Happy Holidays Squash Coaches! (Squash Vacations & 15% off sport science books)

December 20, 2008

We are off to Jamaica tomorrow for a tennis teaching vacation – after 32 days of rehab, my new right hip is ready to get on court and teach (tennis not squash)!  At this point I do not intend to return to squash competition and regain my #4, 45+ U.S. ranking, preferring instead to get back  our #3 spot in the World Racketlon Mixed Doubles Championship , which will probably be enough squash for my hips (they always hit to the woman:).

Fitpro Travel also offers squash teaching vacations, as done my friend and former Canadian Jr. National Coach Rene Denis’ organization, Sportausoleil – all you need is a basic squash coaching certification.  At the start of post-op week five, my physiotherapist has just started me on bodyweight squats and lunges, in addition to a multitude of other intricate exercises, so my return to the squash court is imminent (although I have done stationary drilling already) – I hope give it a try down in Puerto Vallarta at the start of January.  I will be training at the same club and time as Jonathon Power’s (my former pupil) Fantasy Squash Club.  At this point I can enthusiastically recommend my orthopedic surgeon, Stephen Murphy, M.D., if you have access to the U.S., and need a new hip! Obviously there are many alternative surgical approaches out there and you need to do your research very carefully.

For most of us squash coaches the holidays can be a great time to catch up on our sport science reading – so I would like to pass on a 15% savings on Human Kinetics (largest sport book publisher in the world) products – just enter promo code E5031 (details below – not sure it will work for non-U.S. coaches but give it a try).

Upcoming January and February posts on this site for squash coaches will include:  Nicol David rallying in the back-court, Neil Harvey on mental toughness, CSA 2006 Coaching Conference highlights, more biomechanics of squash examples, and “physiological” on-court squash drills.

All the best in 2009!

Tim Bacon

In Appreciation of You from Human Kinetics

Special savings for our clients

We do appreciate the business you’ve shared with us over the past year, and in recognition we’re offering you a 15% discount on purchases made through the ASEP and Human Kinetics Web sites through January 1, 2009. Below is just a sampling of the thousands of resources available to coaches, administrators, athletes, fitness and recreation enthusiasts, educators, students – you name it. The offer ends January 1, so don’t delay – order today! Shop at www.HumanKinetics.com or www.ASEP.com. (Cannot be combined with any other offers and excludes ASEP Coaching Principles, Sport First Aid, Coaching [Sport] Technical and Tactical Skills, and Coaching Orientation courses.)
To receive your 15% discount, enter the promo code E5031 on your shopping cart page at checkout.

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:


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 »


Do Squash Coaches Need a Nutritionist’s Help?

September 12, 2008
USDA My Pyramid

USDA My Pyramid

I have attended at least 20 nutrition for sport workshops over the years, and have found that the concepts behind good sports nutrition are very similar to those of nutrition for the general populace. I have taught sports nutrition to coaches and college students in my courses since 1992, so I rely mostly on the Food Pyramid to guide my educational efforts. But as the coach of a women’s squash team, I also include a mini-lecture on iron every season (and I also keep an eye out for signs of disordered eating). The Canada Food Guide is also a great free resource for squash players – and it is available in more than 10 languages. 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 »


High School & Junior Squash Coaches: You Need to Know about LTADs!

August 5, 2008

One of the most challenging problems for U.S. Squash (and all of U.S. sport for that matter) is that the training and competition schedules of younger athletes are based on inappropriate Professional Sport Models (little preparation and too much competition) or chance factors such as availability of courts or how many private lessons parents want or are willing to pay for for their child. High school (and college) seasons are too short, and too competition-focussed for any significant athletic development to occur.

Complicating matters is the fact that the dominant model for hiring squash coaches (and in fact most Division I college coaches) is still the “Ex-top-player” model – if they were a good player, then they must be a good coach! Even a casual glance at any list of coaching standards will reveal the necessity of the extensive training and education needed to coach competently in any context other that an adult club recreational setting.  Read the rest of this entry »


Evaluate Every Competitive Opportunity!

January 13, 2008

What is the quickest and simplest way to get your athletes to be mentally tougher? The answer lies in helping them track and then compare their best and worst squash performances on a regular basis – and learning from this comparison.

After every game have your athletes answer, in writing, 3-4 simple questions:

  1. What was your level of activation before the match.
  2. What was your level of anxiety before the match.
  3. What were you saying to yourself shortly before the match.
  4. When you were playing your best, what were you focussing on or paying attention to.

After every tournament, or every 4-5 matches have them sit down and spread the evaluation sheets out and try an pick out patterns and similarities for good versus bad performances.

What they are likely to find is that best matches occur with:

  1. High levels of activation prior to the match.
  2. Medium levels of anxiety.
  3. Self-talk before the match focussing on strategy, effort, or having fun.
  4. Focussing on the task during – meaning tactics or strategy, or effort, or something simple like watching the ball which allows an automatic focus.

But instead of telling them this – let them discover it for themselves – much more efective!

Note: This approach forms the basis for the Canandian approach to mental training initiated by Brent Rushall and Terry Orlick in a number of their publications – and refined by later generations of mental training consultants like myself.


College & H.S. Coaches – How to Implement Psychology Programs

December 7, 2007

I have spent the past 20 years teaching coaches at all levels (Olympic, National Team, College & High School) how to run mental training programs for their athletes. Yes – I have also consulted directly with athletes at these same levels – but it is the coach who is best suited to do the mental coaching – because they know their athletes best.

However, most coaches feels that they are not qualified to direct their athlete’s mental training. At this point we need to make the distinction between declarative knowledge and procedural knowledge. Many coaches have taken courses and read books in sport psychology resulting in an accumulation of theoretical or declarative knowledge. In addition, they usually have an intimate knowledge of their athlete’s mental strengths and weaknesses. What is lacking is knowledge of the step-by-step procedures (procedural knowledge) to close the gap between the athlete’s current and desired level of mental mental skills or qualities. Read the rest of this entry »