Coaching Squash Deception: A Practical Example with Karim Darwish

June 30, 2010

I have just got back from the PPS Squash camp at Mercersburg Academy in Pennsylvania – I designed the camp based on a Tactics First approach – every session started with a conditioned game so that we could assess the campers in a “live” and meaningful game situation.  After observing the squash campers, we bring them together to ask questions and demonstrate the key skills involved.  We work for about 20 minutes to improve their skills – always at least two skills since tactics involves decision-making – therefore a choice amongst at least two alternatives.  Here is a brief example of this approach featuring deception in the front court with last year’s world #1 Karim Darwish.

Tactical Situation: Attacking a weak defensive boast in the front court with deception – showing a drop and then either dropping or flicking cross-court.

Technical Skills: Straight drop or cross-court flick from a “short backswing position”.

Progression (there are five steps):

  1. Campers play conditioned game – A serves with higher defensive boast – B returns with drop or cross-court flick from short backswing position.
  2. Campers brought together and questioned on “how the game went”:  “Did you win more points with drops or cross-courts?” “What were better – your forehand or backhand drops?  Flicks?”  The questioning approach is designed to get the campers to critically reflect on their game, instead of boring them with a lecture.
  3. Demonstration of skills involved by an expert – in this case Egyptian Karim Darwish – last year’s #1 and currently ranked 4th in the world.
  4. About 15-20 minutes of drilling – first the drops, then the flicks, then alternating them to make sure racquet preparation is similar, then some time where the camper mixes up the shots in a random pattern – again to test deception.
  5. Return to the conditioned game to assess the squash campers improvement – we often did this with a court rotation tournament to inject some competitive pressure and fun.

It takes a many year’s to learn effective deception – it is important to start early in a squash player’s development, as evidenced by the style of the top Egyptians.

Games Approach & Squash Camp Update

July 15, 2009

I am the lead coach in charge of the curriculum at the Premier Performance Squash Training in Mercdersburg, PA going on this week – this is an update report on the curriculum – which is based on recent posts on designing a camp, Egyptian squash, and developing deceptive players.

  • After initial uncertainty and some hesitancy over the lower level campers’ ability to do the Games Approach, the coaches (Karim Darwish, his wife Engy and Miguel Rodriguez (World #20), have enthusiastically embraced the method;
  • Our “Egyptian” approach has received an overwhelming enthusiastic response by both adult and junior campers (beginners to 5.5 or “A” players – we start each day with 1-2 front- or mid-court deceptions situations – we are going for our first back-court deception game (and then practice tomorrow).
  • I have arranged a free trial at for our campers (enter code “CP-PPS”) and the camp owners, Squash Design businessmen Haseeb and Sahel Anwar have bought foam rollers (at my insistence) for each camper so we can finish the day with CorePerformance’s great Regeneration workouts.

It really is great for the campers to get a chance to observe Karim whose racquet skills are quite amazing. I observed him use at least 5 different techniques to play balls glued to the backhand wall (topspin, block, cut, push, etc.0 to get the ball to its target (deep or short). I hope to get a HD video of these techniques before the week is out!

We also quiz the campers on the WSF Refereeing Video – go to our YouTube Squashscience channel to get the camper’s response to one of the refereeing committee’s decisions!

Developing Squash Anticipation in a Systematic Way

May 19, 2009

Did you know that A grade squash players move to respond to their opponent’s shot before the ball is struck, while D grade players do not initiate movement until after it has been hit?

We can define squash anticipation as the ability to determine where the opponent will send the squash ball prior to the ball being struck. Useful concepts when devising  a squash coaching plan to train anticipation are technical anticipation, tactical anticipation and partial anticipation (terms I leaned in Tennis Canada workshops with then Davis Cup coach Louis Cayer).

Technical Anticipation: Relying on  pre-impact body and racquet cues.  In a series of ingenious studies, Abernethy (from Oz!) and colleagues showed that “expert” racquet sport players rely mostly on upper arm and racquet cues for hints.

Tactical Anticipation:  When you get an early start to the ball because your opponent always drops the loose ball in the mid-court, you are relying on tactical anticipation – anticipating based on your opponent’s previous choices, strategy or game plan.

Partial Anticipation:  This type of anticipation is based on the knowledge of what your opponent cannot do when the opponent has several choices.  For example if you have glued a straight length drive to the side wall, you can cheat over towards that side because your opponent is unlikely to hit a hard cross-court drive past you – technically they are probably limited to a straight drive, lob or drop.   At a full lunging stretch to the front most players with a proper squash grip, cannot hit a hard, straight drive from that position, so we can move up and look for a cross-court drop, drive or flick.

There are systematic, progressive  ways to coach squash anticipation:

Method 1:  Always teach the anticipation cues associated with with each particular shot’s shot-cycle (e.g., watch-move-hit-recover-watch);

Method 2:  If you use a Zone Model of Tactics to regulate your technical-tactical squash coaching, identify and teach the different anticipatory cues associated with the different tactical situations in each zone (e.g., Opponent is on defence in front right – what are their possible options? Train the anticipation and response for each of these options.  Teach your players what to look for.).

Method 3:  Develop a hierarchy (list) of situations where anticipation has a major role or payoff, and work your way through the list with your players – developing a little practice around each situation.  Your list can start with the most common or  easiest situations (e.g., if a player turns extra in playing a difficult  ball off the backwall they are probably going to boast) or the most important (at the pro level only 5% of shots under pressure from the front right will be straight drives).  This hierarchy could also be based on a player’s stage in a sports LTAD (i.e., at this stage we train these situations).

One of the best ways to develop squash players with great anticipation of course, is to ensure that they grow up and train in an environment with frequent exposure in competition and practice to a variety of players and styles – especially attacking, deceptive styles of play (did I say Egyptian?) where developing anticipation is of prime importance.  This is great both for the young player and squash coach since anticipation can be learned mostly automatically though observation and trial and error, without having to resort to systematic teaching progressions (if the players are athletic and talented).

In developing anticipation skills with older players past the Golden Age of learning, it is important that the squash coach avoid excessive closed drilling and practice – that is every game or drill should involve choices and decisions – avoid mindless boast and drive and length drills except for a few minutes of warm-up.

Even the squash world’s best anticipaters sometimes get fooled – but that is a topic for another article:

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 »