When you get started in squash, there are a couple of simple shots to learn in order to start playing against an opponent. Fortunately, they’re both relatively simple to get the hang of initially, but can take years of play to perfect.
How To Play Shots In Squash
The two swings to master in squash are the forehand and backhand. Virtually all the techniques to develop in the sport stem from these two basic skills, including the stun, boasts, drop shots and so on. Most players start to learn on the forehand, progressing over time to improve their backhand shots to really challenge opponents.
The Squash Forehand Swing
Very simply, the forehand is the swing and shot that happens on the same side of your body that you hold the racket.
- If you are right handed, the forehand involves striking the ball on the right side of your body.
- If you play left handed, a forehand means swinging to hit the ball on your left side.
What To Think About When Playing A Forehand Shot
When starting out as a beginner, almost all players favour playing forehand over backhand shots. It’s a more natural motion, and anyone that’s learned to play tennis will likely have had a similar preference as they learned.
Over time, players generally find that the backhand is more versatile, especially in terms of winning points.
A good forehand is very important though, as you will often need to use whichever side is closest due to the speed of the game.
Opening your body effectively to play a shot in squash is very important, trying to get too close to the ball makes it harder to strike accurately, and leaves you less time to hit the ball (as more time is spent moving towards to ball before striking).
Once you play with slower colour squash balls, you’ll have less time to get to the ball before the second bounce,so building an intuitive sense for playing your shots is important.
When you play a forehand shot, it can be tempting to hit the ball as hard as possible, but keep accuracy in mind. Moving your opponent repeatedly from the centre of the court with an accurate forehand can be just as effective as a high speed shot, if not more so.
How Forehand Aim Works
Knowing where you want the ball to end up is critical to play a good shot. Let’s look at this from a right handed perspective as it’s the more common side – if you’re left handed, swap left for right and vice versa.
When you hit the ball, you’ll get a feel for hitting the ball straight ahead as you learn.
- To make the ball go left, you need to play the ball slightly earlier.
- To play a shot to the right, play the ball a little later.
The Squash Backhand Swing
Conversely, the backhand shot in squash is played on the opposite side to the forehand.
- If you are right handed, the backhand is played across your body from the left side striking the ball in a motion to the right.
- If you are left handed, the backhand swings from the right towards the left to play the ball.
What To Think About When Playing A Backhand Shot
How your body moves plays a huge part in playing a strong backhand. Two key areas are shoulder and hip movement. Over time, you can develop a technique where both joints work together to provide both power and accuracy in one, natural movement.
In squash, you’ll get the most power from leaning into a shot from the hips, while using a snapping motion to strike the ball hard which comes from the shoulder. Timing both those movements to perfection creates a synergy to maximise the power at the point of contact between the ball and racket to get maximum speed on the ball.
Expect that to begin with your shot accuracy will falter as you learn to increase the speed of shots you play. Don’t worry about that, as you get used to the faster speeds you’ll regain much of that accuracy naturally. Think of it as a case of improving speed first, then training yourself to improve accuracy as the next step. Few players can successfully do both together.
In general, new players tend to have a slower backhand than forehand, so it’s arguably even more important to focus on accuracy over power on the backhand to keep pressure on your opponent.
How Backhand Aim Works
For completeness, let’s consider aim as we did with forehand strokes. Relative to playing the ball straight for a right hander:
- To play a shot right of centre, play the ball slightly earlier.
- To play a force the ball to the left, take your shot a moment later.
Choosing The Shot
The choice of forehand or backhand will primarily be decided by a combination of your position on the court and where the ball is travelling. The single most important aim is to play the ball before it bounces for a second time. Reaching the ball in time will often mean there’s only one option of either forehand or backhand to keep the ball in play.
If you are lucky (or very fast on court), you’ll sometimes be able to choose whether to take the ball on the forehand or backhand, but it’s important to be comfortable with both if you want to be competitive on court.
Shot selection usually comes down to deciding which side of your body to hit the ball to give yourself the best choice of winning the point with that shot. Different player have different approaches to winning, and we discuss squash techniques elsewhere on the site in more detail. In general, if you can play the ball so that your opponent either cannot reach the ball in time or has a tough shot to play near a wall, that’s ideal.
Finishing The Swing
A common mistake made by new players is focusing more on the next shot before the current shot is complete. Learning to continue the swing of the racket through the ball is critical. Follow through after striking the ball means you hit through the ball, and can be sure the ball has left the racket with full speed and accuracy. Finishing the swing too soon means you can lose power or let the direction loosen, leaving you vulnerable to allowing your opponent more control over the game.
Good follow through to complete a shot doesn’t mean that you will be slower to prepare for the next shot, as you improve it will become natural to execute a full shot and swing, so you’ll instinctively do so even if your mind has turned to returning to the centre of the court to have the next shot you receive covered.
Regardless of forehand or backhand positioning, squash can be an incredibly fast game, so allowing your shots to be almost automatic should be a goal as you improve and free up your thoughts for wider game management and noticing the weaknesses to exploit in your opponent’s game.
The Squashy Summary
It’s easy to think of squash as a two shot game as it all boils down to forehand and backhand swings. There’s a lot of subtlety within the two though, and once you’ve got the basics mastered, the subset of shots available on each side are what will really accelerate your progress as a squash player.
Forehands will usually be the shot that offers greatest power, while backhands give you a more delicate shot selection. Eventually, excelling in all areas will give you maximum flexibility around the court, and good all round skills mean you can deal with the ball in any part of the court.
You’ll find a lot more detail about each shot and technique in this section, including what the individual shots are and how to execute them alongside when to choose them and why.