Basic Squash Drills vs. “Games Approach” – Which is Better?

My ESS110 Introduction to Sport Coaching that I teach at Smith College is built around the ASEP (since I am in the U.S. – in Canada it would be built around the NCCP) Coaching Principles Course.  The target audience for the ASEP course is the high school coach.  In a sophisticated sporting country the course would be linked to LTADs – perhaps the “Train to Train” phase – but we are in the U.S. where the  focus is on short term results versus long term development – except for the rare exception.

One of the strengths of Coaching Principles course materials are very well and simply written.  The other major strength, especially useful for squash coaches, is that the course introduces the pedagogical approach know as the Games Approach.  I have blogged on this before, usually using the term ‘Tactics First”.

Unfortunately, most of the squash world, meaning players and coaches are entrenched in an overly technical approach to the game, with a focus on teaching strokes, often stereotypical strokes (e.g., the forehand drive) unrelated to any tactical situation.  For example most squash pros introduce new players with a “forehand” lesson where they feed players a very easy ball and ask the student to hit it straight back to them – progressively moving the player on to “mindless” straight length or boast-drive drills, focusing on the technique of “hitting better length”, in situations where we ingrain the instinct to hit the ball back to our opponents.  My hypothesis is that most squash players do not peak until the age of 27 or 28 since it takes that long to become a smart squash player and undo the effects of stupid drilling!

The problem of course is that squash is a decision-making game, where the choice of shot is of key importance, as a well hit shot directed back to the opponent is of little use. The Games Approach advocated by ASEP is basically the equivalent of the squash “conditioned game” (e.g. a game where is the opponent drops you must redrop or hit a cross-court) , the big difference being that the Games Approach coaching sessions starts with the conditioned game, and all coaching and drilling for the rest of the session targets student  improvement at that particular game tactic.

This preference for simplistic, not thinking drills is somewhat comically reflected in the statistics on my Squash Science YouTube Channel.  My video with the most views is “Basic Squash technical Drills” with 7,865 drills?!? The only reason I posted this video is that I was coming back from my total hip replacement and needed to do some easy moving drills that involved no uncertainty or decision-making.

Two of my better tactical training videos have only got 2,500 and 1,800 views???

In the first video we start the session with a conditioned game that forces player A to make a choice in the front-court. This was the third video session that looked at tactics in the front court, the first being drop or cross-court, and the second being drop or lob. This is classic Games Approach

A key part of winning a point is not only playing a good attacking shot, but also playing the correct follow-up or second shot, a notion that I thought we captured very well with our ball machine video – often difficult to do repetitively in a one-on-one coaching session.

Ball Machine: 

  • “Why did you keep playing that shot instead of ______”,
  • “You had to do a better job adjusting”,
  • “Why did you go for that winner then? ,
  • “You needed to attack more instead of just hitting it to the back”.These are all comments that squash coaches make to players who have been trained with an over emphasis on traditional technical drills.  We cannot expect our players to become smart players if we don’t give them a chance to make decisions in our coaching sessions.

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 (Certified Squash, Tennis & Badminton 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).

2 Responses to Basic Squash Drills vs. “Games Approach” – Which is Better?

  1. Melanie says:

    I agree with the Tactics first approach for C players and up but what about a total beginner? Shouldn’t we spend time working on how to hit basic forehand and backhands to acquire the proper technique?

    • Tim Bacon says:

      Great comment Melanie!

      I would argue that we could work grip, cocked wrist, and a simple forehand only until the correct grip/wrist is stabilized – “stabilized” meaning will not break down when rushing around the court. A progressive approach could include working with the new player about 6′ from the front, this being mostly pushing and touching actions until you move to about 12′ (right before the service line) when “stroking” gets introduced. I find on average this takes about 3-4, 45-60 min. sessions. Pretty sure that the wrist/grip are stable, often about the service line – at this point we could start to introduce “normal” stokes – the difficulty being that means a faster, less controlled “hitting” action (therefore the need for the grip/wrist to be entrenched). Introducing “normal” strokes means we need to start “tactics first”. So for example in the 5th or 6th lesson, the first 15 minutes might be involve the student dropping with a short pushing/touching action off an easy 3-wall boast, then the next 15 minutes on hitting lower and harder (like a kill) when the player (coach feeding) is way in the back of the court, and then the final 15 minutes on “making the coach run” – coach feeds from behind either straight or cross, and the player responds with a cross or straight drive. In the next lesson I would pair each of these shots with it’s tactical alternative: instead of dropping the boast, driving it cross if the coach follows the boast up – dropping if they stay back; driving higher and deeper if the coach moves up, killing if they feed and stay back; etc. So at this point, even though the student’s swings are very “rough making them change their type of swing very frequently according to the tactical situation – not really grooving or solidifying a “basic” swing, but rather gradually shaping a variety of swings – this process occurring in about the 5th or 6th lesson.

      What do you think? Are we saying the same thing? Or are we looking at alternate things?

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