Squash is Great Cross-Training for Other College Sports

November 12, 2012

I have addressed the topic of using squash to cross train previously, but it is particularly salient for me this year.  I graduated seven players from last year’s Smith College varsity squash team – and I have only four returners, with no new recruits – only 1.5% of high school girls will consider attending a women’s college, despite the many educational advantages of doing so.

If I can get somewhat athletic women to come out for the team, I am quite good at developing them to a college standard quite quickly – although it is becoming more difficult with the huge emphasis here ins the U.S. on using squash as a vehicle to gain entry to a top Liberal Arts College (Smith College is amongst the top 15-20 in the country).  In 1998 and 1999, my Smith team finished 11th in the CSA rankings – only one person on the team had played high school squash (her JV team) – everyone else started from scratch here at Smith.  Our players have also won the Ann Wetzel Award more than any other team.

Here is a copy of the email I sent to the other coaches in my department in an effort to do some “internal recruiting”:

Hi,

Hope your fall seasons went well!
I have four returners ad no recruits coming in this season so we have a few spots to fill on the squash team.  I am writing in case you have any suitable candidates.
You may or may not know that the VO2 max (measure of aerobic power) of elite female squash players exceeds that of elite female marathoners (65ml/O2/kg/min.) as well as all team sports (FH, LAX, B-ball, etc.) – in other words it is a great aerobic conditioner.  One season, two rowers from Karen’s Varsity 8 pulled an erg score at their first spring practice that was identical to their last fall erg score – without erging once from November 1 to March 1 – i.e., maintained their aerobic solely through squash.
In addition to the aerobic aspect there are approximately 1,000 powerful hitting or swinging actions per squash match – a statistic which you can compare to the number of “hits/player” for your own sport, about 100 explosive starts, and about 100 full lunges.  A match takes about 35-45 minutes to play.
Finally, there are many tactical, perceptual, and mental aspects from squash that transfer over to other sports: covering space, chasing down a ball, dealing with the pressure of maintaining a lead or coming back, competing while in a fatigued state, etc., and I run the same mental training program I used to produce 30+ world champions (and one Olympic Gold) when I was doing sport psychology consulting with Canadian National Teams back in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
The type of athlete that would benefit from participating on the squash team would be:
– someone who is not going to do much training for your sport on their own – they need the impetus of belonging to a team
– someone who is a bit burned out and needs the experience of learning something new to get their love for sport back
-someone who needs supervision and instruction in mental skills training and modern physical training.
– someone who is only going to do a basic run and then traditional weight training
-someone who needs to burn about 1,000 KCal at practice to help with weight management.
The way we work things is that we give people a two-week trial to see if they like the sport and team.  We would also be willing to negotiate a 3 practices/week for varsity (not others) athletes as we acknowledge that 3 straight seasons can be draining.
So if you have someone in mind just get them to contact me.
Finally,  members of or team run rec play on Thursday evenings from 7-9 if any of your players are intrested in learning how to play.
Best,
Tim

Veteran Squash Coaches: Aging Gracefully & Staying Fit!

April 4, 2012

I am writing this post for squash coaches over the age of 50 who are finding that they are faced with an increasing number of chronic injuries.

I had a total hip replacement in November 2008 (detailed on this and two other videos). Things went pretty well – I was walking perfectly at 10 days, driving at two weeks, teaching four hours a day of tennis at six weeks, and playing length-only games with a blue dot squash ball with a “B: player at 8 weeks.

Unfortunately, about 7 months post-operation, I was feeling great and ready to go 100%. Unfortunately, I did go 100% playing one-hour competitive matches of handball (the “family” ball) and British Racketball with a member of the Princeton university Squash Team (so 30 years younger) four days in a row while coaching at the Princeton University Squash camps – and injured my back. This back injury (arthritis of S-I Joint) resurfaces when I stretch and reach for the ball during a squash match – more of less preventing me from a return to competitive squash play – ironic considering the recent hip replacement.

I just returned from Boston yesterday where I saw one of the U.S.’ top shoulder specialists, and a podiatrist who works with the Boston Celtics. Diagnosis: Posterior shoulder capsule contracture and Hallux Rigidus (basically sore shoulder and arthritic big toe). I got prescribed a new pair of orthotics and was given stretches for the shoulder (most of which I was already doing) – the good news being no operations or cortisone shots needed (yet)!

Although I have not done a lot of research on the topic, here are the adjustments I have made to my squash fitness and playing routines to keep me on court and coaching effectively.

  1. During the school year when I am pressed for time, instead of “working out”, I basically just do the Core Performance movement prep and prehabilitationas my workout – omitting the strength portion, but also doing the post-workout regeneration. Supplementing the movement prep with a set of Bosu Squats and lunges, I end up doing about 70 reps of lunges and squats, three to four times a week – a level of work which has kept my lower extremities uninjured.
  2. Blue dot squash – long tough rallies – without the injuries! I find that playing (three length only games and two regular) for about an hour with a low “B” level player allows me to get a good, squash-specific cardio workout (mean HR of 150 during play) without hurting my back, as playing with a bouncy blue dot effectively reduces the size of the court, which eliminates the emergency defensive reaching and lunging which hurts my back. Some might say that this level of ball bounce is not realistic, but I would argue that I am probably getting the same bounce that the pros get on the tour court under television lights. It is for this same reason that I train my college team (mostly beginner to “B” level players) with blue dots – why should the least skilled players have to deal with the most difficult bounces in the back of the court? My players have noticed no significant differences in transitioning back to the yellow dot, so we will use the blue dot in training right up until the week before our national championships.
  3. I now rest (if possible) two days between various types of workouts instead of ensuring one day of rest. I find that I can still improve with this pattern of training and rest.
  4. My training philosophy has gradually shifted from “intensity” to “balance”. Actually, I find that whenever I “train hard” I get another injury which puts me out of commission for at least a week – so a net training “loss”. I would suggest a 2-3% rule for Masters squash athletes, as opposed to the 10% rule used for athletes in their prime.

Application for Aging Squash Coaches;)

  1. Think “balance” not “more” (2% not 10%!).
  2. More rest between matches and workouts – more regeneration activities.
  3. Think about blue dot squash (or British Racketball) to maintain playing skills and fun – and reduce weer and tear on the body.

Squash Scientist Recertifies NSCA Strength & Conditioning Specialist Credential!

March 21, 2012

As the clock struck 12 midnight on December 31, 2011, I completed the last of the six CEUs (Continuing Education Unit) that I needed to keep my NSCA Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist certification current – updating me until December 31, 2014. A few weeks later I got my certificate in the mail – it’s only my iPhone that makes it look pink – it’s actually a nice blue-tinged parchment color.

Here is a description of the educational activities one needs to complete to stay current.  Recertification is a bit of a money maker for the NSCA, although it is a non-profit institution.  Although one can accumulate a lot of credits by attending NSCA conferences, I used a number of self-directed activities (this blog for example) and online quizzes based on scientific readings.  Here is a link to one of the NSCA Hot Topic readings that could qualify you for the next recertification period – .3 CEU for answering a quiz based on this reading – the topic this month is “minimalist footwear”.  Other quizzes I took were on the topics of:

  • Agility Training for Experienced Athletes
  • Skill Based Conditioning
  • Core Stability
  • The Science & Practice of Periodization
  • Medicine Ball Training Implications for Rotational Power Sports (we could include squash in here).

I think the idea of recertifying or being obliged to stay current is a good one – although it is a bit of a hassle.  Although I have, and have had, a number of certifications (Squash Canada, U.S. Squash, WPSA, Racquetball Canada, Tennis Canada, Canadian Mental Training Registry) except for the NSCA, only Tennis Canada has a recertification policy in place.  One of the difficulties of being a multi-talented coaching consultant is that keeping up with all the professional memberships and professional development can be quite onerous – I finally had to let my Tennis Canada Coach 3 Certification lapse, as I do not actually coach tennis that much any more.  In addition to the racquet sport coaching and strength certifications, I am also a member, and so pay dues to the Association of Applied Sport Psychology  (a charter member since 1987) and FEPSAC (European Federation of Sport Psychology).

One very useful aspect of the CSCS certification is that it means, unlike other U.S. College Squash Coaches (since I am the only coach who has their CSCS), I can strength train my players when they are out of season – a pretty big advantage. Here is a summary of the current NCAA Division III rule changes that describe this advantage.

The odd thing is of course, is that in the squash world, the public, coaches, Athletic Director’s, and employers pay very little attention to educational credentials and tend to prioritize current playing ability and or in the case of coaches, the ability of their athletes.  I am sure John White would not like his coaching to be rated on the ranking of his Drexel University Women’s squash team (his new job), nor would Geoff Hunt appreciate a rating of his coaching based on his current playing ability (let’s be generous and say a “B” level – pretty good for a 65-year old) or the world ranking of his Qatar athletes?  Coaches should actually be rated based on logical, scientifically based criteria – which would usually mean a combination of items including observation by trained observers, and some sort of oral or written exams, as well of course as some sort of athlete input – as well as concrete results.  One of the purposes of this blog is to encourage people to think a little more deeply about coaching – certainly to look a little beyond the current player rankings.

My two favorite videos related to strength training and squash:) :


Understanding Aerobic Training for Squash

February 12, 2012

Unless you have a sport science degree the complexities of squash training can be somewhat difficult to comprehend.  Squash is a difficult sport to coach as squash athletes need to use all three energy systems, and almost all of the physical qualities also play an important role in squash performance. Many sports only need to emphasize one or two qualities: for example strength and power are primordial for an American Football lineman – whereas aerobic qualities have minimal importance – on the other hand aerobic performance is everything to a 10,000 meter specialist, with power and speed (as commonly defined – not referring to “speed-endurance”) of little significance.  The “Energy Systems Chart (ITF, 2007)” is a commonly used, over simplistic representation of sport physiology, as in most team, dual and combat sports, all three energy systems come into play, often simultaneously, during a competition.

Most squash coaches are aware that the aerobic system can be trained using continuous (e.g., a 3-mile run) or interval methods (e.g., ghosting one minute on and one minute off), but behind the scenes the physiological picture is a bit more complicated.  Here is a chart adapted from Sleamaker & Browning (1996) which provides an excellent picture of the different aspects of aerobic training:

Keeping in mind this is only one of several ways to organize or think about aerobic training, note that the aerobic training levels (I to IV) can be defined by the intensity of effort (percentage of maximum heart rate or percentage of VO2max – the HR method being the most practical one to use for squash coaches), and that at each level there are different physiological adaptations going on behind the scenes.

Translating the levels and related intensities into squash terms can be done by adapting the Borg (nothing to do with the tennis player:) Perceived Effort Scale (Rating of Perceived Exertion).  I prefer the older, simpler 10-point scale (although most physiologists now use the new scale) as the exertion ratings can quickly be converted to approximate hear rate (for an average 20-year old) – so a “4” , somewhat hard, would be equivalent to a HR of 140, a “7”, “very hard”, a heart rate of 170, etc. So for a squash coach to understand Sleamaker & Browning’s chart:

  • Level 1 = Borg 2 = HR 120, fairly light rally (e.g., exchanging high, slow lengths from the back);
  • Level 2 = Borg 3 = HR 130, moderate rally (e.g., length only game, medium pace);
  • Level 3 = Borg 4/5 = HR 140-150, tough rally (e.g., length only emphasizing volleys, cutting ball off);
  • Level 4 = Borg 7 = HR 170, very tough rally (e.g., retrieving against a shot-maker)
  • Level 5 = Borg 10 = HR 190-200, this is that last ditch effort, in the last couple of rallies – you are toast (due to high lactic acid accumulation:).

What to do with this information?  When I helped organize the College Squash Association’s Coaching Conference a few years ago (2006??) I asked John Power (Jonathon Power’s dad – a Squash Canada Level 4 Squash Coach, coaching at Dartmouth College at the time) to do an on-court presentation of squash drills and conditioned games to train each of the aerobic levels in order to show college squash coaches a) that aerobic training can be done effectively on court mixed in with “traditional” drills and games; and b) how the same drill or game can be used to train multiple aerobic levels by simply changing a few parameters.  Here is a summary of the organization John used for his presentation.  Note that there is an ideal progression for developing aerobic qualities, basically less intense to more intense as you move through the season, so we have added in the phase of an annual periodized plan to indicate when the training should be emphasized.

Can you demonstrate your understanding by thinking of an appropriate drill or game for each of the physical qualities listed in column 3 of the chart?

GP = general preparation phase; SP = specific prep.; PC = precompetition.

Application for Squash Coaches:

  1. Aerobic training can be done on court to save time, using standard squash drills and games.
  2. To get specific physiological adaptations important for the aerobic system, certain drill parameters (e.g., HR) must be followed.
  3. “Complicated” physiological measures of intensity (i.e., HR, % of VO2 max) can be replaced with easier, more subjective measures.

Squash Detraining: A College Example

December 29, 2011

It is holiday time in most of the world, and for most squash players, so getting out of squash shape (or staying in good squash shape) is a concern for most committed players – no matter what level they play at.  To help squash coaches understand detraining (click this link for a concise summary) I am going to go over a real example from former Smith College Squash Team.

Our last team practice was on Thursday, December 15 – and we start up again practicing twice a day on Monday, January 9th – so a break of 24 days!  I don’t in fact use the term “break” – I use the periodization term “transition”, which is actually more descriptive of what should occur during this period – activities that bridge the gap from one part of our season to another (here is the link to our team’s periodized annual plan).  The short transition period that occurs between two halves of a season does differ from the end-of-season transition period of 4-6 weeks where primarily cross-training activities should occur.

The transition period for a college squash team involves more than simply “staying in shape physically” and presents a number of challenges to be met – here is a summary of the objectives for my college team:

  • De-stress to prevent burnout and staleness.  For a college athlete it is difficult to completely separate athletic and academic stress.  Although squash can be a source of relaxation during a busy semester (remember squash in the U.S. is played a highly challenging academic schools – Smith College being right up there with the Ivy’s), training and playing 12-16 hours a week must be taken into account when calculating the overall stress load.  My team started practicing before any other college team in the U.S. (Sept.12) and the five tennis players on my team were practicing tennis two weeks prior to that (they joined us in the last week of October) – and this year, exams went right up until December 22.
  • Maintain squash skills and tactical memory with no access to squash courts. Most of the players on my team learned their squash at Smith, and so are not usually from “squash communities” – only one actually has access to courts through a family membership – and two are international students staying on campus (gym is closed??).
  • Maintain physical shape to prevent performance loss and injury upon resuming practice.  January is actually our training period (Competition Period in periodization lingo) with our highest training volume – 20-30 hours a week during the no-classes interterm period.
  • NCAA Rules state that all “out-of-season” training must be voluntary, with no coach supervision (e.g., training logs, etc.) allowed – another example of how NCAA rules negatively effect athlete well-being (read more about that here).

Since squash physical performance involves both “endurance” qualities (aerobic and anaerobic endurance) and “strength” related qualities (power, agility, strength-endurance), the minimization of detraining for both must be taken into account. The Pfitzinger chart summarizes the endurance detraining process and here is a great link that discusses losses in strength – along with a graph of squat training/detraining – somewhat relevant to squash.

Recommendations for College Squash Athletes

Despite the fact that loss in both endurance and strength performance can range from 10-20% , the good news is that physical losses can be minimized and physical shape substantially maintained with two, high intensity workouts a week.  This means two very tough squash matches against an opponent of equal ability – or, two 20-minute high intensity aerobic workouts (at least 80-85% of HR max – preferably a variety of  short intervals with a 1:1 or 1:1/2 work:rest ratio to mimic the requirements of squash – for example “ghost” 15s :rest 15s or ghost 30s : rest 30s) and preferably on separate days (or prior to the aerobic workouts) to minimize “physiological interference” (I just coined this term:) two strength workouts (of the same type and level of intensity that was being performed prior to the “break”).

Without access to squash courts, squash technique and tactics can be maintained through 2-3 visualization sessions of 15-20 minutes a week.  A similar amount of watching squash videos on YouTube should help as well without overloading the college athlete on their Winter Break.

Please feel free to download and use a summary of my Using Imagery to Support Advanced Squash Tactics presentation at the 2005 Squash Canada Coaching Conference:  Squash Tactics Visualization (Bacon, 2005).  It contains some imagery worksheets.


Core Performance & TRX: A New Strength Training Paradigm for College Coaches

December 1, 2011

On November 4th, I gave a two-hour workshop to 22 local coaches and graduate students at Smith College in Northampton, MA- the outline is here:

Workshop Outline

   I.   Overview of the Core Performance (CP) Training System

  • Training Philosophy – rehab & strength specialist designed “functional” programs:  “Train Movements not Muscles”
  • “The medium is the message” – CP integrated system resources:  books, video, web, social media, home fitness (GoFIT)
  • Advantages of CP (and TRX): time, $, professionalism (improved coach knowledge, enhanced communication & athlete autonomy)
  • The CP workout design – five basic parts.

II.   Key Background Concepts/Terms a Coach Should Know

  • Periodization – annual plan & phases: general, specific, competition, transition (and related training exercises)
  • Energy systems and muscle fiber types
  • Principles of Training

III.  Practicum 1 – Prehabilitation & Movement Prep

  • Exercises from CP L1, L2, L3

IV  Core Performance Sport-Specific “Individualized” Programs

  • CP vs. “traditional” (e.g., Bompa, 2010) periodization

V.   Practicum 2 – CP Workout via iPhone/iPad/Laptop

  • In pairs (athlete/coach) or trios (athlete/coach/observer) complete the workout

VI.   TRX – Fitness Anywhere!

  • Training philosophy and marketing highly similar to Core Performance
  • Brief description of TRX apparatus and installation

VII.  Practicum 3 – TRX

  • TRX alternatives to traditional exercises
  • TRX progressions and adaptations

VIII.   Practical Tips

  • Challenge stability – don’t pile on the weight!
  • Implementation for every budget: free, cheap, reasonable
  • Try it yourself for your own fitness
  • Become independent and self-sufficient with CP & TRX
  • Fitness Builder iPhone app (and web version) highly recommended

IX. Questions & Discussion

X.   References

Baechle, T.R. & Earle, R.W. (Eds.) (2000). Essentials of strength & conditioning.  Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

Bompa, T. (1999). Periodization:  Theory & methodology of training.  Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

TRX (http://www.trxtraining.com/)

Verstegen, M., & williams, P.  (2004). Core performance.  Rodale.  (http://www.coreperformance.com/)


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”:)