As a coach it is prudent to study a cross section of successful – and non successful – players from different eras, coaching systems and countries to get a better understanding of the collective skills which underpin their success.
The skills in evidence are abundant and irresistible but the one that strikes me as essential is rhythm.
Where rhythm can make the difference is during match play when perhaps the potentially rigid aspects of the game such as technique and tactical analysis could hinder the flow of rhythm and the potential of movement. There are some top players who from a purely technical standpoint could be considered at the poorer end of the scale but their rhythm and court coverage is exceptional and thus they are able to compete at the highest level.
When looking at the commonalities among the players with the best rhythm it is useful to watch for a relaxed body in particular the shoulders and arms even when they lift the racket before striking the ball. And the ability from the relaxed state to have a pulse of energy whether they are static or on the move. But the relaxed action described should be considered from a position of elasticity rather than languidness.
This pulse of energy can be used to initiate the movement to the ball with the split step, to change direction by stepping off one foot or to accelerate during an existing movement. The pulse could be used to accelerate the racket head late during the final moments of the downswing – like the martial arts concept of putting power in a punch only when the cloth of their opponents’ uniform is felt.
The timing of the pulse should be natural, the consequence of a concentrated mind connected to the flow of the rally by its own volition. This concentration finds its home in trust and in letting go of thought which reveals this latent force. This rhythm allows endless movement and helps close down the spaces without calculation which makes winning rallies easier for you and more difficult for your opponent. It requires commitment and effort.
When both players are doing it then you are watching world class squash, the combination of continuous elastic and powerful movement with rhythmic hitting makes for formidable opponents and a tough nights work.
So, relaxation, tiny bursts of energy, balanced and measured deceleration are key elements and all are held together by concentration – or meditation.