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.



Squash Psychology: Focus Plan = Psychology + Tactics

February 26, 2010

How can a squash coach best help their player to play well and get into their Ideal Performance State?  One of the best ways is to coach their players to write down a plan that includes three parts:

  • Pre-match plan – to help them get focused and warmed up before play;
  • Match Plan – reminders about their tactical game plan, perhaps a few key technical points, and some general reminders (psychological or motivational).
  • Refocus or Distraction Control Plan – a list of potential distractions and solutions.

The idea for a Focus Plan was initiated by Canadian Sport Psychologist Terry Orlick based on his work and research with Olympic athletes.  Since 1986, I have continued to adapt the idea to make plans for squash, tennis and racquetball players – with pretty good success since many went on to become world champions and successful professional players.  This idea of preparing written plans formed the basis for the Coaching Association of Canada’s Level 4 Coaching Certification – the steps are outlined in detail in two of Orlick’s books – Psyching for Sport and Coach’s Guide to Psyching for Sport – now out of print but available on Amazon.

I have used many different forms for the plan with the thousands of athletes I have worked with since then – here is the latest version for you to download – Focus Plan 2010 – I have added two new sections in the last few years:

  • Competition Philosophy Statement:  A brief statement by the athlete about why they compete – it can help keep the pressure off (e.g., I always go and give my best – win or lose”)
  • Communication Preferences:  What the athlete likes to hear from teammates and coaches before, during and after competition.

This will help your squash players to avoid the “fainting goat” syndrome when faced with competitive pressure:

Application for Squash Coaches:

  1. Help your squash players perform consistently by getting them to develop and use a written down game plan.
  2. Discuss communication preferences with your athletes to improve your on site coaching.
  3. Help your athletes develop and use a competition philosophy that fires them up, but also helps keeps the nervousness away.

Coaching Squash Deception Using the Games Approach – Drive or Angle from Front

July 8, 2009

In our first and second examples of coaching deception from the front using the Games Approach we looked at two of the most common situations: pairing a drop option with a cross-court drive and pairing a drop option with a lob – both force the opponent to cover the largest territory – the diagonal.  In our third example, we look at a less common option from the front, the pairing of an angle (roll corner in Americanese) with a straight drive.  This option could be classified perhaps as a “surprise” option or “an unexpected shot from an unexpected place” since without surprise both shots expose the striker to counter attack:  the angle rebounds towards the middle and the straight drive if loose could result in a stroke against the striker.  However we do see these shots played at the higher levels so players should be trained in their use and how to anticipate and respond to them.

As in the other two examples, we will focus more on the coaching method and framework or the Games Approach, and less on the actual technique of deception (e.g., use of wrist).  Here are the key teaching points from this video which may differ from more technically-oriented coaching sessions on the same topic:

  • Flexible approach to the session’s’ content.  We see the coach accept the player’s suggestion to modify the game according to the player’s preference.  The coach can always return to the original options, but should be willing to experiment with the player’s suggestion in order to reinforce self-direction on the part of the player.  Build choices for your players into your squash coaching – they may not notice it but will develop more confidence in themselves.
  • The Games Approach encourages competition so that training takes place in a similar psychological environment to actual match play. In fact here we see that Chris is somewhat down and not that competitive after losing the first conditioned game 5-0, but the coach encourages competition.
  • In the previous example of Games Approach session we saw the addition of options or conditions to make the games more challenging.  Here we see the player presented with a simple skill drill to encourage appropriate technique – in this case the use of the wrist versus the stroking to control the ball. Lower standard players might in fact spend a majority of the session working on basic technique (grip or swing)  following the initial game if this is what might improve them the most.  What is important is that the student understands that improving technique is what will help them solve the tactical problem they are presented with (in this case how best to attack the opponent in the front of the court after forcing a boast).
  • Playing a game instead of doing repetitive drills may encourage a player to more closely observe their opponent, if their opponent is clearly better at the game.  In this case it is clear that Shona Kerr is demonstrating superior deception with the wrist in the front.
  • Videotaping and replaying the the Games Approach training session will help the student understand the effect of their initial shot on gaining (or losing) an advantage in the rally with the payoff occurring several shots after the first – something not possible with traditional drilling.

Squash Coaches: Train “Situations” not “Strokes”

July 7, 2009

We have published quite a few posts on the current Tactics First approach to developing thinking, smart squash players.  The key concept is that teaching technique alone (e.g., backhand lesson, forehand lesson) and leaving the match play and tactics to the student (laissez-faire approach) in their formative years does not encourage squash intelligence.  Squash is much more than striking the ball well. It is one of the most tactical individual sports and involves considerable perception, anticipation (reading the opponent) and decision-making (attacking weaknesses not strengths) on every point.  I would wager that squash is the most tactical of the individual sports – with more individual player decisions per minute of play than any other sport (in team sports like football it is the coach making most of the tactical decisions).  Our coaching needs to reflect this priority and we need to start training situations not strokes right from the very beginning of a player’s career.

How does a squash coach go about actually planning a Tactics First lesson or training session?  Here is a template that  coaches can use to plan a lesson around a particular tactical situation:

Tactics First Squash Lesson Template

Look for some video examples of Tactics First training in the coming weeks (maybe even days:).  In the meantime, here is some brief background reading from the ACE Coaching site – the leading proponent of a tactics first approach for tennis:

Game Based Approach for Tennis


Teaching Squash Deception: A Systematic Approach

July 5, 2009

Most squash coaches agree that deception, AKA disguise, faking, holding your shot, etc., is an important part of the modern squash game – thanks in part to the reign of Canada’s Jonathon Power and the current ascendancy of the Egyptians at the top of the world squash rankings.  So now what:  what deception shots and situations to teach first?  Which to teach second?  What do we do after the first few sessions? Although there have been recent articles published on how to teach deception (e.g.,  Cliff Wenn, David CampionRoger Flynn, John Lau) none of their work features a comprehensive framework for developing deceptive players and deceptions skills.

Even the world’s most deceptive players probably have very little idea about how to go about training deception in a systematic way.  Most of the world’s top players who use a significant amount of deception in their game started to learn deception through observational learning (i.e., watched others do it).  A couple of years after I coached the Canadian Jr. National at the 1990 Junior Worlds in Paderborn, I invited Jonathon Power (at 17 just starting on the PSA Tour) to my squash club in Montreal to run a clinic on deception for my A, B and C teams.  He did a great job (relative to his age and experience) but certainly did not have a very clear idea on deception teaching progressions

The purpose of this post is to outline a systematic approach to teaching squash deception that can be used to develop deception in one particular player – or a nation of players, through a country’s coaching education program.

Step 1. Start with a comprehensive Tactical Model to organize ideas around deception.  I plan to use System 3 – which is a zone model of squash, where tactics are determined primarily (but not exclusively) by a player’s position on the court when receiving the ball:  front, mid- and back-court zones.  In combination with the difficulty of the ball received (easy, medium, difficult) a player determines  his or her tactical intent or phase (attack, rally, defence) and then selects a shot to implement this phase (e.g., drop, drive, lob).  Any tactical model can be used however, and I will explain the System 3 Zone Model in a future post.

Step 2. Deception is a form of attacking (or counter-attacking) the opponent, so the next step in our approach is to list, in priority order, the different deception situations in each of the three zones.  There are several ways this priority order could be established:

  • easiest to execute to most difficult (probably best for young juniors)
  • most frequent to least frequent (probably best for pro players)
  • most important to least important (i.e., good deception in this situation usually wins pt.)
  • based on an individual assessment of a particular player
  • personal preference (of either the player or squash coach)
  • a combination of the above methods

Step 3. Make the list.  Here are a couple of examples for each of the three zones that probably reflect a progression of easiness and frequency at an “A” level:

Front

1.  Straight drop or cross-court drive off “easier” boast (show neutral compact drive preparation)

2.  Straight drop or lob off “difficult” boast (show drop preparation with hand).

3.  Show straight drop (slow moving arm) with last minute flick cross-court executed with wrist off boast.

4. As above but with straight instead of cross-court flick.

5.  Straight drive or angle off boast.

Mid-Court

1.  Straight drop or cross-court drive off a loose ball in the middle.

2.  Straight drive or attacking two-wall working boast off a low, hard straight drive from the back.

3. Straight or cross-court drop off a loose ball in the middle.

4.  Straight volley drive or volley boast of a not tight straight drive from back.

Back-Court

1.  Show straight hard low drive, surprise with attacking boast off easier ball off backwall.

2.  Show straight hard low drive, surprise with straight drop off easier ball off backwall.

3. Show straight hard low drive, surprise with reverse angle off loose ball off backwall.

Step 4. Choose a pedagogy or teaching method to teach the deception situations or skills.  The Games Approach seems ideal since this gives the squash coach an opportunity to evaluate the player(s) in a game situation to determine what work needs to be done.  For example, in the front court situations listed above, player A could “serve” with a boast, and player B, stationed on the “T”, could return with a straight drop or cross-court drive, and then play the point out to see if player B was able to take advantage of the situation.  After 5 minutes of play, an experienced coach would be able to determine which of the shots (drop or drive) needed more work, if the player was telegraphing the shot too much, as well as other basic elements common to all squash situations, recovery, ready position, quality of shot, choice of follow-up shots, effort, attitude, etc.  Obviously other teaching methods could be used as well.  With top players it might be enough to show a few video examples and then have the “play a game and try it out”.  Unfortunately, most squash coaches do not find themselves in this ideal situation and therefore need a systematic approach to teaching deception.

Step 5. Reinforce the importance of deception by occasionally using conditioned games to encourage your players to use and practice deception:  two points for a winning deception shot; A must play deep, B can attack with deception; short game (in front of service line); etc.  Give your player feedback on missed opportuities to use deception in match play – or the overuse of deception.