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 Coaches: A New Tagging App for Iphone!

May 12, 2012

You cannot be a “Tactics First” squash coach without having the ability to easily tag video to examine the tactics (i.e., shot choices) that your players use in their matches.  The video tagging procedure involves using computer software to watch a squash video, and then touching a key or button to indicate to the software that you would like to record the action that you are interested in. Performance Analysis and Notational Analysis are the formal terms associated with tagging.  Here is a great link for more info:  The Video Analyst.

Without tagging software, a specific (versus just randomly watching match video with your team or player) tactical analysis that  involves assembling multiple examples of shot choices is very time consuming.  For example with my Smith College squash team, it would take me five hours to assemble 10 examples (five good, five bad) of mid-court attacking tactics (30 min. per 10 players to watch, then edit, then email or post to YouTube) following a match.

For example in this video, I used the Tagging Module of the Dartfish software to capture examples of squash shots played in the front court zone by top female players. I was interested in both the choice of shot (i.e, tactics), and the way the shot was played (i.e., technique).

As a member of the Faculty in the Smith College Department of Exercise & Sport Studies I have access to Dartfish via the five licenses our department has purchased – we were early adopters having used the software since 2004.  Even earlier than that, 1987, I was using tagging elite junior tennis players as part of my Doctoral research using the CompuTennis Software (no longer in business?).

The problem with Dartfish (Windows platform) and GameBreaker (Apple platform), the other popular software used for tagging is the cost – both cost several thousand dollars – so not easily accessible for the average squash professional working alone in a club.  The Video Replay App is $2.99! I have been wondering when an app would come out!

Touchstat Highlight is another more costly option ($24.99) which has greater “potential” as it can be used in conjunction with their desktop software.

Dartfish has an iPhone app, EasyTag (free), that while not actually recording video, can later synch your tagging with the desktop Dartfish software.  In a future post I will go over a more work intensive but “free” way to use EasyTag results with a free video software like Quicktime.

Note that there are a lot of free or low cost apps for both the iPhone and Android software that allow a coach to analyse the technique of a single shot – the sole advantage over simple video replay is the access to drawing tools, and an easier ability to view two actions side-by-side (I just open two Quicktime Windows on my laptop:).

As soon as I finish grading my 64 Introduction to Sport Coaching class assignments (Biomechanical Analysis, Strength Training Program, Skill Coaching Report) I am going to give Video Replay a try!


Well Designed Squash Instruction Videos – Free!

July 19, 2011

I was perusing some squash sites and came across one that I am going to add to my links section of our Science of Coaching Squash Blog: TotalSquash.  I try and list only “high quality” links on this blog. There is a paid section (which I did not investigate) but there is also an “open” section which is free:  Total Squash.

They have an interesting take on a number of topics (“Return of Serve Chess”, “Traffic Light “T””, etc. and so I think the site is worth a visit!

 

 

 


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!

 

 


Why I Purchased a Ping Pong Robot but Won’t Buy a Squash Ball Machine!

September 7, 2010

I’ll preface my post by saying that I did in fact own a squash ball machine – the first one that came out (1989??).  I co-purchased it when I was the “squash director” at the now defunct Rockland Sport (actually there to train/mentor their squash pro Denis Favreau who was converting from tennis – little known fact – Jonathon Power got his start here with great junior coach Robby Cannot Recall his name now – will later…) with my buddy, Yvon Provencal, recently named Canadian National Squash Coach.  I don’t recall ever actually using it (Yvon kept it at his club!) since I had already been indoctrinated into a “tactics first” approach through my exposure to Tennis Canada’s “Methode des actions” (read “Tactics First”).

Why did I just purchase a Newgy Robo-Pong when I will not buy a squash ball machine?

Reasons not to use a ball machine:

  • squash is an open sport, where anticipation (reliance on pre-impact cues – mostly from reading the opponent’s shoulder and arm position according to Abernethy) is critical (as is tactical awareness – or game sense:  knowledge of the effect of your previous shot, opponent’s position and tactical tendencies, etc.) – none of these cues are available when using the squash ball machine;
  • without supervision (in which case a ball machine could be redundant) most players for not respect the shot-cycle (every shot in squash involves four steps:  1. watching 2. movement to the ball 3. striking the ball 4. recovery to the appropriate spot on the court) and could easily (as in the video example above) practice in a way that is not game-like at all – thereby actually hurting performance;

Reasons Why I Bought a Pong Robot

  • Demonstration purposes – as the only decent player around my college (except for a Japanese woman who apparently is very good, so I have been avoiding;) it is the only way (except for self-feed or shadowing) to adequately demonstrate ping pong strokes in my upcoming Introduction to Racquet Sports course at Smith College;
  • Although we do not get pre-impact cues with the Robot – we must read the spin of the ball – so we are actually working a critical component of anticipation not important (or available) in squash;
  • The Squash court is ideal for solo practice – you can simulate a wide variety of shots – not possible with many ping pong tables – and only possible in a limited way in those that can convert one half to a backboard.

Having said all this, I will be publishing 2-3 videos/posts on using a squash ball machine for tactical drills.  My Racketlon partner Shona Kerr is preparing for a WISPA event in Arizona, and we will be training/reinforcing several tactical patterns that she will be using in that event.  Each drill using the ball machine will have a tactical theme (e.g., deception in the front court), and will involve the entire shot cycle as I will be providing the feed for the follow-up shot (that the machine will be unable to provide).  For example the machine will boast, Shona will straight drop, and I will re-drop or drive cross – and she will respond appropriately (having to make a perception and decision, which is what makes this tactical and not just technical training).  Shona and I will come up with 4-5 commonly used patterns of play that require either a third training partner – or a ball machine.  Unfortunately, many squash drills are dictated by convenience (i.e., what two players can do without stopping the drill) rather than solid tactics – perhaps an explanation as to why squash players peak so late compared to other sports:)

Application for Squash Coaches:

  1. Be wary of potential bad technical (not observing the shot cycle) habits developing with squash ball machines.
  2. Be sure to give your player a tactical context or at least a basic tactical explanation for the shots they practice with a ball machine.
  3. Play ping pong!

Coaching Squash Nutrition is not Rocket Science

May 6, 2010

There is a lot of nutrition misinformation floating about the squash world.  It is the responsibility of coaches to encourage responsible nutrition on the part of their squash players.  What a squash coach needs is a few trusted tools and resources. I have been teaching basic nutrition to coaches and college undergraduates since 1992 – my qualifications being the academic preparation I received during my BPHE and M.A. in Physical Education – in addition to attending numerous racquet-sport specific nutrition workshops, and the reading of hundreds of nutrition articles (from trusted sources) to stay current and up-to-date.

Here are my top 3 current tools/resources:

  1. Especially with the shortening of the length of squash matches due to the move to PAR scoring, following basic rules of nutrition will satisfy the needs of 90% of squash players (vegetarians and vegans need to do a little more work).  The U.S. Mypyramid site contains most of the information a squash coach will need.
  2. Sign up for the Coaching Association of Canada’s Sport Nutrition Newsletter – the occasional e-mails are a great prompt for coaches to stay current of any changes (and there are not really that many).
  3. Concerned with maintaining your playing weight in the off-season?  Lose It! is a great free iPhone app that can help a coach track their nutritional intake and weight maintenance/loss.  The visual feedback (graphs updated daily) on goal progress are a big advantage over handwritten tools:

Application for Squash Coaches:

  1. Discourage the adoption of untested (and often expensive) nutritional fads by your athletes.
  2. Stay up to date with reputable nutritional resources.
  3. Be a good nutritional role model.

iPhone 3Gs plus Twitter for Squash Video!

December 5, 2009

The problem with having a great camcorder and computer video editing software is that it takes time to get the video ready for playback to athletes – a real problem if you are coaching multiple (usually 10 at Smith College) squash players, playing im multiple matches (total of 50 matches this upcoming weekend at the Wesleyan Round Robin in Middletown, CT.

In this video I tell how I will  how I will  use my  iPhone 3Gs and FREE Twitter apps like Twitterific or TwitVid to allow my team (10 players) to watch results of their matches at the 2009 Wesleyan round robin (so 50 video clips!).  They can watch their own clip individually, before or after a match if they bring their laptop, as Wesleyan has wireless (as we do at Smith) right by their courts – or if they have an iPhone – they can watch it anytime using the ATT 3G network.

Three easy steps to make your squash video available:

  1. Shoot (keep clips under 60 sec. for quick upload) – you can obviously record verbal feedback at same time.
  2. Open your FREE  Twitter app – I use Twitterific, Echofon or Twitvid.
  3. Write your short “Tweet”, eg. player name, game score – and hit “send”.

If my player is signed up to follow “smithsquash” on Twitter, they will receive a “Tweet” with a link to the video (as will you if you sign up to follow “smithsquash” on Twitter).  What I like about Twitvid is that I can go to their site and review all of the days match videos with my team later – they will all be in one spot identified by players name – so I just scroll down to the clip I want.  Here is a sample clip on the TwitVid site from a scrimmage against Mount Holyoke earlier this week.

Thanks Apple and Twitter!