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).


College & High School Squash Periodization: The Transition Phase starts now!

March 24, 2015

Periodization Chart

Periodization for a college or high school squash coach involves dividing the training and competitive year into four periods (hence the name periodization or periodisation in the Commonwealth and French-speaking countries) in order to make planning easier easier to understand and implement. The short official seasons – about 18 weeks from mid-October to March 1st – of U.S. colleges and high school present some unique challenges in seeking to optimize athlete performance.  The basics of periodization are outlined in some of my previous posts – if you want an overview of what the content of an annual squash periodized plan would look like you can check out this link..  The purpose of this article is to focus on the final period of the annual plan – the transition phase. Before North American squash coaches learned about periodization, this time of year was called the off-season – it started after the National Championships and ended in the fall a few weeks before the start of the next season’s squash tournaments.  In the U.S., many squash players would play tennis in the summer. The disadvantage of this old fashioned approach was that a player would lose nearly all of their squash-specific conditioning, and recommence the next season back at the same level as the prior season.  I have adapted current periodization theory (e.g., Bompa, 2009) and have developed several key recommendations for squash coaches for the Transition Period – the new functional term for “off-season”. Focus X2i iPad My first recommendations center around doing a thorough analysis of athlete performance:

  • Do a thorough evaluation of your players technical, tactical, physical and mental performance at the end of the season – preferably during key matches and final practices leading up to the final competition of the year.
  • A comprehensive technical-tactical analysis of your players is perhaps the most important thing you can do, as this evaluation will form the foundation of their goal-setting for the next season.  This is best done by analyzing match video using a good game analysis software such as FocusX2i for iPad and a logical tactical framework such as the Zone or Egg Model that I use for my analyses.  If you have not done this before, I offer a consulting service where you can send me your player’s video file and I will do the analysis for you – including improvement recommendations and player goals based on the statistics from the analysis.  Alternatively I can train coaches in the use of the software and show you or your assistants how to do your own analysis.
  • An analysis of your player’s mental performance can be done by examining their post-match evaluation forms (if you have used them) for the last few crucial matches of the season, or via paper and pencil tests such as the TOPS (I can provide questionnaires and scoring instructions).
  • An evaluation of your players’ fitness can be done by using their last few fitness test results (ideally one test for each of the three energy systems) and also by simply asking the players to assess each of the physical qualities essential for squash.  The other way is simply to note their performance level during the last few workouts of the season (before the peaking or unloading phase).

Egg Model for Squash Tactics My second set of recommendations concern general advice for the Transition Phase (adapted from Bompa, 2012):

  • Have your players take 4-6 weeks where they do not play squash, but instead do fun and cross-training activities (ultimate frisbee, swimming, etc.) about three times a week, that allow them to maintain their aerobic fitness and slow down the loss of speed and strength gains.
  • This is the period where they should try and rehab any injuries acquired during the season.
  • There should be limited, formal strength training sessions – and if there are any they should be of lower intensity (think strength-endurance: lighter weights 12-15 reps) and feature a high proportion of complementary exercises.  For example the types of exercises found in Exos’ prehabilitation and movement preparation.  One to two sessions a week should be sufficient to serious significant detraining.
  • Especially in the two weeks following the major competition, 15-20 minutes on an exercise bike followed by foam rolling, tennis ball myofascial release and use of a stretching rope 3-4 times a week will aid in regeneration.
  • If athletes set their goals for the next season in the week after the major competition, there is no need to do any formal technical, tactical, or mental training during the transition phase – they can just chill and relax.
  • After 4-6 weeks of the above, players can start their preparation for the next season by starting on their Preparatory Period training activities – a topic I will address in the coming weeks.

 Application for Squash Coaches

  1. Make sure to plan and schedule a 4-6 week “transition” period following your major squash championship in order to allow your players to fully regenerate for the next season.
  2. Do a thorough evaluation, including match video analysis, in order to set effective and meaningful goals with your players at the end of the season.

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

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

March 27, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 8:  Evaluating Your Program and Coaching

Appendix

Science of Coaching Squash YouTube Channel

Twitter Squash Science

Smith College Squash Team (more training videos)


Modern Squash Coaching – What does it involve?

February 17, 2012

Notwithstanding the fact that I have a lot of respect for my peer coaches, only a few coaches have advanced degrees in sport science.  My assistant coach Erin Robson at Smith College is one of them – former Head Squash and Tennis Coach at Williams College, she competed her M.Sc. in Coaching here at Smith College in our Graduate program – designed to prepare coaches of college teams.  Pam Saunders,  Associate Head coach at Yale University is another graduate of our program.

An equally small number of coaches have completed the other path that combines squash and sport science – a Level 4 Squash Coaching Certification. Aside from myself, Harvard’s Mike Way is the only other active coach in the U.S.A. (we did out Squash Canada Level 3 together back in Toronto in 1980).

Once a squash coach completes these “squash science” education opportunities, the next step is to stay current with recent developments.  In my current position at Smith College (.5 Athletics/.5 faculty) I am lucky enough to be able to stay up to date though my lecturing activities in sport science and coaching-related courses:

  • ESS 110 Introduction to Sport Coaching
  • ESS 220  Psychology of Sport
  • ESS 130 Stress Management
  • ESS 520 Leadership for Sport Coaches (graduate program).

One of my favorite coaching websites is actually a tennis coaching website – Wayne Elderton’s AceCoach.  I subscribe to his site (and you should to) and today received his February newsletter in my email which contained the article ” Modern Tennis Coaching”.  The short article nicely summarizes my approach to squash coaching – the similarity is not surprising as we have both been trained in the Canadian Sport System’s Theory and Tennis Certification Program.  If you are interested in learning more about how these four pillars apply to squash – just use the “search” function on this site!


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.