There are three stages of learning a new squash skill; Acquisition, Perfection, and Integration. The learning process at the acquistion stage can be speeded up through the use of a ball machine. The use of a Squash Cannon forms a crucial part of Coach Allen's teaching, as well as all the other teaching Pro's at MSC - and with four machines at the center, one is always available for use within a coaching lesson.
What are the Benefits?
By leaving the coach free of feeding the ball it allows closer observation of the pupil and allows for observation from several different angles.
Through use of the Squash Cannon the coach can always demonstrate correct technique more frequently and effectively. During the acquisition stage of a particular technique our coaches will usually do a lot of alternate hitting with the student, where the pupil will usually make significant progress by mimicing the coaches technique.
It presents an opportunity 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 more realistic practices to be set up. 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. The Squash Cannon allows 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 advice that is specific to one player needs to be given then it can be done while other pupils can continue to practice uninterrupted. The practice does not have to stop for all the students which is what has to be done if the coach is feeding for them.
Of course the Squash Cannon has its limits too - most notably being the fact 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. 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 is that better players rely on pre-impact cues to anticipate, while lesser players rely more on post-impact cues (i.e., the flight of the ball). To read more on my thoughts on this click here.These pre-impact cues cannot be learned through use of the Squash Cannon, so there comes a point where the Squash Cannon must be wheeled off court and the feeding has to come from the racket, otherwise integration will not occour.
With over 12 years coaching experience with use of a ball machine Coach Allen has learned the correct blend of practice with and without the Squash Cannon to enable the most effective learning to take place.