“Science of Coaching Squash” E-Book is published!

March 27, 2012

Ummmm…well not really. I would publish a “Science of Coaching Squash” book – if there was a market.  Unfortunately, the tennis market is absolutely huge, but the current squash market, especially the squash coaching part of it is tiny – I probably personally know 80% of certified squash coaches in Canada and the U.S. 🙂

The title for this blog came from a 1989 book published by Human Kinetics: The Science of Coaching Tennis.  The mental training section of the book was excellent – written by Jim Loehr, so practical.  The other sections were not bad, but the book lacked an overall unifying framework – for example periodization, to really assist coaches in implementing the information.  Here is a link to some of the other tennis books I think are worth a read.

One of my goals in writing this blog is for it to act as a resource for squash coaches – so almost like an e-book.  I am going to have a crack at outlining a very rough version of a Science of Coaching Squash E-Book that uses LTADs and Periodization as a framework by using links to “Categories” and search results – organizing them by “chapter”.  This will be imperfect but a fun exercise (for me) and might give squash coaches another way to access the information on this blog.  So here we go:

Chapter 1:  Planning a Squash Athletes Development:  The Framework – LTADs & Periodization

Chapter 2:  Establishing a Positive Learning Environment – Part 1: Understanding Squash Motivation.

Chapter 3: Establishing a Positive Learning & Training Environment – Part 2: Leadership for Squash Coaches.

Chapter 4: Tactics First – The Key to developing Great Players

Chapter 5: Periodization of Technical-Tactical Training (for each phase of the LTAD)

Chapter 6:  Periodization of Physical Training (for each phase of the LTAD)

Chapter 7:  Periodization of Mental Training (for each phase of the LTAD)

Chapter 8:  Evaluating Your Program and Coaching

Appendix

Science of Coaching Squash YouTube Channel

Twitter Squash Science

Smith College Squash Team (more training videos)


Decision Training for Squash Coaches: Part I

August 1, 2011

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you coach squash, and have not read and applied the knowledge from Joan Vicker’s (2007) book “Perception, Cognition and Decision Training”, you are missing a great opportunity to improve your squash coaching – and therefore the performance of your squash athletes.  Vickers teaches and conducts research at the University of Calgary, and since I have seen absolutely no reference to her book in any of the racquet sport or recent motor learning literature, I think we can safely assume that her book is only being used by a relatively small sample of Canadian coaches and athletes.

I first encountered Vickers’ Decision Training (DT) concept in an article she wrote for the Canadian Journal for Women in Coaching.  I was intrigued because her model of how sport skills and strategies should be taught was highly similar to 3-4 other models that I had already been exploring and using (for 24 years:)  in my squash coaching and consulting.  As one of the few sport scientists who is a  “generalist” and not just a “specialist in one discipline” (and also an active coach 20-30 on-court hours a week in the winter season who actively seeks ways to apply sport science knowledge), I was again struck by the phenomenon of several different researchers arriving at the same conclusion – all of them either unaware of each others’ work or unwilling to acknowledge it.

Here are the four sources (along with the current best web reference) of these similar models – I think “Tactics First” is the best term – and honestly I think the act researchers need to get their act in gear and organize their domain if they really want sport coaches to embrace and use their concepts!

  • Teaching Games for Understanding (TGFu)
  • Games Approach
  • Method des Actions (“Action Method” being the poor English translation) – originally conceived by the Swiss sport pedagogue Jean Brechbuhl and the official coaching method of Tennis Canada since 1985 (Squash Canada since 1998?), the best example of current application is AceCoach.
  • Decision Training

All four of these sources postulate that the initial point for teaching or coaching sport skills is to start with the tactical or game context or situation (i.e., have the athletes start with a conditioned (modified) game or a game with a specific tactical goal (e.g., win as many points with drop shots as possible) before teaching technique.

Vickers provides the perfect summary of research evidence to support this “Tactics First” approach in visual graphic form:

In the graph, the term “behavioural training” means the traditional “technique first” approach to coaching.  Basically the graph shows that those who learn “technique first” do better in practices and early in the season, and those who learn “tactics first” improve more slowly at the start (obviously the material is more complex) but perform much better later on in the season – when it counts!

Ever wonder why your athletes are great at practice but just can’t perform under pressure when it counts?

In a series of articles over the next few months I will go over the different parts of the DT model and explain exactly how to apply it to coaching squash, so that your squash players perform at their highest level when they need to. Note that if you are thinking of purchasing the book, it is divided into three parts, with DT covered in the third part (I am not that crazy about the first two parts relate)d to “gaze”).


30% Discount Code for Squash Anatomy Book for Squash Coaches!

July 14, 2011

Ok – if you have been following out Squash Science blog for the last few years you will be aware that there are very few (if any) published sport science resources for squash coaches – the cost of doing business in a tiny, elitist sport (of course all that may change if we get into the Olympics).

The good news is that with the changes that have taken place in tennis over the last 30 years, an intelligent squash coach can adapt the numerous tennis sport science publications for their use in squash coaching.  The two major changes that have taken place that allow this adaptation are: a) the now  multi-segmented tennis forehand  – a “hitting” action similar to the full squash drive, versus the “stroking” action of the 70’s tennis forehand; and b) the physiological profile of elite tennis – especially on clay now approximates the duration and explosiveness (especially on the men’s side) of the average squash rally (with squash moving to PAR scoring and a lower tin, at least on the men’s side).

I just finished purchasing my first E-Book, Tennis Anatomy by Paul Roetert and Mark Kovacs a few minutes ago – I used a Human Kinetics 30% off discount code, so the total cost of my purchase was $15.36 – the code is B770.  I met Paul back in the late 1980’s when the USTA head office was in Princeton – coach Bob Callahan took me out to say “hello” – and I ran into Mark Kovacs in a hotel elevator at the ITF coaching conference in Valencia two years ago – he said to get in touch about doing some work with the USTA (but I prefer to specialize in squash:).  You can download the Adobe Digital Edition reader (to read the E-Book) here.

Although I haven’t read the book yet – here are a few adaptations that the squash coach should note in order to apply the information:

  • the squash forehand is biomechanically similar to the flat tennis serve (it just takes place in a different plane – overhead versus at the side of the body);
  • most of the volley information will apply to squash, as the tennis continental grip, similar to the squash grip, is used for most (but not all tennis volleys);
  • the tennis slice approach shots are similar to the squash mid-court squash drop shot (both feature a stroking action primarily from the shoulder).

Here is Roetert discussing the book:

In conclusion, this is a great resource for squash coaches willing to do a little bit of “mental work”:)


Recruiting is NOT Squash Coaching!

March 12, 2011

I have tried in vain to convince my Athletic Director – and my colleagues in the Department of Exercise & Sport Studies at Smith College that recruiting is not coaching – I am having another crack at it with this post!  Our department chair – Jim Johnson comments:  “I have never said that recruiting is coaching. I do believe that one’s won/loss record is related to their recruiting ability but not necessarily success as defined by many.”.

Before I support my proposition, I would like to argue that Talent Identification is part of coaching!

As you can see from this excerpt from the English Institute of Sport talent identification is a “complex blend of scientific knowledge and assessment” – requiring excellent knowledge in all areas of sport science and coaching.  When paired with a sound Long Term Athlete Development Plan, and a solid, integrated national health and welfare policy (that includes the role of sport at both the elite and recreational/wellness level – here is Ireland’s – a great example) Talent ID is a worthy pursuit.

The U.S. lacks a coherent strategy that integrates sport and wellness, due mostly to the pervasiveness of the “pro sport” or Division I major sports” philosophy or model – which accounts for their poor relative performance at the international level.  The effect of this lack of a comprehensive sport policy can be extended to the college level, where teams are being cut due to the inability of Athletic Directors to associate the benefits of athletics participation to the overall College mission, which includes student well-being (the same could be said of High School Physical Education programs).

U.S. College recruiting on the other hand is not skillful (I suppose salesmanship is a skill?:) and requires almost no sport science knowledge.  For example in college squash, U.S. Squash sends a list of all the juniors who compete in tournaments along with their contact information to each college coach – all a coach has to do is be able to write an e-mail.  It has been my observation, based mostly on 20 years of summer camps at Princeton university, that for most junior squash players in the U.S. (and more recently foreign players as well) college squash is simply a vehicle to be able to attend the best academic institution possible.

Simply put, everything else being equal, the best junior squash players will attend the best available school (I got a .43 correlation coefficient when I correlated the college squash rankings with the U.S. College news college rankings.).  The top academic schools – and some of the ones not so near the top – seem very happy to lower their usually high admissions standards to admit a top player – adding imbalance to an already UN-level playing field (a level playing field being a key component of sportsmanship/fairplay).

What strikes me most is the disconnect between an academic institution’s public statements concerning the role of varsity sports in developing leadership and human potential and the actual communications that take place between Athletic Directors and coaches “you had better win or else” (a Division III comment) – and the current “frenzy” to recruit.  The discussions around the success of the Trinity Men’s Squash Program provide a vehicle to examine many of the issues around coaching and recruiting.  On one hand  the Trinity approach to recruiting has violated the “level playing field” principle for its NESCAC peers, while on the other has in fact redressed the “un-level playing field” that had advantaged the Ivy’s for so many years.

This very American glorification of being #1, and a willingness to put aside related potential ethical issues (e.g., look at the public’s acceptance of MacEnroe’s tennis behavior – or Bobby Knight’s), concerns me.  It might appear to be reminiscent of past U.S. Foreign policy (e.g., “the accusation that the United States has striven to single-handedly dominate world affairs.”).

Having coached squash at a Division I college level (University of Western Ontario at a time when they usually finished top three in U.S. College Squash), as well as coaching (and consulting) at the International Level (e.g., Canadian Jr. National Squash Team with Jonathon Power, Graham Ryding; Olympic Gold in Tennis Doubles, etc.), I am unimpressed with rankings of any sort.  My respect for Paul Assiante, the Trinity coach, is based on my squash discussions with him, and more recently the coaching values that come across in his recently published book – not his win-loss record.  The idea that recruiting success (and the associated win-loss record) equates with coaching ability is a strange one for me.  “Recruiting” does not play a role in any coaching education program  that I know of – outside of the U.S – talent identification definitely does.  Considering that the average age of top performance in squash is 27-28, I would suggest that Athletic Director’s (and in some cases college Presidents) direct their coach-employees to take the estimated 30% of their work week that they devote to recruiting, and better use that time to mentor their charges.

Ironically, the Admissions Department here at Smith has, for the first time in my 16 years at the college, admitted several (2 ED, and possibly two more top junior players) squash recruits – so we are looking at moving up at least 10 spots in the rankings (we won’t get to the #12 spot (21-4 win-loss record) we achieved in 1998 and 1999 with a team with only one player who had played at high school:).  As I explained to my team at our season-ending meeting – the new players will make absolutely no difference to our win-loss record, as I will simply schedule more difficult teams in an attempt to play against opponents of similar ability – thereby maximizing their improvement.


Dealing with “Squash Shoulder”

September 18, 2010

First of all, there is not such a thing as “squash shoulder” although the field of sport medicine does have swimmer’s shoulder, tennis shoulder and pitcher’s shoulder.  Most chronic (versus an acute injury like a collision) sport shoulder pain comes from overhead throwing actions which we only do occasionally in squash – although the squash forehand is basically just a side-arm throwing action which does approximate a tennis slice serving action when volleying high balls on the forehand side (or even some serving actions).  Most squash players with shoulder pain have had previous injury in other sports or perhaps are overloading the shoulder by suddenly increasing the volume of play, perhaps in conjunction with freestyle swimming cross-training or progressing too quickly with the bench and military press in the weight room (activities not that useful for squash anyway).

The above links can be a useful guide for coaches of those squash players experiencing shoulder pain, but as always Exos offers very useful information and exercises for the shoulder area with their concept of Prehabilitation.

Here are two current handouts for a) rotator cuff (use while shoulder is stiff/painful) Rehab_Shoulder_5; and b) shoulder exercise routine labelled “Thrower’s Ten” for strengthening once pain is absent Throwers-Ten.

I was chatting yesterday with my Exercise & Sport Studies Department colleague Dr. Jim Johnson, who is himself just recovering from two shoulder surgeries.  Jim and a few other Smith College peers have just published a great, practical book which is an excellent resource for squash coaches:  Applied Sports Medicine for Coaches. I have had persistent shoulder pain myself, mostly after playing tennis, despite conscientious Core Performance training on the area.  Jim recommended I get an x-ray to rule out bone spurs.  Seeing a medical doctor is great advice for anyone whose shoulder pain continues despite rest, stretching and strengthening.


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).

 


Three Absolutely Useless Strength Exercises for Squash!

August 9, 2009

We have blogged about appropriate physical training for squash before – both for juniors and adults. Just to punctuate the point, here is a video demonstrating three not so good strength training exercises, along with a brief review of the three  Core Performance books and other product offerings.  In my travels I am still observing a bit too much old-style training for racquets sports.  I think part of the problem is that most of the NSCA’s Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialists (I am one myself) prescribing strength programs for the racquet sports have a football or basketball background.  Despite being up to date on the latest functional training and the demands of sports like squash, they cannot get their heads around leaving out exercises that have been a key part of all strength programs.


Coaching is an Academic Discipline!

May 12, 2009

When I joined the Department of Exercise & Sport Studies at Smith College in 1998,  Coaching was not seen as its own academic discipline – or even sub-discipline. Smith College awards an MSc. in Exercise & Sport Studies, which is in reality a Master’s in Coaching since all of the course work is oriented towards preparing students to work as coaches (mostly in a University setting).  At that time you could obtain a degree in coaching, although the study of coaching itself was not a feature of that education.

My own graduate degree is an M.A. in Physical Education (specializing in Coaching & Sport Psychology) which I received from the University of Western Ontario in 1987 – which in addition to being the top squash program in Canada (and often the U.S.), was at the time the only “A” rated graduate coaching program in North America. I played on the team, replaced head Coach Jack Fairs for his one-semester sabbatical, and acted as his assistant for the remainder of the year.  This combination of practical experience and formal education was ideal – within a year of graduating I was coaching, consulting, and writing coaching education materials for three of Canada’s National Team Programs:  Squash, Tennis and Racquetball, and the Coaching Association of Canada.

Since the late 1990’s Coaching has evolved into its own sub-discipline, with its own associations, scientific journals, and body of knowledge.  The study of coaching is now a bona fide topic of study, the most prominent groups of researchers being located in Canada and the UK. Here are three of the most  prominent academic journals in the discipline:

  • Journal of Coaching Education. The Journal of Coaching Education is a professional, peer-reviewed, electronic journal that provides a forum for coaching education professionals addressing current coaching topics through research-based articles. Issues covered in this unique journal include coaching pedagogy, strength and conditioning, tactics, philosophy, psychology, sociology, and management.
  • International Journal of Coaching Science. The journal publishes original theoretical or empirical papers, and research articles may be either qualitative or quantitative in nature. Topics may comprise any of a wide variety of fi elds relevant to coaching, including psychology, pedagogy, management, sociology, biomechanics, and physiology. The journal encourages the integration of research and practice in the field, and published manuscripts must discuss the applied nature of the research to the field of coaching.

For the best current  examples of research and thinking in the discipline I recommend an article published in the Sport Psychologist and John Lyle’s book on coaching concepts (links to Amazon’s “Look Inside” for a preview).  Here is the abstract from the article:

TSP, 21(3), September 2007, Copyright © 2007

Sport Experiences, Milestones, and Educational Activities Associated With High-Performance Coaches’ Development

Karl Erickson Jean CoteJessica Fraser-Thomas

Full Article Table of Contents for Vol. 21, Iss. 3

Abstract

What experiences are needed to become a high-performance coach? The present study addressed this question through structured retrospective quantitative interviews with 10 team-and 9 individual-sport coaches at the Canadian interuniversity-sport level. Minimum amounts of certain experiences were deemed necessary but not sufficient to become a high-performance coach (e.g., playing the sport they now coach and interaction with a mentor coach for all coaches, leadership opportunities as athletes for team-sport coaches only). Although coaches reported varying amounts of these necessary experiences, general stages of high-performance coach development were traced. Findings serve to identify and support potential high-performance coaches and increase the effectiveness of formal coaching-education programs.

If you Google the title of the article you may be able to find the full version that someone has posted on their website (copyright violation?).  Here is a Figure from the article depicting a common path to becoming a High Performance coach:

from Erickson, E., Cote, J., Fraser-Thomas, J.  (2007)

from Erickson, E., Cote, J., Fraser-Thomas, J. (2007)

The implications for squash coaches and those that administer programs related to squash coaching (National Sport Organizations, Athletic Directors) is that being an effective squash coach in not a simplistic process (i.e., if you are a good player you can coach).  Becoming a good coach involves a variety of fairly sophisticated concepts and processes:  playing experience, actual coaching and instruction experience, formal education, coaching certification, networking (e.g., coaching conferences) and support from fellow coaches and mentors.