Periodization of Squash Training: College Squash Team

November 11, 2011

I have been developing and teaching coaches (in all sports – not just squash) about periodized annual training plans since 1987.  Back in the 1990s, there was a very small group of  us, Master Course Conductors (give courses and train others to give coaching education courses) for the Coaching Association of Canada’s National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP), who taught thousands of coaches how do develop a periodized plan for a “season” (Level 2 Theory) and an entire year (Level 3 Theory).  Our teaching according to periodization principles (every coach had to submit a periodized plan with supporting documentation as part of their course evaluation) went well beyond any periodization books (e.g.,. Bompa) published at the time. Current conceptions of periodization are very limited in scope.  Most current authors restrict their view of periodization to the “periodization of strength” or physical training – we went well beyond that.  My article on the Periodization of Mental Training provides a short, concise overview for those who have not read Bompa’s book:  Bacon (1989). Periodization of Mental Training.

The annual plan is one of the few ways to integrate all the different aspects of squash training – squash is one of the most difficult sports to plan since we need to train all of the training factors to a high level (as opposed to sprinters or long distance runners who emphasize only one aspect).

Here are a few “up to date – 2012” comments on the annual periodized plan for a college squash team I have posted above:

  • I have changed the traditional periodization of technique and tactics to reflect the recent research on the superiority of a “tactics first” approach over traditional methods;
  • Planning for academic stress is an essential component of a college plan – ignore this aspect at your peril:)
  • I need to modify the “physical” lines of the plan to reflect what I have changed in my approach the last three years:  the Core Performance approach to longer term training is quite different than the traditional approach – plyometrics and power exercises are introduced much earlier in the season (still progressively) – I will publish a post in which I “reverse engineer” their periodization and contrast it with the traditional approach.
  • With the change in squash scoring, matches, especially at the college level are much shorter, so much less emphasis on lower intensity aerobic conditioning and much more on interval type squash-specific training.

That’s it for now.  Keep in mind that a squash coach needs to prepare or obtain two other longer term planning documents – and LTAD and a Quadrenniel Plan (4 Years) similar to the one I have posted below for my team at Smith College (dates back to 1995 – so could do with an update): 


Developing a Squash World Champion: Part 3

July 26, 2011

If you are just joining us for part three, you may want to check out my first 2008 post on this topic – and last week’s post.  To make a long story short (read the previous posts:), if all squash coaches (and squash countries) have access to the same information why do some countries (in this case the Egyptians) outperform others (in some cases with much greater resources?

In the interest of brevity, since this topic could consume an entire weekend coaching conference, I am going to make my points, some of them hypothetical of course, in bullet form.  Please feel free to leave a comment below!

I will just add that my comments are based not just on my personal observation of the Egyptian’s (and their opponents), but on my entire consulting and coaching experience which include not only a Men’s Squash World Champion (Jonathon Power), but an Olympic Gold Medalist (tennis’ Sebastien Lareau), and several other World Champions (Jr. tennis, Canadian National Racquetball Team, etc.).

  • As Jahangir Khan pointed out in his book, and I paraphrase, “It’s not what you know – it’s what you do” – so we have to look beyond what people are saying (in books, at conferences, etc.) and see what is happening on the ground level;
  • In the U.S., top juniors are getting trained primarily through daily private lessons, often on their own family’s private squash court.  then they are packed off to prep school for an important four years of their life, with very little exposure to a wide variety of styles and competition – and perhaps too much emphasis on winning: “don’t play those beautiful risky shots – just hit the ball to the back”.  There are two main repercussions of his situations.
  •  The private lessons given to U.S. juniors, are often given by English and Australian pros who favor an attritional, conservative style of play – not only do players developed like this not develop the very difficult hand-eye coordination to play difficult, deceptive shots – they have little chance to counter or react against these shots.  The attritional style favours early success – but severely limits the ceiling of future potential as an adult – I have seen this first hand over several generations of Canadians – very fit players who find it difficult to stay in the top 20, because at the top everyone is fit: Dale Styner, Jamie Crombie, Sabir Butt, Gary Waite (to some extent), Shahir Razik (very un-Egyptian:), and Graham Ryding (to some extent).
  • The numbers of junior players in England has dropped dramatically (reducing the number of clubs that hacve a great variety of players) and getting players together has always been problematic in Canada due to the geography (although we did have two Toronto National Training Centers up and running in the late 1980’s which supported a slew of players who went on to decent pro careers) – this has led to “isolation”, whereas the Egyptians have set up a centralized system where all the players congregate in one of two places:  Cairo or Alexandria:  a great variety of players and styles and opponents with young and old and boys and girls training together facilitates the development of great anticipation, reaction time, and a high level of tactical awareness – not available when playing the same opponents week in and week out, and not developed in private lessons.
  • Status Quo:  In the last 10 years I don’t believe I have seen a squash coaching conference in the U.S. with an Egyptian Coach as the headliner – nor have I seen a coaching conference where Liz Irving was the keynote speaker/coach????  It is difficult to pick up on current trends – but in all honesty we had four Egyptian girls as semi-finalists at the 2003 Jr. Worlds in Cairo – how long has Nicol David been #1?  It is nice to see that there are now quite a few Egyptian associated summer squash camps (including the PPS Squash camps I directed in 2009 & 2010). If you keep doing what you have always done….

I do believe that it is possible for other countries to catch the Egyptians, but it will not be with the current crop of adult players – it will have to be with those who are now 8-12 years old (a “golden” age of learning) with a revamped squash coaching philosophy – which probably means 2020:)

ps.  I do not think this is incongruous with the LTADs – on the contrary – an LTAD that integrates these notions will be very effective.

Application for Squash Coaches:

  1. Pay attention to “trends’ in international squash – often it is the juniors (and their squash coaches), not the current world number 1’s who will provide the path.
  2. Teach and reinforce risky shot-making (since these skills take a long time to develop and to learn how to play against) while players are young (8-12) – this often means putting winning aside as a main focus.
  3. Related to the above – stop the over-coaching! Playing games and matches against a wide variety of opponents and styles is just as important as developing good strokes and perfect length.
  4. Stop prioritizing winning and rankings with junior that are under 18 – if you want them to succeed at the world level (no college player is suddenly going to turn on the skills required to get into the top 10 (adults) so forget it!).
  5. It is difficult, but you must expose juniors to the widest possible variety of opponents.



Developing a World Squash Champion: Part II

July 21, 2011

I have already written on the “cultural” aspects of developing a world squash champion in a previous post, and the recent results from the Men’s Junior World Championships and the Spanish Davis Cup victory over the U.S.A. are motivating me to update my thoughts on the topic.

I see the recent success of both Egyptian Squash and Spanish Tennis as highly similar – countries outperforming their peers who have the same or greater resources.  My interest in the topic was first piqued when I attended and presented (with co-Presenter Shona Kerr from Wesleyan University) at the 2003 WSF Coaching Conference in Cairo that was being held alongside the Jr. Women’s World Squash Championships – all semifinalists were Egyptian girls.  Here are the observations I made at the time which contributed to my curiosity:

  • Egyptian coaching information was “outdated” – for example their sport psychologist was presenting information from the Coaching Association of Canada that I have developed 15 years earlier (if their available information is the same or older than the rest of the squash world – why are they more successful? The only conclusion is that the key factor must be something other than the information itself!) 
  • The England Squash presenters seemed more interested in “taking the piss” and making inside jokes during their presentation than actually communicating with their audience (most non-native English language speakers).  In other words, they did not seem to be “reading the situation” very well or appreciating its seriousness – they were being thumped by a much poorer country with relatively limited resources. (Absolute resources such as money, number of coaches, number of courts and players do not appear to be the determining factor in world success – what are the key factors then?);
  • In an Egyptian presentation on Deception, an English coach interrupted (after having been invited out on court to join the presenters) to say:  “there is no deception in the back-court” – apparently not true according to a recent video of an English player competing against an Egyptian:

As coaching director of the PPS Squash Camps, I had the opportunity to coach alongside two top Egyptian players, Karim Darwish and Engy Kheirollah for two weeks the last two summers.  I subtly bombarded them with questions, concluding that the type of drills they do, and the technical information they know is not different from the rest of the coaching world – what are the key factors then in developing a squash world champion (Karim was world #1 at the time)?

I also follow tennis very closely, and have been intrigued with the success of the Spanish players, particularly the men.  The head of the ITF Sport Science and Coaching is Miguel Crespo, a Spaniard, and all of their publications are published simultaneously in Spanish and English – I subscribe to all of their sport science and coaching publications.  In addition, I attended and presented at the ITF 2008 World Coaching Conference in Valencia, Spain and had ample opportunity to hear a variety of Spanish tennis coaches and sport scientists attempt to explain the key factors in their success.  Here is an interview with the players themselves:

Since it appears all of the content of the Spanish coaching and sport science programs have been readily and publicly available (i.e., any country is free to use the information), then the information alone cannot be the primary reason for their success – what are the key factors then?

In Part III of this series I will hypothesize about what these key factors are.


Coaching Front-Court Squash Tactics – Where to Start?

April 23, 2011

Squash is one of the most tactical of the dual-combat category of sports – with up to 1000 tactical decisions needed per match (1000 shots = 1000 decisions).  Most squash coaches seem to approach squash tactics as an afterthought, focusing most of their efforts on teaching and drilling technique, and increasing the fitness of their players.  Most tactical input and feedback is given verbally right before, during, and right after a match.

If tactics are so important, why do most squash coaches approach tactical training in such a haphazard fashion? In a sport where university degrees in sport science and physical education are a rarity, most squash coaches rely on coaching “the way they were coached” – which means a lot of emphasis on “how to hit the ball” as opposed to “developing smart players”.

I have already written extensively on the importance of a “tactics first” approach to squash training – the purpose of this article is to give a concrete practical example of how to plan tactical training.  Here is an example of the steps a squash coach could use when training tactics n the front of the court:

Step 1.  Develop or adopt a model of squash tactics that can provide a framework for planning training.  In this case we will use a “zone model” where we categorize tactics based on where the action is taking place: front, mid- or backcourt.  The principle behind a zone model is that the location of your position on the court is the primary (of course there will be other factors such as speed of opponent, fatigue level, etc.) determinant of your shot selection. We developed a highly evolved zone model of squash (System 3) which we used at the Princeton Squash camps in the 1990’s and early 2000’s (more on that in the upcoming weeks).

To keep things simple, according to my zone model, in the front of the court you are either attacking (includes counter-attacking) or defending – there is no real “rallying” (simply hitting the ball deep with little pressure).

Step 2. Make a list of all of the tactical situations that need to be covered.  Your list could be developed in several ways:

  • list the most frequently occurring situations, the most common first (e.g., responding to a straight drop) – the least common last (responding to a reverse angle);
  • list the situations in order of difficulty, the easiest first (e.g., responding to a high 3-wall defensive boast) and the most difficult last (responding to a ball in the nick);
  • list the situations most pertinent to your athlete‘s needs, so for example if they are very strong on the forehand side, you may only need to work on situations on the backhand side of the court.

Step 3. Prepare a list of coaching points for each of the tactical situations in your list.  So several key points for each of the elements of the shot cycle:

  • Anticipation/watching – what does your player need to “read” or notice in this particular situation (e.g., size of opponent’s backswing?)
  • Movement to the ball – straight in or shaping required? Prepare racquet or use arms to move explosively?
  • Stroke – key elements for each of the five parts of a swing, including kinaesthetic cues for the learner (“touch”, “stroke”, “snap”, etc.)
  • Recovery – correct movement to the best court position from which to cover the most likely responses from the opponent – should include training the most likely next shot(s) if possible (e.g., look to volley a cross-court or re-drop after playing a tight straight drop in the front).

Step 4. Plan the training session.  Ideally the session should start (Games Approach) with a conditioned game that targets the desired tactical situation(s) and responses.  This allows the coach to assess the player’s decision-making and technical skills in a more game-like (versus closed drill) situation.  For example, the coach or player A could start the game with a boast (high or low; or defensive vs. working) from the back of the court, an player B (the one being coached) must respond with a straight drop or cross-court (drive or lob).  After evaluating the performance in the conditioned game, the coach can train/drill/teach the player, and then finish the session with the same conditioned game so that the both the student and coach can observe the player’s improvement/progress.

Here is an example of a plan to develop the front court tactics and skills of a 5.0 player.  The plan is to train the player’s most likely responses to 3-wall boasts – a complete plan would include a similar progression in responding to 2-wall working or attacking boasts, straight drops and cross-court drops (since movement to the ball, choice of shots, and recovery would differ slightly from the 3-wall scenarios):

Obviously the number of situations trained is highly dependent on time available.  I would cover most of these with my college team in their 19-week season – but perhaps only a few (or most, but with less depth) with a twice a month private lesson client. Using a zone model of tactics as a planning framework, a coach would need to go through a similar process for both the mid-court and back-court.  The outcome should be a smarter, better squash player in a much short period of time!

Here is an example of how a session like this might look: 

And a video of some professional play in the front court where you will see examples of most of these situations: 


Periodization of Squash Training – The Key to Coaching Success!

March 30, 2011

I was lucky enough to be part of  small group of Canadian squash coaches were amongst the first coaches (in all sports) in Canada to become certified as NCCP Level 4 Coaches (1989).  In Canada’s five-level Coaching Certification program, the Level 4/5 program targeted National and Jr. National team coaches (it is now a requirement to coach a Canadian National Team).

At the time, a coach needed to accomplish 12/20 tasks to be certified at Level 4. The passing of the 8/20 remaining tasks, mostly “administrative” or “supplementary” (e.g., Sport Systems) would lead to a Level 5 certification.  The program has since been revamped somewhat, moving away from the 20 Tasks format:

Each task consisted of a day or day and a half workshop lead by a sport scientist with expertise both in squash and the academic area of the task. Evaluation consisted of submitting a practical project demonstrating competence in the area, graded by the sport scientist presenter.

I have been a Squash Canada Level 4 presenter for three tasks:

  • Task 8:  Psychological Preparation for Athletes
  • Task 13: Performance Analysis
  • Task 11: Advanced Squash Tactics (co-presented with Mike Way)

I have also presented Task 7: Psychological Preparation for Coaches, at several National Coaching Conferences (in both English and French:).

The key Level 4 Task was Task 12: Periodized Annual Plan!

Periodization is a comprehensive (technical, tactical, physical, mental) system of planning sports training based on theoretical principles and empirical findings that originated in the eastern Bloc countries in the 1960’s, but is now used as a planning tool in all developed countries and sports.

Unfortunately, if you Google the term, you will likely only find strength training and bodybuilding programs and studies that are limited to the “physical” domain – a classic example of “experts” trying to exploit the popularity of a new term, without fully understanding the “big picture”.

Our 1987 Level 4 course was conducted by then Jr. Men’s National Coach Rene Denis, who had been working closely with periodization guru Tudor Bompa to develop a “periodized” coach’s training diary.  The importance of this task was that the squash coach was forced to integrate all of their training knowledge into one harmonious plan where all of the different parts where “perfectly” coordinated to assure maximum benefit for the athlete.  There is almost no published work (except on this blog) on the periodization of squash training, and very few coaches use periodized plans.  Here is an example plan I presented at the 2007 WSF Coaching Conference:

In Canada, periodization was also taught to coaches of all sports as part of both the NCCP Level II (season plan) and Level III (annual plan) theory programs. To be fully certified a coach had to take this theory component along with a Technical and Practical component that was organized by their national sport federation.  So for ten years (1992-2002) I taught periodization to thousands of coaches from all sports.  Following each course, the coach had to submit their seasonal or annual plan for grading, along with examples of smaller planning units (macro-cycle and micro-cycle plans).  I also taught periodization of squash training to several generations of coaches though the Princeton Squash Coaches Academy – something we do not do anymore.

Due to this lack of resources, if you want to learn how use periodization to organize your squash training, your best bet is to access the International Tennis Federation’s publications on periodization of tennis (Just remember to spell “periodization” as “periodisation” – they have a Spanish head of Coaching:).  Although the ITF has been a latecomer to periodization, they have an excellent Education Department, and their resources are practical and easy to read – here is a good available download:  Periodization for Advanced Players (ITF, downloaded March, 2011).

Here is a poster of my presentation at the last ITF Coaching Conference in 2009 – periodization of mental training for each stage of an LTAD:

 

Application for Squash Coaches:

1.  Use a periodized approach to planning your squash training year.

2.  Adapt tennis resources to squash if there are no suitable squash resources.



Avoid Overtraining Your College Squash Team!

March 26, 2011

My college squash team at Smith College is currently the only U.S. College Squash team practicing and training. According to NCAA Rules (after August 1st squash will no longer be an NCAA sport) each team is allowed an official season of 19 weeks, with 15 days of competition (the rules do vary slightly for Division I and Division III teams), and with careful planning (paying attention to overtraining) college coaches can increase the time period in which they are able to  influence their athletes’ training.  Unbelievably, the NCAA forbids coaches from conducting developmental activities with athletes outside of the official 19-week season – especially difficult to comprehend in the many sports (like squash) where athletes do not attain their optimal performances until their late 20’s.

With the U.S. College squash season just ending (for most:) at the Individual Championships on March 6 – now is the time that College squash coaches should be turning their attention to planning out the 2011-12 season. Hopefully coaches will be mindful of longterm planning considerations and use a periodization planning approach to structuring their annual or seasonal plan.  Here is a copy of our Smith College Squash Team Four-Year Plan (we get a lot of novices and very few experienced players) and also an example of an annual periodized plan.

One of the primary purposes of a periodized squash plan – in addition to assuring a peak at the most important competition of the year – is to avoid overtraining (other related terms include staleness, overreaching or unexpected underperformance syndrome).

Although training volume and intensity are the most important factors to control in avoiding overtraining, a college coach must also take into account a student-athlete’s academic schedule and their related academic stress.

I have observed three periods of academic stress on my squash team:

  • beginning of the semester as students struggle to transition to school and sort out their choice of courses;
  • mid-semester due to heavier workloads and midterm evaluations;
  • end of semester papers and exams.

Lack of sleep due to studying, and poor nutrition (rushed eating, missed meals, unhealthy snacking and excessive caffeine consumption) are also contributing factors to the “psychological” load of academic work.  This contributes to the imbalance in the training-recovery cycle.

Here are three main planning strategies we use at Smith College college to help avoid overtraining:

1) Build periods (days and weeks off) of recovery and regeneration into the team’s competitive schedule. If there is a college holiday (e.g. MLK day) we take the day off and do not practice.  If there is a college holiday of a few days – we take the entire week off and add the “extra” week either to the start or end of our schedule (this year it was the end – next year it will be the beginning).  Ideally, we try and construct our macro-cycles (planning units of 4-6 weeks), so that we build volume and or intensity for three weeks – then have an easier “unloading” week (e.g., Bompa, 2009; Sleamaker, 1989).  Here is the draft of our season schedule next year showing weeks of built around the Smith College academic calendar.

2) Build regeneration activities into every practice.  For the last two years we have been following the CorePerformance training philosophy closely in planning the strength and conditioning part of our squash practices.  Every Core Performance workout ends with several regeneration and recovery activities.  Here is an example workout (Core Performance – Sun. feb. 20) and a short video of some example activities:

3) The last strategy simply involves closely observing the team for signs of fatigue, injury and attention, and watching their response to training exercises and being ready to modify practice plans or a week’s schedule (including giving unplanned days off) on short notice.

Application for Squash Coaches:

1.  Plan rest and recovery into your season schedule.

2. Monitor your athletes for signs of overtraining.

3. Be aware of the additive effects of academic stress to the overall training load.


Recruiting is NOT Squash Coaching!

March 12, 2011

I have tried in vain to convince my Athletic Director – and my colleagues in the Department of Exercise & Sport Studies at Smith College that recruiting is not coaching – I am having another crack at it with this post!  Our department chair – Jim Johnson comments:  “I have never said that recruiting is coaching. I do believe that one’s won/loss record is related to their recruiting ability but not necessarily success as defined by many.”.

Before I support my proposition, I would like to argue that Talent Identification is part of coaching!

As you can see from this excerpt from the English Institute of Sport talent identification is a “complex blend of scientific knowledge and assessment” – requiring excellent knowledge in all areas of sport science and coaching.  When paired with a sound Long Term Athlete Development Plan, and a solid, integrated national health and welfare policy (that includes the role of sport at both the elite and recreational/wellness level – here is Ireland’s – a great example) Talent ID is a worthy pursuit.

The U.S. lacks a coherent strategy that integrates sport and wellness, due mostly to the pervasiveness of the “pro sport” or Division I major sports” philosophy or model – which accounts for their poor relative performance at the international level.  The effect of this lack of a comprehensive sport policy can be extended to the college level, where teams are being cut due to the inability of Athletic Directors to associate the benefits of athletics participation to the overall College mission, which includes student well-being (the same could be said of High School Physical Education programs).

U.S. College recruiting on the other hand is not skillful (I suppose salesmanship is a skill?:) and requires almost no sport science knowledge.  For example in college squash, U.S. Squash sends a list of all the juniors who compete in tournaments along with their contact information to each college coach – all a coach has to do is be able to write an e-mail.  It has been my observation, based mostly on 20 years of summer camps at Princeton university, that for most junior squash players in the U.S. (and more recently foreign players as well) college squash is simply a vehicle to be able to attend the best academic institution possible.

Simply put, everything else being equal, the best junior squash players will attend the best available school (I got a .43 correlation coefficient when I correlated the college squash rankings with the U.S. College news college rankings.).  The top academic schools – and some of the ones not so near the top – seem very happy to lower their usually high admissions standards to admit a top player – adding imbalance to an already UN-level playing field (a level playing field being a key component of sportsmanship/fairplay).

What strikes me most is the disconnect between an academic institution’s public statements concerning the role of varsity sports in developing leadership and human potential and the actual communications that take place between Athletic Directors and coaches “you had better win or else” (a Division III comment) – and the current “frenzy” to recruit.  The discussions around the success of the Trinity Men’s Squash Program provide a vehicle to examine many of the issues around coaching and recruiting.  On one hand  the Trinity approach to recruiting has violated the “level playing field” principle for its NESCAC peers, while on the other has in fact redressed the “un-level playing field” that had advantaged the Ivy’s for so many years.

This very American glorification of being #1, and a willingness to put aside related potential ethical issues (e.g., look at the public’s acceptance of MacEnroe’s tennis behavior – or Bobby Knight’s), concerns me.  It might appear to be reminiscent of past U.S. Foreign policy (e.g., “the accusation that the United States has striven to single-handedly dominate world affairs.”).

Having coached squash at a Division I college level (University of Western Ontario at a time when they usually finished top three in U.S. College Squash), as well as coaching (and consulting) at the International Level (e.g., Canadian Jr. National Squash Team with Jonathon Power, Graham Ryding; Olympic Gold in Tennis Doubles, etc.), I am unimpressed with rankings of any sort.  My respect for Paul Assiante, the Trinity coach, is based on my squash discussions with him, and more recently the coaching values that come across in his recently published book – not his win-loss record.  The idea that recruiting success (and the associated win-loss record) equates with coaching ability is a strange one for me.  “Recruiting” does not play a role in any coaching education program  that I know of – outside of the U.S – talent identification definitely does.  Considering that the average age of top performance in squash is 27-28, I would suggest that Athletic Director’s (and in some cases college Presidents) direct their coach-employees to take the estimated 30% of their work week that they devote to recruiting, and better use that time to mentor their charges.

Ironically, the Admissions Department here at Smith has, for the first time in my 16 years at the college, admitted several (2 ED, and possibly two more top junior players) squash recruits – so we are looking at moving up at least 10 spots in the rankings (we won’t get to the #12 spot (21-4 win-loss record) we achieved in 1998 and 1999 with a team with only one player who had played at high school:).  As I explained to my team at our season-ending meeting – the new players will make absolutely no difference to our win-loss record, as I will simply schedule more difficult teams in an attempt to play against opponents of similar ability – thereby maximizing their improvement.


New Year – New Squash LTAD for Squash Coaches!

January 17, 2011

Melanie Jans posted a comment in December:

“Thanks Tim for all of the information you post. I read your site all the time for inspiration in my coaching.  I’m not sure if you are aware but Squash Canada now has an LTAD model called Beyond the Nick. It can be downloaded on the Squash Canada website at squash.ca. Here’s the link.

Melanie, now coaching at the Vancouver Lawn Tennis & Badminton Club, is one of my favorite squash coaches and players – she got her Bachelor’s of Physical & Health Education at my Alma Mater – the University of Toronto (one of the best P.E. programs in Canada).  Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Squash Canada actually had three mental training consultants working with their National Team Programs:  Stan Gendron did the senior men; Peter Bender did the junior and senior women; and I did the junior boys (e.g., Jonathon Power, Graham Ryding). So I only actually officially worked with Melanie once, replacing Peter at a training camp – but we have run into each other at tournaments over the years – and she always has thoughtful and insightful comments.

I had actually already downloaded a copy of the Squash Canada LTAD, but Melanie was the first (and only) squash coach I know that has mentioned it.  So you can download a copy at the link above – but here are a few key pages from the document.  The first, an overview of the FUNdamentals stage, is important as it reassures parents and coaches they do NOT have to pressure kids into squash at an early age (proper grip and cocked wrist are essential however as this is extremely difficult to change at a later age).

This second page is a good overview illustrating the necessity of adapting training at each stage of a child’s progression, in other words “kids are not simply miniature adults“, and so you cannot use the same training methods (a lesson for untrained volunteer parent coaches).

While the document is a good start, it is short on detailed specifics, so most squash coaches will still be asking the question “So what do I actually need to do today?”.  Squash Canada (and/or other organizations) need to take the next step, which is to produce annual, periodized example programs or templates, as Tennis Canada did back in 1992 – and of course to link Squash Coach Certification programs to each stage of the LTAD as I have explained in a previous post on the topic.

And of course, as usual with planning documents (since sport psychologists do not author them), the Squash Canada LTAD is a bit light on mental training content:)

If you are new to the LTAD-squash discussion here is a list of previous posts from Science of Coaching Squash:

LTAD Coaching Program Alignment

When to Start Kids in Squash

Keys to Developing Top Juniors

Rethinking Squash Coaching Education

An LTAD Squash Training Example

High School Coaches Need to Know about LTADs


Finally – A Blueprint to Develop a Squash World Champion!

July 28, 2010

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.


Developing Top Juniors: 3 Keys for Squash Coaches

May 8, 2010

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).