One way is to run a systematic strength, power, speed and agility training program for our athletes – we know that a good 4-6 week program can improve our athletes speed and power up to 10%.
An alternative and more efficient way however is to work on improving your players’ anticipation. In an on-court field study conducted almost 20 years ago, motor learning specialist Bruce Abernethy demonstrated that “A” squash players initiate movement towards their opponent’s shot before the ball is even struck, while “D” players do not depart until after the ball is struck. This creates a situation where better “anticipators” get the equivalent of a 3-4 meter head start in a short 10 meter race. The conclusion we can draw from this and other scientific studies in the area is that better players rely on pre-impact cues (in other words they anticipate) while lesser players rely more on post-impact cues (i.e., the flight of the ball).
Imagine how quick your players would be around the court if they knew exactly what shot the opponent would play before the ball was struck – especially useful retrieving balls played to the front. It appears that frequently, many of the best anticipators have learned this ability from unstructured observation and play, probably during one of the two golden periods of childhood learning that usually occur before the age of 12-13. Some athletes appear to be naturally very good at anticipation, and respond well to brief verbal coaching to “watch out for this shot when she is here”, or “when the ball is here, he will probably do this”.
Problem: what do we do with the players who do not anticipate well (many or most of our high school, college and even younger national team players) and do not respond to verbal directives to “get on his or her shot quicker”? Read the rest of this entry »