Most squash coaches agree that deception, AKA disguise, faking, holding your shot, etc., is an important part of the modern squash game – thanks in part to the reign of Canada’s Jonathon Power and the current ascendancy of the Egyptians at the top of the world squash rankings. So now what: what deception shots and situations to teach first? Which to teach second? What do we do after the first few sessions? Although there have been recent articles published on how to teach deception (e.g., Cliff Wenn, David Campion, Roger Flynn, John Lau) none of their work features a comprehensive framework for developing deceptive players and deceptions skills.
Even the world’s most deceptive players probably have very little idea about how to go about training deception in a systematic way. Most of the world’s top players who use a significant amount of deception in their game started to learn deception through observational learning (i.e., watched others do it). A couple of years after I coached the Canadian Jr. National at the 1990 Junior Worlds in Paderborn, I invited Jonathon Power (at 17 just starting on the PSA Tour) to my squash club in Montreal to run a clinic on deception for my A, B and C teams. He did a great job (relative to his age and experience) but certainly did not have a very clear idea on deception teaching progressions
The purpose of this post is to outline a systematic approach to teaching squash deception that can be used to develop deception in one particular player – or a nation of players, through a country’s coaching education program.
Step 1. Start with a comprehensive Tactical Model to organize ideas around deception. I plan to use System 3 – which is a zone model of squash, where tactics are determined primarily (but not exclusively) by a player’s position on the court when receiving the ball: front, mid- and back-court zones. In combination with the difficulty of the ball received (easy, medium, difficult) a player determines his or her tactical intent or phase (attack, rally, defence) and then selects a shot to implement this phase (e.g., drop, drive, lob). Any tactical model can be used however, and I will explain the System 3 Zone Model in a future post.
Step 2. Deception is a form of attacking (or counter-attacking) the opponent, so the next step in our approach is to list, in priority order, the different deception situations in each of the three zones. There are several ways this priority order could be established:
- easiest to execute to most difficult (probably best for young juniors)
- most frequent to least frequent (probably best for pro players)
- most important to least important (i.e., good deception in this situation usually wins pt.)
- based on an individual assessment of a particular player
- personal preference (of either the player or squash coach)
- a combination of the above methods
Step 3. Make the list. Here are a couple of examples for each of the three zones that probably reflect a progression of easiness and frequency at an “A” level:
1. Straight drop or cross-court drive off “easier” boast (show neutral compact drive preparation)
2. Straight drop or lob off “difficult” boast (show drop preparation with hand).
3. Show straight drop (slow moving arm) with last minute flick cross-court executed with wrist off boast.
4. As above but with straight instead of cross-court flick.
1. Straight drop or cross-court drive off a loose ball in the middle.
2. Straight drive or attacking two-wall working boast off a low, hard straight drive from the back.
3. Straight or cross-court drop off a loose ball in the middle.
4. Straight volley drive or volley boast of a not tight straight drive from back.
1. Show straight hard low drive, surprise with attacking boast off easier ball off backwall.
2. Show straight hard low drive, surprise with straight drop off easier ball off backwall.
3. Show straight hard low drive, surprise with reverse angle off loose ball off backwall.
Step 4. Choose a pedagogy or teaching method to teach the deception situations or skills. The Games Approach seems ideal since this gives the squash coach an opportunity to evaluate the player(s) in a game situation to determine what work needs to be done. For example, in the front court situations listed above, player A could “serve” with a boast, and player B, stationed on the “T”, could return with a straight drop or cross-court drive, and then play the point out to see if player B was able to take advantage of the situation. After 5 minutes of play, an experienced coach would be able to determine which of the shots (drop or drive) needed more work, if the player was telegraphing the shot too much, as well as other basic elements common to all squash situations, recovery, ready position, quality of shot, choice of follow-up shots, effort, attitude, etc. Obviously other teaching methods could be used as well. With top players it might be enough to show a few video examples and then have the “play a game and try it out”. Unfortunately, most squash coaches do not find themselves in this ideal situation and therefore need a systematic approach to teaching deception.
Step 5. Reinforce the importance of deception by occasionally using conditioned games to encourage your players to use and practice deception: two points for a winning deception shot; A must play deep, B can attack with deception; short game (in front of service line); etc. Give your player feedback on missed opportuities to use deception in match play – or the overuse of deception.