Excellence and winning are not the same thing. Excellence is about doing everything thing you can to be the best that you can be. As squash coaches this means developing a culture where your athletes have access to and do the same types of training as the world’s best athletes: irrespective of the ranking or ability level of your team.
In sport, the the better team usually wins. This success is not necessarily due to a better sport system or culture, but simply better resources. For example, if you divide a country’s Olympic medal count by the country’s gross national product (GNP) you will quickly find that the U.S. is not at the top of the rankings, and that its sport system should not be held up as an example to be admired and copied.
At the world level in squash, we can compare the amount of money that England Squash provides to fund its squash programs and support its players (number of coaches, sport science support personnel, administration, etc.) and it makes the recent success of the both the Egyptian men and women absolutely astounding in terms of world ranking per dollar spent, and puts in perspective the relatively modest performance of English administrators, coaches and athletes. Yes, there are many things we can learn from English squash, but their methods need to be put to the same logic and sport science scrutiny as other country’s programs.
In U.S. College squash, team rankings closely follow a school’s academic ranking. So for years Harvard was #1, Yale #2, Princeton #3, etc. and in general, this is the case barring a few ups and downs due to chance. This would also be the case further down the ladder in the the example of the NESCAC schools, where traditionally Williams and Amherst, the top two Division III academic schools in the country, would also be at the top of the NESCAC rankings. This academic-team ranking link is particularly strong in squash, where in general, squash is used as a tool by higher socio-economic students to get into a highly ranked academic institution (perhaps the Urban Squash movement might influence this?).
Extraneous factors disturbing this close relationship would include straying from accepted student admission practices (e.g., letting in a higher percentage of lower quality academic students than competitors); administrative factors such as a switch from club to varsity status (e.g., Stanford and Cornell) or vice-versa (Wellesley); or even gender: only five per cent of high school girls in the U.S. would consider applying to a female-only college, meaning that the women’s schools should be near the bottom of the rankings. Obviously there are exceptions, in the case of the women’s colleges, Smith got to the #12 spot in 1998 and 1999 with a team that had only one player who had played squash prior to college, and Mount Holyoke College got to the #11 spot this past season.
Again, with this U.S. College squash example we see that program success is due mostly to better resources (in this case better quality of recruited athlete), and not necessarily due to a better high performance culture. The implications in all three scenarios described above are the same: we cannot simply copy the programs of teams that win. We need to develop a high performance culture in a systematic, scientific way, which means learning from the experiences of winning programs in combination with the application of logic and sport science research.
Here are the keys to developing this climate:
- Promote and Emphasize Excellence as well as winning.
- Continuous Professional Development for Coaches.
- Develop a Comprehensive Training Program (Technique, Tactics, Physical, Mental).
- Implement Longterm Planning (Annual, Quadrenniel, LTAD)
- Continuously Monitor, Evaluate and Adjust.