Developing Top Juniors: 3 Keys for Squash Coaches

I have already blogged on the specific elements to the Egyptian’s current success at the world level in squash – here are three general keys to systematically developing top players:

  1. Start with the big picture;
  2. Ignore early results;
  3. Focus on developing a wide repertoire of attacking skills and tactics.

Start with the Big Picture

Unfortunately there is no clear overview of the path to developing a top world class squash players.  Although several countries (e.g., England) have initiated long term athlete development plans (LTAD), they are short on specifics to the point that the average squash coach does not receive meaningful direction from them. And of course the plans are not even available to the club coach!  Jindrich Hohm’s 1987 book Tennis: Play to Win the Czech Way shows the exact detail to which squash coaches must go to develop world class players – any of the German Tennis Federation books are also excellent prompts for squash coaches.

Ignore Early Results

Early maturers can win at the junior level with fitness and defensive, conservative tactics – something that is often reinforced by adults in their environment (i.e., parents, coaches).  Once juniors reach the adult ranks everyone is fit and possesses excellent basic tactics.  Most top juniors end up languishing for years ranked 40-100 on the pro tour, never quite able to break through.  This unrealized potential can be traced back to being sidetracked by early success (“I have a good ranking so I must be doing the right thing”), instead of a longterm focus on developing a wide variety of athletic abilities and the ability to play an attacking, pressuring style (with considerable deception).  The average (exceptions to this are more prevalent in squash than say tennis due to the lack of depth in both the men’s and women’s game) age of peaking in squash is about 27-28 for both women and men – therefore squash is a late-development sport.

Focus on develop a wide repertoire of attacking skills and tactics.

I have already written a few articles on the importance of systematically developing deception and an attacking (currently Egyptian) style from an early age.  It is simply common sense that at the age of 20, when confronted with the situation that all opponents are fit and fast (with improvements and training highly accessible – you just have to increase effort), a player will find it very difficult to make the drastic changes in game style and technique required to set themselves apart from their opponents.  The time for juniors to learn these skills and tactics is during the Golden Age of motor skill learning – so 8-12ish – or in the year or two after starting for those joining the sport late.  It is also important to focus on the development of general (i.,e., not practicing shots on a squash court) as is outlined inn this video by Tennis Canada.

Tim Bacon, M.A., CSCS is the world’s leading expert on racquet sport science and coaching development having taught all areas of sport science as both a Lecturer at Smith College and as a Coach Developer for the Coaching Association of Canada while actively coaching (Squash Canada Level 4 Coach) and sport psychology consulting (25+ World Champions).  He currently runs his consulting practice out of Northampton, MA and maintains his active coaching as the Assistant Squash Coach at Wesleyan University during the CSA squash season (Nov. 1 – Mar. 1).

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