How to Evaluate Squash Coaches ‘Scientifically”

April 26, 2017

It’s a funny position to be in – having yourself evaluated by someone who knows very little beyond their own minimal life experience about the subject that you are teaching.  College squash coaches, just like University and College Faculty are evaluated at the end of their annual teaching/coaching cycle.

To muddy the “evaluation” waters even further, those who design and administer the forms used to evaluate coaches have themselves received little if any training in the area, and it is extremely doubtful that they have kept abreast of research in the area – yes – “how to evaluate a coach” is an actual research area usually falling within sport psychology, coaching science, or sport pedagogy.

My recommendation is to use the Coaching Behavior Scale for Sport (CBS-S) an evaluation form that has been validated in several studies and found to be an “effective” tool.  You can download a copy of the questionnaire and scoring instructions here:

http://the-coach-athlete-relationship.wikispaces.com/file/view/CBS-S+Sample.pdf.  Here is a link to a PDF of the original article on the development of the CBS-S (Mallett & Cote, 2006) and a screenshot of several of the questions:

CBS Screenshot

 

There are a few obvious “items that need discussing” ” that only an expert coach/sport scientist would be able to spot, but this instrument has the advantage of directing the athletes attention to key components as opposed to a less structured questionnaire.  My observations on items #8, #13, and #15:

#8 – one could argue a coach should NOT be talking during skill execution as might distract and athlete;

#13 – verbal feedback would have minimal effect on visual and kinaesthetic learning styles;  Better would be “coach gives feedback appropriate to my learning style”:)

#15 – recent research (e.g., Vickers – Decision Training) has found that the most effective feedback is that provided when a coach waits for an athlete to ask for feedback.

In addition to using a satisfactory questionnaire, there is no doubt that an actual observation by an expert in coaching and sport science is the best way to provide feedback about coaching.  I would have to say that I have rarely heard of this being done in the U.S. sports world let alone the squash coaching world.

The assessor would have to be somebody like me and that does not really exist (except for me:):

  • terminal degree in coaching (which is a Master’s for the discipline of sports coaching);
  • experience teaching relevant sport science courses where you regularly assess coaching knowledge and skill – I have taught Sport Pedagogy, Coaching, Sport Psychology, and Sport Leadership at the college level, and have held certifications in sport psychology, strength training (CSCS), and am a Level 4 Squash Coach (and Tutor/Learning Facilitator);
  • experience conducting coach evaluations – these were an integral part of our students’ experience in Graduate Program in Coaching at Smith College – as part of our Coaching Practicum I would be charged with observing and assessing 7-8 graduate students three times every year.

There are other ways of evaluating coaching we haven’t really discussed which might prove useful:  peer coach observation, video self-observation; ongoing professional development taking coaching certification courses where coach evaluation is part of the process (e.g., Coaching Association of Canada).  Whatever the evaluation process – hopefully a fair one for the coach – a very useful outcome would be for a coach to produce a “Personal Improvement Plan” and set goals for the next season of coaching.


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).


Visualizing Squash Tactics

February 1, 2017

How old are the best squash players in the world?  The PSA released the latest rankings today so let’s calculate the average age of the best of the best – the men’s top 5  (in the interest of gender equity we will look at the women’s top 5 in another post):  29.8 years old.

men-feb-2015-top-5-psa

Why – in the “world’s fittest sport” (except for Nordic Skiing) are the athletes so old? Or put another way – how can these “old” athletes beat younger fitter athletes in their late teens and early 20’s?  The answer lies in the older players’ “tactical expertise”, in other words their better decision-making and choice of shots – average shots per squash game is 200 – so up to 1000 tactical decisions where to play the ball per match.

Let’s look at the example of an 18-22 year old college player who does not want to wait another 7-8 years to play their best – how can they accelerate their “tactical expertise”?

  • limit closed mindless “blocked practice” drills like boast/drive to less than 20% of practice;  these drills let an athlete “get in a groove” and “feel good” but research shows this type of drilling has fewer benefits in actual match play.
  • use a high proportion of conditioned games (Games Approach), and variable (at least two different skills) and random drills that force a player to make match like choices.
  • play and practice with a variety of opponents/partners – court rotations (winner up and loser down) are a great way to do this.
  • encourage players to critically reflect on each match (Squash Match Evaluation Form) and allow them access to video of their matches to help them assess their performance.
  • develop or adopt a model of tactics which can serve as a reference point to speed up acquisition of tactical expertise – at Wesleyan University we use the Egg Model that I developed and refined.

olympians-use-imagery

Lastly use visualization (imagery) to speed up memory and learning of “good” tactics. According to recent sport psychology research more than 95% of Olympic Medalists and World Champions use visualization regularly to prepare for competition. Visualization procedures are very easy to learn and consist of finding a quiet place and focusing on breathing for 3-5 minutes to get into a state of relaxation – and then simply imagining the situation you want to achieve – 10-15 minutes a day is sufficient: before or after practice as part of warm-up or cool-down, before sleep or right after waking up are usually convenient times.

Here is a list of specific visualization topics that we have asked the Wesleyan Squash Teams to visualize this week:

  • straight volley drops off harder hit balls that pass though the “Yolk” – slower moving balls are killed or volleyed to dying length.
  • quick straight drops off harder, lower boasts from the back-court – hold and snap (to dying length) slower moving boasts – ideally show drop (deception) to drag the opponent forward.
  • lifting the ball higher from outside the Egg especially in the back court and when stretched – avoid “blasting your way out of trouble”.
  • insert “bursts or flurries” of 3-5 rallies of change of pace (slower/faster) or game style (hard hitter/retriever/shot-maker) to disrupt an opponent’s play in a relatively low-risk way.
  • finishing games and matches (when the score reaches about 8-8) with tough percentage play – focusing on hitting good aggressive length and using kills (12″-15″ above the tin) instead of drops and avoiding going short from the back-court when the opponent is on the T – being patient and forcing the opponent to take high risk shots and make mistakes first.

Don’t wait until you are old to play your best squash – change your practice habits, adopt a tactical model, and visualize to speed up the process of being a “smart” player.


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).


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).

 

 


Psychological Skills for Squash Coaches???

May 21, 2012

(This is a reprint from my Sports Leadership graduate class that I teach in Smith College’s Department of Exercise & Sport Studies – I think is applies pretty well to the squash environment and summer is a great time for squash coaches to do some professional development:)

This topic could also be entitled:

  • stress management for coaches
  • self-management for coaches
  • mental training for coaches.

The rationale for the necessity of “peak performance” or stress management strategies will be evident after reading the references.  The Canadian National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) Level 4/5 (i.e., Elite/National Coach) program featured two courses in this area: Task 8: Mental Training for Coaches (which I taught several times at the NCCP National Coaching Conferences – in both English and Francais:) and Task: 16: Enhanced Coaching Performance.

A reminder that this self-paced segment of the course is ungraded, so you may post your “assignment” whenever you wish.  Your assignment is to post a brief summary of:

a) Your current level of “coaching stress” (as opposed to academic or relationship stress).

b) Identify three “mental training” strategies (either ones you use now or from the reference material) that you could use to either improve your “game day” coaching performance or reduce your short term or long term coaching stress.

References (you should read at least two)

Bestsellers in “Success” Self-Help Books

Bradford, S.H., Keshock, C.M.  (2009). Female coaches and job stress:  A review of the literature. College Student Journal, 43, 196-200. (Click here or find on Smith Library’s Sport Discus)

Loehr, J., & Schwartz, T. (2001).  The making of a corporate athlete. Harvard Business Review (January).  Loehr & Schwartz, 2001

Taylor, J. (1992). Coaches are people too:  An applied model of stress management for coaches.  Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 4, 27-50.  Taylor (1992)

Thelwell, R. C., Weston, N. V., Greenlees, I. A., & Hutchings, N. V. (2008). A qualitative exploration of psychological skills use in coaches. Sport Psychologist, 22, 38-53.  PST For Coaches

Other Resources

Stress Map – this was the “text” in my Level 4 Enhanced Coaching Performance course given by Peter

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – point form summary could be useful – and here is a useful downloadable weekly planner based on the book.


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!


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).


Avoid Overtraining Your College Squash Team!

March 26, 2011

My college squash team at Smith College is currently the only U.S. College Squash team practicing and training. According to NCAA Rules (after August 1st squash will no longer be an NCAA sport) each team is allowed an official season of 19 weeks, with 15 days of competition (the rules do vary slightly for Division I and Division III teams), and with careful planning (paying attention to overtraining) college coaches can increase the time period in which they are able to  influence their athletes’ training.  Unbelievably, the NCAA forbids coaches from conducting developmental activities with athletes outside of the official 19-week season – especially difficult to comprehend in the many sports (like squash) where athletes do not attain their optimal performances until their late 20’s.

With the U.S. College squash season just ending (for most:) at the Individual Championships on March 6 – now is the time that College squash coaches should be turning their attention to planning out the 2011-12 season. Hopefully coaches will be mindful of longterm planning considerations and use a periodization planning approach to structuring their annual or seasonal plan.  Here is a copy of our Smith College Squash Team Four-Year Plan (we get a lot of novices and very few experienced players) and also an example of an annual periodized plan.

One of the primary purposes of a periodized squash plan – in addition to assuring a peak at the most important competition of the year – is to avoid overtraining (other related terms include staleness, overreaching or unexpected underperformance syndrome).

Although training volume and intensity are the most important factors to control in avoiding overtraining, a college coach must also take into account a student-athlete’s academic schedule and their related academic stress.

I have observed three periods of academic stress on my squash team:

  • beginning of the semester as students struggle to transition to school and sort out their choice of courses;
  • mid-semester due to heavier workloads and midterm evaluations;
  • end of semester papers and exams.

Lack of sleep due to studying, and poor nutrition (rushed eating, missed meals, unhealthy snacking and excessive caffeine consumption) are also contributing factors to the “psychological” load of academic work.  This contributes to the imbalance in the training-recovery cycle.

Here are three main planning strategies we use at Smith College college to help avoid overtraining:

1) Build periods (days and weeks off) of recovery and regeneration into the team’s competitive schedule. If there is a college holiday (e.g. MLK day) we take the day off and do not practice.  If there is a college holiday of a few days – we take the entire week off and add the “extra” week either to the start or end of our schedule (this year it was the end – next year it will be the beginning).  Ideally, we try and construct our macro-cycles (planning units of 4-6 weeks), so that we build volume and or intensity for three weeks – then have an easier “unloading” week (e.g., Bompa, 2009; Sleamaker, 1989).  Here is the draft of our season schedule next year showing weeks of built around the Smith College academic calendar.

2) Build regeneration activities into every practice.  For the last two years we have been following the CorePerformance training philosophy closely in planning the strength and conditioning part of our squash practices.  Every Core Performance workout ends with several regeneration and recovery activities.  Here is an example workout (Core Performance – Sun. feb. 20) and a short video of some example activities:

3) The last strategy simply involves closely observing the team for signs of fatigue, injury and attention, and watching their response to training exercises and being ready to modify practice plans or a week’s schedule (including giving unplanned days off) on short notice.

Application for Squash Coaches:

1.  Plan rest and recovery into your season schedule.

2. Monitor your athletes for signs of overtraining.

3. Be aware of the additive effects of academic stress to the overall training load.