One of my Smith College Squash Team Alums, Sarah Devotion Garner (“Devo”), writes from Vietnam – “I have three kids (boys & girls) aged 4-8 – when should I start them off in squash?”
The great news is that we now have a carefully crafted, precise, document (an LTAD) that incorporates all of the most recent sport science information to guide squash coaches and parents in how to introduce children to squash – and how to ensure their optimal development. The slightly sobering news (for squash) is that this document has been produced by a tennis, not squash organization – Tennis Canada.
My first coaching certification was actually for tennis – I received my Tennis Canada Level 1 Certificate way back in 1976 (one year before I started playing squash). In 1987, I moved to Montreal do a Ph.D. in Sport Psychology at the Universite de Montreal and within a few weeks designed and implemented the mental training program for Andre Lemaire’s Elite Tennis Junior Training Group – most of his athletes were enrolled in the Boucherville Sport Etudes program at the local high school. It was a talented group of athletes, with two of them “Les Deux Sebastiens” winning Jr. Wimbledon, French, and U.S. Open Doubles the next year – as well as being members of the 1989 Sunshine Cup championship team. Sebastien Lareau went on to be ranked #1 in the world in doubles and an Olympic Gold Medal in Sydney (beating beat the Woodies). My work with this group led to further work (and a Level III Technical Certification) with Tennis Canada including the writing of several chapters in coaching manuals, coaching conference presentations, and the training of some of their national coaches in sport science (including Davis Cup Coach Louis Cayer who has been stolen away by the British LTA to head up their coaching programs). I am including this trivia as support for my main point ,which is that Tennis Canada runs the most effective and efficient coaching programs in the world – due mostly to a small, dynamic group of people led by Ari Novick with minimal interference from the Association’s volunteer executive. Keep in mind that Canada is now the #1 sporting nation in the world (winter sports:).
The Tennis Canada LTAD can be downloaded here, and in my opinion, the recommendations and guidelines can be wholly applied to the development of squash players. Currently, no nation has developed a comprehensive LTAD for squash – although a few very rough ones do exist. Here are a few keys slides and points from the document:
- These shortcomings apply to nearly all of the major squash nations.
- An overemphasis on technique and early specialization – at the expense of developing physical literacy (overall athleticism) – is the downfall of most junior coaching (and the current demise of U.S. tennis). This chart clearly delineates the time frame for optimal development – and the important responsibility of parents.
- This slide provides very specific advice for my alum, and other squash parents about when to start and how much to play.
The Tennis Canada LTAD is a great starting point for those national squash organizations interested in systematically and optimally developing their squash juniors – and it is free! Parents have a responsibility to play catch and ball games with their kids several times a week from the earliest possible age (3, 4, 5, etc.), and to make sure they have a lot of opportunities for FUN sports participation in a wide variety of activities – not just squash. Realistically, junior tennis programs (since they are now starting to be good thanks to ITF initiatives) are probably one of the most viable options for squash parents in most parts of the world, gradually switching kids over to squash as they start to approach the age of 10.