feign some type of shot and then play another, keep your opponent guessing
  • Delay your shot to confuse him (or to make him start moving, then stop and start again – which causes fatigue)
  • Vary the pace of the ball and break up his game (it can also help you recover if you’re tired)

Practice

An effective way how to train deception is a simple drill with your partner: The person in front shows one type of shot and plays another, for example straight drive -> cross court or drop shot -> lob.

This will help to ingrain the technique in your head so you can then use it automatically in the game, when you have time.

 

Sources and references

  • https://www.youtube.com/user/raziksquash/videos
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nDARJkw_T4
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zh-tQndKwRc
  • https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yRxeCo0RdGA
  • Nick Matthews’ videos
  • http://squashclub.org/main/e-lessons/
  • http://www.squashgame.info/squashdepartments

 

 

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