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Squash: Eye on the ball or eye on the wall?

Eye on the ball!

I’ve noticed that a lot of squash players at my level, after we hit a shot, we tend to fix our gaze on the front wall, effectively presenting our lovely backside to our opponent.

Why do we do this? Well, I think that we want to see where the ball hits the front wall so we can react to it in time. We know that the ball has to hit the front wall to stay live: if it misses the front wall, it’s dead, we’ve won the point, and it’s no longer our concern. So staring at the front seems to be a percentage play, no?

Speaking for myself, I’ve thought that if I didn’t stare at the front wall after my shot, but instead watched my shot go back to the opponent (now called the “striker”), I’d have to swing my gaze from the striker to the front wall, and there would be some kind of delay as I oriented my gaze to the front wall.

This is not so.

There are at least two advantages to keeping our eye on the ball, and following it all the time:

  • we know where the ball is, and don’t have to “re-acquire” it. If we fix our gaze on the front wall before the ball is actually there, we do not know where the ball is, and we need to re-orient ourselves to the ball as it enters our front-gazing view. This re-orienting delays our response to the ball.
  • we now have some information on how the striker will hit the ball. We can see the angles of the feet, where the striker is looking, what kind of backswing is being used … all of that. Sure, a good striker can still fool us, but if we’re staring at the wall, the striker can do anything and doesn’t have to camouflage their intent.

So. As the books and coaches say: eye on the ball. Watch the striker.

Now, this counts when you’re the striker as well. Sure, you must watch the ball, but if you can, send an eye over to the opponent. Where are they? Are they committing one way or the other? Where are they not? That information can inform your shot, yes?

Just to put a bit of nuance on this … we want to watch the ball and the other player. I wonder if the balance of what to watch is weighed differently, depending on whether you’re the striker or not?  Say, as the striker, you watch the ball more than the opponent, and when you’re the opponent, you watch the striker more than the ball? Discuss.

Image credit: The Racket Shop
(By the way: friggin’ wear safety glasses! Squash balls fit quite well into eye sockets!)

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