Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Spooked by the Squash Ghost and the Footworker

I have trained and drilled what seems forever, with a variety of different coaches and players. While I teach more than I play these days, I incorporate a lot of ghost drills into my sessions. But having had the experience of ghosting countless star drills and movement drills, I've come to the conclusion that they are only meaningful when combined with actually striking the ball.

I used to hit the forehand rail and ghost the backhand rail and maybe ghost a front cross court off a boast and then play the actuall volley, but what I never did and what I think was missing in these drills was a combination -- as complex as you like depending on your level -- of ghosting and striking the ball.

These drills can be moderate to very brutal depending on the player's fitness and skill and of course desire to get better. It's a system worked through with collaboration between coach and player that enables any level player to work on fitness, movement, court mechanics and good shots. I like to use these drills for those players wanting to extend themselves a little or a lot beyond their comfort zone...you need a coach who understands the player's level and can construct patterns along with appropriate length and width to coincide with that player's level.

There's no point hitting tight rails of dying length to a B level player since that isn't something they will likely encounter at their level, but it is appropriate to let's say ghost a boast from the backhand and hit a volley about a foot off the side wall for the player to volley...once you observe that player can consistantly hit that volley at a B level you start adjusting position and angle of the volley feed to enable the player to start hitting off the volley shots in that A realm. This can often lead to some early raggedness in the drills, but if the player is keen, the coach, player and drill tend to clean up the loose ends.

I am a proponent of combining multiple ghosts with on the ball hitting. Ghosting alone addresses footwork and racquet preparation only, but when you combine striking the ball you are covering a complete gamut of movement, preparation and ball handling. One thing I found in video examples of ghosting was a glaring mistake, by even higher level players, when ghosting out of the front they simply don't look behind them to simulate picking up the ball in the back to where they just hit it. What's the point if you don't follow the imaginary line pf the ball with your eyes? However, if you have a coach who is holding the ball and instructs you to pick it up immediately and you see the ball and watch him strike it, you are really incorporating some reality of match play.

I have been doing these drills with my aspiring pro son and believe that it is the most challenging drilling he can do. I used to do drills with him without ghosting combination and I wasn't able to push him mostly because I didn't have the skills to feed him at that low pro level. There was too much pressure on me and my feeds weren't tight enough in many of those continuous striking drills. With the ghosting combinations I have time to place my feeds tight and with good length or deftly place the front court volley drops or attacking boasts. The results are quite amazing.

And the absolute beauty of these drills, okay I admit it, they are much easier on the coach who has been on the court for 7 hours straight. If the player works hard at their level and wants to improve to a higher level, whether it be better fitness, tighter shots or better technique, they will accomplish that. During the drills the player can see immediately, without a lot of convincing from the coach what they need to work on -- the drill sort of speaks back to them.

I looked at the Footworker video which is a computer generated movement drill (check out their website footworker.ca) that serves the purpose of practicing footwork and movement drills. This is good and for fitness, you probably can't beat it. But footwork and ball striking aren't mutually exclusive. You always play and practice to your ability without having that coach's set of eyes telling you that your lifting your head to soon off your ghosting rail to the front or bending too much at the waste on d not your knees, what is the point of practicing what's wrong with what you're doing over and over again -- are you perfecting bad technique and movement?

A coach is critical to observation, maybe not if you are a top 50 ranked pro, but for the rest of the squash mortals you need someone to observe and with a critical eye observe your movement and ball striking and to construct drills according to your level and ability.

I was close to purchasing the Footworker and using it on court to simulate movement in an A level match and then I had this flash of my son's expression as he saw me doing the movements -- as if to say, hey, you aren't getting low enough to the ball, your presence on the T is too jumpy (watch the video the player demonstrating this is like a jack rabbit on the T! Also watch how when he moves out of the front court his eyes are fixed often on the front wall), or you are lifting your head to early when striking the ball. I later thought about this tool and realized if they could put a camera in it to film your movements for later review or immediate replay feedback, that would be extremely helpful and make the tool all the more valuable. You could record the session and upload it to your computer to watch or forward it to your coach for review and analysis.

I decided not to purchase this item and will continue with my methods, refining them, pushing my students, myself, and my son, hopefully, to new and greater levels.

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