Squash Focus Plan: Adjust for Opponents?

December 2, 2011

The final product (concise practical tool) of an organized and effective season long mental training program for squash players is the Squash Focus Plan.  New visitors to this site (still the #1 squash coaching site in the world according to Google:) can check out this link for an overview of focus plans, and here for an overview of  annual mental training programs for squash.

At the start of the Pre-Competition Phase of the year (which is where I am now with my Smith College Squash Team), squash players should have a “workable” focus plan that they are using and evaluating in match play.  One of the reasons that my team improves more than “similar” teams, is that using and evaluating focus plans forces a critical reflection and self-analysis – something which most players at any level do not do.  Our first opponent in the Wesleyan Invitational this weekend beat us 5-4 two weekends ago – with the same line-ups we are going to reverse that decision and beat them 6-3 – due in large part to my players’ use of focus plans (obviously if we don’t I am going to return to this post and edit this part out;).  You can download the current squash focus plan form we are using here:  Squash Focus Plan Form.

In the video below, I explain the relationship between a player’s Squash Focus Plan and the three levels of familiarity with an opponent:

  1. Know opponent and have played them before;
  2. Know opponent but have not played them before;
  3. Do not know opponent.

Basically, I suggest that in the first two situations where the opponent is known, additional specific goals (tactics) may be set as part of the game plan.  I note however that for some players, the best performances come when they follow a set focus plan (e.g., they get anxious and confused if they think too much, or they are “feel”/intuitive style players). Hopefully, this situation would be a short term, intermediate step to being able to make tactical adjustments based on knowledge of the opponent so some mental training or tactical education may be required for this player).


Squash Psychology: Focus Plan = Psychology + Tactics

February 26, 2010

How can a squash coach best help their player to play well and get into their Ideal Performance State?  One of the best ways is to coach their players to write down a plan that includes three parts:

  • Pre-match plan – to help them get focused and warmed up before play;
  • Match Plan – reminders about their tactical game plan, perhaps a few key technical points, and some general reminders (psychological or motivational).
  • Refocus or Distraction Control Plan – a list of potential distractions and solutions.

The idea for a Focus Plan was initiated by Canadian Sport Psychologist Terry Orlick based on his work and research with Olympic athletes.  Since 1986, I have continued to adapt the idea to make plans for squash, tennis and racquetball players – with pretty good success since many went on to become world champions and successful professional players.  This idea of preparing written plans formed the basis for the Coaching Association of Canada’s Level 4 Coaching Certification – the steps are outlined in detail in two of Orlick’s books – Psyching for Sport and Coach’s Guide to Psyching for Sport – now out of print but available on Amazon.

I have used many different forms for the plan with the thousands of athletes I have worked with since then – here is the latest version for you to download – Focus Plan 2010 – I have added two new sections in the last few years:

  • Competition Philosophy Statement:  A brief statement by the athlete about why they compete – it can help keep the pressure off (e.g., I always go and give my best – win or lose”)
  • Communication Preferences:  What the athlete likes to hear from teammates and coaches before, during and after competition.

This will help your squash players to avoid the “fainting goat” syndrome when faced with competitive pressure:

Application for Squash Coaches:

  1. Help your squash players perform consistently by getting them to develop and use a written down game plan.
  2. Discuss communication preferences with your athletes to improve your on site coaching.
  3. Help your athletes develop and use a competition philosophy that fires them up, but also helps keeps the nervousness away.

Summer is Here: Plan Your Squash Team’s Season Mental Training

July 8, 2008

Now that summer is upon us, many squash coaches are turning their attention towards planning their next squash season. Dedicated athletes are already logging 10-15 hours a week doing General Preparatory physical work such as low to medium intensity aerobic workouts and whole body strength-endurance exercises, and hopefully some fun activities like summer basketball, swimming, biking and roller-blading.

Most coaches do not feel as comfortable planning their team’s mental training as they do the physical and technical training aspects of squash. What exactly are the elements that need to be included in an effective program? Here they are in order of importance and priority:

  1. Establish a task (versus win) climate for your program.
  2. Assist athletes to develop a ‘Squash Focus Plan”.
  3. Implement regular match and Focus Plan evaluation procedures.
  4. Encourage your athletes to visualize regularly.
  5. Address individual athlete issues through a mental skills training program.  Read the rest of this entry »

Evaluating Mental Skills for Squash

September 6, 2017

I have been doing sport psychology consulting with professional and national team squash and other racquet sport athletes since 1987 – including nearly 100% of the top U.S. juniors (thanks to Princeton Squash Camps:) and 100% of the Canadian National Jr. and Sr. teams until my move to the U.S. in the late 1990’s.

Here are the different ways players, coaches and consultants can evaluate a player’s mental skills:

  1.   The most practical and immediate way for a player to consistently assess their squash mental skills is to complete a Match Evaluation form after every match – even more useful if they develop and use a Focus Plan, and even better if they discuss the results of the analysis with a coach who saw the match.
  2. Not quite as useful is having a coach watch the match and TELL the athlete “what happened mentally” as this does not improve an athlete’s autonomy.
  3. One of my favorites is to “chart” a match (either live or taped) using a standard score sheet with “mental notes” about between point behavior (body language, facial expressions, under breath comments, etc.) so that mental performance can be correlated with the score and match momentum.
  4. Simply asking the athlete to rate themselves on a 0 (needs work) to 10 (very good) scale for each mental skill is very quick – and in my opinion quite accurate – usually, given the chance, athletes can be honest and forthcoming about their mental strengths and weaknesses.
  5. “Psychometric instruments” is an academic way of saying psychological questionnaires used in research – these can be useful but can often involve obtaining permission to use and more involved scoring procedures.
  6. Comprehensive questionnaires, with and without psychometric properties, that cover a wide range of mental qualities and skills are best used in the initial “educational” phase of a mental training program, to help introduce athletes to the scope and potential of doing sport psychology.
  7. If I had to choose only one method to help athletes assess their mental performance it would be a “best versus worst” analysis: ask them to reflect on their best and worst performances and contrast them on key factors such as activation, anxiety, and focus before and during the match.  This comparison makes strengths and weaknesses evident and points the way to appropriate goals for a mental training program.

The next step after evaluating mental skills is to set goals and objectives to improve mental performance.  Ideally these goals should be integrated and related to a player’s technical, tactical and physical goals – a topic for another day!

Further Reading for players and coaches:

iCRAP –  the five basic mental skills:

  • relaxation
  • positive self-talk
  • activation
  • imagery (or visualization)
  • concentration

Here is a video of Tim and Wesleyan Coach Shona Kerr demonstrating the five mental skills in a quiet setting   and on-court .

Best & Worst Ever Match Analysis form – to help you play your best and learn from your experiences:  Squash Reflections Form

Squash Match Focus Plan form – to make sure you are organized and well prepared for your matches:  Squash Plan Form.

Squash Match Evaluation form – to help you analyze your matches and learn from your experiences:  squash-match-evaluation-form

 


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 is a Charter Member of  the Association of Applied Sport Psychology and 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).

 


4 Simple Steps to Practical Mental Training for Squash

September 21, 2016

Since sport psychology exploded onto the world scene with the 1976 Montreal Olympics there have been literally thousands of books and articles published on how to “do mental training”.  My particular approach was adopted by the Coaching Association of Canada and integrated into their 5-Level coaching system – I wrote the sport psychology content for Levels 1,2, and 3 (French version). Here is the original article describing my approach:    Bacon (1989). Periodization of Mental Training.

My approach has been always been very practical (I have never stopped coaching and competing) and simple and continues to be supported by current research and involves 4 steps – which can be 4 one-hour team meetings,  that can be implemented by either a coach or a mental training consultant.  In support of the 24 athletes on the 1988 World Champion Canadian Racquetball Team, I trained the National and Assistant National Coaches to deliver my program via email, telephone, mail, and training camps – very well evaluated by the team members – so you do not actually need a sport psychologist to support your athletes in the mental area:

  1. Introductory meeting (60 min.) To help guide athletes to enquire about and learn lessons from their own best and worst sport performances.  Athletes complete an individual form and we take up some of the answers in a group setting.  I introduce Jim Loehr’s Ideal Performance State (IPS) model – still the simplest out there in 2016 – you can download a copy here:  ipsloehrsports.
  2. Goal-Setting and Introduction to Mental Skills meeting (60 min.) There are a multitude of  goal-setting forms available, but Terry Orlick’s form is still the best with key questions on dream, realistic and specific mental goals.  My mental skills approach involves having the athletes do 1-2 basic 2-3 minute exercises from each of the five categories of skills: relaxation, positive self-talk, activation, visualization and concentration – followed by a 2-3 min. I facilitate a short discussion on how these skills can be used in an actual competition.  Optional additional self-assessment questionnaires (very short or more comprehensive) can be completed by the athletes to help them zone in on specific areas they need to work on.  Orlick also has a short one-page “self-directed interview” the athletes can complete before this meeting.  Here is a link to a YouTube video where I demonstrate the different exercises.
  3. Focus Plan meeting (60 min.).  To help athletes to write a one-page plan on a) how to prepare optimally, both physically and mentally for a competition; b) how to focus their attention at key moments in a competition (e.g., start, in between points, near the end of a game, near the end of a match, etc.).  Here is one of the forms we have used in the past:  Squash Focus Plan Form and a post with more details on how to develop a Focus Plan.
  1. Distraction Control (Refocus) Plan and Competition Evaluation meeting (60 min.).  To help athletes  develop a written list of situations that cause them to play poorly or lose their focus, and though group discussion lead them to find possible solutions to get back on track.  The final step is to introduce an evaluation process – which includes a written form – that they can complete after every competition to speed up their “experience” and development of mental toughness.  Here is one of the forms we have used in the past:  squash-match-evaluation-form.

Psyching for Sport

The meeting format I use closely follows the meeting format recommended by Terry Orlick in his book Psyched for Sport (out of print but available used on Amazon.com) – all Canadian National Team and Olympic coaches have been trained in this approach.  Canada is generally recognized as having one of the top coaching training programs in the world.  in fact you cannot coach on a Canadian National team if you have not obtained your Level 4 Coaching Certification (I got mine way back in 1988 in the first cohort of Squash Canada Level 4 coaches).

Summary

Following the above four-meeting approach above, a coach will meet the needs of about 80% of their athletes (80/20 rule:).  There will always be athletes that need more assistance in developing mental toughness and solving “mental problems”.

If you need help preparing  your mental training program, or would want to engage me to run the meetings for your team drop me a line at squashscience@gmail.com – rates start at $50 U.S. per hour.  Here is a link to my Facebook Page.


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 (Certified Squash, Tennis & Badminton 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).

 

 


September Western MA Squash Training

July 31, 2014

Zone Model for Squash TacticsThis is the Tim Bacon “Zone Model” for squash tactics that we will be focusing on this month.  Acknowledgements to Princeton’s Bob Callahan and Gail Ramsay for allowing me to implement the model at their camps and helping with the details, and most recently to William Smith’s Chip Fishback for his wonderful graphic of the model!

 

Four Tuesdays 7-9 pm – Free Play right after 9:00-9:30 pm

National Team quality training with Tim Bacon, Level 4 Squash Coach and former Canadian Jr. National Coach (coach of World #1 Jonathon Power) and certified strength (CSCS) and mental training consultant (CMTR):

– tactical training: learn how to make the right shot at the right time;

– technical training: individual video feedback (you receive video clip with audio and visual corrections) on your major flaws and how to correct them;

– physical training: learn the essentials to prevent squash injuries;

– mental training: learn how to analyze your performances and make a short mental plan to play your best

Every week will feature all four types of training with a minimum of 1.5 hrs. drills and playing and about 30 min. of physical/mental training of-court between 7 and 9 pm.

Free play following the training where Tim will roam, answer questions and give feedback.

1 Tuesday September 9:

– How to get your body ready for squash – the EXOS system: movement prep\.

Zone tactics – learn to choose the right shots from the front-, mid- and back-court.

– how to regenerate after play to minimize soreness – how to use the rollers and tennis balls.

2 Tuesday September 16:

–  Prehab: Key strength exercises to balance the body and avoid injury;

– Alternate zone games & drills:  front, mid-, back-court. Here are some front court game/drill links.

– Regeneration:  more post-training exercises:  Exos Regeneration Activities

3 Tuesday September 23:

– Exos strength – focus on prehab and injury prevention – with Skylar Marcoux – Certified Strength Specialist and Smith ESS MSc. student (she was the strength person for our team last year!)

– More zone games and drills – here is a sample from the PPS Summer Camp with World #1 Karim Darwish and Miguel Rodriguez (top 30):  Zone Model Drills

– Breathing before your serve to clear head and relax – and other competitive mental skills:

 

 

 

 

4  Tuesday, September 30

– Video feedback: Put it all together and get video feedback on your match play and strokes – here I analyze World #1: 

– and here Karim demonstrates the grip/wrist necessary to optimally play squash:

– Learn the best drills and conditioned games to keep your game sharp all season long – here are the basic ones for this week:

Play out point after prescribed conditions performed.

(always straight drop or X in front)

Back – A serves, B cannot volley;

Back – A serves deep and straight from front T – B cannot volley – play out pt. (so B drives, def boasts or COLFs).

Mid (volleying) – A serves a) a lob or semi-lob straight & short (first bounce before short line) or b) X and loose (cannot hit side wall) – B volleys straight: i) volley drive (to dying length) or ii) volley drop or kill.

Mid (with a bounce) – A serves “short and medium pace” from back-court behind service box to mid-court – B straight drops balls that land short in the middle, and working boasts balls that are tighter to the side wall, and drives back the balls that are against the side wall (and A re-serves)

Front

A boasts, B a) drops low, hard 3-wall def. boast – if B drops – A must REDROP and then play out point. b) drives 2-wall working boast or high def. boast (if you have time to drop – DON’T!!!).

Mental:

Serve/Return Rituals (explain once front game 1 underway).

IPS Focus Plan Lecture (brief – refer to vid).

– Stroke or let?  Two simple models to guide your decisions!

Registration and Payment

The cost of the four clinics is $100/person when payment is received (full refund if cancellation received 7 days prior to first clinic) by Sept. 1.  (credit card, check, Venmo, Paypal). The cost after Sept. 1 for the four or to just drop in and show up on a weekly basis is $30 per evening cash only.  Email Tim at tbacon@smith.edu to register and call him at 1-413-330-8222 with any questions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Happy Birthday Geoff Hunt (and me:)!

March 20, 2012

Source unknown.

  • Geoff Hunt was born on March 11, 1947; I was born on March 11, 1957.
  • Geoff Hunt started playing squash at the age of 12, was at his peak in 1977 – the year I started playing squash (at the age of 19).  In 1977 Canada had three official types of squash: balls, national championships, rules.  We used to play them all – sometimes all three on the same day!
  • Geoff Hunt ran his legendary 26(?) x 400’s @ 75s; I ran 24 x 400’s @ 80-85s for interval training.
  • Geoff Hunt won 6 British Opens and several world Championships; I won the 1986 Canadian National Hardball Championship Consolation in 1986 (Finalist 1987) – I beat the 1988 Open Champion Mark Barber 3-0, coming back from 13-11 down (playing to 15) in three consecutive games.  In softball, I played “A” league until I headed down to the U.S. in 1994, whereupon I took about 10 years off competitive play until the mid 2000’s. Then several Massachusetts 45+ State Championships, and was U.S. Squash 45+ top 10-ranked 2004-2006 (?);
  • Geoff Hunt was Head Coach at the Australian Institute for Sport, leaving High Performance sport to go and coach currently at a much lower level in Qatar; I was Canadian National Jr. Men’s Coach and psychology consultant to the Canadian National Squash Team Programs from 1987 to 2000 (as well as National Tennis and Racquetball Programs)  leaving to coach currently at a much lower level at Smith College.
  • Geoff Hunt has had two hip replacements; I have had one hip replacement (need the other one too!). Note: I personally know more than 30 squash coaches who have had hip replacements, so we were not alone in our belief that high volume training was the way to go!

I actually had my very first squash private lesson in 1978 with another Australian, Heather McKay, at the Toronto Squash Club, one of the few facilities in Toronto that actually had wide international courts. I prepped for the lesson by reading her book, only to be chided “Why are you trying to volley everything?  Two years later I was playing her in an exhibition match – at that point we both worked for the Racquet Sports Group of Canada – I was manager/pro at the Sherbourne Club (11 American/2 International courts), and she was the pro at the Dunfield Club.

But “our” (meaning the “B” and later “A” league players I played squash with) Bible at the time was Geoff’s Book “Geoff Hunt on Squash“.  Typed summaries of his two Chapters “Match Play” and “Tempo and Temperament” could be found on the bulletin boards of nearly every club.  I wholeheartedly embraced the Australian “attritional” , fitness-based approach to squash – although now I realize a much wiser and healthier approach would have been to cultivate the current attacking Egyptian style.

These chapters, as well as being “tactical” were also “mental”.  Phrases such as “play hard from the start” and “never throw a game” reverberated through my head during tough matches.  Later as a very busy mental training consultant, I realized this list of key points or cues was actually a basic “focus Plan” for squash players.  At the time there were only a couple of actual sport psychology books, with the number only increasing dramatically in the late 1980’s.

I actually started coaching squash the summer after I played it for the first time.  My first job that featured coaching squash was Head Instructor at the 1978 JCC Summer Racquets Camp – we taught tennis, squash, badminton, racquetball and ping pong.  My current competitive interest still involves all of the racquet sports:  Racketlon!

I am pretty sure I could take Geoff in a ping pong match – but just to be sure I may wait another 10 years to challenge my hero on his birthday!


Season Long Mental Training for Your Squash Team!

January 29, 2011

With 123 posts now published on this blog (440,000 views and top Google search result of “squash coaching”) it can be a little daunting to organize all of this information.  Luckily, blogging tools can help out.  Here is how readers can organize information on this blog:

Use the “Search” Function

Most squash coaches need help in the area of “squash psychology” .  Enter these terms into the search box, and your result with feature most of the posts on this topic, sorted according to reverse chronological order.  Here is a link to the result of that search.

Use the “Categories” Function

If you are looking for a fairly broad category of posts, clicking on the “Categories” link to the appropriate topic in the sidebar with produce all of the blog posts that I have assigned to that category, in reverse chronological order.  Often the same post might be assigned to two categories – for example a post of focus plans might be assigned to both “Mental-Psychology” and “Tactics” since focus plans are composed of both tactical and mental reminders.  Here is a link to the result of hitting the “Mental-Psychology” category link.

“E-Book”- Like Sorting

This is something that both the reader or I could do (although I have not done this yet):  sort the posts in a particular topic area into a thematic order – for example the sort from the most simple to complex, or perhaps most useful for coaches in the area of psychology – the order in which you would present the topics to your athlete over a season (e.g. a periodization of mental training of blog posts:).  A reader could do this in Word using hyperlinks, or I could simply blog a post that looks like this:

General Preparation Phase

Meeting #1:  Ideal Performance State for Squash.

Meeting #2:  Mental Training for Beginning Squash Players

Meeting #3:  Goal-Setting for Squash

Meeting #4: Establishing a Positive Squash Training & Competition Environment

Meeting #5:  Visualization for Squash

Specific Preparation Phase

Meeting #6: On-Court Mental Skills for Squash

Meeting # 7 : Positive Self-Talk During Practice

Competition Phase

Meeting # 8:  Staying Focused Between Points

Meeting #9 : Squash Focus Plan = Psychology + Tactics

Meeting #10: Squash Match Mental Evaluations

Meeting #11: Simulations to Prepare for Major Championships

Meeting #12: Diagnosing & Improving Performance Problems

Check the Squash Science YouTube Channel

I often try and include video in most posts – but sometimes I have videos on the Squash Science YouTube Channel which are not mentioned on this blog – so sometimes another source for squash science information for squash coaches.


Squash Psychology: Simulate Championship Conditions!

February 25, 2010

One of the final steps in an organized (periodized) mental training program, if for a squash coach to prepare his or her players for the conditions they will meet at the season-ending championship.  A tough competitive schedule will do a lot to optimally prepare players – but often there are challenges of the championships that cannot be met through regular practice and competition.

A squash coach has three weapons to help their players address these specific challenges:

  • a match or focus plan (including a distraction plan) – written plan of reminders and cues to perform well;
  • visualization – imagine playing well in challenging conditions
  • simulation – develop exercises to mimic the challenges of the championships.

In preparing the Canadian Jr. Men’s team of Jonathon Power, Graham Ryding, etc. for the 1990 World Championships, we set up a match at a Toronto Club with a 4-glass walled court and local pros as opponents – put on uniforms, decorated with flags, and invited parents and friends of the players with cameras and video camcorders.

Just because my Smith College team will be competing in the “D” Division at Howe Cup (U.S. College Championships) this weekend, dos not mean we cannot use the same high performance preparation as the world’s best athletes.

Here are the simulations we have run at practice in the last two weeks (in no particular order):

  • simulate play on 4-glass walled court by hitting against and along our own glass-backed courts:
  • simulate match point when the team match is tied and the players is the last match on:
  • simulate hot courts by playing a game with blue dots (Yale University courts play very hot with 1,000 plus people milling around).
  • prepared for crowds this weekend by taking a van ride down to watch the Men’s Championships last weekend (several players in their first year of squash)
  • play court rotation tournament during practice in order to practice certain match situations:  up 8-3 in fifth, 8-8 in fifth, etc.
  • simulate fatigue by having the players run 10 lengths of the court between every point.

Each player has also developed their own individual focus plan that would include the specifics of how to handle these situations, and we spend 4-5 minutes before and after practice visualizing some of these same situations.  The hope is that squash players will enter the championships feeling more prepared and confident in their abilities to compete and handle distractions.

Application for Squash Coaches:

  1. Optimal preparation for a squash championship can include special mental preparation such a visualization, focus plans and simulations.
  2. Simulate special championship conditions that do not occur in regular practice and competition.

Psychology of Squash: The Ideal Performance State

April 7, 2009

In 1983 Sport Psychologist Jim Loehr published an article in a little known Journal published by the Coaching Association of Canada.  Shortly thereafter, Loehr exploded onto the international tennis scene, spending the next 10-15 years consulting with many of the world’s top professional tennis players, frequently through his association with Nick Bollietieri and his tennis academy.  What was great about Loehr’s article on the Ideal Performance State was that is was concise and easy to understand – and therefore highly usable – a key quality for squash coaches.  Nowadays, Loehr spends time giving $35,000 speaking engagements to some of the world’s top business executives.  Since 1983 he has published almost a dozen books on sports and performance psychology (go to Amazon.com) – most of them very applied and practical.

Nicol David, World #1

Nicol David, World #1

In his article, Loehr argues for the existence of a special psychological state that occurs during an athlete’s best performances.  An athlete’s Ideal Performance State (IPS) consists of high energy, positive feelings, and can be described using adjectives such as energized, physically relaxed, mentally calm, self-confident and focused in the present.  Loehr’s IPS model has never been scientifically validated by the sport psychology academic community, and in the academic world has been supplanted by Hanin’s Individual Zones of Optimal Functioning, and Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow model – both of which I teach in my Psychology of Sport class at Smith College.

Read the rest of this entry »