Squash Coaches: What is the best way to develop quick players? Anticipation Training!

July 20, 2008

One way is to run a systematic strength, power, speed and agility training program for our athletes – we know that a good 4-6 week program can improve our athletes speed and power up to 10%.

An alternative and more efficient way however is to work on improving your players’ anticipation. In an on-court field study conducted almost 20 years ago, motor learning specialist Bruce Abernethy demonstrated that “A” squash players initiate movement towards their opponent’s shot before the ball is even struck, while “D” players do not depart until after the ball is struck. This creates a situation where better “anticipators” get the equivalent of a 3-4 meter head start in a short 10 meter race. The conclusion we can draw from this and other scientific studies in the area is that better players rely on pre-impact cues (in other words they anticipate) while lesser players rely more on post-impact cues (i.e., the flight of the ball).

Imagine how quick your players would be around the court if they knew exactly what shot the opponent would play before the ball was struck – especially useful retrieving balls played to the front. It appears that frequently, many of the best anticipators have learned this ability from unstructured observation and play, probably during one of the two golden periods of childhood learning that usually occur before the age of 12-13. Some athletes appear to be naturally very good at anticipation, and respond well to brief verbal coaching to “watch out for this shot when she is here”, or “when the ball is here, he will probably do this”.

Problem: what do we do with the players who do not anticipate well (many or most of our high school, college and even younger national team players) and do not respond to verbal directives to “get on his or her shot quicker”? Read the rest of this entry »

Developing “Thinking” Squash Players

June 18, 2007

Squash is one of the most “open” sports, a sport in which players must effectively read, react, and make decisions in a constantly changing environment.

Why then do most coaches run “closed” training sessions where no decisions are necessary?

This question is not devoid of cultural influence where British and Australian players historically have tried to grind their opponents down in a war of attrition, while Egyptian and Pakistani players value skillful touch shots, trickery and deception.

There is a pedagogy designed to develop smart, thinking squash players. It involves the simple principle of starting every training session with a tactical problem or context, and ensuring that players must make decisions during practice and play. This does not mean that players should not work on developing excellent technique – only that technical work must be couched in a tactical framework.

I have been using this approach in my squash coaching since being introduced to this pedagogy in a tennis coaching workshop run by Louis Cayer in 1987 – the most user-friendly version of this approach can be found at a tennis coaching site run by Wayne Elderton. The rest of the world has recently been made aware of this approach under the name of Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU), Games Approach or Decision-Training (DT). Bob Callahan, Gail Ramsay and I developed “System 3” and used it to run Princeton Squash Camps in the 1990’s.

.Jonathon Power & John White