I was attending a squash coaching conference presentation on deception a few years ago, and at some point the presenting coach stated that “Deception should only be introduced and taught once the basic strokes are fully developed”. Although we cannot ascertain the exact age or stage of development that was meant, I disagree with the basic premise behind the statement.
As a small experiment the next fall, I had my team play a deception conditioned game in the front court on the very first day of our Smith College Squash practice. We used a blue dot ball and blue painter’s tape to “raise” the tin and ensure multiple shots in a rally. The condition that was assigned, was that the players must try and surprise their opponent on every shot by hitting a different part of the ball on each shot (outside, back, inside). Since we rarely get experienced players at Smith (only 1.5% of high school girls will consider a women’s college), for some in attendance it was their first introduction to the game that day – none had played for more than three years, and were far from fully developed. Everyone had a lot of fun, and were often successful in either deceiving their opponent or in anticipating their opponent’s shot.
Why are the Egyptians so good at both attacking and deceptive squash and scrambling, retrieving and anticipating around the court? Because they have been playing that style from a very young age. It takes a much longer time to develop a complete game with a wide variety of shots than it does to develop a defensive grinder. Some might argue that playing a risky attacking style is a sure way to ensure failure at the junior tournament level. It really depends what you are after with your coaching – do you want to develop a junior champion or a player with the abilities to succeed at the world level?
It has been my observation that often our coaching stifles creativity and shot-making potential – and the necessary calm risk-taking mentality that goes along with that style. A grinding, defensive style will take you only so far up the world rankings, and it is very difficult to get a player concerned with rankings to add risky shots to their arsenal under the pressure of the tour. I am working with Mike Johnson (former coach of World Champions Sarah Fitzgerald and Rodney Eyles this week at sold-out Princeton Squash camps) and he mentioned that it took him about two years to get an adult Anthony Ricketts to add a very good drop shot to his repertoire.
Ideally, each coaching group (Training Center or National Program) should develop a hierarchy of deception tactics (e.g., easiest to most difficult), and then determine which ones should be taught at each stage of their squash LTAD.
We are putting this philosophy into action at the upcoming Premier Performance Squash Camps (July 10-19, 2009 – there are still a few spaces open for juniors, adults, and in our Coach Mentor Program – mention “Squash Science” to get a 20% discount off the weekly rate). Each morning, while the campers are fresh and eager to learn, we will be using a Tactics First/Games Approach to work on some aspect of deception. While we won’t expect the campers to be perfect when we leave, with the assistance of World #1 Karim Darwish (lead coach), we hope to instill an understanding of the importance of deception in the modern game, and provide the campers with the framework to work on these deception and attacking skills.
Application for Squash Coaches
- Introduce some (10%) practice of deception skills early on in a player’s development – both the tactics and the technique (use of wrist).
- Even attritional grinders should have some deception in their game so that the uncertainty it creates makes there basic length tactics more effective.
- If a player shows a special talent (like some of the Egyptians) for deception and attacking squash you can help them develop a smart game plan that combines percentage squash with their attacking skills.