The following article is taken from the Squashskills website and highlights the benefits of different forms of practice. Please read and see if what your are doing is achieving the results you want, whether you are playing for fun and a good work out or whether you are REALLY serious about wanting to improve and climb the box leagues.
The entire purpose of practice is to get better and there are different
ways to achieve that, depending on how much better you want to get. Not
everybody wants to be a professional and take their sport incredibly seriously
and their practice will be a reflection of that. Some will have a desire to
improve and be willing to push themselves in order to achieve the improvement
that they seek. A very small percentage of people will want to be
professionals, so their practice needs to prepare them for the demands of
This implies that the time we spend practising will vary in quality and
effectiveness and that is exactly right. Not all practice is quality practice,
so you need to be very clear about what you want to achieve when practising so
your expectations and objectives are crystal clear. Once you know what you want
to achieve you can select the appropriate type of practice.
I like to break practice up into the following types:
For club players who just enjoy playing the game, this is the most
common form of practice that they engage in. They turn up at the courts and
just play games with their practice partner. There’s no focus or interest in
working on a particular element of their game, they just want to play games,
run around and get a solid work out in.
There is nothing wrong with that if those are your objectives. Playing
games certainly helps with match fitness and helps you stay physically fit, to
a point, as this depends on how evenly matched you are with your practice
The downside of this form of practice is that it provides the slowest
rate of improvement because all you are doing in reinforcing your existing
habits and tendencies when playing matches. This means that you can’t expect
large gains in your performance, so don’t get frustrated when they don’t come
if this is how you want to practice.
Part of the reason for the limit in improvement is that you are not
focusing your attention on a specific element of your game and using the
practice session to focus just on that part. This is a skill acquisition task
but playing games involves a skill-execution focus. Hence, just playing games
for practice will not help you acquire better skills, you will just get better
at executing the existing skills that you have.
The term Deliberate Practice was coined by a psychologist by the name of
Anders Ericsson who wrote a research paper in 1993 titled ‘The Role of
Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance’. This is where
the 10,000 hours concept came from, which was made popular in Malcolm
Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers’, because let’s face it, no one reads academic
journals other than students and academics. (If you want to read Ericsson’s article
Google it. You can download it!)
Ericsson studied musicians and chess players and was able to track the
amount of time it took for people to reach a level of expertise that was
considered ‘expert performance’ in that field. In chess, it was found to take
people between 9.5 and 10 years to become a grandmaster in chess. When looking
at the practice times and playing commitments of players who achieved this
level it was observed that it took around 20 hours of dedicated practice per
week, 50 weeks of the year, over 10 years. When you do the math that’s 10,000
Now Ericsson notes that it wasn’t good enough to do just any old type of
practice. He observed the type of practice expert performers engaged in and
noted some key features which inspired the term ‘Deliberate Practice’. The
features of practice that count as a deliberate practice are:
the skill down into components
attention on specific elements of the skill
the skill at more challenging levels
to master the skill being practised
Ericsson was a firm believer in practice being difficult and hard to
complete as this is what demands the development of the skill level necessary
to achieve mastery, which according to Ericsson was the whole reason we
Harder practice refers to making the practice environment more
challenging than your competition environment. By spending time practising your
sport under these conditions you become more equipped to handle the competition
environment because you know that you have trained under tougher conditions and
been successful. Competition seems easier because your
practice environment is so hard. Usain Bolt is a great example of this.
Competition time for Bolt was party time and he was able to be this relaxed at
the Olympics because he knew he had done the hardest work already in practice.So how do we make practice harder for squash players? By placing
restrictions and limitations on the player, changing the rules of the game for
one player or adding physical and mental load onto the player.For example:
can restrict a player by taking out an element of the court. This means the player
can only play a shot that bounces in the front of the court or one of the
sides of the court behind the service line. The box you serve from is the
side that is eliminated from the rest of the rally, so every shot has to
land in the same box the serve landed in or the front section of the
court. This cuts out cross courts and long drives down that wall as
possible shot options.
can change these rules for just one player and allow the other player to
have access to the full court. This stacks the advantage towards the
player with full access and forces the player with limitations to overcome
the adversity. You can have one player on a point-per-rally scoring system
and the other on a handout system and you can also apply different rules
when refereeing to create some adversity for the players by not giving
strokes – everything is a let only or no let. Some poor decisions really
help because these come during matches so having your players suffer some
poor decisions in practice is a helpful way to build their resilience so
they don’t sulk or spit the dummy during competition. Recently a foot
fault was called in the final of the Hong Kong Open against Ali Farag and
he looked so shocked by the call he didn’t win another point that game.
physical load or mental load involves increasing the physical and mental
demands on the players during the session. The physical load can
be increased by having the loser of each point do squats or a court sprint
between points to create additional fatigue. The mental load can involve
things like playing music or having distracting sounds being played on
court. Crowd noise, construction noise, clapping, cheering or any form of
distraction can increase the mental load on the players.
Harder practice plays a role in the practice schedule, but it doesn’t
occupy 100% of the available practice time. Finding the right amount of time to
use this form of practice will likely involve a discussion between coach and
player until a consensus is achieved as to an ideal amount of time spent on
Pressure practice is a practice that involves consequences and practising
with consequences builds mental toughness. The consequences apply the pressure
and help to replicate the competition environment as much as possible. When we
make errors in competition it hurts us and we have to deal with it. When we
make errors at practice it doesn’t matter, unless we make it matter!
Some ways you can add an element of pressure practice to your practice
physical penalties for errors, such as 10 squats or lunges after errors.
‘In-a-row’ targets, such as 20 drives ‘in-a-row’ within a set area.
targets, such as must win 3 consecutive points before stopping the game or
drill to replicate tie-break situations.
Players need to be competing during their practice so they become
accustomed to the demands of competition. Constant competition, on drills,
reps, court sprints, points – basically everything will help build the
resilience your players will need to consistently perform at their best during
We all value the ability to thrive under pressure and the only way we
grow and develop that skill is being exposed to pressure so we can learn how to
The purpose of practice is for you to get one minute of benefit or
improvement for every minute of practice time you spend with the overall goal
for you to be able to perform your best when you compete.
Not all of us are like Simon Rosner, who plays delicate drop shots and
touch volleys deep into a game with a heart rate of 190 beats per minute, so
our practice environment doesn’t have to replicate that and prepare us for that
level of performance. Unfortunately, for Rosner, his practice environment does!
For competition players and those aspiring to do great things in squash,
your practice environment needs to be tough and challenging so it mental
conditions you to meet the challenges and adversity that competition play
provides. Your practice environment needs to help you compete under pressure
and provide you with opportunities to hold your nerve and go for your shots
under scoreboard pressure and physical fatigue.
By using the above 4 types of practice you can create a practice
environment that provides you with the hard work that you need to do to get the
best out of yourself as well as the subtle variations that enable you to maximise
the quality of your practice time so it easily and seamlessly transfers into
the competition environment.