Developing a Squash World Champion: Part 3

July 26, 2011

If you are just joining us for part three, you may want to check out my first 2008 post on this topic – and last week’s post.  To make a long story short (read the previous posts:), if all squash coaches (and squash countries) have access to the same information why do some countries (in this case the Egyptians) outperform others (in some cases with much greater resources?

In the interest of brevity, since this topic could consume an entire weekend coaching conference, I am going to make my points, some of them hypothetical of course, in bullet form.  Please feel free to leave a comment below!

I will just add that my comments are based not just on my personal observation of the Egyptian’s (and their opponents), but on my entire consulting and coaching experience which include not only a Men’s Squash World Champion (Jonathon Power), but an Olympic Gold Medalist (tennis’ Sebastien Lareau), and several other World Champions (Jr. tennis, Canadian National Racquetball Team, etc.).

  • As Jahangir Khan pointed out in his book, and I paraphrase, “It’s not what you know – it’s what you do” – so we have to look beyond what people are saying (in books, at conferences, etc.) and see what is happening on the ground level;
  • In the U.S., top juniors are getting trained primarily through daily private lessons, often on their own family’s private squash court.  then they are packed off to prep school for an important four years of their life, with very little exposure to a wide variety of styles and competition – and perhaps too much emphasis on winning: “don’t play those beautiful risky shots – just hit the ball to the back”.  There are two main repercussions of his situations.
  •  The private lessons given to U.S. juniors, are often given by English and Australian pros who favor an attritional, conservative style of play – not only do players developed like this not develop the very difficult hand-eye coordination to play difficult, deceptive shots – they have little chance to counter or react against these shots.  The attritional style favours early success – but severely limits the ceiling of future potential as an adult – I have seen this first hand over several generations of Canadians – very fit players who find it difficult to stay in the top 20, because at the top everyone is fit: Dale Styner, Jamie Crombie, Sabir Butt, Gary Waite (to some extent), Shahir Razik (very un-Egyptian:), and Graham Ryding (to some extent).
  • The numbers of junior players in England has dropped dramatically (reducing the number of clubs that hacve a great variety of players) and getting players together has always been problematic in Canada due to the geography (although we did have two Toronto National Training Centers up and running in the late 1980’s which supported a slew of players who went on to decent pro careers) – this has led to “isolation”, whereas the Egyptians have set up a centralized system where all the players congregate in one of two places:  Cairo or Alexandria:  a great variety of players and styles and opponents with young and old and boys and girls training together facilitates the development of great anticipation, reaction time, and a high level of tactical awareness – not available when playing the same opponents week in and week out, and not developed in private lessons.
  • Status Quo:  In the last 10 years I don’t believe I have seen a squash coaching conference in the U.S. with an Egyptian Coach as the headliner – nor have I seen a coaching conference where Liz Irving was the keynote speaker/coach????  It is difficult to pick up on current trends – but in all honesty we had four Egyptian girls as semi-finalists at the 2003 Jr. Worlds in Cairo – how long has Nicol David been #1?  It is nice to see that there are now quite a few Egyptian associated summer squash camps (including the PPS Squash camps I directed in 2009 & 2010). If you keep doing what you have always done….

I do believe that it is possible for other countries to catch the Egyptians, but it will not be with the current crop of adult players – it will have to be with those who are now 8-12 years old (a “golden” age of learning) with a revamped squash coaching philosophy – which probably means 2020:)

ps.  I do not think this is incongruous with the LTADs – on the contrary – an LTAD that integrates these notions will be very effective.

Application for Squash Coaches:

  1. Pay attention to “trends’ in international squash – often it is the juniors (and their squash coaches), not the current world number 1’s who will provide the path.
  2. Teach and reinforce risky shot-making (since these skills take a long time to develop and to learn how to play against) while players are young (8-12) – this often means putting winning aside as a main focus.
  3. Related to the above – stop the over-coaching! Playing games and matches against a wide variety of opponents and styles is just as important as developing good strokes and perfect length.
  4. Stop prioritizing winning and rankings with junior that are under 18 – if you want them to succeed at the world level (no college player is suddenly going to turn on the skills required to get into the top 10 (adults) so forget it!).
  5. It is difficult, but you must expose juniors to the widest possible variety of opponents.


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Developing a World Squash Champion: Part II

July 21, 2011

I have already written on the “cultural” aspects of developing a world squash champion in a previous post, and the recent results from the Men’s Junior World Championships and the Spanish Davis Cup victory over the U.S.A. are motivating me to update my thoughts on the topic.

I see the recent success of both Egyptian Squash and Spanish Tennis as highly similar – countries outperforming their peers who have the same or greater resources.  My interest in the topic was first piqued when I attended and presented (with co-Presenter Shona Kerr from Wesleyan University) at the 2003 WSF Coaching Conference in Cairo that was being held alongside the Jr. Women’s World Squash Championships – all semifinalists were Egyptian girls.  Here are the observations I made at the time which contributed to my curiosity:

  • Egyptian coaching information was “outdated” – for example their sport psychologist was presenting information from the Coaching Association of Canada that I have developed 15 years earlier (if their available information is the same or older than the rest of the squash world – why are they more successful? The only conclusion is that the key factor must be something other than the information itself!) 
  • The England Squash presenters seemed more interested in “taking the piss” and making inside jokes during their presentation than actually communicating with their audience (most non-native English language speakers).  In other words, they did not seem to be “reading the situation” very well or appreciating its seriousness – they were being thumped by a much poorer country with relatively limited resources. (Absolute resources such as money, number of coaches, number of courts and players do not appear to be the determining factor in world success – what are the key factors then?);
  • In an Egyptian presentation on Deception, an English coach interrupted (after having been invited out on court to join the presenters) to say:  “there is no deception in the back-court” – apparently not true according to a recent video of an English player competing against an Egyptian:

As coaching director of the PPS Squash Camps, I had the opportunity to coach alongside two top Egyptian players, Karim Darwish and Engy Kheirollah for two weeks the last two summers.  I subtly bombarded them with questions, concluding that the type of drills they do, and the technical information they know is not different from the rest of the coaching world – what are the key factors then in developing a squash world champion (Karim was world #1 at the time)?

I also follow tennis very closely, and have been intrigued with the success of the Spanish players, particularly the men.  The head of the ITF Sport Science and Coaching is Miguel Crespo, a Spaniard, and all of their publications are published simultaneously in Spanish and English – I subscribe to all of their sport science and coaching publications.  In addition, I attended and presented at the ITF 2008 World Coaching Conference in Valencia, Spain and had ample opportunity to hear a variety of Spanish tennis coaches and sport scientists attempt to explain the key factors in their success.  Here is an interview with the players themselves:

Since it appears all of the content of the Spanish coaching and sport science programs have been readily and publicly available (i.e., any country is free to use the information), then the information alone cannot be the primary reason for their success – what are the key factors then?

In Part III of this series I will hypothesize about what these key factors are.


Games Approach & Squash Camp Update

July 15, 2009

I am the lead coach in charge of the curriculum at the Premier Performance Squash Training in Mercdersburg, PA going on this week – this is an update report on the curriculum – which is based on recent posts on designing a camp, Egyptian squash, and developing deceptive players.

  • After initial uncertainty and some hesitancy over the lower level campers’ ability to do the Games Approach, the coaches (Karim Darwish, his wife Engy and Miguel Rodriguez (World #20), have enthusiastically embraced the method;
  • Our “Egyptian” approach has received an overwhelming enthusiastic response by both adult and junior campers (beginners to 5.5 or “A” players – we start each day with 1-2 front- or mid-court deceptions situations – we are going for our first back-court deception game (and then practice tomorrow).
  • I have arranged a free trial at Coreperformance.com for our campers (enter code “CP-PPS”) and the camp owners, Squash Design businessmen Haseeb and Sahel Anwar have bought foam rollers (at my insistence) for each camper so we can finish the day with CorePerformance’s great Regeneration workouts.

It really is great for the campers to get a chance to observe Karim whose racquet skills are quite amazing. I observed him use at least 5 different techniques to play balls glued to the backhand wall (topspin, block, cut, push, etc.0 to get the ball to its target (deep or short). I hope to get a HD video of these techniques before the week is out!

We also quiz the campers on the WSF Refereeing Video – go to our YouTube Squashscience channel to get the camper’s response to one of the refereeing committee’s decisions!