By Peter Nicol
Having just played in two Legends of Squash events with the best players of a generation, I was struck by how different each player was. Their personalities were so varied and, therefore, the way they played squash was too. This makes a mockery of ever thinking there is one style or technique of how to play the game to get to the highest level. Yes, the players tactically hit the same areas, but the way they did this, and the regularity of certain shots, was completely personal.
Let’s look at the three youngest and most recent Legends of Squash players individually to understand how they became the best in the world. There is a similar trait throughout though, the mental strength and willpower to win, especially under extreme pressure.
David Palmer—although strong, aerobically fit and technically solid, it was David’s ability to tactically put his game together and mentally deliver at the most crucial times that really set him apart. He was a big point, game and tournament winner. The later the match went, the more pressure and tight the score, the better David played. It’s a wonderful skill to have developed and something I wish could be much easier learned than it is.
Thierry Lincou—again, physically incredibly strong and fit. However, technically Thierry played a very different style of squash with amazing lateral movement and open stance on ball striking. This allowed him to control all across the middle of the court and, when he was on form and in control, it felt virtually impossible to get Thierry out of position. Again, Thierry’s mental strength to regularly recover from a game or even two down was impressive. It was almost like he gave his opponent a start before coming back to win!
Lee Beachill—Lee strikes the ball beautifully and, therefore, hit areas of the court with consistency and the correct weight. We use the word “weight” to describe a shot that goes to its destination with the right amount of pace, height and spin to be very difficult to retrieve. Being on court again with Lee reminded me of this feeling, being pinned into the corners and constantly under pressure. Normally pressure comes from the ball being taken early but in relation to his peers, Lee used the ball strike much more to create that feeling. Lee’s mental ability to remain constantly focused on playing in this manner and not get drawn into faster, more frenetic games was crucial in executing his game plan.
From being around these players again close up, both playing and watching them, reminded me that each and every player is different. As a coach I have to adapt and help in different ways so that each player can progress in their own way. Trying to put players into styles and techniques that are unfamiliar or contrary to their abilities would be limiting their chances of becoming the best players they can be.
I would love to play like David Palmer, but being five inches shorter and a left-hander, this just is not going to happen. I can learn from his style of play but it has to fold into my game and abilities for any positive change to take effect.
If it’s the end of your season, I recommend going on court and figuring out how you want to play in relation to your positive and negative attributes. From there you can improve your game more efficiently as you have a clear focus and goal through the summer and into the new season.