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.

Do you have innovative squash coaching ideas? You’re worth 40K+ (sterling)!

March 8, 2009

Fuelled by fear of not performing well at the 2012 London Olympics, the UK is absolutely throwing their Sport Lottery money at their Sport Science and Coaching systems and organizations.  Measured by the number and variety of jobs, the UK is starting to make the Soviet and East German sport system of the 70’s and 80’s look like a  small Mickey Mouse operation. If you are a Sport Science or Physical Education recent graduate there is only one place in the world to be right now – Great Britain.

Take a look at this advert from the UK Sport Job listing – being paid to come up with new ideas?


If you go the the Jobs page on this blog, you will  see from the first four links that I have been able to track Sport Science and Coaching employment opportunities in the UK for the last few years. Separate jobs for Talent Identification, Performance or Notational Analysts, Biomechanists, Strength & Conditioning Coaches, Regional coaching Coordinators, Nutritionists, Lifestyle Consultants – the list goes on. What can we learn from the astounding number and variety of sport-related jobs? Read the rest of this entry »

What should a squash player visualize?

February 17, 2009

The good thing about many self-help books on sport psychology is that they often have visualization scripts that a squash coach could read aloud to his or her athletes, or many general suggestions (e.g., “imagine yourself playing well”) for what to visualize.

The bad thing is that these set scripts and general suggestions are too vague to be of real help to our squash athletes.  Imagine the similar situation of coaching our players on court with the feedback: “get your racquet back earlier” or “bend your knees” or “follow-through”.  Unlikely to be of help to the serious, thoughtful player who already has the basics.  As squash coaches, we are also hampered by the fact that there are no “Mental Training for Squash” books out there that directly address our needs.

So what should we tell our players to visualize?  Based on my 22 years of sport psychology consulting there are three practical sources of visualization content that squash coaches can use.  I have outlined them in the chart below.

Sources of visualization content for squash players.

Sources of visualization content for squash players.

Player’s Goals

If your squash player’s three main goals are to:  1) Improve quickness; 2) Be tougher on key points; and 3) Play tighter length court of the back-court – then these scenarios are exactly what they should be visualizing.  The more specific the squash coach can be with visualization instructions, the more benefit the player will get from doing the mental training.  For each goal the coach could develop three visualization scenarios to reinforce the accomplishment of the player’s goals – in the example here scenes that support goal #2.

2.a.  Visualize playing from 8-8 in the 5th.

2.b.  Visualize playing from 0-0 in the 5th.

2.c. Visualize coming back from down 7-2.

Training Phase

For those squash coaches who use periodized (periodised for you non-North American Commonwealth natives:) annual training plans, visualization content will change as you move through the year to support the main training goals of each phase.  The main directives for each phase are contained in the above chart.  You can read about periodized mental training programs in my article here.

Focus Plan

A Squash Focus Plan is a written plan with three parts that a player uses to stay totally focussed during a squash match:

1) Pre-match:  The list of activities, physical (jogging, stretching, etc.) and mental (breathing, visualization, etc.), that a player does to get warmed up and into the “zone” in the 60 minutes prior to a match.

2) Match Focus: List of reminders (technical, tactical, mental) that a player needs to focus optimally during a match.

3) Distraction Control or Focus Plan:  list of problematic situations or distractors that might cause a player to lose focus – and a specific solution for each (e.g., cue words, breathing, etc.).

An important part of using a Focus Plans is to have your athlete visualize each part of the plan being carried out under different conditions (different tournaments, opponents, styles of play, etc.).  A highly recommended resource for Focus Plans is Terry Orlick’s Coaches Training Manual to Psyching for Sport – out of print but still available used on the internet.

Application for Squash Coaches

  1. Provide individualized, squash-specific visualization workouts for your players.
  2. Help your players develop a written Squash Focus Plan.

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 »

Simple Weekly Training Guidelines for Squash Coaches

December 19, 2008

How many strength workouts a week?  How many days a week should my athletes do speed and agility training?  Or aerobic training?  What about the days where they have a tough squash match?

These are difficult questions to answer for a squash coach, because because unlike sports that rely on one energy system – for example America football players rely exclusively on the ATP-PC (speed, power, maximum strength) system and marathoners on the aerobic system – squash relies on all three energy systems.  This means that squash coaches need to establish clear guidelines for their athletes for all three types of training.


Although there are plenty of training guidelines for for the strength-power sports, and the distance runners, the picture for “mixed sports” like squash is less clear.  Squash coaches working with younger athletes need to take particular care in planning their athletes training and recovery and need to consult youth-specific training resources and LTADs.

in a previous post, we discussed the order of training qualities in the same day.  Similar principles apply when planning squash training over a week (or micro-cycle in periodization jargon) – plan those training activities that require a fresh, well-rested athlete and CNS earlier in the week.  So if your week starts on a Monday (assuming athletes had Sunday off), new technical skills and speed/agility training would have a priority on that day.  Speed-strength (power) and/or maximum strength (mature, experienced athletes), both of which require the use of fast-twitch fibre, can be prioritized on Tuesday, with high intensity aerobic and/or lactic training occurring on the Wednesday.  Lower intensity aerobic training (60-70% of VO2 max or HRmax) can be done at the end of training on any of these days to aid recovery.

At this point, our “fresh CNS” rationale breaks down somewhat, since in practice we need to do at least two to three training sessions for each energy system per week to get a significant training effect – but at the end of the day on Wednesday our athletes will be quite fatigued, assuming they are practicing two to three hours a day including match play and drilling.  To help plan subsequent workouts, we can take advantage of knowledge of the fatigue and recovery mechanisms for each of the energy systems, resulting in the following simple guidelines:

Qualities we can train every day:

  • Speed/agility can be trained every day since there will (assuming adequate nutrition and sleep) always be 10-15 seconds of ATP-PC available in the muscle – although of course psychological fatigue may have an effect on the quality of work, so it is very important to do this training early in the workout.
  • Low intensity aerobic activity (20-40 minutes) can be performed every day since it relies primarily on fat metabolism (readily available stores of fat in normal weight persons) and enhances recovery (elimination of lactic acid, etc.).

Qualities requiring 48 hours recovery:

  • Speed-strength (power) and other strength quality workouts may be accompanied by significant muscle tissue micro-damage that requires at least 48 hours for significant repair and restoration.
  • Lactic training (20 X 400 or on-court equivalent) and high intensity aerobic efforts (e.g., 5k maximum test run) can be psychologically punishing and the body may require extra time to replenish the muscle glycogen stores required for high quality efforts in these systems.  A 15-20 minute light aerobic effort, and a high-carbohydrate meal with an hour of completion of theses efforts will facilitate recovery.

Obviously, this article paints a simplistic picture.  To investigate further, Rainer Marten’s Successful Coaching does a great job of explaining the physiological principles behind the reasoning presented here.  I use it as a text when I teach the ASEP Principles of Coaching course to groups of coaches and students in my Introduction to Coaching course at Smith College.


Application for Squash Coaches:

  1. Use physiological principles to plan squash training (versus what you have always done or seen done).
  2. Plan sufficient recovery (48 hours) between high intensity aerobic, strength-power, and lactic workouts.

Developing a World Squash Champion: A Cultural Approach

December 8, 2008

Shona Kerr and I were sitting outside the four-glass-walled court in the stifling Cairo heat watching an on-court presentation by one of the Egyptian coaches on “Deception”.  We were in Egypt to give our own presentation, Optimal Coaching of Female Athletes,   at the 2003 World Squash Federation Coaching Conference, being held in conjunction with the 2003 World Junior Women’s Squash Championships.

The Egyptian coach (and I apologize for not remembering his name), generously and very cordially invited England’s Chris Walker to come out and present with him on an impromptu basis.  The Egyptian explained that he would divide his presentation into three parts, front, mid, and back-court; and that he would start with the topic of “deception in the back-court”.  Chris Walker immediately blurted out “There is no deception in the back-court”.  Shona and I looked at each other in amazement (her because she had been trained from an early age by Pakistan’s Hiddy Jahan, whose use of wrist for power and deception was legendary), and herein lies the reason for Egypt’s recent dominance of the world squash scene, in particular their recent win over England at the 2008 Women’s World Squash Championships.


Historically, over the last 30-40 years, the squash world has been divided in two:  the grinding, attritional, fitness based tactical style of the English and Australians; versus the skillful, touch-oriented play of the Pakistanis and Egyptians.  Obviously there have been exceptions – Australia’s Martin brothers (and Chris Dittmar) both made excellent use of deception and shot-making, and both Jahangir and Jansher had legendary fitness (as well as Egypt’s Gamal Awad).  What a squash culture values, is what squash coaches end up teaching and coaching to their players.  On the women’s side, Nicol David the current world #1, has been highly influenced by the Australian volleying, attritional style of play through her Australian coach, Liz Irving.  (Canada’s Jonathon Power is another story for another day).

Egyptian Women's Team

2008 Champions of the World: Egyptian Women's Team


2003 World junior Champions: Egypt

Returning to 2003, all four spots at the semi-finals of the Jr. Women’s World’s were filled with young Egyptian women.  Five years later Egypt is the holder of the Women’s World Team Championship, highlighting the relatively longterm nature of development in squash – things do not happen overnight.

How is it possible that that a “poor” third world country like Egypt can overcome a great financial squash power like Great Britain, and is it possible for others to do the same?  What are the key factors involved in this “Cultural” World Championship?  Read the rest of this entry »