The most critical aspect of any squash training for young children is the capacity of the older sibling, parent or even coach to secure their long term interest in the game.
While it is important to cut out bad habits early in a child’s squash development, keeping that child interested in the game will make any lessons you try to impart that much easier to absorb.
There is a phrase used by the tennis fraternity, which deals with this very aspect of sport. It is called “play and stay”. As the name would suggest, the idea is to get newcomers to try the sport out the first time and return if they like it.
Sometimes – some would say often – drills involving young children will have little to do with squash at all. In the initial stages it actually makes a considerable amount of sense to just ditch the racket and the squash ball altogether.
Sometimes it makes total sense to just help a child familiarize himself/herself with the squash court and if you can it will probably be in everybody’s interests to introduce as much color as possible during the initial outings.
It is also a good idea to often introduce a competitive element to the training regimen – not necessarily to produce winners and losers but rather to create incentive for children to take part in the activities.
It is often said that rules are meant to be broken. It is also said that you can only break the rules if you know them. With drill one we are breaking all of the rules that we know. Firstly, we will rearrange that front wall of the squash court.
Using tape, we will carve the section between tin and service line into thirds along the front wall. Make the middle section your de facto goal posts. One child can be the goalkeeper. Instead of gloves or a hockey stick, he/she will use two rackets.
As we are sure you have already picked up, the rest of the group – which could range from one to twenty – will line up on the short line or the t-line. Their job will be to get the ball past the squash goalkeeper as often as is conceivably possible.
In many respects, it really is a useful exercise for young players. Obviously, the players would not have developed their technical skills that much at this stage. However, the drill does encourage young players…children, to acquaint themselves with the idea of manipulating the racket and the trajectory of the ball.
It also helps young players learn – some more than others – the value of developing a sense of feel when hitting a squash ball. For example, the children involved in this drill will quickly learn that hitting the ball the hardest doesn’t always producing winning strokes. It teachers children that placement is often more important.
There are also lessons to be had for the player “standing in goal”. the opportunity to enhance the prospects of being ambidextrous does present itself. Probably not as important. However, beyond that there is also the small matter learning to react quickly.
Quick reactions are often half the job done in squash. It is something that tends to be taken for granted. Also note that not every ball will come to front wall at speed. So, the player designated at the front wall will also learnt to judge speed a bit better. Well, that is what is envisaged anyway.
It goes without saying that things will not always work out that way. It can be a fun drill and children can honestly got at it for a long time if they wish.
As a variation to drill one, an older or more skilled player can adopt to use a sponge ball – or any bouncier ball – to change the line of attack at goal. Instead of forcing the “goalkeeper” to take the ball on the fly, the next stage of his development will involve learning to defend the ball off the bounce.
So, in addition to learning how to judge speed, a young player will also learn how to judge the trajectory of the ball. So, watching where it bounces – and with time – figuring out what the optimum height will be to get a racket on the ball.
As a progression from this, there will then be the option to either bounce the ball in or force the player at the wall to take the ball on the fly. That way you are teaching the youngster to start making a read on what kind of shot to make before defending his “goal”.
It goes without saying but eventually you can start to get a rotation going. What can also be fun with this drill is that the players who aren’t “shooting at goal” or protecting the “goal” can have some fun chasing after the balls and picking them up, regardless of where they might land.
Just be careful to ensure an element of safety is involved – to ensure there is no running into rackets and walls or anything dramatic like that.
Now, this drill can either go very well or very badly. It really hinges on the aptitude of the players involved. Very young children might struggle. However, the struggle could very well be the appeal. The idea that there is a goal in mind and that you will not relent until that objective is realized.
The drill can also be mundane, especially for an adult – who probably needs to be a part of it. However, the adults don’t really matter now, do they. At the end of it all, it is all about the children.
But I digress. The point here is that you will probably have somebody to feed the ball on the short line or the t-line. Well… we are calling it a feed but it is really just a stroke played onto the front wall. The idea is to drop the ball short. That is probably quite important.
Then the the first child in the rotation – starting from just behind the short line will run forward and his/her only job is the pick the ball up with the racket. So, no hands and no stroke played at all. All the child needs to do is get the ball to sit on the racket.
Initially, for the very young children, getting that ball to stand still on the racket will be a an absolute nightmare. The only goal should be to get the ball to land on the racket, even if it rolls up and down the strings.
This is a very gradual process of learning how to develop some meaningful feel and to some degree learning the value of balance. Players who don’t have a steady hand will struggle. For them, it might even be prudent to use two hands if they have to. It is honestly not the end of the world.
So, pick the ball up, return it to the feeder and shuffle to the back of the line. The thing you will find about a lot of these drills for children is that children just love running, staying busy. Oh to be young again. As long as you keep them occupied, they will be easy to handle.
Who says squash courts are just for squash balls? Young children have very short concentration spans and sometimes beach balls need to be deployed. They are big, colorful and easy to play with. So, essentially this drill will involved two players at a time.
If you are feeling saucy, you can do perform this drill in groups and just get a team rotation going. So, the two players involved will have rackets in their hands. PLAYER ONE will stand in either the front left or the front right corner of the court.
PLAYER TWO will be stationed at dead centre in the court. So, PLAYER ONE will hit hat was previously a stationary beach ball on the ground. The goal is a simple one, try to hit PLAYER TWO with the beach ball.
PLAYER ONE can choose to flick the ball up or hit it along the ground. You will find that children just love being hit by beach balls. It is most uncanny. There will be a lot of laughter and some screaming to accompany that. It can be a fun drill and the player who makes the most hits will ultimately win.
You will probably find that you can continue with this drill forever. Maybe stop, when it gets a little chaotic. In a small way, players learn to exercise a little ball control and develop the capacity to hit targets more regularly.
As a form of progression from Drill Four. You will have two children stationed along either one of the sidewalls, protecting what will be a very large hockey goal. You will still be using the beach balls and you will still have rackets in hand.
In true hockey fashion, the goal will be to flick the beach ball from the ground, while your opponent’s goal will be to block the ball from hitting the wall. So, there will essentially be a bit of target practice complimented by movement practice.
Without even really realizing it, the players will become better at moving from side-to-side. They will also become more accomplished at laying a racket on the ball while on the move. That is obviously a major component of squash.
When you are a young child, hand-eye coordination can be something particularly difficult to master. This drill allows for some opportunity to try and hone those skills a little bit more without there being a considerable amount at stake for either player.
There is a considerable amount on the line here. Let us call it squash backwall security. Most of these children’s drills require an adult to feed and monitor the sessions – that will be particularly relevant with this drill.
One child will be stationed at the back of the court, either on the righthand or lefthand side of the court. Because hand-eye coordination will still be a significant factor to deal with here, maybe start the children off on the forehand side.
All this drill will require is a straightforward into the front wall, probably with a sponge ball. At this point, the child’s only goal in life will be to protect the backwall of the court. So, this should be safety first and just get a racket on the ball.
Maybe, as a form of incentive offer one point for getting a racket onto the ball and then offer another point for getting the ball to strike the front wall. Naturally, there will be some form of rotation with this drill.
There is no need to make matters too complicated. Hit the ball and move to the back of the line.
As a progression from drill six, there focus at this point is really to teach the children to start hitting the squash ball in an almost match-like situation. While Drill Six centered most of its focus on just getting the racket on the ball, this drill will teach children to hit the ball on the run.
I would recommend using a bouncy ball, either a blue dot, or an even bouncier squash ball for children.
Put a cone on the T. The group should line up along the sidewall near the back, facing that marker.
Given that these will mostly be new players, a simple feed either thrown or with a gentle strike with a racket would work well.
So the leading player (or coach) stands near the left hand sidewall, and near the front wall. They throw or hit a gentle feed towards the cone on the T.
The first player in the group will then run towards the marker and try to hit the ball, with the view to hitting the front wall. The goal here will be to make contact with the ball.
If the ball finds the front wall, then fantastic. That player will run round to the back of the line. The next player will run to the T, and the feeder will feed another ball. Repeat the process. A large pile of balls is good for this drill. Just leave the balls wherever they are after the shots, and gather them up at the end.
If a shot goes wrong, and the ball can’t be retrieved by the next player in the line, then simply start the drill again, with the leader feeding.
To make this interesting, a competitive element could be added to the routine. Failure to make contact with the ball can been seen as a points deduction. Three strikes and you are out.
The biggest challenge for any young player is developing meaningful hand-eye coordination. That is often complicated by the fact that a squash ball bounces. So, it is not just about getting a racket on the ball but it is also about learning how to read the bounce of a ball and understanding when you need to make contact with the ball.
The next drill helps realize that objective.
For the next drill get the players in a line near the back wall. Using a soft ball, one at a time the players work their way from the middle of the court, bouncing the ball up with the racket. For new players, this is the kind of drill that assists with confidence and control.
Each player in the group will try to wiggle around the four cones, still hitting the ball upwards with gentle strikes. The key is to keep the racket face straight up to the ceiling.
When they get to the bucket, the idea is they try to gently hit the ball into the bucket. Each player is allowed a few goes to try to get it in!
Balance is a key element in squash, and this drill really works well on developing this. The value that this drill can have for intermediate and even advanced players cannot not be understated either. It is designed to help you understand at which point during your swing you lose your balance.
Get a cone and place it on your head. The players can line up just behind the T-line, all with cones on their head. One player or coach can then stand in the front corner of the court and provide a gentle feed. The player at the front of the line then moves forward and plays a straight drive to the back of the court.
If that cone falls off during your stroke, there is probably a problem. More important than anything else is spotting when that cone falls off your head.
The drill can be performed on both the forehand and backhand sides of the court.
The half ball/balance ball is a most effective tool to have in squash training. Historically it has been used mostly for yoga training and that is cute. In squash it can be used to train balance, strength, flexibility and to even do muscle exercises.
Those exercises can be conducted by standing on the ball, jumping on the ball, kneeling and even lying down. It is honestly going to be useful to get children used to the idea of using one at some stage in their development as squash players and there is no time like the present really.
With drill, the goal will be really simple. Give the child a cone, a cup or even the container you buy squash balls in. Once again, children can get excited by the slightest things. Using a colorful cup would not be a bad idea at all.
This time it will probably be most prudent to use actual squash balls. They are most likely to fit into a cup. So, anyway…get the child to stand on the balance ball, on the edge of the service box. Basically, not too far away from the sidewall.
Because children need to start learning to do things by themselves at some point, this drill won’t be a bad time to start the habit. So, the instruction is to throw the ball against the sidewall and upon its return from the wall get the child to catch the ball in the cup.
Balance is really the overriding theme here. So, the child is learning to throw the ball and then catch it while maintaining his/her balance. There is also the competitive element to this, which is always useful under the circumstances.
Simply put, the most balls you catch the better, provided you do not fall off the balance ball.
As a progression to the previous drill, you can now use two halfball/balanceballs. Put those balls next to each other, also on the edge of the service box. A key element here will be time, so the manner in which the ball is thrown at the wall will also vary.
In the previous drill the ball throw might have been underarm, partly because you were using a squash ball. However, with this drill, the ball toss needs to be overarm…firstly.
Secondly, it will probably be prudent to use a blue dot ball. The goal with this drill is the bounce the ball into the sidewall and then collect it in your cup after stepping onto and settling on the second balance ball.
There are essentially three elements at play here. The first is hand-eye coordination. The second is situational awareness and thirdly movement will be incorporated into that. Children should be careful not to do this too fast, as they could get hurt.
Try not to put too much pressure onto them to catch that ball. The primary focus should be on getting onto that second balance ball safely and then catching the ball if he/she can. It should not be the other way around.
When dealing with children, the prospect of playing with balloons is always a thrill. There is no reason why you cannot take that party to the squash court. The balance balls are still needed for this drill. Well, you only need one balance ball per child.
Critically, the children also get to use a racket for this drill. Standing on the balance ball, the children should start by bouncing the balloon on the racket. The competitive element to this presents itself when the child starts counting how long they can keep the balloon in the air, without stepping off the balance ball.
When the child becomes more comfortable with the balloon, there will then be the opportunity to move onto a spongeball and eventually a blue dot squash ball.
As progressions to this drill, there is also an opportunity to get the child to balance him/herself by doing the various levels on one leg and then the other leg.
That can then be complicated by again moving two balance balls next to each other and getting the child to move from one balance ball to the other, while bouncing the balloon/spongeball/squashball on the racket.