A major criticism of U.S. Squash (and tennis), that also applies to North American sport in general, is that training activities are too squash-specific, too early in an athlete’s development, and feature too much technical work at the expense of developing a wider range of athletic abilities.
Here is a concrete example of what is meant by too squash-specific and too technical. Imagine a typical junior private lesson for a 9-year old at the “X” Cricket & Tennis Club in City X. After a short warm-up, the well-meaning squash professional spends 20 minutes on the forehand drive and 20 minutes on the backhand drive, correcting grip, backswing, follow through, and improving the students ability to hit the squash ball down the wall to land behind the back of the service box – finishing the lesson with a short, coach controlled game.
Contrast that with a second scenario, in which after 30-minutes of on-court instructions our 9-year old takes part in 30 minutes of the type of training activities that take place in this video:
Can you imagine the difference in the development of athletic potential? Faced with the constraints of a beginner’s racquet skills, the nature of the bounce of the squash ball, and the confines of a squash court, it is not possible for our well-meaning squash professional to develop the type of athletic skills necessary for success at the elite level in squash – as depicted in this video (focus on White’s retrieving in the second rally):
The success of the Eastern Bloc Sport System in the 60’s to 80’s was based not only on an efficient Talent Identification system (which does not exist in squash in any country), but also a physical education and sport school system where very young children with athletic potential were encouraged to develop general athletic abilities before specializing – often through participation in the three sports of soccer, gymnastics and swimming (ensuring hand-eye-foot coordination, spatial awareness, and a solid cardiovascular development).
A number of sports in Western countries are attempting to overcome the problem of too early over-specialization by developing Long Term Athlete Development Plans (LTAD). These plans can be specific enough to specify the percentage of general versus sport-specific activities (e.g, number of tournaments, number of matches), at each stage of a young athletes development. In the example of the video above, Tennis Canada has developed a DVD which explains key physical activities (to be implemented on a nation-wide basis across the country at key tennis clubs with approved junior tennis programs) at each stage. Developing the LTAD is only one step in the process – the biggest challenge is to integrate the LTAD with a country’s Coaching Certification program so that coaches are trained in its implementation. In the early 1990’s, I was fortunate enough to be able to see the unfolding of this process by being involved in the development of the psychological materials for Tennis Canada’s Under-14 and Under-18 Club Training Manuals, and also obtaining the actual Tennis Coach Certifications.
If you Google “LTAD” and “squash” you will find examples of preliminary (i.e., untested) plans for England, Ireland and Canada. I am sure there are other countries (perhaps Egypt?) with longterm plans who do not use the LTAD terminology.
Application for Squash Coaches:
- Squash coaches of junior athletes (and those who pay for their lessons) should be wary of too early specialization and an over-emphasis on technical development at the expense of developing athletic ability.
- Squash coaches should encourage squash parents to encourage their children experience a wide range of sporting activities before specializing solely on squash (at the age of 13-15??): preferably soccer, gymnastics and swimming.
- Millman and Morgues book Raising Big Smiling Squash Kids is relevant reading on the topic.