A ghost is a specter, something we think is there but really isn’t, so how can practising with a squash ball that isn’t there improve your game? Can seeing and reacting to a ball that doesn’t exist make you a better squash player?
What is ghosting in squash? Ghosting, ghost drills or star-drills in squash are a way to improve your game by concentrating on the lines, patterns, and movements that replicate real game situations, and performing these drills without a ball.
Ghosting is one of the very best ways of taking your game to the next level. Read on to get started with ghosting, and how to harness it to progress your movement, technique and all-round game-play.
How To Ghost In Squash
By using a racquet and moving without the ball you can improve your conditioning by copying movements that often take place during match play. Of course, there is more to it than that.
As you’re aware, a great deal of energy is spent in the course of a typical match. So it goes to reason that by duplicating, as closely as possible, court sprints to the back, side to side and forward to the front wall, ghosting can both improve your conditioning and your performance.
It is the same concept fencers use by incorporating footwork and motion without holding a sword. They are training their bodies and minds in the movement of the sport, in the patterns that are used over and over during the course of a competition.
The same is true for squash where it is possible to include different types of shot movements during your Ghosting sessions. The shot movements are inserted between each structured Ghosting movement. Working with a coach or partner is especially helpful when incorporating various shots in your Ghosting sessions.
Pair up: Have your partner or coach stand at the front wall facing you. You stand at the T facing the front wall. Your partner then points towards a point and you react as if you are playing the ball. Move as if you are going to hit a shot.
For example, playing a simple backhand drop to the front corner and then moving back to hit a forehand drive at the opposite back corner. This is an example of a Ghosting movement. You are moving with the racquet and without the ball, replicating the patterns that would exist in a real game.
See with your mind’s eye the endless patterns of movement that are produced during a match and how these movements can be replicated and practiced. These are just a few of the squash Ghosting patterns that can be used to help any player improve his or her game.
Spend a minute, eyes closed, in your preparation time before a match. See the game unfold and see yourself moving back and forth, side to side. This mental exercise is important too in visualizing what you have practiced and will replicate on the court.
Think of Ghosting as shadow boxing for squash. You move about the ring (court), ducking and weaving, throwing jabs, hooks, straight rights, and always footwork, footwork, footwork.
You’re not actually hitting anyone but you are training your body in the movement of the sport. Repetition breeds results. Muscle memory and conditioning are the byproducts of shadow boxing and the same is true for Ghosting in squash.
Think of it this way. As shadow boxing prepares one for combat in the ring, Ghosting movements that are practiced as if under game conditions prepare one for combat on the court. You are not simply going through the motions but rather replicating exact movements and building towards a fatigue level that would be experienced in actual game conditions.
Ghosting Pattern Structure
Ghosting routines can be customized to fit the different shots and movements that unfold during a squash match. Ghosting drills can also be structured in a simple way with respect to increasing volume and fitness.
Rallies– with rallies base your ghost pattern on a set number, timed at between 15 to 20 seconds. Randomly change the duration if you like, with a short rest period of 10 seconds before continuing your ghosting pattern.
Shots– base a Ghost pattern on shots; drop, lob, volley, and so on. Build the shot volume (remember you’re moving without the ball) until you reach fatigue after 10, 20, 35 repetitions. Again, you are training muscle memory whilst also building endurance.
Time – perform your Ghosting pattern over a set period of time and aim for bouts of between 30 seconds and three minutes. During this pattern you can practice movements and shots.
The Six-Shot Pattern: front forehand – front backhand – mid-court forehand – mid-court backhand – back corner forehand – back corner backhand.
Try this: Try the six-shot pattern alternating between 30 seconds on and 30 seconds off and go at a rate that allows you to maintain your balance and form.
Stop Failing: Build Volume Instead
Resist the urge to train to failure. Many of us get “in the zone” with our training sessions and feel the only good Ghosting session is one you can barely walk away from.
This concept and the resulting bad habits were born from the “No Pain. No Gain” mentality that permeated gym culture in the 80s and 90s and still exists in the minds of many that feel that for training to produce results one must demolish the body in order to build it.
Yet nothing could be further from the truth. Only do enough sets where you feel you only have one more in you. Instead of doing that last set, stop and don’t perform a final set. Do the same in your next session, always stopping before failure. In this way, over time, you’ll be building much more volume than a player that trains to failure.
Look at it this way. If you train to failure during your Ghosting drills perhaps you’ll only do them once or twice a week. But the same program performed at a non-failure rate allows you to build more volume with more sessions over a longer period of time.
For example over a six month period, you may have performed 72 quality Ghosting sessions (assuming 3 times per week, not training to failure) while another player (training to failure) may only perform 2 sessions per week over the same period for a total of 48.
On average this player will experience more muscle fatigue and recover more slowly, while also spending significantly less time training over the six month period.
You, on the other hand, will be less fatigued, recover faster and you will have performed 24 more quality Ghosting sessions over the same period of time. That’s significant volume and should translate to results during your matches.
This is a training concept that has gained traction with weight-lifters and sprinters and you can apply this to your Ghosting as well.
In fact, some studies show that avoiding failure in your workouts will deliver faster gains in strength and power. You’ll recover faster too.
Try this: If you’ve already incorporated regular Ghosting drills into your overall training regimen try dialing back the intensity, especially if you’ve been training to failure. Apply this to your sport-specific training as well, because the same concepts apply to weight lifting, sprinting, long-distance running or kettlebell training.
Work on increasing the volume of your training instead of training to failure during each session. Try this new plan for a month and see your results.
You’ll be able to train more often (by not training to failure) and your game and overall fitness level should improve because you’ve increased the volume of your training (more sessions, less intensity) and given your body more quality recovery time in the process.
Ghosting: A Key Component In Your Training Program
How does one go about ghosting effectively? Unless you’ve retained a coach for your sessions it can be easy to fall into simply following lines and patterns that you feel are effective.
We understand that if you’re not playing with a ball then it follows that it’s hard to focus on what’s not there. More on this aspect later, but suffice it to say that training your mind in the recognition of negative space is key to success in squash.
Yet, we need to be aware of what we’re concentrating on during the Ghosting session, and that’s the ball.
We know this sounds counterintuitive but one of the significant errors players make when Ghosting is to focus on sequences, lines, and patterns during their session instead of the ball.
In other words, before you begin to use Ghosting in order to build muscle memory and stamina you need to first develop a relationship with the ball, which is what the game is all about.
Don’t Count Steps: The Zen of the Ball
Many articles and diagrams have been produced that prescribe the ideal number of steps one should take to get to a front or back corner. Ghosting has mechanical elements, to be sure, but try and steer clear of counting steps and turning your ghosting sessions into routines that isolate you from the ball instead of making you at one with it.
We’re not advising that you and the ball start spending more quality time together at coffee shops or on a weekend getaway developing a stronger relationship.
What we are saying is that in order for ghosting to be effective you must develop the mental tenacity to block out all distractions and see the ball. Counting steps are counterproductive to this end.
Bottom line: Anything that takes you away from developing a oneness with the ball, such as over-emphasis on mechanical routines involving movements, lines, patterns and step-counting (!) will result in the activity itself becoming the focal point.
Taking a Sideways Glance: Peripheral Vision and Court Awareness
In a game as fast and dynamic as squash you need to keep your wits about you at all times. And in terms of improving your relationship with the ball you’ll find your peripheral vision will be enhanced with Ghosting.
Your court awareness, for example, the ability to recognize and adapt to specific and situations on the fly, will become part of your game. Ghosting will build an innate sense of proximity to the physical space of the court and everyone in it.
Just as a caged tiger knows it’s environment so too will you recognize and become one with the court: the “T”, the back and side walls, the ability to shut out the noise and distraction and exist in the moment-these are the things that Ghosting can deliver.
The Mind’s Eye Sees All
This development of your peripheral sensitivity will provide further benefit; the awareness of your opponent in both positive and negative space. In other words your ability to see where your opponent is and where he isn’t. Seeing spaces and gaps as they occur and before they happen with your mind’s eye is a function of regular Ghosting sessions, performed properly.
Using visualization to practice shots is a key component of successful Ghosting. But to truly achieve value from your shot practice (without the ball) remember to keep your head up on the follow through. You should be tracking the ball as it comes off the front wall as if you are actually looking at the ball.
Try this: When moving to the corner on the forehand keep your front hip behind the ball, drop, relax and follow through, all the while keeping your eye on the negative space, where you see the ball in your mind’s eye. Don’t lapse into just replicating the rote motions, the ball is always there with you- even when it isn’t.
Ghosting: Speed Variations and Power Points
When Ghosting try to make it as realistic as possible. We’ve talked about the importance of being at one with ball. You also need to understand the you will not always have the same speed that you want. In a game you can’t always dictate that.
You’ll want to replicate this in your Ghosting by taking different approaches to the ball. There will be a time during a match that you’re under pressure and you’ll want to generate speed.
Or you may want to cut the ball or may have arrived at the ball too early and need to adjust your step and momentum to execute the shot. Approach each shot with a variation of foot speed as well as releasing the racquet at different speeds.
Try this: Assuming you’re right-handed use the right front corner as your fast approach, backpedal to the T and then slow your footspeed slightly and play a backhand into the left corner.
Retreat to the T and repeat. Perform 6-10 sets. Then reverse it. Slow approach on the forehand and then charge to the left corner to play a backhand shot.
With this drill the power point is exactly the same, you’re approaching both shots from the T, you’re just varying your foot and racquet speed while keeping your head up and eyes focused on a ball that isn’t there. Make sense?
Ghosting Patterns: Moving Through the T
Try this: From the T practice a simple movement from the front right to the back right. If you’re a southpaw you’ll be swinging on the backhand to start the drill focusing on striking off your left leg, concentrating on footwork while at the same time keeping your head up and focused on the ball that isn’t there.
Simply switch and then you’re on the forehand using your right leg to get onto the ball and striking through shots to the left front corner and back left corner. Keep your racquet up and simulate a long rally while playing full shots with every stroke. Focus on “seeing” the ball.
Now, try moving through the T diagonally from the front right to the back left and the front left to back right. Focus on simulating a long rally by playing full shots.
What are some drills that I can practice straight away?
The Random 6 Corner Ghost
This drill is straightforward and one of our favorites. Play shots in a random pattern using the four corners and the two side volleys. With Random 6 it’s all about the quality of movement.
Try this: Take three steps from the T to each of the four corners and move in a traditional arch pattern to the two backhand corners.
With your side volleys take one to two strong lunges from the T. Keep you head up and visualize the ball. Try to do 20 sets of each.
The French Connection: Side to Side
The French game emphasizes moving laterally across the T and in this drill you’ll do just that.
Try this: Starting from the T you’ll take two steps to your backhand side and play a drive close to the side wall, while at the same time keeping your back leg close to the T without moving it.
Now bounce back off your back leg so you’re facing forwards and side-step, transversing the T without over-reaching. This will push you through the T where you can now lunge and play a forehand drive near the side wall.
Hold your ground on the red line. Often as players tire they retreat. Don’t be one of them. Own the line and dominate without retreat. Aim for quality of movement and retain the side step through the T. Aim for 20 repetitions and 5 to 8 sets to begin.
How can Ghosting drills improve my game?
Ghosting offers a perfect opportunity to make a training session more specific to your intended gameplay, practice court movements, build volume and increase your overall fitness level. If you’ve never “ghosted” before it may seem a little strange at first, moving about the court alone but if you follow these guidelines and continue to learn your game will improve.
Just remember, keep your eye on the ball.