I just got back from Montreal where I spent Wednesday watching the Rogers Cup women’s tennis. Unlike most spectators, I spent the day watching the players practice with their coaches – we can watch matches anytime on TV, but we do not often get a chance to take a peek at the coaching behind the scene of world class racquet sports. I spent a couple of hours watching the LTA’s strength coach Narelle Sibt putting the British #1 Anne Keothavong through some physical training in between matches (Anne was in the doubles). Narelle was one of the LTA staff introducing speakers at the LTA Sport Science Conference I attended in June. The session started with some easy skipping and rotator cuff exercises with tubing, a few footwork shuttles, and then was followed by 3-4 sets of speed and agility sprints. The on-court session finished with Anne and her hitting partner doing a few drills and playing some points. Here are some of my observations that would be applicable to squash coaching:
- Narelle provided a lot of instruction regarding the technical points (posture, joint angles, etc.) of the physical exercises, which I found a bit surprising considering Anne is 25 years old. If this is the case in the structured LTA environment, then surely the same thing will apply for squash coaches and athletes. In a lunging exercise, the angle of Anne’s knee was definitely too small, a possible precursor to some knee issues.
- Distances and work times were very short, with an emphasis on quality movement (especially balanced recovery), things that definitely apply to squash.
- Player effort and hustle was great, but was best when Narelle set up a ball drop exercise inside a service box, where there was direct competition between the two players – the lesson being where possible make fitness part of a game.
Application for Squash Coaching
- We can train speed, agility, and do some injury prevention exercises during tournaments when the overall physical load on the athlete (in this case doubles) permits.
- Even high level athletes need supervision and instruction when doing physical training.
- Even the world’s best athletes respond best when training is fun – so surely this applies to the majority of athletes we coach.