College Squash Coaches: If you are going to recruit: Dan Tudor is Your Man

March 15, 2011

If you read my previous post – you will have discerned that I do not believe  in recruiting junior squash players to play for a college team.

I just want to explain my rationale a bit further – and give you a great lead if you are hell bent on establishing a great team through recruiting.

First, some background.  Where I come from (Canada), “losers” go to the states to play Division I sports! If you are any good in racquet sports you go straight out onto the tour.  When I arrived at Smith College in 1994 for a part-time (.25FTE – so $9,000 to coach a 15 week season) Head Squash Coaching position I could not believe how win-oriented everyone was. At such a low-level of competition – since 1987 I had been doing mental training consulting with three different National Team Programs:  Squash Canada, Tennis Canada, and Racquetball Canada.  The teams and athletes I was with had a lot of success:

  • in 1989 Sebastien Lareau and  Leblanc won the Sunshine Cup (world champs Jr. Tennis) and the Jr. doubles at the French, Wimbledon and U.S. Open (Lareau went on to a successful pro career and win Olympic Gold a few years later) – most of the other kids in the Quebec Elite training groups tried the satellite tour – and when it became clear they were not going to make it, they went to top Division I college programs in the states;
  • I coached the Canadian Jr. National Squash Team and consulted at the Toronto National Training Center – Jonathon Power went on to be World #1 – Graham Ryding top 15 on the pro tour – the ones with lesser ability went off to college.  Note: on the women’s side some of the top Canadian women were able to successfully combine University with the pro tour:  notably Melanie Jans (#25) and Marnie Baizley (#30).  Again those top juniors unable to play pro often went to the states (Chris Stevens played #1 for Princeton, Jeremy Fraiberg played #1 for Harvard, etc.);
  • Racquetball was a bit different – we had quite a few world champions during the time I worked with the team – they all went to University in Canada:  Ross Harvey (and played #1 for the University of Guelph Squash Team while attending Vet School – at the OUAA squash champs I played racquetball with him as he had the world championships a week later); Heather Stupp went to McGill; Sherman Greenfield (who attributed his mid-career success as an unheard of “defensive style” to his squash playing – he was a solid “A” player.

So I do not think I can be blamed for thinking “what is all this fuss about college squash”.  Although the level of play has improved, due in part to both the growth in U.S. Junior Squash and an influx of foreign players to the “recruited” ranks, very few college players have gone on to play in the upper echelons of the pro tour – Demer Holleran had a good career on the women’s side and Julian Illingworth is still giving it a go on the men’s.

Note on the use of the term “loser”: I support any person at any level of athletic ability giving their all to improve in their sport of choice – this includes all levels of university and college competition.  What bothers me is the often “cuthroat” decisions made by self-important coaches and sport administrators concerning sportsmanship issues (including recruiting violations and athlete sport injuries ).

I really do believe that high school squash players should chose a college based on its academic suitability, and that squash coaches should work with the players they are presented with.

However, if you want to recruit, I highly recommend the approach of  Dan Tudor, and his company Tudor Collegiate Strategies.

Our AD, Lynn Oberbillig (a former Div. I coach – so big on recruiting) invited Dan in to run a workshop for our Smith College coaches.  What I took away from Dan’s workshop was two very simple strategies:

  1. Develop a team blog with video and photos so that recruits can see what your program has to offer;
  2. Be very clear on what you are “selling” – and consistently sell those “themes”.
  3. I addition to the workshop, if you follow Dan on Twitter and subscribe to his website and e-mails, you get regular information for free!

Two years after Dan’s workshop, I have had our best recruiting year ever – more than a dozen applications (our best previous year was 3), two ED recruits admitted, one regular decision admitted (we are still waiting to here if she accepts our offer), and one more top prospect still a possibility.  I am attributing all of this success to Dan’s approach since I have made no cold calls, written zero letters, and not attended a single junior tournament.

What I have done is simply make regular posts about our team’s activities and approach to squash – simply as Dan puts it (below), “trying to help the student determine if Smith College is the “right fit”.  If you Google “college squash” our Smith College Squash team site has come up as #2 – right behind the College Squash Association official website (the old site SquashTalk.com still sticks around at #2 occasionally???).


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.


Squash Coach Training & Education Must be “Context-Specific”

February 2, 2011
  • There are squash coaches who are excellent coaches at an elite level – but who are incompetent teaching beginners.
  • There are squash coaches who are excellent coaches with beginning young children but not very good with adult beginners or advanced players.
  • There are squash coaches who are well meaning but ineffective at all levels.
  • There are squash coaches who are excellent coaches at both the beginning and elite levels.

If these statements are true, and you believe that people learn how to become competent at a particular profession (e.g., you are not “born” to be a plumber), then there must exist a different skill set (i.e., knowledge, skills,values) for squash coaching at both the beginner and elite level – and also other varied settings:  college, high school, club, urban youth, etc.

This means then, that squash coaching education courses must be designed around a  particular context.  This also means that the standard approach to setting up Coaching Conferences – inviting the coach of the current world champion or the number 1 team – is in fact not the best method of “educating” coaches – the majority of whom are not coaching players in the top 40 (acknowledging here that there is a considerable amount of thoughtful athlete development (other than simply playing tour events) that must occur to move someone from #40 to #10 in the world.

As an aside, I have noted that most squash coaching conferences are set up by administrators, who may have subjective experience as a participant and observer, but who have no formal training in Sport Pedagogy or Coach Education – or even a P.E. degree.  The same weakness is evident in U.S. College sport where again major decisions in sport policy, coach hiring and evaluation,  are being made by people who have no formal training in the appropriate area – I am referring here to Athletic Directors and the NCAA.

One country with a thoughtful approach to this area is Canada.  I have been fortunate enough to have been involved in two major overhauls of their coaching system (generally acknowledge to be the best non-academic system in the world) – the most recent one being based on training coaches according to a specific context.

If you want to “concretize” (a great French word meaning to make “concrete” or “practical”) this long-winded post you can go to the Coaching Association of Canada’s online consultant “Amanda” to find out what specific context – or contexts, as most squash coaches work in more than one – you need to be trained in.


U.S. College Squash Coaches Communicate Professionally!

November 16, 2010

The topic is how best to organize matches at U.S. College Squash Round Robins in a way that meets the competition needs of teams without overburdening tournament organizers with last minute requests and changes once the draw is done.  Smith College Coach Tim Bacon fired the first salvo and Middlebury’s John Illig has replied thoughtfully (John is an author of several books).  This ability to debate in a collegial manner is a key leadership skill, an essential part of moving the U.S. College Squash game forward. 

Please leave a comment in the “Comment” box at the bottom of the page.

Smith College’s Tim Bacon @ Monday – November 15, 2010 3:23 PM

Hi Everyone,

Personally I am happy with Smith’s schedule (we would love to play another two matches anytime on sat. or Sun. if anyone ends up being stuck).

My thoughts on organizing round robins:

I think it is reasonable for a coach to a) submit arrival and departure times with their entry; b) a list of desired opponents.

At that point (after the initial entry is submitted) – I think it is the polite and professional thing to withdraw from the process of getting involved in the scheduling of matches – especially once the “draw” has been made.

I long for the days of old when there was no micro-management of schedules by coaches, and the round robin schedules were the same from year to year and dual matches were simply flip-flopped.  I understand that teams can/have shifted their “grouping” within the rankings with time – but I think we have a duty to be “reasonable” with our requests.

I would like to single out Chip Fishback from William Smith as a coach who has never once (in 16 years of running the Smith/MHC Invitational) ever commented or complained about the schedule he has received (and I never have either, no matter what the strength of adversary, number of times played, or inconvenience of the hour of play/travel). (There may be others who I have missed).

Just my thoughts,

Tim

Hello Again (Monday – November 15, 2010 5:19 PM),

I just want to be clear that did not intend to single out any coach or team in particular – that my comments were addressed to ALL coaches on this e-mail (but I think could apply equally to all CSA members).

Also to be clear, my comments have come from observations over the last few years from tournaments that I have and have NOT been involved in (thanks to indiscriminate e-mails to the entire membership from certain organizers about their tournaments:) including the Howe Cup, our National Championship.

Again just my personal thoughts,

Tim

Middlebury Coach John Illig @ Monday – November 15, 2010 8:04 PM

Hi to Tim, and all,

Well, we all rely heavily on the round robins, that’s for sure.  And we all know how much time the host sites put into arranging the schedules, and we’re grateful for that.  In terms of micro-managing the schedules at the events, I feel like I’ve heard CSA’s powers-that-be specifically ask we coaches to attempt in the regular season to play matches against teams that are at around our same levels (ballpark) so that reliable info will exist when it comes time to placing each of our teams in the proper flights for men’s and women’s Team Nationals.

So, we carefully schedule a few key matches during the season that will pit us against same-level teams.  The rest of our schedules then fall into place around those 1-2-3-4 key “flight-determining” matches.  The flight-determining matches stand out on our schedules and we know what’s in store.  It then becomes rough to have one of those key matches added at a round robin when we weren’t expecting it and weren’t welcoming it. Another unwanted circumstance at a round robin is in the case of being asked to play a team that we might already run the risk of playing 3, 4 or 5 times in a single season (home, away, at a conference championship, at Team Nationals, and then again at a randomly-scheduled round robin). For those two reasons we coaches might wish to request of round robin organizers the teams that we desire NOT to play.  Determining who we want NOT to play can sometimes be more important to us than expressing who it is that we want to play.  Strange, right?

Certainly if we coaches micro-manage round robins, we can make life hell for the host organizer, and perhaps that’s not fair.  The beauty of having an exact round robin weekend schedule that meets our individual teams’ needs comes at what cost to the tournament host?  Our individual match needs are met at the Yale Invites, and perhaps part of the problem is that events like that have spoiled us (Yale has many courts at their disposal, and they can accommodate the various needs of many teams).  The CSA has geographically diverse institutions, and it’s difficult for outlying teams such as Navy, Denison, Stanford, Colby and the like to get in their full season schedules without the all-important round robins.

It might be polite and professional if we coaches simply give our arrival and departure times to the various round robin organizers and then just take the schedule as it comes, but the other side of that coin is that if we coaches feel that our needs aren’t met by any particular round robin, then the hosts run the risk of losing disgruntled teams in future years.  The Wesleyan Round Robin has always been a wonderful event, and I’ve looked forward to it and have counted on it as a staple on my schedule for the past 20 years.  I certainly look forward to it again this year.  The event has morphed from a women’s-team-only event played on 15 courts to a men’s and women’s event played on 8 courts.  The personality of events can change like that based on factors such as dual-team coaches and facility changes.

Athletic Directors and S.I.D.’s hate our sport when we have seemingly in-season fluid scheduling uncertainties (sometimes volleyball and tennis has this, too), and for the good of our intercollegiate squash game we should all try communicate well.  One question is whether consistency exists.  If Round Robin A’s philosophy has it that is everything is set in advance by coaches who dictate their exact needs (Yale’s RRs),  and Round Robin B’s philosophy has it that coaches submit arrival and departure times and then take the schedule as it comes, then we should recognize those differences and make our decisions accordingly.  Longing for days of old is fine, but the ball has changed, the court-size has changed, the scoring has changed, coaching staffs have changed, and the association is growing and is going through constant change.  Certainly none of us desire to put Shona through any extra strain in this.

Those are just some of my thoughts, and it’s not my attention to offend anyone!

JI


No Olympics for Squash 2016 – Bad News for Squash Scientists

August 14, 2009

The bad news is that squash did not make it into the 2016 Olympics.  Making it in would have meant a massive injection of funds into elite player development – and therefore into the sport science interventions and research behind such development.  Specifically, it would have meant more funding for squash-specific research of all kinds:  physiology, biomechanics, notational analysis, sports medicine, and sport psychology.  Currently, in terms of the number of scientific publications, squash lags well behind its sister sports of tennis, table tennis and badminton.

The at least not catastrophic news, is that there will still be a continuing significant need for squash sport scientists to interpret and apply general and racquet-sport specific research to assist the squash coach to develop their players.  I regularly monitor the major sport science journals for those findings that can be applied to squash.  This requires not only a pretty good knowledge of the different sport science disciplines, but also a good knowledge of the sport in which the research was conducted.

Karim Darwish & Squash Olympics

I have been lucky enough to have been a sport science consultant with three different Canadian National Team Programs (Squash, Tennis, Racquetball), each of which has won (or had) at least one world championship or Olympic Gold Medal during the period I worked with the program.  It would have been very exciting to have made it into the Olympics, but at the end of the day, it really is not going to affect the search for excellence by squash coaches and their players.


“Squash 2016” Impact on Sport Science & Squash

May 23, 2009

How will the sport of squash and in particular squash-related sport science change if squash gets into the Olympics?

Squash 2016

Squash 2016

If you want a clear, concrete picture of changes that might occur if squash gets into the Olympics, take a look at the Jobs in Sport sections of UK Sport, Sport England, and the EIS in preparation for the London 2012 Olympics (you can monitor Jobs on our page here).  The amount of money being poured into UK Sport at all levels – sport science, coaching development, organizational infrastructure – even mass participation – makes the the world of sport in the U.S. look like an impoverished wasteland – which it is. This increase in resources will be mirrored in many squash countries around the world.  Read the rest of this entry »


Developing a Squash World Champion: Align Your LTAD & Coaching Programs

April 8, 2009

Although squash is played in 153 countries around the world, it is not as well developed as some of  the world’s more popular or richer sports like soccer or tennis.  A small, well organized group of dedicated squash coaches (e.g. currently the Egyptians) can develop world class players, and even a world champion. If we look at the recent history of the squash world rankings, we can see that there is quite a bit of movement near the top of the rankings on both the men’s and women’s side in terms of the players’ nationality.  We also see a lot of successful solo efforts that cross national boundaries such as Liz Irving’s (Australia) coaching of Nicol David (Malaysia).

In terms of sheer numbers in the top 100, the English dominate simply because of greater numbers and government related money that is put into player development (more than any other country).  You can read this post to explore the economics of developing champions.

In order to achieve sustainable results, squash nations need to take advantage of the advances in sport science. This means using a system where the coaching certification program and actual coaching programs used in squash clubs are in perfect alignment with  a nation’s comprehensive Long Term Athlete Development (LTAD) system:

An LTAD Aligned Coaching & Club Training System

An LTAD Aligned Coaching & Club Training System

Read the rest of this entry »