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.

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!


Squash Practice: The Correct Sequence of Training Components

October 9, 2008

One of the most important things I learned during the the Periodization (Annual Planning) task of my Squash Canada Level 4 Course in 1987, was the importance of sequencing training activities within a practice according to the principle of “fatiguability of the Central Nervous System (CNS)” (Bompa, 1999). This principle states that activities that require a fresh well-rested athlete should be performed first, while those activities that can have a good training effect when performed in a fatigued state should be carried out later in the practice.

If you look at the practice plan for the Smith College Squash Team’s fourth day of practice, in the first week of the season you can see a specific application of this principle. Read the rest of this entry »

Three More Great E-Newsletters for Squash Coaches!

October 3, 2008

The more teaching and research I do the more I am convinced that printed books are going the way of the Dodo bird.  More and more in my Introduction to Exercise & Sport Studies class at Smith College I am using YouTube videos, podcasts and links to websites as first exposure to sport science topics such as biomechanics, physiology and sport psychology.  We then follow this up by directing students to more scholarly work using the SportDiscus database for which there is no charge at Smith College.  We are lucky enough to be the only Liberal Arts College in the U.S.A. with both a Graduate Program in Exercise & Sport Studies (ESS) and a Minor at the undergraduate level.  As an aside, we have graduated seven women with M.Sc.’s who have trained with me as assistant coaches in our varsity team program in the last 15 years.  Read the rest of this entry »

Psychological Priorities for Squash – On-Court Mental Skills

August 30, 2008

In general, the principles of sport psychology apply to all sports.  However, in the same way that a squash-specific physical training program (e.g., lunges, twisting core exercises, med ball side throws) will improve your athletes more than a general one (e.g., squats, bench press, biceps curl), a program designed specifically to meet the needs of squash is better than a general one.

Although there are a quite a few books on mental training for tennis, I know of none for squash.  Having designed psychology programs for world champions in both tennis and squash I can say that there are important differences.  Due to the lack of published resources for squash we need to rely on knowledge from three areas to guide our interventions.

Examples of subjective and professional practice experience can be found in squash books published by top players in the 1970’s and 1980’s heyday of squash.

Another example of using professional practice knowledge involves summarizing the opinions of knowledgeable coaches. I asked national squash coaches from around the world attending the 2007 WSF Coaching Conference in Calgary the question:  “What is the most important thing you know about mental training for squash”.  Their answers are contained in this document: wsf-coaches-answer-the-question-1Read the rest of this entry »