I acquired a new student at LA Fitness, RJ Elrose, who lives in the area, but came to us because of reading this blog. He has been coached by Clive Leach and Mark Heather, two high level tour professional players. I've seen Clive play, a former #31 in the world, he has a beautiful game. While I saw him loose to David Palmer in last year's Hyder's Cup, I saw some brilliant play on his part. Ironically, I was studying the difference in where Clive's cross court hit the side wall with where Palmer's did. Amazed at how little in the length seemed to separate the two. But squash is a game of inches, an inch better length is huge. Anyways, RJ joined our club and sought me out for coaching. This is one of those players with a high squash IQ but was frustrated in his lack of success in competition and the ability to get better.
It's interesting having a student come from Leach and look for help in improving his game. I hit with RJ and observed his play and pointed out some things. He agreed with my observations and added he had heard it before, especially about his cross courts.
What transpired in the next few sessions indicates one of the challenges a coach faces. He was comparing me to Clive Leach, Clive told him this, told him that. What I realized is that Clive as a player can say your cross courts are short but how do you tell RJ why they are short? When was the last time Clive hit a "B" level cross court? What are the components that make up a decent cross court. I defer to Clive, he's a great player but great players are rarely students of the game. I began to break down the components of hitting a good cross court. Very basic stuff, racket up, shoulder turned, take the ball slightly in front. Very simple, yet RJ was so late in his preperation, didn't understand the angle of the ball when striking it to the front wall, and was just trying for a good cross court without understaning why he wasn't hitting them well. There resulted frustration, tense shoulders, and a stiff racket. To use Clive as an example, he doesn't need to think about bringing his racket back nor turning his shouldrer and striking through the ball, he does this in his sleep. But for a "B" level player like RJ what Clive does just won't work. RJ hasn't the wrists of Clive, so it's important he bring his racket up and back and turn his shoulder to generate racket speed. Basic stuff, but some of the components to build a good cross court on.
RJ and I also started working through some drills and focussed a lot on his footwork, his footwork is so good, but off, he does basic things that are wrong especially in how he recovers. He bends forward too much when retrieving in the extreme points of the court that he finds himself on every shot struggling to recover. This is most evident when covering shots in the front of the court. Also, he has a very long stride to the ball, but tends to play a bit flat footed. So worked on getting him when applicable playing on the balls of his feet, especially when coming out of the front. The other aspect we worked on adding was dragging his back foot as he went into his shot as an achor and to help his balance.
He has been doing a lot of "star drills" along with me to feel more comfortable and balanced. I'm not so concerned about his racket skills because I think that if he moves better to the ball and prepares a bit earlier and feels balanced even when striking under some pressure, he'll hit good shots, including cross courts.
Coaching is mostly a thankless job, but when a student compliments the lesson and the way in which you teach certain technique and that student has been coached by a high level coach,, it's the best compliment. The components of squash, I like that, each component builds on the next and you improve and try and perfect each component as you become a more advanced player. The components become fewer but bigger at Clive's level -- "your cross courts are short", now just imagine the hundreds of little components at the beginner level -- "racquet up, wrist cocked, grip right, shoulder relaxed, eye on the ball, strike through the ball, follow the ball with your follow through" and how long before you do it without thinking, I guess ask Clive.