Why I Purchased a Ping Pong Robot but Won’t Buy a Squash Ball Machine!

I’ll preface my post by saying that I did in fact own a squash ball machine – the first one that came out (1989??).  I co-purchased it when I was the “squash director” at the now defunct Rockland Sport (actually there to train/mentor their squash pro Denis Favreau who was converting from tennis – little known fact – Jonathon Power got his start here with great junior coach Robby Cannot Recall his name now – will later…) with my buddy, Yvon Provencal, recently named Canadian National Squash Coach.  I don’t recall ever actually using it (Yvon kept it at his club!) since I had already been indoctrinated into a “tactics first” approach through my exposure to Tennis Canada’s “Methode des actions” (read “Tactics First”).

Why did I just purchase a Newgy Robo-Pong when I will not buy a squash ball machine?

Reasons not to use a ball machine:

  • squash is an open sport, where anticipation (reliance on pre-impact cues – mostly from reading the opponent’s shoulder and arm position according to Abernethy) is critical (as is tactical awareness – or game sense:  knowledge of the effect of your previous shot, opponent’s position and tactical tendencies, etc.) – none of these cues are available when using the squash ball machine;
  • without supervision (in which case a ball machine could be redundant) most players for not respect the shot-cycle (every shot in squash involves four steps:  1. watching 2. movement to the ball 3. striking the ball 4. recovery to the appropriate spot on the court) and could easily (as in the video example above) practice in a way that is not game-like at all – thereby actually hurting performance;

Reasons Why I Bought a Pong Robot

  • Demonstration purposes – as the only decent player around my college (except for a Japanese woman who apparently is very good, so I have been avoiding;) it is the only way (except for self-feed or shadowing) to adequately demonstrate ping pong strokes in my upcoming Introduction to Racquet Sports course at Smith College;
  • Although we do not get pre-impact cues with the Robot – we must read the spin of the ball – so we are actually working a critical component of anticipation not important (or available) in squash;
  • The Squash court is ideal for solo practice – you can simulate a wide variety of shots – not possible with many ping pong tables – and only possible in a limited way in those that can convert one half to a backboard.

Having said all this, I will be publishing 2-3 videos/posts on using a squash ball machine for tactical drills.  My Racketlon partner Shona Kerr is preparing for a WISPA event in Arizona, and we will be training/reinforcing several tactical patterns that she will be using in that event.  Each drill using the ball machine will have a tactical theme (e.g., deception in the front court), and will involve the entire shot cycle as I will be providing the feed for the follow-up shot (that the machine will be unable to provide).  For example the machine will boast, Shona will straight drop, and I will re-drop or drive cross – and she will respond appropriately (having to make a perception and decision, which is what makes this tactical and not just technical training).  Shona and I will come up with 4-5 commonly used patterns of play that require either a third training partner – or a ball machine.  Unfortunately, many squash drills are dictated by convenience (i.e., what two players can do without stopping the drill) rather than solid tactics – perhaps an explanation as to why squash players peak so late compared to other sports:)

Application for Squash Coaches:

  1. Be wary of potential bad technical (not observing the shot cycle) habits developing with squash ball machines.
  2. Be sure to give your player a tactical context or at least a basic tactical explanation for the shots they practice with a ball machine.
  3. Play ping pong!

5 Responses to Why I Purchased a Ping Pong Robot but Won’t Buy a Squash Ball Machine!

  1. Joe Besso says:

    I agree with your assessment regarding the ball machine. I see it as an complimentary tool for training on court for pressure drills, specific tactics or situations, speed work and deception. Mike Way has used it often in his training sessions. Like anything it can add value to training on court if there is thought and structure put into it. With regards to the “Action Method“ in tennis which is credited to Louis Cayer the fact is that method had been in use long before (try the 1960s)in squash by Australians Joe Shaw and Kevin Parker.

  2. […] Why I Purchased a Ping Pong Robot but Won't Buy a Squash Ball … Having said all this, I will be publishing 2-3 videos/posts on using a squash ball machine for tactical drills My Racketlon partner Shona Kerr is preparing for a WISPA event in Arizona, and we will be training/reinforcing several . […]

  3. Dan Martyna says:

    The good thing about the squash cannon is that it can vary where the shots are shooting as well as it can shoot the ball randomly. The machine also allows the coach to shoot a ball at the press of a button. This randomness eliminates some of the static practice that you talk about. Although you can not read the opposing players racket and arm movement the Cannon is invaluable for grooving a strokes. It was a big part of Jonathan Power’s daily training regiment. Also Mike Way, Jonathan’s coach and coach of Harvard Business School and arguably one of the best coaches in the world rarely goes on court with out it. Another fun trick we use is to mix in some colored balls. The color of ball that shoots out of the machine indicates what shot a student must hit. Not only does the force the student to watch the ball it makes them react very quickly to different shots. It is not the only way to practice and should only be supplemental, without question, but try to do 100 drop shots in a row without it!

  4. Tim Bacon says:

    Here is a link to a YouTube video where we use the Cannon ball machine in a “tactical” way: the machine puts the FIRST BALL in play, and then the coach provides the “tactics”, anticipatory cues, perception on the shot after the player’s response to the first ball: http://youtu.be/gOnEktSgB6w .

    • Dan Martyna says:

      Great drill! You are right, we use it a lot to start drills off. One in particular is practicing deception. Ball machine actually shoots the ball off the back wall and up over the players head, slightly to one side, so they don’t have to worry about being hit. The player at the front of the court needs to hold the ball as long as he can and try to fool the player behind. If the player behind gets to the ball they rotate positions.

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