Hierarchy of Squash Skills

Squash is a game that is interesting and challenging for players of all levels.  That is because at every level there is a new challenge to take on. Squash can feel just as interesting and challenging for two beginners as for two professional players. They are just focused on very different challenges.

Squash skills build upon each other. As a squash teacher right out of college I used to over-teach. I wanted the student to know everything I knew about the game. Some students thought I was an amazing teacher and they loved their lessons. But a surprisingly high percentage were overwhelmed with the lessons. It was too much information and they were more confused the more I taught.

I started thinking about what it is I should be teaching students and what I should leave out. What do you tell a student in order for them to improve? When I was the Head Pro at CityView Racquet Club the former World #1 spent a month practicing on the court next to me while I taught. I would introduce my students to him and they would inevitably ask what was the most important thing to know about squash. He would tell them – squash is all mental. That is the secret. It surely was all mental to him – he had absolutely mastered and ingrained all the other aspects of the game. But for my students the game surely was not all mental. Some of them were just trying to make consistent contact with the ball!

I started thinking about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs which provides 5 levels of psychological human needs and the theory that when a human is missing certain basic needs that it is difficult to take on higher psychological states, starting with Physiological Needs, and moving to Safety, Love/Belonging, Esteem and finally arriving at Self-Actualization. A squash player must learn certain skills before they attempt to learn more advanced concepts, and if they don’t their efforts will end in frustration, failure, or just get them nowhere. How productive is it for a student to work on strategy and tactics if they can’t even control the ball to put it where they want it to go? While the game at the highest level may be all mental, that is little help to beginning, intermediate or even most advanced players who have yet to ingrain all of the fundamentals.

So what is the Hierarchy of Squash Needs?

First, a new player must master the basic Technical Skills: Spacial alignment, stroke production, and movement.

Second, a player can begin to learn Tactics and Strategy: shot creation, shot selection, and match strategy.

Third, a player introduces Physical Training to their game: Strength, speed, endurance, flexibility and agility.

Fourth, and finally, a player learns to incorporate the Mental Aspect to the game: strategic discipline, resilience, and finally the ultimate mental state: a clear mind.

The Hierarchy of Squash Needs, like Maslow’s Hierarchy, does not prohibit one from learning more advanced concepts, or being fascinated by concepts that the very best players are focused on. In certain circumstances I might rearrange the order for a certain student for specific reasons. The hierarchy is not law – rather it is meant as a roadmap for a player to be able to truly master the game.

In future posts I will talk more about aspects of the hierarchy, and my thinking behind the order.

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