“What’s the best” is a common source of discussion and debate in the sports world. ESPN is flooded with analysts who pontificate for literally (not metaphorically as my son would say), literally thousands of hours. Brady or Mahomes? Is Lebron over rated? Khabib or GSP? Coke or Pepsi? Now, on the whole, those conversations are what could pleasantly call “for fun” and apart from TV ratings, or enjoyable conversations with friends over lunch, they don’t matter. But again, they are fun.
One of those conversations in the world of squash deals with the notion of tempo vs. accuracy. The word tempo is most commonly used in music to describe “the speed at which a passage of music is or should be played”. In squash, on the whole, we use to the term to describe the time between shots. Accuracy, fairly self evidently, is used to describe the way a stroke conforms to an agreed standard, the simplest example of this is how close to the side wall is a straight drive.
Traditionally coaches have emphasized accuracy, and have fallen in love with the straight drive. Are you losing your match? For many, the coaches the feedback is simple, hit the ball straighter and tighter, make fewer errors… voila. Now, nothing ostensibly wrong with this, however, as with many things, the devil is sometimes in the details.
A couple of things to consider. One of my favorite questions for any player is to ask them what their differentiating characteristics will be? By this I mean, what will you do that will be better and different than your competition and what will give you “the edge”. Now, accuracy is important, undeniably so, but perhaps we should be thinking about it the same way as we think about fitness. If you are unfit, you can’t play at a good level of squash, period. However, just being fit isn’t a guarantee of victory, it’s not often a differentiating characteristic, it’s the “ticket for admission” into the game. In the same way, perhaps accuracy, within a range, isn’t a differentiating characteristic, it’s a minimum necessary requirement to “get a seat at the table”.
Now, let’s assume that two players are essentially similar in terms of accuracy and fitness, what decides victory? There are a lot of possibilities, but the straw man, for the purposes of this blog, would be the player capable of playing at the higher tempo. If I touch the ball slightly earlier than you do, if I make someone move a little faster than they would like, does this place a greater stress on all aspects of an opponents game. If I am well rehearsed with low tempo continuous driving, I can hit it tight, I can hit it consistently and I feel good about myself… until an opponent starts to volley, move to the ball quickly and increase the tempo. Often in that circumstance the neat, accurate player struggles in the face of the need to execute their technique more quickly. I often remind players, skill is tempo dependent, just because I can do something slowly, or when fed the ball, doesn’t mean I can do it when the game goes “wild”!
Now, as with our friends on ESPN and their faux arguments, the answer is not a definitive one. For squash players however the conversation is enjoyable food for thought. There is no black and white, no right and wrong, but if you believe the answer to ALL life’s squash riddles is with accuracy… you might like to do some reflection.