The Squash Cannon

There are three stages of learning a new squash skill. Acquisition, Perfection, and Integration. I believe that the learning process, particularly at the Acquisition stage of developing a technique, is greatly accelerated through the use of a Squash Cannon machine. I have a Cannon both in San Francisco and Cape Town and its usage forms an integral part of the coaching that I do. Insert this picture of squash cannon

What are the Benefits?

  • By leaving me free of feeding the ball it allows closer observation of my pupil and allows for observation from several different angles.
  • Through use of the Squash cannon I can demonstrate correct technique more frequently and effectively. During the acquisition stage of a particular technique I will do a lot of alternate hitting with the student, where I hit and then they follow and try to mimic my swing.
  • It presents an opportunity for me to physically manipulate the students swing. E.g. by holding the racket in the correct position on the back swing.
  • Using the Squash Cannon allows me to set up more realistic practices. Continuous, flowing practices are more enjoyable for the student, however they often result in an unrealistic hitting angles. For example when feeding for a drop volley, coaches often stand in a position in front of the pupil. If the coach is skillful then this allows the practice to flow and be continuous, but unfortunately means the pupil is learning to hit the ball short off of a drive from the front court with their opponent in front of them - when in the game this shot is almost always played off of a length ball with the opponent behind. With the Squash Cannon I can set up continuous practices that are always using realistic angles and positions.
  • Students acquire technique more easily if they are able to learn in rhythm. Using the Squash Cannon allows for a continuous rhythm to be established. The student can miss, miss-hit, or hit the ball down/out and the next ball will still arrive in the rhythm that has been set. Without the Squash Cannon the rhythm is broken while the misdirected ball is fetched.
  • Group lessons with 3-4 players per court are far more effective. If I need to give advice that is specific to one player then I can pull them to the side and take the time necessary to make my point, whilst the other pupils can continue to practice uninterrupted. I do not have to stop the practice for all the students which I would have to do if I was doing the feeding for them.

  • Of course the Squash Cannon has its limits too - most notably in that the student is not learning to read and react to the movement of the ball off of the opponent's racket. Experienced squash players initiate movement towards their opponent's shot before the ball is even struck, while inexperienced players do not depart until after the ball is struck. This creates a situation where better anticipators get the equivalent of a 3-4 meter head start in a short 10 meter race. The conclusion we can draw from this and other scientific studies in the area is that better players rely on pre-impact cues (in other words they anticipate) while lesser players rely more on post-impact cues (i.e., the flight of the ball). These pre-impact cues cannot be learned through use of the Squash Cannon, so there comes a point (once the basic skill has been acquired) when the Squash Cannon must be wheeled off court and the feeding must come from the racket.

    With over 10 years experience with use of a ball machine I think I have now learned the correct blend of practice with and without the Squash Cannon to enable the most effective skill learning to take place.