Squash Coaching Blog: Can You Shift Your Focus?

posted in: Coaching, Performance | 0

I was coaching the other day, feeding for my pupil to hit straight forehand volleys. To hit a consistent length he was aiming for his volley to hit the service line on the front wall (as I have spoken about in a previous blog). His aim was good and the result was a consistently good length, landing at the back of the service box. What was interesting was what came next. As the coach I could occasionally hit a cross-court feed for him to backhand volley. Off this feed he could hit any type of backhand volley (ie. drive, drop, boast etc). The point was to teach him to pressure the centre of the court and to put himself in a position where he could volley any loose drive, whether it was straight or cross-court / forehand or backhand.

Focus man!Because he was still focused on his quality of forehand volley (ie. aiming for the service line on the front wall), he missed every cross-court feed, even though they were slow and easy feeds! His brain was solely focused on one aspect he seemingly didn’t have space for anything else.

This happens a lot when learning any new skill. When you break down a task into smaller parts the brain can become either overloaded or can only focus on one part at a time. In this case his brain could only focus on hitting the service-line with his forehand volley. If you think about any shot in squash there many ways in which it could be broken down. A forehand drive for example. You could break it down into all of these small parts: grip, wrist position, footwork, body position, shoulder rotation, your elbow position, size of backswing, speed of swing, impact position of you hand and your arm, angle of your racket face on impact, where to strike the ball in relation to your body, follow-through technique and size, how hard to hit the ball, where to aim on the front wall, where to move after your shot and how to go about that!!!! These are the aspects of every shot which must be addressed when learning how to perfect the forehand drive. Looking at this it’s a wonder anyone can play any shot!

But once you are through the leaning phase, all this becomes one process, instead of about 30. All the aspects become integrated in to one brain function instead of 30 different ones. To master any skill in life you must learn all the different processes until they become ingrained in your brain (sub-conscious), then all these separate processes can become just one process – then less can go wrong. Obviously less can go wrong if you are performing what is one process in your brain as opposed to having to consciously perform 30 processes. Once you are at this stage then your brain can focus on other things, for example; looking for a loose cross-court to volley as well as the loose straight drive.

So, if you are having to focus on a particular aspect of your squash shot (maybe you are not hitting a consistent enough length so you decide to concentrate on hitting the service line on the front wall with every drive) you need to be able to actively shift your concentration after you have played every shot. So: when you are in the process of playing your shot, your focus is to hit the service-line, immediately after you have made contact with the ball you must shift your concentration back to the game, back to your opponent, so you are able to watch where they hit their shot. Once you react to that then you shift back again to think about the quality of your shot.

I know this sounds complicated, and to be honest, these processes normally happen sub-consciously (especially if you’re playing great and hitting your targets without much extra attention), but if you are having a day when they are not at your best, or you are practicing a particular thing, then you must be aware of the brain processes involved in playing a squash rally, and help your brain out a little bit!

Don’t be overwhelmed and good luck!