A long time ago in what seems like another life, and was definitely another millennium, I was attending a big coaches conference* and met a squash coach. His name escapes me, but it came up that he was a top Australian player during the period that Geoff Hunt was the undisputed best player in the world. For the uninitiated, i.e. everyone, apart from being the best player, he was renowned for his relentlessness and fitness. During the conversation with my new friend, the topic came up about playing against Hunt in his prime. Part of his reply intrigued me. ‘If I think about it now, I should have hit more into the tin**.’ As he went on to explain, a player can gain control of a rally to point where they can’t lose it unless they make a mistake. Hunt, being relentless and relentlessly fit, would get to that point of the rally and keep the ball alive. His opponent would chase after ball after ball, wearing himself out. The longer the match went, the more likely his superior fitness would be decisive. My ‘friend’s’ reasoning was if he had accepted that a rally was lost earlier, and ‘hit the ball into the tin’, he would have conserved energy and perhaps had more of a chance to win later.
I have often heard it said that when a volleyball team is a long way ahead in a set, it should take the pressure off the serve to try to win some extra points and therefore extend the lead. I didn’t really follow that line of thinking. Easier serving means easier reception, easier sideout and a chance for a losing team to gain confidence leading into the next set. It is better to extend the lead by continuing to serve strongly and not allowing an opponent to develop any kind of rhythm or confidence.
If you are playing against a better team, the ‘hitting into the tin’ mentality could well be an effective strategy. As I have written before, error minimisation (chasing after the ball to the bitter end) means giving the ball back to the better team. A better team, will by definition, make more points than your team given the same number of opportunities. By giving them extra opportunities to score, you are not maximising your chances of victory, you are minimising them. It is better to take the risk to win the point now than to hope your opponent will make not one, but many, errors.
Please forgive the war metaphor, but a game is not a battle. It is a war. You don’t have to win every battle to win the war.
*The Australian Coaching Council used to (…exist, and…) run a big all sports coaching conference every year. It was a highlight of the year for many coaches, and certainly for me.
**The ‘tin’ in squash is the bottom part of the wall that is out of play when the ball hits it. I don’t know about now, but it used to actually be made of tin and therefore made a very loud and unpleasant noise when it was hit.
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