Learn Squash Tactics Quickly & Efficiently!

September 7, 2017

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.  Here are two models I have developed and used to plan (and periodize) tactical training:

Here are other links to using a smart “tactics first” approach to developing smarter players:

https://squashanalytics.com/2012/03/25/basic-squash-drills-vs-games-approach-which-is-better/

https://squashanalytics.com/2011/08/01/decision-training-for-squash-coaches-part-i/

https://squashanalytics.com/2011/04/23/coaching-front-court-squash-tactics-where-to-start/.

 


Injury Prevention for Squash

August 22, 2017

Most squash players and coaches – including the top PSA professionals are unable to manage physical training and match play schedules in a way that avoids costly injuries and lost training time:

Pallikal, Aug. 2017

Gaultier, Nov. 2016

Heshem, Oct. 2016

Ashour, Jan. 2015

etc.

Why?  The main reason is that the planning and implementation of high level training requires a deep understanding of many factors that can only be obtained through academic training  and many years of squash-specific professional practice as a strength and conditioning specialist.

  • How many squash coaches have a Master’s in Sport Science or Coaching?  The weekend or week-long coaching certification courses, even at the highest Level 3 or 4 are inadequate with only 16-20 hours devoted to physical training – versus a 4-year Bachelor’s P.E. degree followed by another 1-2 year’s MSc. or M.A.  In addition to this academic preparation, most consider the NSCA’s C.S.C.S. credential as a prerequisite for competent practice.
  • How many physical preparation specialists have played or coached squash or another racquet sport at a national level (or even college squash) in order to be able to truly understand the demands of squash training and playing?

The answer is “not very many”.  There is David Behm (he played for me when I coached at McGill) and myself that I know of in North America.  If you know of others, contact me and I will be happy to list their names here as a resource.

So what to do about this situation?  The answer is to use a system of training that acknowledges the importance of avoiding injury and that has been tested at the highest levels across many sports.  I have been using this strength training system since 2008 with my squash athletes – the same system that is being used with 50+ professional teams around the world, including the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team, the German Men’s Soccer Team, and for the past few years by at least 10 of the top 20 NFL draft picks.

Stay tuned for the the name and links to this system:)

 


New AASP Logo for Squash Mental Training Consultants to Use!

September 17, 2015

New AASP Logo

The Association of Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) contacted all of its members (I have been a Charter Member since its inception in 1985/6) today giving them permission to promote their consulting activities with its newly developed logo.

Back in the 1980’s there were several North American organizations that represented the Sport Psychology field – AASP was the first to overtly promote the ‘applied” aspect (versus “research”) of the field – although we should mention that the Canadians beat them to the punch in developing standards and a certification program for applied sport psychologists – back in 1986/87 I was one of about 14 mental training consultants to be approved by the Canadian Mental Training Registry (CMTR) to work with Candian National Teams of any sport – although I was able to keep busy working mostly with racquet sport athletes on the Canadian National Squash, Tennis, and Racquetball teams.

Currently, AASP is probably the most important and useful organization for squash coaches (and coaches of other sports), and the organization publishes two applied research journals.  For specific information on the application of sport psychology to squash you can click on the “psychology” category on the side of this blog page.

After 20 years focussing mainly on the “teaching” of sport psychology to undergraduate students (at Smith College) and coaches (through the NCCP and ASEP), I have returned to active consulting – rates start at $50/hr. for Facetime or Skype meetings, and $100/hour for group team meetings.  Email is the best way to initiate contact using squashscience@gmail.com.


Squash Anticipation & Deception: 2 Sides of the Same Coin

April 8, 2015

Many squash spectators, players and even coaches misunderstand squash “quickness and speed”, attributing a “fast” player’s ability to physical factors rather than their ability to anticipate what the opponent is likely to do – or not do (partial anticipation).  One of the ways to “slow down” a fast player is to use deception to hold your opponent stationary for a longer time or even misdirect them. I have blogged on both (Deception link and Anticipation link) of these topics before  but now want to combine them since it is the same, identical motor learning theory behind both notions.

The theoretical idea (e.g., Hick’s Law) behind both anticipation and deception is very simple – the greater the number of options or choices – the slower the reaction time – as illustrated in the graph below.

Hick's Law

Practical Squash Examples of the above law:

  1. When you have glued a straight length to the side wall your opponent has only one choice – to hit straight – so you can cheat over to cut off their shot.
  2. When you have hit a loose, slow easy ball into the middle of the court, your opponent has so many choices (drive straight or cross, drop straight or cross) that you cannot anticipate and you have to stay put until they actually hit the shot.

As I have blogged before, the best way to develop deceptive players who anticipate well is to have young children (8-12?) be introduced to squash in an environment where deception is valued and they are exposed to a wide variety of practice partners and opponents – then these perceptual-motor skills develop “automatically”.  If you are a junior in America this is probably not going to happen since your British squash coach is having you hit endless straight lengths down the wall and working on your fitness through hours of mindless boast and drive.  I feel free to joke and make this outlandishly exaggerated comment as I am in fact British:)  But although I am joking about “only hit straight lengths a la Jonah Barrington, there is far too much closed drilling going on in our junior programs – and not enough tactical teaching.  Here is an example of “tactical teaching” using the Games Approach (ASEP, 2012).

Since in many places great anticipation and deception will not be developed automatically, a systematic approach is needed.  What do we mean by systematic?

  • Make a list of all situations to be trained in priority order, and make sure to teach anticipation cues and deception options when you introduce and train the situation.  Note that “priority order” could mean start with the a) most common situations; b) “easiest” situations (to help athlete gain confidence); c) most difficult situations (since these take longer to learn); d) most important (the situations that cause you to lose the most points in your current match play).
  • Theoretically, these lists should be tailored to the developmental level of your player, and integrated into annual, four-year and “lifetime” (e.g., LTAD plans).

Here is an example of a list of prioritized situations.

Squash Front Court Tactics: 3-Wall Boast

Application for Squash Coaches

  1. Do not leave the development of anticipation and deception to chance – train these qualities systematically.
  2. Train situations not strokes – include the teaching of anticipation and deception every time you train a particular situation.
  3. Plan your teaching of anticipation and deception by including these in your written annual, four-year, and LTAD plans.

Squash Coaches Can Produce Great Strength Programs with FitnessBuilder!

April 5, 2015

FitnessBuilder App

It is the start of the new 2015-16 for most U.S. College and High School squash coaches, and to help them plan for the upcoming year, I have just published two blog articles on squash periodization:  one on the Transition Phase and the other on Periodization of Technique and Tactics in the General Preparation Phase (GPP).  My next periodization article in the series will be on the planning of strength training in the GPP.

Before I get to that I want to introduce squash coaches to a fantastic tool that can be used to produce your team’s own custom-designed strength training program:  PumpOne’s Fitness Builder.  I have been using it for the past three years to plan and design my own college team’s strength programs – result:  two complete seasons without a single squash-related injury (you can check with the Smith trainers:)

Coaches can design programs with Fitness builder on their computer or smart device like an iPad or iPhone.  The custom programs can be sent to athletes via emailed PDF or directly to their phone/tablet, and since there are linked video descriptions for every exercise, athletes can take their own “personal trainer” or strength coach to the gym with them – great for the off-season when many squash players are away from the campus gym.  The interface is intuitive and extremely easy to use, with hundreds of exercises to choose from, as well as a variety of fitness programs.  My advice to squash coaches using the wise periodization approach is design your own programs following periodization principles (e.g., Bompa, 2009).  Check out this video overview of the Fitness Builder system:

Now here is the catch – are you qualified to design a periodized squash-specific strength program – or are you just going to “wing it” or copy somebody else’s program – or worse – use the program that got you a hip replacement?

Tennis Training (Kovacs et al.)

The USTA (tennis) has produced a number of books (e.g., Kovacs et al., 2007 above image) which can be used as a reference, as the strength demands of tennis and squash are similar enough.  The drawback of using a strength coach – the NSCA CSCS is the gold standard of certification (I got certified in 2006) – is that many of them come from a football background and still rely heavily on “traditional” strength lifts and exercises.  The major problem with this is that there are much better, more squash-specific and functional exercises available – so what is really needed is someone like myself with both the squash coaching and national level playing background AND a reputable strength training certification. Here is a short video I made on this topic:

If you do not have access to a CSCS with extensive squash experience, a smart alternative is to subscribe to the Exos (formerly Core Performance website) and either a) use their squash or tennis programs; or b) follow their template and select from amongst their bank of exercises when you use fitness builder.  Eighty per cent of the exercises I use with my team are the same or highly similar to Exos exercises (I like to think my programs are a little better than theirs due to my 40 years of experience designing squash-specific strength programs:).  This is what I did four years ago – every week in the fall (I started my Smith Squash Team on September 15th) I would upload the appropriate EXOS training program for both the Smith Tennis and Squash Teams to follow.

Core Performance for Tennis

As a minimum, I would design one program per phase of the annual plan.  If you have an assistant or enjoy this type of coaching you could change the plan up every two weeks, but the law of diminishing returns applies and you would probably be better off spending your time recruiting.

Here is an example program I have used with my team (remember that the version sent to your athletes iPhones has clickable video descriptions for each exercise!):

Fitness builder Example

Last couple of words on this topic.  If you are a squash coach working with not yet fully mature juniors, make sure you follow LTAD guidelines for squash or tennis.  If you need help in this area please give me a call – my rates are reasonable to develop custom branded programs for you and your team.


Periodization of Squash Technique & Tactics: General Preparation Phase

April 2, 2015

Periodization Chart

If you are a U.S. College or High School squash coach, your team’s season probably ended about the end of February.  If you use a periodization scientific approach (e.g., Bompa, 2009) to planning your team’s training, most of your athlete’s will have either completed or be near completing  their 4-6 week transition period – so it is time for you to start guiding them for the start of their 2015-2016 season.  This means you will have already completed the chart above with the year’s major training tasks and calendar of competitions – unfortunately there are no published guides for squash – only what you can find here on my blog.  You can use the “search” function and enter the keyword “periodization”.

The biggest mistake coaches and parents make is to invite a world champion or their coach as a guest speaker – the needs of a mature, already developed professional are very different from those of junior or even college players.  The planning of training has to be appropriate to the developmental level of the athlete – you can refer to articles on LTADs for some guidance on this.

To make a long story short, here are some key General Preparation phase points for the older high school or college squash player with respect to the development of technique and tactics:

– If squash courts or good squash coaching is unavailable, do not do any technical/tactical development – save that for the start of the Specific Preparation phase which normally starts in September when players return to their school.  Most college players will not have access to their coaches until mid-October or November 1 – a ridiculous situation that accounts for the general low improvement levels of American college squash players compared to the rest of the world.

– Make use of summer squash camps to improve technique and learn more about good tactics.  It is important to emphasize improvement and not performance and match play at these camps.

– If you do have access to a good squash coach, the General Preparation phase is the time to work on difficult and important technical corrections and improvements. Ideally a player’s technical goals should be set with the use of an objective video analysis – there are now plenty of apps to help with that.  These are best achieved in a low pressure setting, that is when there are not a lot of competitive squash matches.  Note that although technical improvement should be favored in this phase, a Tactics First approach dictates that you should always make sure the player is clear on the tactical context in which the technical skills will be used – don’t just do mindless, repetitive drills.

– If you are in a city where there is a summer squash league, making the technical changes during match play should be emphasized over winning – otherwise most will be unable to make the required technical changes – they will just go back to their old, incorrect ways in order to try and win the match.

– Although techniques is the priority, the Games Approach pedagogy (starting a training session with a conditioned game where the targeted technique will be used frequently) can still be used.

IMG_6323

– If you are coaching squash layers with solid technique, the the General Preparation periodization can be somewhat different.  Preferably using the results of an objective video analysis, the tactical situations a player needs to develop should be organized and put into a priority order, and worked on systematically during this phase (and the following Specific Preparation phase) using a Tactics First, Decision Training or Games Approach – versus the traditional “let’s work on your backhand” approach. Here is an example of how to structure such a technical-tactical training session using the topic of “drop or lob in the front court”.  This is also a great time to develop complex skills such as deception.  In the video below I guide Karim Darwish through a session of teaching deception at a junior summer camp.

So you can see that the planning of technical and tactical improvement in the General Preparation is partly an art (based on coaching or consulting experience) as well as a science, the major factors being the availability of courts, opponents, and good coaching and the developmental level of the athlete.  I would be happy to help any coach, parent of athlete plan out this important phase of the annual plan.


Squash Science Junior Summer 2017 Programs

March 29, 2015

Stages and Ages of an LTAD

Do you want to make sure your child is training & playing the right way?

I am asking this question with all due respect to a lot of great squash coaches and pros teaching children all around the world – I have worked very well with hundreds of them over the last 25 years – and learned a lot from them – and hope to learn a lot more from working with them!

The advantage I had over most squash coaches is that I was able to take coaching certification courses at the same time I was learning how to play the sport – and at the same time was studying for my Bachelor’s in Physical & Health Education.  So right from the start I had the opportunity to be very concerned and be critically reflective about “how to do things right” as I was introduced to different sport science topics.  I was basically self-taught so never really ever went though a “this is how my coach taught this” – since I never had racquet sport coaches:)

This early advantage was solidified with my M.A. in Coaching and Sport Psychology, and then 10 years of Doctoral study in Sport Psychology while coaching squash at the Jr. national Team level and university – while consulting with 20+ world racquet sport champions and their coaches for what has now turned into 25 years.

I will be scheduling some camps this summer, but am also offering individual consultation in person or by phone and email:

  • Send video for expert technical & tactical analysis – 24 hr. turnaround
  • Custom age-appropriate fitness programs with video for iPhone & iPad
  • Long Term (LTAD) planning help: 1-, 4-, and 8-year plans
  • Skype or Facetime sport psychology consulting
  • On-court or in the gym coaching TBA

IMG_6322

If you child has a coach I will would definitely love to work with them! My rates are similar to what you would pay for an on-court lesson with your local squash pro – hopefully I can make sure they are on the right track.

Tim Bacon, BPHE, M.A., CSCS   1-413-330-8222 squashscience@gmail.com


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).