Rethinking Squash Coaching Education

Currently, most Squash Coaching Education programs are organized based on a hierarchy of technique:

Level 1 Coaching Course – coaches learn how to teach the basic shots.
Level 2 Coaching Course – coaches learn how to teach the intermediate shots.
Level 3 Coaching Course – coaches learn how to teach advanced shots.

The problem with this approach is that there is so much more to good squash coaching than simply “teaching shots”.  Depending on the actual function the squash coach is fufilling (e.g., Assistant Pro in a club responsible for junior clinics or Part-time National Coach for a World Championship 2-year cycle) the skill set that the coach needs to acquire and demonstrate are very different.  The “clients” (i.e., athletes) of these two different types of coaches also have very different expectations about the person guiding their efforts to improve.

Stages and Ages of an LTAD

I know a young intelligent male pro who has just finished his pro career who I think would be a good candidate to take a Jr. National Team to a World Championship – he is an excellent player and communicator (with boys and men) with a great ability to analyze advanced tactics. I would not let him near a Junior Program with a 10-foot pole – he uses sexist language, has no idea how to teach (talks too much), nor any idea how to break down skills and use basic teaching progressions.  He gets frustrated easily with slow learners (the majority of clients in a club setting) and although he wants to give back to the game, has no interest in teaching beginner’s or intermediates.

The gaps in content and knowledge of Technique-Based Coaching Certification Programs have become even more apparent with the advent of Longterm Athlete Development Plans (LTADs).  These longterm plans spell out in detail the social, psychological, emotional,  technical, tactical and physical age-related growth and development needs of players from birth to mature adult.  Any effective reconceptualization of squash coaching education needs to include direct alignment with the LTAD stages.  As an example, Squash Canada’s LTAD has showed links to different coaching levels, but has fallen short of complete integration – something which is absolutely necessary to have an effective athlete development and coaching system.

A better way to conceptualize the design of a squash coaching program is to develop the system around what the coach needs to know for the particular role or job they are fulfilling:  the National Coach does not need to know how and when to implement the progressive teaching approach with short racquets and foam teaching balls.  The assistant pro does not need specialized knowledge of advanced tactics.  Yes – if the National Coach is in charge of his home club’s junior development program, then he or she will have to have this knowledge.  The Coaching Association of Canada has recognized the need to rethink coaching education, and has instructed its member associations to revamp their coaching courses into different “streams” based on what the coach needs to do to satisfy the needs of their athletes.  Using a similar system for the past 20 years, Tennis Canada has had recent payoffs with vastly improved results for its players on the tough tennis international scene.

When you combine these two ideas of 1) integrating with a sport’s LTAD; and 2) building coaching courses around the role-related needs of the coach and athlete, the result is a two-path, multi-level coaching education system that directly responds to the education needs of squash coaches.

LTAD & Function-Based Model of Squash Coaching Education (Bacon, 2009)

LTAD & Function-Based Model of Squash Coaching Education (Bacon, 2009)

Some Assumptions of the Model

  • A squash coach (or an organization setting job requirements) deciding to pursue squash coaching education would initially have the choice of two paths:  high performance (HP) or community (although this would not preclude taking courses in the other stream);
  • Courses would contain less and more relevant content that directly addresses the needs of the learner-coach.  These smaller “targeted” courses are easier to design, update, organize and teach.
  • If each of the boxes represent a separate course, a squash coach would not necessarily have to take the preceding course.  In our “young male pro fresh of the tour” scenario above, the coach would not have to take the LTAD 3 and 4 courses – just the LTAD 4 & 5.
  • Perhaps the key position in the whole system is the LTAD 2 Coach who is the entry point (therefore placed in the Community Path)for young players into the system.  If this person does not teach correct technical fundamentals and ensure fun for the new players, the entire system falls apart;
  • One of the immediate notions that would be dispelled is that the National Coach is the “expert coach” above all other levels – coaches working at any of the levels could attain expert status, as each of the levels reflect a different skill set;
  • Each LTAD Coach would be responsible for implementing an expert-designed periodized age-specific annual training and competition plan to ensure optimal athlete development;
  • How to string, manage a pro shop, organize round robins would not be included in any of the HP stream courses.  Mental and physical training methods would not be included in the Community path courses;
  • Both the LTAD 5  Jr. National Coach and Club Professional might deal with “A” players – the difference would be that the 16-year old of the LTAD Coach would have the potential to attain a National Level and beyond, while the 35-year old business women might not (besides – she wants a 45-minute backhand lesson squeezed in over lunch – the junior wants four sessions a week of technical, tactical, physical and mental training).

We will explore this idea of developing coaching education around function (e.g., high school coaching)  instead of technique in future posts.

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