|The Importance of taking the ball early
The phrase ‘taking the ball early’
means taking the ball either on the volley or half-volley as far up
the court as possible thereby putting pressure on your opponent and
limiting their time to react.
In squash fractions of seconds can
make the difference between winning and losing and by taking the
ball early you are using these fractions of seconds to your
advantage. In addition to this, if your quality of shot is good,
your opponent will be forced to do a larger percentage of work and
therefore prone to tiredness earlier in the match.
Dominating the 'T'
So, what are the key technical components to enable you to
successfully take the ball early and dominate the ‘T‘?
Early preparation of feet and racket are obviously important. But it
also helps to anticipate early where the ball is going by reading
visual clues from your opponent.
Push off dynamically with your first step and begin to prepare the
racket, allowing space between yourself and the ball. If the ball is
travelling quickly towards you, a shorter backswing may be useful as
you will have less time to react and the ball may just have to be
accurately directed rather than adding power.
It is also vital to pay great attention to the quality of your shot.
This is obviously important on all shots, but having put an extra
effort in to take the ball early the last thing you want to see is a
poor shot meaning all that energy was wasted. Crucial to this
quality of shot is the follow through, which will aid balance and
increase poise on the ball, and lastly enable you to push back
quickly and regain that all important ‘T’ position.
Speed of movement and early racket preparation are both crucial
components of taking the ball early, but for me, the most important
factor is creating a ‘volleying mentality‘. By this I mean that your
first thought is always to look, or ‘hunt’ for the volley.
How many times do you watch a match where you think ‘he or she could
have volleyed that’? In my opinion, more often or not, this is
because the mentality was to let the ball come off the back wall
rather than a technical fault. A ‘Volleying Mentality’ can take
weeks, months, possibly even years to create but will be worthwhile
in the end.
As a junior, my coach at the time, Mark Hornby, used to stand in the
service box, whilst I was half way to the front wall, and fire balls
off the front wall as hard as he could possibly hit them,
challenging me to volley as many of them as I could. We would do
this for about 5 minutes on each side about twice a week. Whilst
this might seem extreme, and the quality of my volleys certainly
weren’t very high to start with, it taught me the important lesson
of hunting the volley at a young age.
STAGES OF THOUGHT:
Always ‘hunt’ for the volley as a first train of thought. If you
don’t have the mentality to look for the volley a lot of attacking
opportunities will be missed.
If the ball cannot be volleyed, the next thought should always,
where possible, be to half-volley or take the ball on the bounce at
the back of the service box before it hits the back wall. This not
only helps you hold a higher position up the court, but also reduces
the time your opponent has to settle on the T. The half-volley is a
massively underestimated part of the game. Far too often players let
the ball come off the back wall when it cannot be volleyed, and let
up the pressure on their opponent as a result.
3. OFF THE BACK WALL
A last resort, if you like, when the length is too good to take the
ball early or when you are off balance or under pressure in the
rally. Another way to think about it is letting the decision to take
the ball off the back wall be YOUR choice rather than it being a
Volleying in a match
Once you have established a volleying mentality, there are many
different ways to use it to your advantage in a match.
Obviously there’s the volley length and the volley drop, but what
about the volley kill, the power volley, cross-court volley, or even
volley boast? When you think about the different speeds and heights
at which these shots can be played you have a lot of different
options to your volleying.
Add deception to this and you have a greater number of volleying
options. Deception is a brilliant thing to go hand in hand with
volleying. If you are getting on to the ball early, your opponent
will also have to move quickly to cover the potential dangerous
situation. Imagine then that on certain occasions you decide not to
take the ball quite so early, but hold back, wait for them to sink
and then hit the volley. As a result they will be forced to move
twice to every single shot. This is a very effective weapon and very
tiring for your opponent over a period of time.
Volleying practice & condition
NO BACK WALL
Play a back-court game taking away the back wall.
In this game if the ball hits the back wall you lose the point,
unless the ball hits the back wall before it bounces and then you
play on. This game really exaggerates the need to volley, or half-volley;
if you don’t, you have literally lost the point. Great for teaching
a volleying mentality. Progress to full court game with no back wall.
A POINT PER VOLLEY
Play a full court game but every time you volley you score a point.
For example, if Player A volleys the ball four times during the
rally and Player B volleys three times during the rally but wins the
point, the score is four-all. Again, this game is great for
exaggerating the volleying mentality.
3 POINTS PER WINNING VOLLEY
As simple as it sounds; a full court game and every time you win a
point with a volley you score three points - great for encouraging
CAN ONLY GO SHORT ON VOLLEY
Back of the court length game, where you can attack short only if
To encourage an element of full court movement the counter to this
volley can also go short and then the rally returns to length. Great
for practising deception on the volley.
All of these condition games are
games I still use today in practice to improve and fine tune my
volleying. Even if you consider volleying to be one of your
strengths, use these games and other volleying drills to turn that
strength in to a match winning strategy or a super strength.