Well of course it depends on the objective of the drill! If the drill is a techno-physiological drill (i.e., a drill whose purpose is both technical and physiological), the drill could be structured around the requirements of the targeted physical ability. So a drill targeting speed, agility or power should be organized around 10 to 15, maximal, 5-10 second efforts, with plenty of rest (work:rest ratio of at least 1:3) between efforts to maintain the required high quality of work, as might be the case when working on retrieving drops in the front (with either a lob or counter-drop?). With one coach and 3-4 players per court, if you do the math, this will take 20-25 minutes if you work efficiently. Drills targeting other physical abilities important to squash such as aerobic power or lactic acid tolerance will need to be structured differently.
Most of the drills we see in squash have a primarily technical emphasis, for example hitting better length, or hitting tighter drop shots. How long should these drills last? We have two sources of evidence, one scientific and the other empirical to guide good squash coaching practice.
The first evidence comes from pedagogical research into classroom learning. Researchers have found that the learner’s interest and attention start to fall shortly after a lecture begins, with interest declining rapidly about the 20-minute mark as depicted in the graph below:
I learned about this at a Coaching Association of Canada conference for Coaching Certification Course Conductors. It was recommended that we follow the 7-20-40 rule when training coaches: involve participants at least every 7 minutes by asking a question; change the mode of instruction every 20 minutes if possible (e.g., lecture to small group discussion); and give students a short break every 40 minutes (quick stretch, toilet, etc.).
One way of adapting this rule to our on-court squash sessions would be to rotate partners every 7 minutes, changing the drill slightly every 20 minutes, and give a short water break cum mini-feedback/discussion every 40 minutes.
Empirical (i.e., based on experience) evidence concerning length of drilling comes from the German Tennis Association (coaches of Graf, Becker, Stich), who recommend drilling periods of 20-25 minutes, consisting of 150-200 strokes (in groups of 10-15 or 15-25 strokes depending on the purpose of drilling) when learning or stabilizing technique. They recommend this be followed by a 2-5 minute recuperation break before moving on to the next exercise.
Obviously, individual differences such as age of the athlete and an individual’s attention span need to be taken into account. U.S. Soccer has published a document which is an excellent example of applying these principles. The document summarizes different countries approaches to modifyng adult soccer rules for youth – notice that nearly all the countries use short game periods for the younger athletes: 206_international_associations_programs
Application for Squash Coaches
- Know the objectives of your drills to set an appropriate time.
- Keep technical drills to 20-25 minutes, with 150-200 repetitions.
- Take individual differences, especially athlete developmental level, into account when setting drill length.