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.
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:
- 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.
- 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).
- 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:
- 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.
- Squash-specific, strength-endurance training (12-15 reps. with medium resistance) can be done three times a week.
- 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:
- 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.
- 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.
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:)
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).