Part one of this three part series covered the rationale behind using a Progressive Approach when introducing players, young or old, to squash and the other racquet sports. In this second video, we make a recommendation to use a racquetball racquet as the starting “implement” no matter what racquet sport you coach. It has the largest hitting surface, closest to the hand, making it the easiest weapon of choice. The only easier implement would be Ken Watson’s Big Hand – a sport “glove” to really make contact with a ball easier – a great product.
Progression in Distance & Swing Length. The video also covers the progression in terms of distance from the wall or hitting partner, and the differing swing lengths at each of the distances. In part three of this series, a specific recommendation will be made to use the progression of self-rally with zero distance (i.e., standing in the same spot while juggling the ball), six feet, 12 feet and 18 feet (about the service line in squash).
Optimal Challenge. The psychological rationale (versus pedagogical) for the progressive approach is that learners are motivated to continue to participate when they are able to demonstrate their competence at a particular task. The challenge for a squash coach is to choose a task(s) at which the student will succeed, not fail. Full length games with full equipment usually result in many mistakes and little success for the average learner, as they may make only 1-2 “good” shots out of every 10 opportunities. A practical way to take advantage of the concept of optimal challenge (the level at which the learner is maximally motivated by the level of challenge and success) is for the coach to start the student off with a task where they succeed at least 50% of the time, and then to make the task more difficult (challenging) once the student’s success ratio reaches 80% or 90%. Tasks that are too easy (i.e., success 100% of the time) become boring after a short while.
Task Teaching & Teach by Progression not Correction. While working with large groups (6+ per coach?) there is insufficient time to provide individualized feedback, and while occasional group feedback can be effective, the variety of errors from multiple students often results in a situation where in order to provide feedback coach talking is incessant (distraction to learning) or frequently not applicable to many of the students (another distraction). This points to the necessity of breaking skills down into manageable tasks that can be learned simply by doing the task – an example of the pedagogical technique of task teaching. For example, if a hitter is placed up against a wall and then tossed a ball to hit, they would learn how to hit a ball with little or no backswing. The traditional coach-directed alternative, of giving the learner lots of room to swing, probably requires a lot of correction (“your backswing is too big”).
Here is an example of how an actual class might look – there are four students in this video, but it could easily be twenty:
Here is an example of what I would consider to be a “bad” example of starting children off in a racquet sport. Poor kid – and what about the girl wandering around in the background doing nothing:
A pretty good example of a progressive program from the USTA: