One of the most challenging problems for U.S. Squash (and all of U.S. sport for that matter) is that the training and competition schedules of younger athletes are based on inappropriate Professional Sport Models (little preparation and too much competition) or chance factors such as availability of courts or how many private lessons parents want or are willing to pay for for their child. High school (and college) seasons are too short, and too competition-focussed for any significant athletic development to occur.
Complicating matters is the fact that the dominant model for hiring squash coaches (and in fact most Division I college coaches) is still the “Ex-top-player” model – if they were a good player, then they must be a good coach! Even a casual glance at any list of coaching standards will reveal the necessity of the extensive training and education needed to coach competently in any context other that an adult club recreational setting.
The U.S. is the only developed country in the world where it is possible to coach at a high level without a university degree in sport science and/or extensive coach education. Professional tennis is a highly visible example of this phenomena, where players with physical education-trained parents or coaches from former Eastern Bloc and European countries are starting to dominate the rankings at the expense of the Americans. One of the few exceptions are the highly successful Williams sisters, whose father eschewed the tournament heavy junior tennis circuit in favor of a long term development pattern until the sisters were about 15. This lack of sport science background on the part of coaches leads to an over emphasis on technique and competition (over specialization) at the expense of athletic ability.
Help for high school and junior coaches is on the way in the form of a recently developed (and highly publicized) tool called Long Term Athlete Development Plans (LTAD). Although longterm plans for developing high performance athletes have been common since the 1980’s (and earlier in Eastern Bloc countries) the term LTAD has been hyped and successfully promoted around the world by essentially one man, Istvan Balyi. Googling the term “LTAD” will produce search results with pages of documents, files, presentations, and information about LTADs for different sports. The link to England Squash’ LTAD can be found here.
Basically, an LTAD is a cradle to podium plan for the optimal age-appropriate development of an athlete in terms of physical, technical, tactical and mental training. An LTAD can potentially address many of the concerns outlined above. I say potentially since especially for squash, the LTAD is essentially only a hypothesis, that needs considerable development by knowledgeable and experienced squash coaches and sport scientists to get to the point where it can be used as a practical guide for the development of junior squash players. This article summarizes some of the concerns over current LTAD hysteria.
In the meantime, there are a number of tennis books by European authors which contain excellent squash-applicable recommendations concerning general versus specific training, number of tournaments, physical training, and most importantly volume and intensity of training for each age group. Two that I use are:
As a minimum, high school coaches need to at least develop a quadrennial or four-year plan for their program. Here is a plan I have been using successfully for my mostly novice squash team at Smith College (three Ann Wetzel winners since 1995):
The current NSCA Journal features an article on the same topic: