College Squash Players: It’s June 1! Go!

June 1, 2017

February 15, 2018 seems a long way off – but your performance in the CSA national Championships will be largely determined by what you do starting today.  Most squash players – especially juniors and college players do not appreciate the long term nature (months not weeks or days) of optimal improvement of athletic performance.

Periodization Chart

The key concept is that in order to peak in February 2018, we start by planning backwards:

  • 2 weeks before our desired peak (so Feb. 1) we to cut our practice and playing volume in half – so 60-90 minutes of practice a day instead of 12–180 – this will allow a ‘supercompensation” and physical and mental peak to occur on the court.
  • it takes at least minimum of 2 months of intense competition without significant technical (strokes & shots) or tactical (overall game plan/style of play) changes for match performance to become automatic – a prerequisite of peaking – so all changes need to be completed by December 1, 2017.  this more or less coincides with exams and winter break by college squash players.
  • related to the above, in order to have a high level of tactics and match play, the volume of physical and technical training must drop to a maintenance level – so only 1-2 sessions a week in December, January and February to allow for an increase in volume of match play and training (five sessions of conditioned games or match play per week – each session lasting the expected duration of matches at Nationals – so 60 to 90 minutes).
  • it takes at least 4-6 weeks to optimally develop sport-specific power, speed and agility related athletic qualities though training three sessions a week – so this type of training must start by November 1, 2017 at the latest.  This is the date at which many college athletes (e.g., NESCAC) have access to on-court training with their coach.  Note that to accomplish the above, strength training sessions are limited to 1-2 times per week for about 30 minutes once the season starts.
  • this means that the foundation for high intensity squash play and training must be completed by the college player in the June 1 to November 1 period – five months, which seems like a long time until you take a close look at the time period required to develop the physical qualities required for squash, while staying injury free.

Working backwards here are the physical training priorities broken down into four week monthly cycles:

Oct. 1 – Nov. 1: 

  1.  Aerobic Interval training  (preferably a mix of on-court squash specific movement and bike intervals (to reduce stress on the joints – knees/back) three times a week, the last week featuring work periods of 15-30 seconds at 85% effort with about 10 seconds rest between intervals, for a total of about 20 minutes high intensity work.
  2. For returning players with a considerable strength training background (preferably under supervision) this is the time to work maximum strength (high loads/fewer reps).  Injury prone and less experienced athletes should continue to work strength-endurance (medium loads/higher reps).
  3. Enough general power/speed/agility (e.g., low bounce plyos) should be done about twice a week to prepare the joints for more squash-specific explosive loads.

Sept. 1 – Oct. 1:

  1. Continuous aerobic training can be done 3-4 times a week (20 to 30 minutes) at different training zones from 60-85% to induce the necessary physiological adaptations to lay the foundation for the aerobic interval training to follow.
  2. Squash-specific, strength-endurance training (12-15 reps. with medium resistance) can be done three times a week.
  3. Upon arriving on campus, return to on-court squash play should be progressive in terms of number and length of sessions per week to avoid a pre-season injury (e.g., 2-3 sessions of 30-45 minutes in week 1;  3-4 sessions of 45 – 60 minutes in week 4.).

June 1 – Sept. 1:

  1. The priority in this period is to do general types of training for 5-10 hours a week, with an emphasis on  prehabilitation and movement preparation for strength training (using a strength-endurance approach in the 12-15 rep range) to improve any physically weak areas and ensure full recovery from any prior injuries.  So three aerobic and three strength sessions a week of about 60-90 minutes.  This training does not have to be squash-specific, so soccer, yoga, Pilates, cycling, basketball, etc. all work.  most students work, so activities will often be determined by location and work situation.
  2. This is also the time, before the return to campus to correct and improve any basic squash technical areas: grips, wrist, strokes, etc.  This is the major flaw in the U.S. sporting system – squash coaches are not allowed to do this type of coaching outside of the NCAA designated seasons – players are left on their own, and the private squash lessons that are required to make these technical changes can be costly.

Summary

Most college squash players wait until the official start of the season to start physical training in a systematic way – they do not realize that most physical training must be accomplished before Nov. 1 – and that coach-run squash practices are for on-court conditioned games, drills, and match play – not for physical training, except for 1-2 30 minute maintenance sessions per week.

Breaking down the numbers for a typical college practice  can make the above more clear:

4:30-4:50  Movement prep and prehab

4:50-5:05  Basic squash drills or play to allow players to “warm-up” motor skill system.

6:15 – 6:30  Regeneration and cool-down

That leaves the 5:05 to 6:15 period – so 70 minutes  – actually only 60 minutes once you take out time for demonstrations, explanations (even if they are extremely short), transitions between games/drills, and water breaks.

Cognitive-motor learning research indicates that 20-minutes is an ideal amount for time (law of diminishing returns) for a conditioned game or drill – which means an ideal practice should feature only three themes – and with only four to five weeks before December exams and winter break – these should be tactical and game situations themes with very little time for technical instruction (as it slows down match-like training).

Most CSA Head Coaches now coach both the women’s and men’s team with an minimum squad size of 12 for both men and women; the implication being 60/12 means only 5 min. per player for the coach to observe, encourage, correct, interact during the on-court part of practice.  This means a very high priority on the coach using “task teaching” (the “rules” of the conditioned game or drill) as their primary pedagogical tool to improve their athletes’ play.

Experienced coaches with recognize that the above simplification is based on Bompa’s periodization theory:)

Periodization (Bompa, 2009)


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).


Basics of Ubersense Video Technique Analysis Workshop

January 31, 2014

Ubersense Logo

What would make this workshop a success from your point of view?

What – specifically – do you want to get out of this workshop?

How have you used video? How would you like to use video?

—————————————————————————————

I  Conceptual Background: Performance Analysis (using video)

The Coaching Process

  • Notational Analysis (Tactical Analysis/Analytics)
  • Technical (Biomechanical Analysis) – we are here today (Ubsersense)

Performance Analysis:  Future Directions

II Ubersense Basics (simple to complex)

  • Download the app
  • Open App and record an athlete’s technique
  • Show the athlete their performance (also in slow motion or frame by frame)
  • Email the video to the athlete
  • Compare the athlete’s technique to an “expert’s” (side-by-side)
  • Use Drawing Tools

Let’s Try it!  in pairs film a squat from the side and go through the workflow above (do each of the “bullet” steps above) – 15 minutes!

III Practical Use of Ubersense

  • immediate video feedback in a practice or game
  • save time – video and email same day – analyze next day
  • save time – no asst. athletes can film selves
  • enhance athlete learning – if they have the app…self-analyze
  • compare to ideal/expert
  • track athlete progress (last year-this year?)
  • other uses?

III  Ubersense Advanced Skills

  • import video from other sources
  • make written notes
  • use voice over
  • create a “video report” for the athlete

IV What’s Next?

  • Keep up to date with Ubersense advances: subscribe to their YouTube Channel or Blog; follow them on Twitter
  • Come to the Advanced Ubersense Workshop
  • Improve your analysis – take a Sport Biomechanics or Kinesiology course to become a better analyzer.
  • Learn and use a Tactical (Notational Analysis) Smartphone App:

– Touchstat Highlight (now Singulus) (limited file size)

– Dartfish EasyTag (need to video separately)

– Focus X2i (for iPad)


Basic Squash Drills vs. “Games Approach” – Which is Better?

March 25, 2012

My ESS110 Introduction to Sport Coaching that I teach at Smith College is built around the ASEP (since I am in the U.S. – in Canada it would be built around the NCCP) Coaching Principles Course.  The target audience for the ASEP course is the high school coach.  In a sophisticated sporting country the course would be linked to LTADs – perhaps the “Train to Train” phase – but we are in the U.S. where the  focus is on short term results versus long term development – except for the rare exception.

One of the strengths of Coaching Principles course materials are very well and simply written.  The other major strength, especially useful for squash coaches, is that the course introduces the pedagogical approach know as the Games Approach.  I have blogged on this before, usually using the term ‘Tactics First”.

Unfortunately, most of the squash world, meaning players and coaches are entrenched in an overly technical approach to the game, with a focus on teaching strokes, often stereotypical strokes (e.g., the forehand drive) unrelated to any tactical situation.  For example most squash pros introduce new players with a “forehand” lesson where they feed players a very easy ball and ask the student to hit it straight back to them – progressively moving the player on to “mindless” straight length or boast-drive drills, focusing on the technique of “hitting better length”, in situations where we ingrain the instinct to hit the ball back to our opponents.  My hypothesis is that most squash players do not peak until the age of 27 or 28 since it takes that long to become a smart squash player and undo the effects of stupid drilling!

The problem of course is that squash is a decision-making game, where the choice of shot is of key importance, as a well hit shot directed back to the opponent is of little use. The Games Approach advocated by ASEP is basically the equivalent of the squash “conditioned game” (e.g. a game where is the opponent drops you must redrop or hit a cross-court) , the big difference being that the Games Approach coaching sessions starts with the conditioned game, and all coaching and drilling for the rest of the session targets student  improvement at that particular game tactic.

This preference for simplistic, not thinking drills is somewhat comically reflected in the statistics on my Squash Science YouTube Channel.  My video with the most views is “Basic Squash technical Drills” with 7,865 drills?!? The only reason I posted this video is that I was coming back from my total hip replacement and needed to do some easy moving drills that involved no uncertainty or decision-making.

Two of my better tactical training videos have only got 2,500 and 1,800 views???

In the first video we start the session with a conditioned game that forces player A to make a choice in the front-court. This was the third video session that looked at tactics in the front court, the first being drop or cross-court, and the second being drop or lob. This is classic Games Approach

A key part of winning a point is not only playing a good attacking shot, but also playing the correct follow-up or second shot, a notion that I thought we captured very well with our ball machine video – often difficult to do repetitively in a one-on-one coaching session.

Ball Machine: 

  • “Why did you keep playing that shot instead of ______”,
  • “You had to do a better job adjusting”,
  • “Why did you go for that winner then? ,
  • “You needed to attack more instead of just hitting it to the back”.These are all comments that squash coaches make to players who have been trained with an over emphasis on traditional technical drills.  We cannot expect our players to become smart players if we don’t give them a chance to make decisions in our coaching sessions.


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).


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”).


New Coaching Site: Squash Hero

March 12, 2011

Squash Hero is a new commercial site whose primary business is to sell racquets – BUT – they also seem to have an interesting Squash Tips section.  I stumbled across a YouTube video first – which led me to the site.  Coincidentally I received an e-mail the next day [promising me a free t-shirt if I blogged on the new site (full disclosure – I like new t-shirts – although it is tough to get one that fits my muscular, slim frame properly:).

Their Tip Section is a compilation of tips and videos from other squash sources – but it is nice to have them listed in an orderly fashion (although the list could be improved with a “tactical framework” categorization.

On the racquets side of their site they have an innovative “racquet selector” which at the very least is a competent listing of available racquets from mainstream manufacturers. (although I think full functionality will come with the “official” opening of the site in the near future).  So a promising new site for both choosing a racquet and coaching tips – if they are able to sustain their current momentum!

 

 


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.