Take it slow…

28th August 2013

This week’s blog is prompted by a session I ran recently, introducing a couple of good standard u17 junior players to a new speed/agility drill they hadn’t done before. It was quite a technical drill, where we were really looking to emphasise focus on the split step, elasticity, and efficiency of movement.

What really struck me, was how difficult it was for the players to actually go through it slowly. Every repetition was being done at high pace; even after they’d been told to slow it right down to get a proper feel of the movement before increasing the pace up to the full working sets.

Now obviously working with youngsters, there is always that keenness and eagerness to do everything at speed. These two weren’t hyper little children though; both are mature and responsive teenagers. They genuinely thought they were doing it slowly, and had no real concept of how fast and frantic they were actually moving, even when I’d highlighted it several times between reps.

Of course, speed/agility drills are meant to be carried out at a high pace to get the benefits. It was just interesting to me how unaware these young players were of what it actually meant to go through a movement more slowly and under control, and this is something I frequently see in a lot of on-court conditioning sessions.

I think a lot of players are so used to charging round a court at top speed, that they forget that sometimes it’s very useful to slow things down a little to really help develop the technique of a drill or movement. Squash is obviously a fast, high-intensity sport, but there is also a large degree of subtlety in the footwork a player must use on the court, and these motor skills need to be reinforced methodically at slower speeds before progressing onto working at max pace.

Ghosting is one such drill, where many players want to just tear through everything at top pace. The danger with this is that you can often end up reinforcing bad habits and building your footwork on bad foundations. I’ve always advocated thinking about ghosting as almost two different drills – a ‘technique’ ghost, and a ‘conditioning’ ghost – both with very different goals and objectives.

Observing one of Jesse Englebrecht’s ghosting sessions at our recent Squashskills Training Camp, it was obvious from watching the players less familiar with ghosting drills that they weren’t really aware of how frantic and uncontrolled their movements were – it took taking some of the guys down almost to walking pace for several minutes to actually get them to focus on the subtleties of the movement, before gradually increasing the speed again back to something more approaching a realistic pace.

It’s often the same working in a gym environment when developing the compound lifts for squash-related strength and conditioning such as the lunge, squat, and deadlift. People are so eager to pack weight on the bar and start rattling through the exercise, before they’ve actually developed proper technique – as with ghosting, increasing speed and intensity on lifts before sufficiently focusing on getting the actual movement optimised, means you’re going to build all of your subsequent gains on bad foundations. With resistance exercise, in particular, this can lead to a lot of trouble with injury and muscular imbalance at a later stage.

So just a little thought of something to take away with you: when training any kind of new movement, drill, technique, or exercise, really think about slowing things right down until you have developed a very good mastery of it. Get a friend or coach to check your form, or even video yourself doing it, to make sure that you’re actually doing it at a sufficiently deliberate pace to be able to feel the subtleties and to properly groove it to get it technically correct. As a coach, think about just stretching out that initial ‘learning phase’ when working on something new with a player, and really reinforce getting things right at that slower pace, before taking them back up to match speed. Be patient, and don’t be in such a rush – some things take time to perfect.


Gary Nisbet 

B.Sc.(Hons), CSCS, NSCA-CPT, Dip. FTST
SquashSkills Fitness & Performance Director

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