Squash Coaching Blog: The SLICE MYTH!

posted in: Coaching, Performance | 0

I want to dispel the myth that slicing down on the ball (‘chopping’) is a good thing. It’s not!

The great Jahangir used to chop down on his drop shots, a technique he adapted to suit the conditions of the 1980’s and 1990’s.

History lesson – 25 years ago glass courts were becoming more commonplace at major events, rackets all-of-a-sudden became lighter and the professional tin was lowered – it was thought chopping down on the ball was a great idea. There were several reasons for this: The original glass courts were quire dead (ie. wouldn’t bounce as much as plaster courts) and the ball would also spin off the glass slightly more than it would off plaster walls, therefore adding slice to the ball would have considerably more effect when playing on a glass / perspex court. Downward slice (‘chop’) in particular seemed very favourable. It adds backspin causing the ball to shoot down off the front wall, and then bounce less high off the floor (we see this low bounce with a backhand slice in tennis, especially on a grass court). Obviously this ‘chop’ would add a lot of ‘bite’ and intensity to drop shots and drives; on drop shots the ball would bounce less and stay closer to the front wall making drop shots extremely difficult to return, and all without having to hit the drop shot super soft and loopy which cause the ball to spend longer in the air when travelling to the front wall, giving your opponent valuable extra split-seconds to move. And couple this with a 2 inch lower tin, 17″ as opposed to the traditional 19″, ‘chopping’ seemed like a great ploy, a ‘no-brainer’ technique to master. Drives too would travel through the air quickly and bounce lower than expected, causing the ball to ‘die’ before the back wall.

In reality – chopping down on the ball involves huge risk. The timing of your downward swing has to be absolutely perfect as there is a much smaller time frame which your racket can impact on the ball without hitting the strings ‘off-centre’. Any ‘off-centre’ contact will result in the ball being hit too downward toward the tin, or even a complete mis-hit. It is quite easy to mis-time your swing; a fraction of a second too late and you can contact the swing with the bottom racket frame, or a fraction too early and you hit the ball with the top frame, both resulting in an embarrassing frame shot which hits the floor near your feet!

Also, you can only chop down on the ball when the ball is above the height of the tin. Any shot below the height of the tin and you’d have to quickly change your technique, otherwise you would hit into the tin.

The game has changed – All squash courts, plaster and glass/perspex are generally faster and bouncier than 20 years ago. Better heaters, better quality court walls and floors have seen to this. More powerful rackets have also caused the average shot to be hit harder. All aspects which lead to a faster sport. It is easier to get the ball to the back of the court without having to hit upwards. This results in the ball travelling much faster more often and also spending much more time around knee height than ever before – not and ideal environment to have a technique geared to slice down on the ball whenever possible. The ball is simply travelling too fast and too low. The perfect scenario to slice down is when we have time to compose ourselves and the ball sits up way above the tin.

Squash today – as you can see the way squash is played nowadays favours a much lower, quicker swing. Speed of back-swing and power is much more important than applying slice. At high speeds, hitting through the ball offers more chance of a sweet contact of racket on ball, than chopping down on the ball. Players are faster than ever before, so quick thinking, a short solid technique, coupled with the speed and placement of the shot take priority, not to add slice which only increases risk.

Traditional grip – No open racket face = Too flat.
Tilted grip – Slightly open racket-face = Perfect!

We all know we should hold our racket tilted back a small degree, showing a slightly ‘open’ racket-face. This open racket face will add a nice amount of slice to the ball without ‘trying to slice the ball’! Also, let’s not forget that our racket preparation will naturally come above the height of the ball. This is all the downward action we need and coupled with an open racket face will provide a nice amount of slice which is enough to control the shot with the ball contacting more strings than if the racket face was completely ‘flat’. As said – this is all the slice we need. A slightly open racket-face with a appropriate back-swing and follow-through. This follow-through will eliminate the risk of slicing down too much. Our racket should end up in front of your body, not at your feet.

One other factor that wasn’t an issue 20 years ago; point-a-rally scoring. If you hit a mistake because you chopped down too much or mis-hit a shot into the tin, you had the next rally to win the serve back before you lost a point. Now you lose a point with every error, so why risk chopping down on the ball, sending it on a downward path dangerously close to the tin? It’s the same principal on drives. Why complicate the situation by chopping down? When you have an opening, the important thing on a drive it to hit quickly into the space, hitting a good line (close to but avoiding the side wall) making the ball travel in a straight line. It doesn’t need complicated slice or a steep downward trajectory.

So, we can all agree our sport has changed over the past two decades. The subtleties of technique and tactics have shifted. Think about your swing direction and what you are trying to achieve with each shot you play. Perfection is not as important as speed of thinking, speed of reactions, speed of swing, and cleanliness of striking the ball. An open racket face add all the required slice you need. You do not need to ‘try and slice the ball’. A simple technique will do this naturally without any complication. Complication adds risk.

Here we can see too much intention to ‘chop down’ on the ball.
Perfect preparation by James in this picture. Not too high, and we can see that his follow-through will push through the ball finishing in front of his body and not down by his feet.