U.S. College Squash Coaches Communicate Professionally!

November 16, 2010

The topic is how best to organize matches at U.S. College Squash Round Robins in a way that meets the competition needs of teams without overburdening tournament organizers with last minute requests and changes once the draw is done.  Smith College Coach Tim Bacon fired the first salvo and Middlebury’s John Illig has replied thoughtfully (John is an author of several books).  This ability to debate in a collegial manner is a key leadership skill, an essential part of moving the U.S. College Squash game forward. 

Please leave a comment in the “Comment” box at the bottom of the page.

Smith College’s Tim Bacon @ Monday – November 15, 2010 3:23 PM

Hi Everyone,

Personally I am happy with Smith’s schedule (we would love to play another two matches anytime on sat. or Sun. if anyone ends up being stuck).

My thoughts on organizing round robins:

I think it is reasonable for a coach to a) submit arrival and departure times with their entry; b) a list of desired opponents.

At that point (after the initial entry is submitted) – I think it is the polite and professional thing to withdraw from the process of getting involved in the scheduling of matches – especially once the “draw” has been made.

I long for the days of old when there was no micro-management of schedules by coaches, and the round robin schedules were the same from year to year and dual matches were simply flip-flopped.  I understand that teams can/have shifted their “grouping” within the rankings with time – but I think we have a duty to be “reasonable” with our requests.

I would like to single out Chip Fishback from William Smith as a coach who has never once (in 16 years of running the Smith/MHC Invitational) ever commented or complained about the schedule he has received (and I never have either, no matter what the strength of adversary, number of times played, or inconvenience of the hour of play/travel). (There may be others who I have missed).

Just my thoughts,


Hello Again (Monday – November 15, 2010 5:19 PM),

I just want to be clear that did not intend to single out any coach or team in particular – that my comments were addressed to ALL coaches on this e-mail (but I think could apply equally to all CSA members).

Also to be clear, my comments have come from observations over the last few years from tournaments that I have and have NOT been involved in (thanks to indiscriminate e-mails to the entire membership from certain organizers about their tournaments:) including the Howe Cup, our National Championship.

Again just my personal thoughts,


Middlebury Coach John Illig @ Monday – November 15, 2010 8:04 PM

Hi to Tim, and all,

Well, we all rely heavily on the round robins, that’s for sure.  And we all know how much time the host sites put into arranging the schedules, and we’re grateful for that.  In terms of micro-managing the schedules at the events, I feel like I’ve heard CSA’s powers-that-be specifically ask we coaches to attempt in the regular season to play matches against teams that are at around our same levels (ballpark) so that reliable info will exist when it comes time to placing each of our teams in the proper flights for men’s and women’s Team Nationals.

So, we carefully schedule a few key matches during the season that will pit us against same-level teams.  The rest of our schedules then fall into place around those 1-2-3-4 key “flight-determining” matches.  The flight-determining matches stand out on our schedules and we know what’s in store.  It then becomes rough to have one of those key matches added at a round robin when we weren’t expecting it and weren’t welcoming it. Another unwanted circumstance at a round robin is in the case of being asked to play a team that we might already run the risk of playing 3, 4 or 5 times in a single season (home, away, at a conference championship, at Team Nationals, and then again at a randomly-scheduled round robin). For those two reasons we coaches might wish to request of round robin organizers the teams that we desire NOT to play.  Determining who we want NOT to play can sometimes be more important to us than expressing who it is that we want to play.  Strange, right?

Certainly if we coaches micro-manage round robins, we can make life hell for the host organizer, and perhaps that’s not fair.  The beauty of having an exact round robin weekend schedule that meets our individual teams’ needs comes at what cost to the tournament host?  Our individual match needs are met at the Yale Invites, and perhaps part of the problem is that events like that have spoiled us (Yale has many courts at their disposal, and they can accommodate the various needs of many teams).  The CSA has geographically diverse institutions, and it’s difficult for outlying teams such as Navy, Denison, Stanford, Colby and the like to get in their full season schedules without the all-important round robins.

It might be polite and professional if we coaches simply give our arrival and departure times to the various round robin organizers and then just take the schedule as it comes, but the other side of that coin is that if we coaches feel that our needs aren’t met by any particular round robin, then the hosts run the risk of losing disgruntled teams in future years.  The Wesleyan Round Robin has always been a wonderful event, and I’ve looked forward to it and have counted on it as a staple on my schedule for the past 20 years.  I certainly look forward to it again this year.  The event has morphed from a women’s-team-only event played on 15 courts to a men’s and women’s event played on 8 courts.  The personality of events can change like that based on factors such as dual-team coaches and facility changes.

Athletic Directors and S.I.D.’s hate our sport when we have seemingly in-season fluid scheduling uncertainties (sometimes volleyball and tennis has this, too), and for the good of our intercollegiate squash game we should all try communicate well.  One question is whether consistency exists.  If Round Robin A’s philosophy has it that is everything is set in advance by coaches who dictate their exact needs (Yale’s RRs),  and Round Robin B’s philosophy has it that coaches submit arrival and departure times and then take the schedule as it comes, then we should recognize those differences and make our decisions accordingly.  Longing for days of old is fine, but the ball has changed, the court-size has changed, the scoring has changed, coaching staffs have changed, and the association is growing and is going through constant change.  Certainly none of us desire to put Shona through any extra strain in this.

Those are just some of my thoughts, and it’s not my attention to offend anyone!


No Olympics for Squash 2016 – Bad News for Squash Scientists

August 14, 2009

The bad news is that squash did not make it into the 2016 Olympics.  Making it in would have meant a massive injection of funds into elite player development – and therefore into the sport science interventions and research behind such development.  Specifically, it would have meant more funding for squash-specific research of all kinds:  physiology, biomechanics, notational analysis, sports medicine, and sport psychology.  Currently, in terms of the number of scientific publications, squash lags well behind its sister sports of tennis, table tennis and badminton.

The at least not catastrophic news, is that there will still be a continuing significant need for squash sport scientists to interpret and apply general and racquet-sport specific research to assist the squash coach to develop their players.  I regularly monitor the major sport science journals for those findings that can be applied to squash.  This requires not only a pretty good knowledge of the different sport science disciplines, but also a good knowledge of the sport in which the research was conducted.

Karim Darwish & Squash Olympics

I have been lucky enough to have been a sport science consultant with three different Canadian National Team Programs (Squash, Tennis, Racquetball), each of which has won (or had) at least one world championship or Olympic Gold Medal during the period I worked with the program.  It would have been very exciting to have made it into the Olympics, but at the end of the day, it really is not going to affect the search for excellence by squash coaches and their players.

“Squash 2016” Impact on Sport Science & Squash

May 23, 2009

How will the sport of squash and in particular squash-related sport science change if squash gets into the Olympics?

Squash 2016

Squash 2016

If you want a clear, concrete picture of changes that might occur if squash gets into the Olympics, take a look at the Jobs in Sport sections of UK Sport, Sport England, and the EIS in preparation for the London 2012 Olympics (you can monitor Jobs on our page here).  The amount of money being poured into UK Sport at all levels – sport science, coaching development, organizational infrastructure – even mass participation – makes the the world of sport in the U.S. look like an impoverished wasteland – which it is. This increase in resources will be mirrored in many squash countries around the world.  Read the rest of this entry »

Developing a Squash World Champion: Align Your LTAD & Coaching Programs

April 8, 2009

Although squash is played in 153 countries around the world, it is not as well developed as some of  the world’s more popular or richer sports like soccer or tennis.  A small, well organized group of dedicated squash coaches (e.g. currently the Egyptians) can develop world class players, and even a world champion. If we look at the recent history of the squash world rankings, we can see that there is quite a bit of movement near the top of the rankings on both the men’s and women’s side in terms of the players’ nationality.  We also see a lot of successful solo efforts that cross national boundaries such as Liz Irving’s (Australia) coaching of Nicol David (Malaysia).

In terms of sheer numbers in the top 100, the English dominate simply because of greater numbers and government related money that is put into player development (more than any other country).  You can read this post to explore the economics of developing champions.

In order to achieve sustainable results, squash nations need to take advantage of the advances in sport science. This means using a system where the coaching certification program and actual coaching programs used in squash clubs are in perfect alignment with  a nation’s comprehensive Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) system:

An LTAD Aligned Coaching & Club Training System

An LTAD Aligned Coaching & Club Training System

Read the rest of this entry »

Squash Coaches: Evaluate Your Season & Program

March 3, 2009

While most of the squash world soldiers on towards season-ending championships in May, the U.S. college and high school squash scene has ground slowly to a halt – which means it is time for squash coaches to evaluate the success of their squash coaching interventions.

A coach’s win-loss record is one indicator of success, although since the best academic schools in the U.S. tend to attract the best players, they should have the best win-loss records, so there is not much information to be gained from this statistic.  The same could be said of those schools that recruit “enthusiastically” – if they start the season off with the best players and end up winning, it is difficult to parse out the benefit of coaching.

Evaluating your season or program does not have to be a complicated process.  Squash coaches can glean useful information from five simple questions developed by sport psychologist Terry Orlick.  Orlick was one of the first sport researchers to use qualitative (i.e., interviews) research methods to examine the psychological behaviors or world class athletes, and has written a number of very useful easy to read books on sport psychology for athletes and coaches.  You can download a number of his articles as .pdf files for free at his website the Zone of Excellence .  His 1988 article, Mental Links to Exclellence is a must read for squash coaches who want to really understand psychological performance. Read the rest of this entry »

Should Squash Coaches Say “Fcuk” to Their Athletes?

February 1, 2009

fcukOk – a couple of things.

First, obviously we do not  mean Fcuk, but the F-Word – or F**K as it is often referred to.

Second, watch this video of U.S. coaching icon Bobby Knight (currently a revered ESPN commentator) coaching up his men’s basketball team at half-time:

The showing of this video is how I introduced the topic of coaching to the 20 students of my ESS110: Introduction to Coaching course at Smith College.  One of the main purposes of my course is to get students to learn how to critically reflect on their sport experiences – which may lead them to pursue coaching either full or part-time.  Read the rest of this entry »

Practical Leadership Tools for Squash Coaches

September 6, 2008

Do you want to have a cohesive team with motivated athletes – and great coach evaluations from your athletes? The you cannot just “be yourself”, because that is a “hit and miss” strategy that we know rarely works.

So how do you become an effective leader-coach?  Not an easy question to answer since there have been literally thousands of books published on the topic of leadership – just go and do a search at Amazon (you will find 2,060 “products)! Or you can try and Google “leadership if you dare:)

Here are the three most practical and useful leadership models that I have encountered in 15 years of teaching leadership to coaches:

  1. Situational Leadership Model:  Should I be a dictator or a democratic leader with my team?  According to Blanchard & Hersey, it depends on the situation – specifically it depends on the motivation and competence of your athletes do perform the task you are asking them to do (a drill, strength training in the gym, not go out the night before a match, etc.).  The less motivated and competent they are the more you have to be a dictator; the more motivated and competent they are, the more you can simply delegate and not have to supervise them closely. The model is explained in more detail here.  This was the model I used to educate coaches in the old French Canadian Level 3 Theory National Coaching Certification Program – you cannot go wrong using this model.  Read the rest of this entry »

U.S. Sport System Fails at Olympics: Lessons for Squash Coaches & Administrators

August 23, 2008

In a previous post I highlighted the importance of not simply copying the coaching and training of “winners” or #1 ranked teams or athletes, but instead advocated a more scientific and logic-based approach to coaching and training our athletes. As the 2008 Beijing Olympics draw to a close, we can look at the current data that support this approach. Although squash is not an Olympic sport (on the short list for 2016), the conclusions of this analysis can have implications for squash.

Olympic Medal Count - Aug. 23, 2008

Olympic Medal Count - Aug. 23, 2008

Looking at graphs of the Olympic medal count and economic data, the picture seems clear – a “level playing field” does not in fact exist at the Olympics – the richer the country, the better it will do. Better food, better facilities, more money for athletes – these things have at the same time a lot to do with, and very little to do with actually being better at sport. If we want to get better at a sport, whom should we emulate – the team that ends up in first place, or the teams that perform much better than they should?

Although the U.S. leads the overall Olympic medal count, when we examine economic data such as GNP and GDP we see that they should in fact be well ahead of all other competitors, since there appears to be a clear and direct relationship between economic resources and number of medals won at the Olympics.

World Ranking Gross National Product (GNP) 2005

World Ranking Gross National Product (GNP) 2005

To examine this relationship, I used Excel to perform a correlation analysis on the current medal count and the country’s 2007 GDP (similar to the 2005 GNP in the Table above), and got a correlation coefficient of .43, which considering the complexity of the variables involved, suggests a meaningful relationship. Although the overall data support the economic wealth-Olympic success hypothesis, examination of the raw data can lead to some interesting directions.

Read the rest of this entry »

How Should We Evaluate a Coach? – A Big Challenge for College & High School Administrators

August 11, 2008

I have heard a few horror stories recently of coaches being reprimanded by college administrators based solely on negative student-athlete feedback from a small minority on a team. We have all also heard tell of coaches being let go basely solely on their team’s win-loss record. Although most of us are “evaluated” on a yearly basis, I think it is in fact rare, that any systematic form of actual evaluation of coaching competency occurs. Certainly it is easy for an AD to judge administrative and recruiting efficiency and collegiality within a department, however I have never seen or heard of an administrator attending a game or practice with a conceptually-based checklist to evaluate a coach’s technical, tactical, physical, or psychological expertise with their team.

In the last twenty years, Coaching has in fact developed into a bona fide sub-discipline in the Exercise & Sport Studies field. The work of Canadian Pierre Trudel and colleagues at the University of Ottawa is a prime example of this, as is the work of British researchers such as John Lyle . Here is a link to an outline of Lyle’s recent book on coaching, which examines key issues in the area. Coaching and High Performance systems in both nations have applied this research to devlop world-reknowned coach education programs. I believe that any meaningful evaluation of college or high school coaches needs to take this research into account. Read the rest of this entry »

Establish a High Performance Culture for Your Team

August 1, 2008

Excellence and winning are not the same thing. Excellence is about doing everything thing you can to be the best that you can be. As squash coaches this means developing a culture where your athletes have access to and do the same types of training as the world’s best athletes: irrespective of the ranking or ability level of your team.

In sport, the the better team usually wins. This success is not necessarily due to a better sport system or culture, but simply better resources. For example, if you divide a country’s Olympic medal count by the country’s gross national product (GNP) you will quickly find that the U.S. is not at the top of the rankings, and that its sport system should not be held up as an example to be admired and copied.

At the world level in squash, we can compare the amount of money that England Squash provides to fund its squash programs and support its players (number of coaches, sport science support personnel, administration, etc.) and it makes the recent success of the both the Egyptian men and women absolutely astounding in terms of world ranking per dollar spent, and puts in perspective the relatively modest performance of English administrators, coaches and athletes. Yes, there are many things we can learn from English squash, but their methods need to be put to the same logic and sport science scrutiny as other country’s programs.  Read the rest of this entry »