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  • Egyptian coaching information was “outdated” – for example their sport psychologist was presenting information from the Coaching Association of Canada that I have developed 15 years earlier (if their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.


Well Designed Squash Instruction Videos – Free!

July 19, 2011

I was perusing some squash sites and came across one that I am going to add to my links section of our Science of Coaching Squash Blog: TotalSquash.  I try and list only “high quality” links on this blog. There is a paid section (which I did not investigate) but there is also an “open” section which is free:  Total Squash.

They have an interesting take on a number of topics (“Return of Serve Chess”, “Traffic Light “T””, etc. and so I think the site is worth a visit!

 

 

 


30% Discount Code for Squash Anatomy Book for Squash Coaches!

July 14, 2011

Ok – if you have been following out Squash Science blog for the last few years you will be aware that there are very few (if any) published sport science resources for squash coaches – the cost of doing business in a tiny, elitist sport (of course all that may change if we get into the Olympics).

The good news is that with the changes that have taken place in tennis over the last 30 years, an intelligent squash coach can adapt the numerous tennis sport science publications for their use in squash coaching.  The two major changes that have taken place that allow this adaptation are: a) the now  multi-segmented tennis forehand  – a “hitting” action similar to the full squash drive, versus the “stroking” action of the 70’s tennis forehand; and b) the physiological profile of elite tennis – especially on clay now approximates the duration and explosiveness (especially on the men’s side) of the average squash rally (with squash moving to PAR scoring and a lower tin, at least on the men’s side).

I just finished purchasing my first E-Book, Tennis Anatomy by Paul Roetert and Mark Kovacs a few minutes ago – I used a Human Kinetics 30% off discount code, so the total cost of my purchase was $15.36 – the code is B770.  I met Paul back in the late 1980’s when the USTA head office was in Princeton – coach Bob Callahan took me out to say “hello” – and I ran into Mark Kovacs in a hotel elevator at the ITF coaching conference in Valencia two years ago – he said to get in touch about doing some work with the USTA (but I prefer to specialize in squash:).  You can download the Adobe Digital Edition reader (to read the E-Book) here.

Although I haven’t read the book yet – here are a few adaptations that the squash coach should note in order to apply the information:

  • the squash forehand is biomechanically similar to the flat tennis serve (it just takes place in a different plane – overhead versus at the side of the body);
  • most of the volley information will apply to squash, as the tennis continental grip, similar to the squash grip, is used for most (but not all tennis volleys);
  • the tennis slice approach shots are similar to the squash mid-court squash drop shot (both feature a stroking action primarily from the shoulder).

Here is Roetert discussing the book:

In conclusion, this is a great resource for squash coaches willing to do a little bit of “mental work”:)


Squash Science Related Job Opening: Performance Director for Squash Canada!

July 12, 2011

Danny Dacosta, Executive Director for Squash Canada, has asked me to post a newly opened position for Performance Director for Squash Canada.  Here is the link to the announcement on their website and you can download a PDF of the job description here:  Performance Director Job Posting – Squash Canada – Final June 23, 2011.  Obviously, if squash becomes an Olympic sport, this position would be even more exciting!

This position is a great opportunity for an experienced coach to use the sport science knowledge and applications that we post on this blog.  If you are going to apply for the job, here are some of our best posts which target the key areas identified by the job description:

  • Following up on the above point, the Performance Director will need to assist in re-orienting the Coaching Certification system around LTADs.  Key post to read:  Rethinking Squash Coaching Education.
  • One of the keys in Tennis Canada’s success was implementing an effective “tactics first” approach for their both their coaching certification program and the actual programs used in National Training Centers.  Squash Canada has a “tactics first” approach to certification, but is short on specifics and direction to coaches on what exactly to implement.  Tennis Canada had a detailed training manual for U11, U14 and U18 – which spelled out the program week by week.  Key post to read:  Tactics First.
  • Understanding trends in International Squash and being able to swiftly implement changes in coaching education and athlete training:  Developing Deceptive Players.

The most effective National Sport Governing Body (NSO) that I have been involved with (consulting work) was Tennis Canada.  Backed by a supportive Executive Board – and this is the key part – a small team of three people each with strong expertise in a particular area, were able to implement continual dramatic change over a twenty-year period – with great current results.  Pierre Lamarche provided the initial strong drive and energy, Ari Novick the administrative excellence and communication between all stakeholders and Louis Cayer the coaching expertise. They also did a great job integrating ex-players into their coaching and administration. Canadian tennis players are now over-excelling at all levels – male and female, junior and adult!  Often with NSOs it’s a case of “too many cooks spoil the broth”!


Squash Scientist wins Core Performance T-Shirt!

December 13, 2010

If you are a regular reader of this squash coaching blog you will know that I wholeheartedly support the CorePerformance.com approach to training – it is a perfect fit with competitive squash – a blend of well-conceived exercises to complement the demands of squash – perhaps the most demanding sport in the world (based on the number of coaches with hip replacements – I know of at least 40!)

Anyway, CorePerformance ran a “submit your best CP photo” contest on their Facebook Page – and I got a free t-shirt for doing so!  Here is the photo I submitted – I was visiting a Smith College alumna in Hawaii ( I may run a squash camp in Honolulu next summer – what a great place to train!):

If you get a chance sign up to follow Core Performance on Twitter – they send out at least one exercise each day – and often some other health and nutrition tips as well!

I re-tweet the most squash-specific of their exercises through my own SquashScience Twitter account.


iPhone 3Gs plus Twitter for Squash Video!

December 5, 2009

The problem with having a great camcorder and computer video editing software is that it takes time to get the video ready for playback to athletes – a real problem if you are coaching multiple (usually 10 at Smith College) squash players, playing im multiple matches (total of 50 matches this upcoming weekend at the Wesleyan Round Robin in Middletown, CT.

In this video I tell how I will  how I will  use my  iPhone 3Gs and FREE Twitter apps like Twitterific or TwitVid to allow my team (10 players) to watch results of their matches at the 2009 Wesleyan round robin (so 50 video clips!).  They can watch their own clip individually, before or after a match if they bring their laptop, as Wesleyan has wireless (as we do at Smith) right by their courts – or if they have an iPhone – they can watch it anytime using the ATT 3G network.

Three easy steps to make your squash video available:

  1. Shoot (keep clips under 60 sec. for quick upload) – you can obviously record verbal feedback at same time.
  2. Open your FREE  Twitter app – I use Twitterific, Echofon or Twitvid.
  3. Write your short “Tweet”, eg. player name, game score – and hit “send”.

If my player is signed up to follow “smithsquash” on Twitter, they will receive a “Tweet” with a link to the video (as will you if you sign up to follow “smithsquash” on Twitter).  What I like about Twitvid is that I can go to their site and review all of the days match videos with my team later – they will all be in one spot identified by players name – so I just scroll down to the clip I want.  Here is a sample clip on the TwitVid site from a scrimmage against Mount Holyoke earlier this week.

Thanks Apple and Twitter!


Play Squash “Like an Egyptian”

June 27, 2009

I was attending a squash coaching conference presentation on deception a few years ago, and at some point the presenting coach stated that “Deception should only be introduced and taught once the basic strokes are fully developed”.  Although we cannot ascertain the exact age or stage of development that was meant, I disagree with the basic premise behind the statement.

As a small experiment the next fall, I had my team play a deception conditioned game in the front court on the very first day of our Smith College Squash practice.  We used a blue dot ball and blue painter’s tape to “raise” the tin and ensure multiple shots in a rally.  The condition that was assigned, was that the players must try and surprise their opponent on every shot by hitting a different part of the ball on each shot (outside, back, inside).  Since we rarely get experienced players at Smith (only 1.5% of high school girls will consider a women’s college), for some in attendance it was their first introduction to the game that day – none had played for more than three years, and were far from fully developed.  Everyone had a lot of fun, and were often successful in either deceiving their opponent or in anticipating their opponent’s shot.

Why are the Egyptians so good at both attacking and deceptive squash and scrambling, retrieving and anticipating around the court?  Because they have been playing that style from a very young age.  It takes a much longer time to develop a complete game with a wide variety of shots than it does to develop a defensive grinder.  Some might argue that playing a risky attacking style is a sure way to ensure failure at the junior tournament level.  It really depends what you are after with your coaching – do you want to develop a junior champion or a player with the abilities to succeed at the world level?

It has been my observation that often our coaching stifles creativity and shot-making potential – and the necessary calm risk-taking mentality that goes along with that style.  A grinding, defensive style will take you only so far up the world rankings, and it is very difficult to get a player concerned with rankings to add risky shots to their arsenal under the pressure of the tour.  I am working with Mike Johnson (former coach of World Champions Sarah Fitzgerald and Rodney Eyles this week at sold-out  Princeton Squash camps) and he mentioned that it took him about two years to get an adult Anthony Ricketts to add a very good drop shot to his repertoire.

Ideally, each coaching group (Training Center or National Program) should develop a hierarchy of deception tactics (e.g., easiest to most difficult), and then determine which ones should be taught at each stage of their squash LTAD.

We are putting this philosophy into action at the upcoming Premier Performance Squash Camps (July 10-19, 2009 – there are still a few spaces open for juniors, adults, and in our Coach Mentor Program – mention “Squash Science” to get a 20% discount off the weekly rate).  Each morning, while the campers are fresh and eager to learn, we will be using a Tactics First/Games Approach to work on some aspect of deception.  While we won’t expect the campers to be perfect when we leave, with the assistance of World #1 Karim Darwish (lead coach), we hope to instill an understanding of the importance of deception in the modern game, and provide the campers with the framework to work on these deception and attacking skills.

Application for Squash Coaches

  1. Introduce some (10%) practice of deception skills early on in a player’s development – both the tactics and the technique (use of wrist).
  2. Even attritional grinders should have some deception in their game so that the uncertainty it creates makes there basic length tactics more effective.
  3. If a player shows a special talent (like some of the Egyptians) for deception and attacking squash you can help them develop a smart game plan that combines percentage squash with their attacking skills.



Rhinovirus Implications for Squash Coaches

January 3, 2009

Ok – we mean what should a squash coach tell their athlete about practicing or training with a cold?  Colds are a big issue in the squash world since squash is a winter sport (except if it is the Olympics or you play and train in the Southern Hemisphere:).

One cause of the Common Cold

Rhinovirus: One cause of the Common Cold

Recent conventional sport medicine wisdom has suggested “Symptoms above the neck – ok to play; symptoms below the neck (i.e., chest congestion) better to rest.  A recent New York Times article sent to me by fellow Smith College Coach Kim Bierwert, cites research that indicates that playing squash and working out might make you feel better and definitely will not make you feel worse!

The article reported on two little known, but ingenious studies, published in 1997 and 1998 in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise:

Results from the First Study:

“At the start of the study, the investigators tested all of the subjects, assessing their lung functions and exercise capacity. Then a cold virus was dropped into the noses of 45 of the subjects, and all caught head colds. Two days later, when their cold symptoms were at their worst, the subjects exercised by running on treadmills at moderate and intense levels. The researchers reported that having a cold had no effect on either lung function or exercise capacity.”  Read the rest of this entry »


How Many Minutes Should a Squash Drill Last?

December 1, 2008

Well of course it depends on the objective of the drill! If the drill is a techno-physiological drill (i.e., a drill whose purpose is both technical and physiological), the drill could be structured around the requirements of the targeted physical ability. So a drill targeting speed, agility or power should be organized around 10 to 15, maximal, 5-10 second efforts, with plenty of rest (work:rest ratio of at least 1:3) between efforts to maintain the required high quality of work, as might be the case when working on retrieving drops in the front (with either a lob or counter-drop?). With one coach and 3-4 players per court, if you do the math, this will take 20-25 minutes if you work efficiently. Drills targeting other physical abilities important to squash such as aerobic power or lactic acid tolerance will need to be structured differently.

Attention Span is a Cognitive (Brain) Function

Attention Span is a Cognitive (Brain) Function

Most of the drills we see in squash have a primarily technical emphasis, for example hitting better length, or hitting tighter drop shots. How long should these drills last? We have two sources of evidence, one scientific and the other empirical to guide good squash coaching practice.

The first evidence comes from pedagogical research into classroom learning. Researchers have found that the learner’s interest and attention start to fall shortly after a lecture begins, with interest declining rapidly about the 20-minute mark as depicted in the graph below:

Learner Interest in the Classrom

Learner Interest in the Classrom

I learned about this at a Coaching Association of Canada conference for Coaching Certification Course Conductors. It was recommended that we follow the 7-20-40 rule when training coaches: involve participants at least every 7 minutes by asking a question; change the mode of instruction every 20 minutes if possible (e.g., lecture to small group discussion); and give students a short break every 40 minutes (quick stretch, toilet, etc.).

One way of adapting this rule to our on-court squash sessions would be to rotate partners every 7 minutes, changing the drill slightly every 20 minutes, and give a short water break cum mini-feedback/discussion every 40 minutes.

Empirical (i.e., based on experience) evidence concerning length of drilling comes from the German Tennis Association (coaches of Graf, Becker, Stich), who recommend drilling periods of 20-25 minutes, consisting of 150-200 strokes (in groups of 10-15 or 15-25 strokes depending on the purpose of drilling) when learning or stabilizing technique. They recommend this be followed by a 2-5 minute recuperation break before moving on to the next exercise.

Obviously, individual differences such as age of the athlete and an individual’s attention span need to be taken into account. U.S. Soccer has published a document which is an excellent example of applying these principles. The document summarizes different countries approaches to modifyng adult soccer rules for youth – notice that nearly all the countries use short game periods for the younger athletes: 206_international_associations_programs

Application for Squash Coaches

  1. Know the objectives of your drills to set an appropriate time.
  2. Keep technical drills to 20-25 minutes, with 150-200 repetitions.
  3. Take individual differences, especially athlete developmental level, into account when setting drill length.

Skype Coaching for Squash!

November 22, 2008

skype_logo_online

We posted a few months ago about how new Web 2.0 tools can help a squash coach do an exemplary job.  Here is another concrete Skype example that would work for either youth development  or elite coaches of WISPA or PSA Tour athletes.

**Update Nov. 24/08 – Skype picked up this article and interviews me on use of Skype here .**

Last week I went on medical  leave from my job as Head Coach of Squash of the Smith College Squash Team in order to have my right hip replaced (joining my squash idols Jonah Barrington and Geoff Hunt in having run too many miles, run too many 24 X 400’s, and played too many attritional matches, albeit at a much lower level:).  Although my replacement Erin Robson has quickly stepped in and done an outstanding job, 13 of my team entered a flight tournament this weekend, which means that Erin needed some help with the coaching, as they each played a minimum of three matches!

Travel to Smith was out of the question, so we resolved our problem with  the help of Skype as depicted in the video below:

If you are totally new to Skype, here is a quick, fun intro: