Periodization of Squash “Speed”?

September 11, 2017

I have “speed” in quotes and a “question mark” at the end of this post’s title because the world’s best players take a maximum of 2-3 steps before slowing down to hit the ball…that’s right.  Go to https://psaworldtour.com/tv and download any video – even Miguel Rodrigues’ – and count the number of steps a player takes before striking the ball when leaving from the T area…

WSF Court Measurement

When we think of speed events in athletics we think of 100m – for training and tests we even think of the 40- or 20-yard dash…the furthest a squash player would ever run for a single stroke would be the 1665mm diagonal (about 12 yards) if their nose was touching a back corner and then they went and touch their nose to the opposite front corner:)  But in reality, since the overwhelming majority of movements to to the ball for advanced players start from the T, that maximum distance is halved to about 6 yards, less the rebound of the average drop (three feet to second bounce on floor), yielding about 5 yards (or metres) or 15′ as the furthest a squash player has to move.  Keep in mind that deceleration in order to be relatively stable as the ball is struck needs to occur at about the halfway point if there is any chance of recovering to the T and resuming the rally.

Miguel diving.PNG

In conclusion, squash players need to train for 2-3m sprints, which is why I do not like to use the word “speed”, but rather explosiveness or power (speed-strength being the more common European Term), as it really is just a split-step, and one to two powerful steps that is required to be trained.  The training movements should be as squash-specific as possible as research has showed that strength, power and speed development occurs at specific muscle joint angles and speeds.

Here is the annual periodized physical conditioning sequence to become a “faster” squash player.

  1.  Anatomical adaptation (General Preparation Phase):  2 weeks of strength endurance at 12-15 reps (always assuming three workouts a week and use of a load resulting in failure at the last couple of reps).
  2. Strength- Endurance (General Preparation Phase):  4-6 weeks of 10-12 reps.
  3. Maximum strength (Specific Preparation Phase):  4-6 weeks of 5-8 reps for post-pubescent and “not injured easily” athletes with 3-4 ears of strength training experience – otherwise just skip over this step.  Similarly, if you have been strength training for years and do not lose a lot of strength in transition phases it may not be worth your while to go through this phase.
  4. Speed-strength/explosiveness/power (Specific or Pre-Competitive Phase depending on context):  4-6 weeks of plyometrics and short bursts of court movement.  Energy for this quality is provided by the anaerobic alactic (ATP_CP or Phosphagen) system which is most powerful in the 0-10 second range and by the lactic system when repeated bursts are required with a single rally or series of 2-3 rallies – after 45-60 seconds of these bursts within 2-3 minutes of play, a player will be forced to reduce their efforts due to accumulating lactic acid in the bloodstream and muscles (see blog post on “How to Lob” effectively:).  Most programs recommend about three sets of five reps of 5-10 seconds of work (followed by 6 times that amount of rest in between reps) as a good volume for supplementary speed training – obviously a lot of “training” occurs during matches and practices.
  5. Maintenance (Competitive Phase):  Most “speed” gains will occur within 4-6 weeks of speed-strength training, at which point most players enter a phase of competitions with league and tournament play and have a reduced amount of time for supplementary training outside of on court practice.  Improvements can be maintained with 1-2 supplementary sessions a week at the same volume and intensity of the last week of training.

I really like the EXOS approach to training movement, especially in the first few weeks of a program, with the last few weeks being conducted on court “live” (with realistic situations and feeds):  http://www.coreperformance.com/multidirectional-movement/.  This is a great bank of exercises to inject some variety into your program.


Tim Bacon, M.A., CSCS is the world’s leading expert on racquet sport science and coaching development having taught all areas of sport science as both a Lecturer at Smith College and as a Coach Developer for the Coaching Association of Canada while actively coaching (Squash Canada Level 4 Coach) and sport psychology consulting (25+ World Champions).  He is a Charter Member of  the Association of Applied Sport Psychology and currently runs his consulting practice out of Northampton, MA and maintains his active coaching as the Assistant Squash Coach at Wesleyan University during the CSA squash season (Nov. 1 – Mar. 1).


Learn Squash Tactics Quickly & Efficiently!

September 7, 2017

Why – in the “world’s fittest sport” (except for Nordic Skiing) are the athletes so old? Or put another way – how can these “old” athletes beat younger fitter athletes in their late teens and early 20’s?  The answer lies in the older players’ “tactical expertise”, in other words their better decision-making and choice of shots – average shots per squash game is 200 – so up to 1000 tactical decisions where to play the ball per match.

Let’s look at the example of an 18-22 year old college player who does not want to wait another 7-8 years to play their best – how can they accelerate their “tactical expertise”?

  • limit closed mindless “blocked practice” drills like boast/drive to less than 20% of practice;  these drills let an athlete “get in a groove” and “feel good” but research shows this type of drilling has fewer benefits in actual match play.
  • use a high proportion of conditioned games (Games Approach), and variable (at least two different skills) and random drills that force a player to make match like choices.
  • play and practice with a variety of opponents/partners – court rotations (winner up and loser down) are a great way to do this.
  • encourage players to critically reflect on each match (Squash Match Evaluation Form) and allow them access to video of their matches to help them assess their performance.
  • develop or adopt a model of tactics which can serve as a reference point to speed up acquisition of tactical expertise.  Here are two models I have developed and used to plan (and periodize) tactical training:

Here are other links to using a smart “tactics first” approach to developing smarter players:

https://squashanalytics.com/2012/03/25/basic-squash-drills-vs-games-approach-which-is-better/

https://squashanalytics.com/2011/08/01/decision-training-for-squash-coaches-part-i/

https://squashanalytics.com/2011/04/23/coaching-front-court-squash-tactics-where-to-start/.

 


Evaluating Mental Skills for Squash

September 6, 2017

I have been doing sport psychology consulting with professional and national team squash and other racquet sport athletes since 1987 – including nearly 100% of the top U.S. juniors (thanks to Princeton Squash Camps:) and 100% of the Canadian National Jr. and Sr. teams until my move to the U.S. in the late 1990’s.

Here are the different ways players, coaches and consultants can evaluate a player’s mental skills:

  1.   The most practical and immediate way for a player to consistently assess their squash mental skills is to complete a Match Evaluation form after every match – even more useful if they develop and use a Focus Plan, and even better if they discuss the results of the analysis with a coach who saw the match.
  2. Not quite as useful is having a coach watch the match and TELL the athlete “what happened mentally” as this does not improve an athlete’s autonomy.
  3. One of my favorites is to “chart” a match (either live or taped) using a standard score sheet with “mental notes” about between point behavior (body language, facial expressions, under breath comments, etc.) so that mental performance can be correlated with the score and match momentum.
  4. Simply asking the athlete to rate themselves on a 0 (needs work) to 10 (very good) scale for each mental skill is very quick – and in my opinion quite accurate – usually, given the chance, athletes can be honest and forthcoming about their mental strengths and weaknesses.
  5. “Psychometric instruments” is an academic way of saying psychological questionnaires used in research – these can be useful but can often involve obtaining permission to use and more involved scoring procedures.
  6. Comprehensive questionnaires, with and without psychometric properties, that cover a wide range of mental qualities and skills are best used in the initial “educational” phase of a mental training program, to help introduce athletes to the scope and potential of doing sport psychology.
  7. If I had to choose only one method to help athletes assess their mental performance it would be a “best versus worst” analysis: ask them to reflect on their best and worst performances and contrast them on key factors such as activation, anxiety, and focus before and during the match.  This comparison makes strengths and weaknesses evident and points the way to appropriate goals for a mental training program.

The next step after evaluating mental skills is to set goals and objectives to improve mental performance.  Ideally these goals should be integrated and related to a player’s technical, tactical and physical goals – a topic for another day!

Further Reading for players and coaches:

iCRAP –  the five basic mental skills:

  • relaxation
  • positive self-talk
  • activation
  • imagery (or visualization)
  • concentration

Here is a video of Tim and Wesleyan Coach Shona Kerr demonstrating the five mental skills in a quiet setting   and on-court .

Best & Worst Ever Match Analysis form – to help you play your best and learn from your experiences:  Squash Reflections Form

Squash Match Focus Plan form – to make sure you are organized and well prepared for your matches:  Squash Plan Form.

Squash Match Evaluation form – to help you analyze your matches and learn from your experiences:  squash-match-evaluation-form

 


Tim Bacon, M.A., CSCS is the world’s leading expert on racquet sport science and coaching development having taught all areas of sport science as both a Lecturer at Smith College and as a Coach Developer for the Coaching Association of Canada while actively coaching (Squash Canada Level 4 Coach) and sport psychology consulting (25+ World Champions).  He is a Charter Member of  the Association of Applied Sport Psychology and currently runs his consulting practice out of Northampton, MA and maintains his active coaching as the Assistant Squash Coach at Wesleyan University during the CSA squash season (Nov. 1 – Mar. 1).

 


Injury Prevention for Squash

August 22, 2017

Most squash players and coaches – including the top PSA professionals are unable to manage physical training and match play schedules in a way that avoids costly injuries and lost training time:

Pallikal, Aug. 2017

Gaultier, Nov. 2016

Heshem, Oct. 2016

Ashour, Jan. 2015

etc.

Why?  The main reason is that the planning and implementation of high level training requires a deep understanding of many factors that can only be obtained through academic training  and many years of squash-specific professional practice as a strength and conditioning specialist.

  • How many squash coaches have a Master’s in Sport Science or Coaching?  The weekend or week-long coaching certification courses, even at the highest Level 3 or 4 are inadequate with only 16-20 hours devoted to physical training – versus a 4-year Bachelor’s P.E. degree followed by another 1-2 year’s MSc. or M.A.  In addition to this academic preparation, most consider the NSCA’s C.S.C.S. credential as a prerequisite for competent practice.
  • How many physical preparation specialists have played or coached squash or another racquet sport at a national level (or even college squash) in order to be able to truly understand the demands of squash training and playing?

The answer is “not very many”.  There is David Behm (he played for me when I coached at McGill) and myself that I know of in North America.  If you know of others, contact me and I will be happy to list their names here as a resource.

So what to do about this situation?  The answer is to use a system of training that acknowledges the importance of avoiding injury and that has been tested at the highest levels across many sports.  I have been using this strength training system since 2008 with my squash athletes – the same system that is being used with 50+ professional teams around the world, including the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, the German Men’s Soccer Team, and for the past few years by at least 10 of the top 20 NFL draft picks.

Stay tuned for the the name and links to this system:)

 


College Squash Players: It’s June 1! Go!

June 1, 2017

February 15, 2018 seems a long way off – but your performance in the CSA national Championships will be largely determined by what you do starting today.  Most squash players – especially juniors and college players do not appreciate the long term nature (months not weeks or days) of optimal improvement of athletic performance.

Periodization Chart

The key concept is that in order to peak in February 2018, we start by planning backwards:

  • 2 weeks before our desired peak (so Feb. 1) we to cut our practice and playing volume in half – so 60-90 minutes of practice a day instead of 12–180 – this will allow a ‘supercompensation” and physical and mental peak to occur on the court.
  • it takes at least minimum of 2 months of intense competition without significant technical (strokes & shots) or tactical (overall game plan/style of play) changes for match performance to become automatic – a prerequisite of peaking – so all changes need to be completed by December 1, 2017.  this more or less coincides with exams and winter break by college squash players.
  • related to the above, in order to have a high level of tactics and match play, the volume of physical and technical training must drop to a maintenance level – so only 1-2 sessions a week in December, January and February to allow for an increase in volume of match play and training (five sessions of conditioned games or match play per week – each session lasting the expected duration of matches at Nationals – so 60 to 90 minutes).
  • it takes at least 4-6 weeks to optimally develop sport-specific power, speed and agility related athletic qualities though training three sessions a week – so this type of training must start by November 1, 2017 at the latest.  This is the date at which many college athletes (e.g., NESCAC) have access to on-court training with their coach.  Note that to accomplish the above, strength training sessions are limited to 1-2 times per week for about 30 minutes once the season starts.
  • this means that the foundation for high intensity squash play and training must be completed by the college player in the June 1 to November 1 period – five months, which seems like a long time until you take a close look at the time period required to develop the physical qualities required for squash, while staying injury free.

Working backwards here are the physical training priorities broken down into four week monthly cycles:

Oct. 1 – Nov. 1: 

  1.  Aerobic Interval training  (preferably a mix of on-court squash specific movement and bike intervals (to reduce stress on the joints – knees/back) three times a week, the last week featuring work periods of 15-30 seconds at 85% effort with about 10 seconds rest between intervals, for a total of about 20 minutes high intensity work.
  2. For returning players with a considerable strength training background (preferably under supervision) this is the time to work maximum strength (high loads/fewer reps).  Injury prone and less experienced athletes should continue to work strength-endurance (medium loads/higher reps).
  3. Enough general power/speed/agility (e.g., low bounce plyos) should be done about twice a week to prepare the joints for more squash-specific explosive loads.

Sept. 1 – Oct. 1:

  1. Continuous aerobic training can be done 3-4 times a week (20 to 30 minutes) at different training zones from 60-85% to induce the necessary physiological adaptations to lay the foundation for the aerobic interval training to follow.
  2. Squash-specific, strength-endurance training (12-15 reps. with medium resistance) can be done three times a week.
  3. Upon arriving on campus, return to on-court squash play should be progressive in terms of number and length of sessions per week to avoid a pre-season injury (e.g., 2-3 sessions of 30-45 minutes in week 1;  3-4 sessions of 45 – 60 minutes in week 4.).

June 1 – Sept. 1:

  1. The priority in this period is to do general types of training for 5-10 hours a week, with an emphasis on  prehabilitation and movement preparation for strength training (using a strength-endurance approach in the 12-15 rep range) to improve any physically weak areas and ensure full recovery from any prior injuries.  So three aerobic and three strength sessions a week of about 60-90 minutes.  This training does not have to be squash-specific, so soccer, yoga, Pilates, cycling, basketball, etc. all work.  most students work, so activities will often be determined by location and work situation.
  2. This is also the time, before the return to campus to correct and improve any basic squash technical areas: grips, wrist, strokes, etc.  This is the major flaw in the U.S. sporting system – squash coaches are not allowed to do this type of coaching outside of the NCAA designated seasons – players are left on their own, and the private squash lessons that are required to make these technical changes can be costly.

Summary

Most college squash players wait until the official start of the season to start physical training in a systematic way – they do not realize that most physical training must be accomplished before Nov. 1 – and that coach-run squash practices are for on-court conditioned games, drills, and match play – not for physical training, except for 1-2 30 minute maintenance sessions per week.

Breaking down the numbers for a typical college practice  can make the above more clear:

4:30-4:50  Movement prep and prehab

4:50-5:05  Basic squash drills or play to allow players to “warm-up” motor skill system.

6:15 – 6:30  Regeneration and cool-down

That leaves the 5:05 to 6:15 period – so 70 minutes  – actually only 60 minutes once you take out time for demonstrations, explanations (even if they are extremely short), transitions between games/drills, and water breaks.

Cognitive-motor learning research indicates that 20-minutes is an ideal amount for time (law of diminishing returns) for a conditioned game or drill – which means an ideal practice should feature only three themes – and with only four to five weeks before December exams and winter break – these should be tactical and game situations themes with very little time for technical instruction (as it slows down match-like training).

Most CSA Head Coaches now coach both the women’s and men’s team with an minimum squad size of 12 for both men and women; the implication being 60/12 means only 5 min. per player for the coach to observe, encourage, correct, interact during the on-court part of practice.  This means a very high priority on the coach using “task teaching” (the “rules” of the conditioned game or drill) as their primary pedagogical tool to improve their athletes’ play.

Experienced coaches with recognize that the above simplification is based on Bompa’s periodization theory:)

Periodization (Bompa, 2009)


Tim Bacon, M.A., CSCS is the world’s leading expert on racquet sport science and coaching development having taught all areas of sport science as both a Lecturer at Smith College and as a Coach Developer for the Coaching Association of Canada while actively coaching (Squash Canada Level 4 Coach) and sport psychology consulting (25+ World Champions).  He currently runs his consulting practice out of Northampton, MA and maintains his active coaching as the Assistant Squash Coach at Wesleyan University during the CSA squash season (Nov. 1 – Mar. 1).


Squash Back-Court Defence: Nicole David

May 12, 2017

The problem with most published work on notational or performance analysis of squash is that it is stroke or technique centered.  The simplest example of notational analysis would be when a squash coach charts one of their player’s matches by putting a “W” (for winnner) or “E” (for error) on a diagram of a squash court.

Another example of technique-centered performance analysis was our 1987  Squash Canada Level 4 Performance Analysis Task, where we had to chart a video of a match between Dale Styner and John Fleury (both Canadian National Team members), recording every stroke played and the result of the stroke. The output of the analysis was a summary chart of statistics: number of shots played, percentage of winners and errors for each stroke type (forehand drive, backhand drop, etc.).

Information of this type, without a tactical context is not very useful:  for example a player’s technique, and associated success ratio,  in the back of the squash court is very different depending on the difficulty of the received shot, the amount of pressure the player is under, and the characteristics of the opponent (fast vs. slow, retriever vs. shot-maker, etc.).

The best analyses are based on a defined tactical model in order to be able to make precise, specific recommendations to players concerning the improvement of their game.  When I teach the current Level 4 Performance Analysis Task for Squash Canada, the first assignment in the class is for each of the coaches to present the tactical model they use for coaching their players.

In order to demonstrate the usefulness of notational analysis based on a tactical model, I used the Dartfish Tagging  module to analyze the first 25 points of the first game of the  2006 British Open Final (purchase DVD here) between Nicol David (current World #1) and Rachel Grinham.  In this example I restricted the analysis to the backcourt.

The tactical model I used for the example analysis is the “zone” model I developed with the assistance of Princeton’s Gail Ramsay and Bob Callahan in the late 1990’s:  System 3.  The idea for a zone model was based on Jack Fair’s “Traffic Light”  Model (red, amber, and green) for hardball squash, and the tennis tactical model (Methode des actions) used by Tennis Canada starting in the early 1990’s (copied and adapted a few years later by Nick Bolletieri:  System 5). It should be mentioned that the Squash Canada Coaching Program independently adapted Tennis Canada’s Action Method into their own tactical model (less directive and evolved than System 3).

The model functions by dividing the squash court into three zones: front, mid, and back, and using the difficulty of the ball received  by the player (easy, medium, difficult), to determine the tactical objective of the player’s shot (attack, rally, defend).  The player realizes their tactical objective by choosing a particular technique (e.g., attack a loose ball in the mid-court with a cross-court volley nick). We have developed a “System 5” for international level players which features two more tactical objectives (force and counter-attack) as well as the use of deception.

In the first part of the analysis, we focused on what David did on defence (against a difficult ball) in the back-court:

  • out of 25 shots to the back, David was on defence (forced use of wrist only, stretched-leaning back, adapted swing) only eight times – her very quick perception got her into position quickly enabling her to “rally” most of the balls;
  • she was able to hit good drives 5/8 times (4/5 straight), being forced to boast only once, with only 2 “bad” (loose) shots;
  • she needed, and was very good at “adapted” shortened swings (versus the full drives we normally teach) and use of the wrist;
  • although not a direct goal of the analysis, it is clear that against Grinham, David’s high percentage of volleys in the mid-court, dramatically reduced the number of times she had to play the ball off the back of the court.
  • often she is not looking at the ball/opponent as her opponent impacts the ball, perhaps indicating reliance on the tactical knowledge of her opponent’s tendencies -perhaps Rachel should have tried a few more “surprise” shots.

Here are the back-court video clips, with the “bad” shots towards the end of the video.  Pausing the video gives insight into her approach into the back, her hitting position, and her recovery back to the “T”. In our next post we will examine Nicol David “rallying” from the back-court.


Tim Bacon, M.A., CSCS is the world’s leading expert on racquet sport science and coaching development having taught all areas of sport science as both a Lecturer at Smith College and as a Coach Developer for the Coaching Association of Canada while actively coaching (Squash Canada Level 4 Coach) and sport psychology consulting (25+ World Champions).  He currently runs his consulting practice out of Northampton, MA and maintains his active coaching as the Assistant Squash Coach at Wesleyan University during the CSA squash season (Nov. 1 – Mar. 1).


How to Evaluate Squash Coaches ‘Scientifically”

April 26, 2017

It’s a funny position to be in – having yourself evaluated by someone who knows very little beyond their own minimal life experience about the subject that you are teaching.  College squash coaches, just like University and College Faculty are evaluated at the end of their annual teaching/coaching cycle.

To muddy the “evaluation” waters even further, those who design and administer the forms used to evaluate coaches have themselves received little if any training in the area, and it is extremely doubtful that they have kept abreast of research in the area – yes – “how to evaluate a coach” is an actual research area usually falling within sport psychology, coaching science, or sport pedagogy.

My recommendation is to use the Coaching Behavior Scale for Sport (CBS-S) an evaluation form that has been validated in several studies and found to be an “effective” tool.  You can download a copy of the questionnaire and scoring instructions here:

http://the-coach-athlete-relationship.wikispaces.com/file/view/CBS-S+Sample.pdf.  Here is a link to a PDF of the original article on the development of the CBS-S (Mallett & Cote, 2006) and a screenshot of several of the questions:

CBS Screenshot

 

There are a few obvious “items that need discussing” ” that only an expert coach/sport scientist would be able to spot, but this instrument has the advantage of directing the athletes attention to key components as opposed to a less structured questionnaire.  My observations on items #8, #13, and #15:

#8 – one could argue a coach should NOT be talking during skill execution as might distract and athlete;

#13 – verbal feedback would have minimal effect on visual and kinaesthetic learning styles;  Better would be “coach gives feedback appropriate to my learning style”:)

#15 – recent research (e.g., Vickers – Decision Training) has found that the most effective feedback is that provided when a coach waits for an athlete to ask for feedback.

In addition to using a satisfactory questionnaire, there is no doubt that an actual observation by an expert in coaching and sport science is the best way to provide feedback about coaching.  I would have to say that I have rarely heard of this being done in the U.S. sports world let alone the squash coaching world.

The assessor would have to be somebody like me and that does not really exist (except for me:):

  • terminal degree in coaching (which is a Master’s for the discipline of sports coaching);
  • experience teaching relevant sport science courses where you regularly assess coaching knowledge and skill – I have taught Sport Pedagogy, Coaching, Sport Psychology, and Sport Leadership at the college level, and have held certifications in sport psychology, strength training (CSCS), and am a Level 4 Squash Coach (and Tutor/Learning Facilitator);
  • experience conducting coach evaluations – these were an integral part of our students’ experience in Graduate Program in Coaching at Smith College – as part of our Coaching Practicum I would be charged with observing and assessing 7-8 graduate students three times every year.

There are other ways of evaluating coaching we haven’t really discussed which might prove useful:  peer coach observation, video self-observation; ongoing professional development taking coaching certification courses where coach evaluation is part of the process (e.g., Coaching Association of Canada).  Whatever the evaluation process – hopefully a fair one for the coach – a very useful outcome would be for a coach to produce a “Personal Improvement Plan” and set goals for the next season of coaching.


Tim Bacon, M.A., CSCS is the world’s leading expert on racquet sport science and coaching development having taught all areas of sport science as both a Lecturer at Smith College and as a Coach Developer for the Coaching Association of Canada while actively coaching (Squash Canada Level 4 Coach) and sport psychology consulting (25+ World Champions).  He currently runs his consulting practice out of Northampton, MA and maintains his active coaching as the Assistant Squash Coach at Wesleyan University during the CSA squash season (Nov. 1 – Mar. 1).