We all use the wrong ball
Go to most squash clubs in the country and you’ll see the double yellow dot ball everywhere. They’re on sale in the club shop, nestled in players bags, and in action on courts. They’re the default ball choice, but should they be? I believe that most people use the wrong ball. Cold courts, short rallies and low shot power lead to balls failing to reach and stay at playing temperature (45°C). Changing to a faster ball would allow players to reach and maintain the desired temperature of the ball, for the benefit of the players, their match and the sport in general.
But how do you know if you have got the ball warm enough? This quote from the PSA is a good rule of thumb:
Squash balls used by professional players are hot to the touch and feel like mini hot-coals if you were to hold one after a particularly hard-hitting rally.
If it’s not notably warm to the touch, it’s probably not warm enough.
But why is a warm ball important?
The temperature of the ball (and it’s constitution) affects the hangtime of the ball. Higher hangtime will result in the ball:
- bouncing higher off of the back wall
- taking longer to die after a drop shot
- Travelling further after a drive
Watch a PSA match and notice how high the ball bounces off of the back wall. It’s higher than you’ll see in the average club game! This is testament to how warm the ball gets.
This all has the effect of making it harder to kill and easier to return. With a bouncier ball, the height and length of a drive must be more considered, not just driven as hard as possible. A drop shot is no longer a guaranteed point, and could create an opening for your opponent to counter. Rallies last longer, testing fitness. To kill the ball and win the point, strategy must be considered. Openings must be crafted by moving your opponent out of position, not just hitting a avergae drop or drive.
In a goal to keep the ball warm, players will often focus on hitting hard, sacrificing good technique, reducing the game to a slug fest, and risking injury.
Amateur cold court squash can be epitomised by the classic exchange of serve, then drop shot. The slow (cold) ball leads to drop shots that rival the best of professionals, dying instantly! Whilst there are many great club players out there, cold balls are flattering them.
To continue growing, squash needs to be made more accessible to beginners. The prevalence of double yellows as the de-facto ball is anth-thesis to this. Whilst not trivial, I believe the default ball in squash culture should be the single yellow. Beginners should be enouraged to use even faster balls (blue or red) whilst they learn. They would learn faster, as they have more hits in a rally, and must think about shot selection and weight, rather than pursue hitting the most powerful shot possible. Personally, I find this form of squash more fun as well.
How to make the change?
Here are a few ideas I’ve come up with, but what are yours?
- Education of the differences in ball type
- Show the difference in bounce!
- Get people to try a faster ball. How many have actually used a single yellow, let alone own one?
- Make them available at club shops. Advise people on the ball they should be using! It’s unlikely to be the double yellow.
- Give them out to people at club nights and training for use.
- Insist on them in lower leagues of clubs .
- Give guidance on balls for appropriate temperatures.