Squash is one of the few sports that can be practiced successfully either alone or with others.
There are different benefits to both. Solo play, for example, is probably the best way of developing technical play, whereas practice against a partner is preferable in developing tactical awareness. If you play several times a week, it is wise to make one of these sessions a solo session. If only once a week, you could incorporate maybe a ten or fifteen minute solo drill either before the match or after it.
So can you play squash alone? You can pratice squash alone but not play a game. Solo practice helps refine technique without pressure. Muscle memory is increased because you are getting double the amount of hits in the same period of time. Mistakes can be analysed in depth and at your leisure.
All professional squash players advocate solo practice, and in this blog post I am going to explore many of the reasons why.
Can you play a game alone?
No! All the information in this blog is about how to practice alone, and the benefits that this has.
What are the benefits of playing alone?
There are many key areas that are developed at a greater speed through solo play than any other form of practice. That is not to say there is no benefit in practicing with others. There certainly is, and practice with others is certainly at least as important as solo practice.
However, there are some benefits that lend themselves much more to solo practice. The first is:
In simple terms twenty minutes solo practice is the same amount of hitting time as forty minutes with a partner. That means that you develop muscle memory at a greater speed if practicing for the same amount of time. Muscle memory is the ability to reproduce a certain skill successfully without conscious thought. The more hits, the more the muscles are conditioned (if you’re doing it right). It’s that simple.
Linked to muscle memory is repetition. Playing identical shots again and again goes a long way to training the mind and body. Solo squash drills lend themselves well to this level of repetition, something that can be slightly harder in some partner drills.
If you think about it, lots of solo drills involve hitting the ball straight at the wall and then performing the same shot as it rebounds. Drills with a partner require more movement in between shots. Movement is clearly a great thing for stamina and agility training, but not quite so good for sheer repetition.
3. Developing technique
You can experiment more freely with technique during solo drills as there is a lot less to think about. You can make technique more of a central focus, and this really helps to fine-tune and get all of your body working in the most efficient way. This will really help the quality of your forehand, and your backhand in particular.
4. Analyzing your mistakes
When playing or practicing against an opponent a huge amount of time is spent on observing their game and thinking about each shot they play.
In solo play, this mindset is completely removed. It is a perfect time to think about your own target areas, and mistakes that you seem to be making. Should you cock your wrist a little more? Should you be more side-on? Solo play gives you time and freedom to experiment a little in a pressure-free environment.
5. Relaxation away from making mistakes
Solo practice has no-one watching or analyzing your mistakes. You can go into a totally relaxed mindset, and become more attuned to your game.
6. Work on weaknesses
Many players will know clearly what is holding their game back. For many beginners it is often the backhand. Backhand solo drills can be one of the best ways of addressing this.
Are there any other benefits?
We all know that feeling of being stood up by an opponent or practice partner. We all lead busy lives, and this is sadly just a part of life. In most other sports that would be it – curtains! But in squash, why not use that court booking and get out there and do a bit of practice. Turn the obstacle into an opportunity.
Another benefit of solo play is to use it as a warm up to a game. It is squash etiquette to warm-up with your partner before a squash match anyway. But why not take ten minutes before that to get your rhythm going.
Some players often take the first game in a match to really feel like they are loosening up and getting into the right zone. By lengthening your warm-up you give yourself at least a chance of reducing this lazy period of wasted points.
Benefits of playing with a partner
However, it would be wrong to just mention the benefits of playing alone in this article. Let’s quickly look at some of the things that solo play simply cannot provide in the same abundance as practice with a partner. Here’s a list:
- Tactics – this is the biggie. Tactics are all about observing or foreseeing events and putting actions in place to counter them. You simply have to have other humans involved for tactics to be possible. Tactics can be thought up ahead of a match, or created in the spur of the moment. Either way, though, they are ideas and actions that are required to seek advantage over an opponent. In short, an opponent is a must.
- Thinking on your feet – So much in squash is about the response to different situations. This is learned much more competently through playing with others.
- Variation of shot – Solo play is more about repetition. But repeat, repeat, repeat in a squash match and you will be mincemeat. Variation of shots comes much more through matchplay than practice, either solo or paired.
- Some things can’t be practiced – A good example of this is returning serves. You need someone to serve you the ball in the first place. Paired practice is much more effective, clearly , for this.
- Returning to the T not as instinctive – This is quite important. In a match, after playing a stroke your first movement should be back to the T. Many solo drills do not incorporate this movement. Therefore, you are learning the muscle memory associated with the shot, but not the secondary muscle memory to then return effortlessly to the T.
- Stamina – There is often less movement in solo drills than drills with a partner, and so less of an emphasis on fitness
- Fun/humor – Of course one of the most important reasons that we all play sport is to interact with others that have similar interests to us in an enjoyable environment. The banter, the wit, the comedy of playing against others is of courses absent during solo play.
How often should you play alone?
There is no hard and fast rule on this. Some sources seem to recommend that if you practice three times a week, then one of those should be a solo session. If you practice more or less than this, just try to keep this 1:2 ratio. Solo practice does not necessarily need to be a whole session. Just a short session before or after games, or whilst waiting to play a match can all make a difference.
What sort of activities can you do?
Here are some of the most popular solo squash drills, with a description on how to play them:
- Side to sides – This is possibly the best solo drill, and probably the one that helped me improve my game the most. Simply stand in the center of the court, and hit the ball with a forehand towards one of the side walls. The ball will rebound over your head and hit the wall behind you, before bouncing in front of you and you can hit it with a backhand back to where it has come. Repeat, repeat, repeat. To make it harder you can extend this activity to hitting volleys.
- Forehand drives – A nice simple one here. Simply drive the ball down the wall using forehand technique. Try to hit it deep into the corner and as tight to the wall as possible. Simply play another forehand drive when the ball comes back to you, and repeat.
- Backhand drives – The same ideas as for the forehand. Simple drives down the backhand wall. For both the forehand and backhand drive practice try to hit a good length to the back of the court.
- Figure of eights – This is one of the more well-known solo practices. In this you stand in the middle of the court on the T. Hit the ball high up on the front wall, hitting that wall as near to the corner as possible. The ball should rebound off the side wall back towards you and you then hit it high up on the other side of the front wall. Repeat. The easier way to do this drill is to let the ball bounce. The harder way is to play volleys.
- Forehand/backhand volleys – Another simple idea. Volley the ball straight at the wall down the line, whichever side you are on. You can start close to the wall and move backwards to end up at the back of the court, striking volleys as you go.
- Practice serves – There may well be no-one to return them, but solo squash is a good time to practice the accuracy of your serves. Try some lob serves, and try to get them to bounce high up on the side wall, and get them to die at the back of the court. Try some drives, and you can perhaps add a target of some description to the part of the wall you are aiming at.
We are all lucky in that we a play a sport that we can play by ourselves. Not only can this be an excellent practical solution if you are struggling to find practice partners, but also there are many benefits of solo play that will take your game to the next level. Solo drills develop technical skills better than any other form of practice. They are also fantastic at developing muscle memory by repeating key shots repeatedly in a pressure-free environment. What are your favorite solo practice drills?