College Squash Players: It’s June 1! Go!

June 1, 2017

February 15, 2018 seems a long way off – but your performance in the CSA national Championships will be largely determined by what you do starting today.  Most squash players – especially juniors and college players do not appreciate the long term nature (months not weeks or days) of optimal improvement of athletic performance.

Periodization Chart

The key concept is that in order to peak in February 2018, we start by planning backwards:

  • 2 weeks before our desired peak (so Feb. 1) we to cut our practice and playing volume in half – so 60-90 minutes of practice a day instead of 12–180 – this will allow a ‘supercompensation” and physical and mental peak to occur on the court.
  • it takes at least minimum of 2 months of intense competition without significant technical (strokes & shots) or tactical (overall game plan/style of play) changes for match performance to become automatic – a prerequisite of peaking – so all changes need to be completed by December 1, 2017.  this more or less coincides with exams and winter break by college squash players.
  • related to the above, in order to have a high level of tactics and match play, the volume of physical and technical training must drop to a maintenance level – so only 1-2 sessions a week in December, January and February to allow for an increase in volume of match play and training (five sessions of conditioned games or match play per week – each session lasting the expected duration of matches at Nationals – so 60 to 90 minutes).
  • it takes at least 4-6 weeks to optimally develop sport-specific power, speed and agility related athletic qualities though training three sessions a week – so this type of training must start by November 1, 2017 at the latest.  This is the date at which many college athletes (e.g., NESCAC) have access to on-court training with their coach.  Note that to accomplish the above, strength training sessions are limited to 1-2 times per week for about 30 minutes once the season starts.
  • this means that the foundation for high intensity squash play and training must be completed by the college player in the June 1 to November 1 period – five months, which seems like a long time until you take a close look at the time period required to develop the physical qualities required for squash, while staying injury free.

Working backwards here are the physical training priorities broken down into four week monthly cycles:

Oct. 1 – Nov. 1: 

  1.  Aerobic Interval training  (preferably a mix of on-court squash specific movement and bike intervals (to reduce stress on the joints – knees/back) three times a week, the last week featuring work periods of 15-30 seconds at 85% effort with about 10 seconds rest between intervals, for a total of about 20 minutes high intensity work.
  2. For returning players with a considerable strength training background (preferably under supervision) this is the time to work maximum strength (high loads/fewer reps).  Injury prone and less experienced athletes should continue to work strength-endurance (medium loads/higher reps).
  3. Enough general power/speed/agility (e.g., low bounce plyos) should be done about twice a week to prepare the joints for more squash-specific explosive loads.

Sept. 1 – Oct. 1:

  1. Continuous aerobic training can be done 3-4 times a week (20 to 30 minutes) at different training zones from 60-85% to induce the necessary physiological adaptations to lay the foundation for the aerobic interval training to follow.
  2. Squash-specific, strength-endurance training (12-15 reps. with medium resistance) can be done three times a week.
  3. Upon arriving on campus, return to on-court squash play should be progressive in terms of number and length of sessions per week to avoid a pre-season injury (e.g., 2-3 sessions of 30-45 minutes in week 1;  3-4 sessions of 45 – 60 minutes in week 4.).

June 1 – Sept. 1:

  1. The priority in this period is to do general types of training for 5-10 hours a week, with an emphasis on  prehabilitation and movement preparation for strength training (using a strength-endurance approach in the 12-15 rep range) to improve any physically weak areas and ensure full recovery from any prior injuries.  So three aerobic and three strength sessions a week of about 60-90 minutes.  This training does not have to be squash-specific, so soccer, yoga, Pilates, cycling, basketball, etc. all work.  most students work, so activities will often be determined by location and work situation.
  2. This is also the time, before the return to campus to correct and improve any basic squash technical areas: grips, wrist, strokes, etc.  This is the major flaw in the U.S. sporting system – squash coaches are not allowed to do this type of coaching outside of the NCAA designated seasons – players are left on their own, and the private squash lessons that are required to make these technical changes can be costly.

Summary

Most college squash players wait until the official start of the season to start physical training in a systematic way – they do not realize that most physical training must be accomplished before Nov. 1 – and that coach-run squash practices are for on-court conditioned games, drills, and match play – not for physical training, except for 1-2 30 minute maintenance sessions per week.

Breaking down the numbers for a typical college practice  can make the above more clear:

4:30-4:50  Movement prep and prehab

4:50-5:05  Basic squash drills or play to allow players to “warm-up” motor skill system.

6:15 – 6:30  Regeneration and cool-down

That leaves the 5:05 to 6:15 period – so 70 minutes  – actually only 60 minutes once you take out time for demonstrations, explanations (even if they are extremely short), transitions between games/drills, and water breaks.

Cognitive-motor learning research indicates that 20-minutes is an ideal amount for time (law of diminishing returns) for a conditioned game or drill – which means an ideal practice should feature only three themes – and with only four to five weeks before December exams and winter break – these should be tactical and game situations themes with very little time for technical instruction (as it slows down match-like training).

Most CSA Head Coaches now coach both the women’s and men’s team with an minimum squad size of 12 for both men and women; the implication being 60/12 means only 5 min. per player for the coach to observe, encourage, correct, interact during the on-court part of practice.  This means a very high priority on the coach using “task teaching” (the “rules” of the conditioned game or drill) as their primary pedagogical tool to improve their athletes’ play.

Experienced coaches with recognize that the above simplification is based on Bompa’s periodization theory:)

Periodization (Bompa, 2009)


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).


Periodization of Squash Training – The Key to Coaching Success!

March 30, 2011

I was lucky enough to be part of  small group of Canadian squash coaches were amongst the first coaches (in all sports) in Canada to become certified as NCCP Level 4 Coaches (1989).  In Canada’s five-level Coaching Certification program, the Level 4/5 program targeted National and Jr. National team coaches (it is now a requirement to coach a Canadian National Team).

At the time, a coach needed to accomplish 12/20 tasks to be certified at Level 4. The passing of the 8/20 remaining tasks, mostly “administrative” or “supplementary” (e.g., Sport Systems) would lead to a Level 5 certification.  The program has since been revamped somewhat, moving away from the 20 Tasks format:

Each task consisted of a day or day and a half workshop lead by a sport scientist with expertise both in squash and the academic area of the task. Evaluation consisted of submitting a practical project demonstrating competence in the area, graded by the sport scientist presenter.

I have been a Squash Canada Level 4 presenter for three tasks:

  • Task 8:  Psychological Preparation for Athletes
  • Task 13: Performance Analysis
  • Task 11: Advanced Squash Tactics (co-presented with Mike Way)

I have also presented Task 7: Psychological Preparation for Coaches, at several National Coaching Conferences (in both English and French:).

The key Level 4 Task was Task 12: Periodized Annual Plan!

Periodization is a comprehensive (technical, tactical, physical, mental) system of planning sports training based on theoretical principles and empirical findings that originated in the eastern Bloc countries in the 1960’s, but is now used as a planning tool in all developed countries and sports.

Unfortunately, if you Google the term, you will likely only find strength training and bodybuilding programs and studies that are limited to the “physical” domain – a classic example of “experts” trying to exploit the popularity of a new term, without fully understanding the “big picture”.

Our 1987 Level 4 course was conducted by then Jr. Men’s National Coach Rene Denis, who had been working closely with periodization guru Tudor Bompa to develop a “periodized” coach’s training diary.  The importance of this task was that the squash coach was forced to integrate all of their training knowledge into one harmonious plan where all of the different parts where “perfectly” coordinated to assure maximum benefit for the athlete.  There is almost no published work (except on this blog) on the periodization of squash training, and very few coaches use periodized plans.  Here is an example plan I presented at the 2007 WSF Coaching Conference:

In Canada, periodization was also taught to coaches of all sports as part of both the NCCP Level II (season plan) and Level III (annual plan) theory programs. To be fully certified a coach had to take this theory component along with a Technical and Practical component that was organized by their national sport federation.  So for ten years (1992-2002) I taught periodization to thousands of coaches from all sports.  Following each course, the coach had to submit their seasonal or annual plan for grading, along with examples of smaller planning units (macro-cycle and micro-cycle plans).  I also taught periodization of squash training to several generations of coaches though the Princeton Squash Coaches Academy – something we do not do anymore.

Due to this lack of resources, if you want to learn how use periodization to organize your squash training, your best bet is to access the International Tennis Federation’s publications on periodization of tennis (Just remember to spell “periodization” as “periodisation” – they have a Spanish head of Coaching:).  Although the ITF has been a latecomer to periodization, they have an excellent Education Department, and their resources are practical and easy to read – here is a good available download:  Periodization for Advanced Players (ITF, downloaded March, 2011).

Here is a poster of my presentation at the last ITF Coaching Conference in 2009 – periodization of mental training for each stage of an LTAD:

 

Application for Squash Coaches:

1.  Use a periodized approach to planning your squash training year.

2.  Adapt tennis resources to squash if there are no suitable squash resources.



Bi-Lateral Cross-Training for Squash

May 15, 2009

One of the challenges for WISPA and PSA squash tour professionals is to balance the need to make a living with scheduling sufficient time off to avoid burnout and chronic injury.  Pro racquet sport athletes do not have the luxury of following properly designed 12- month periodized  training plans with built in transition periods:  4-6 weeks of cross-training following the most important competition of the year to allow complete mental and physical restoration.

Most pros will be obliged to use cycles of 3-5 weeks built around their tournament schedule, where hard training is done for 1-2 weeks, followed by maintenance and tapering in order to “peak” at an important tournament, followed by an easier restoration week, before starting the pattern again.

Problems related to the over-development of one side of the body (upper arm/shoulder) are less frequent in squash than in tennis due to the lighter weight racquet.  Rarely do we see a squash athlete reminiscent of Rod Laver’s gargantuan left side – due to the relatively light weight of the squash racquet (compared to the tennis racquet).  We do see a lot of early onset right hip arthritis due to overuse of the right leg on both the backhand and forehand (open stance) sides.

Laver's Large Left Arm

Laver's Large Left Arm

One solution to avoiding possible problems (in addition to doing a few extra “left-side” sets when strength training) would be to incorporate a bi-lateral cross-training activity that could be done during transition and regeneration weeks.  U.S. Handball is a great option, since the one-wall, outside variety can be played almost anywhere (schools, parks, etc.), since all you need is a wall and a ball.  I ordered the easier-on-your-hands “family” ball (and gloves:) today in order to give it a try in the coming weeks.  The U.S. handball site also has some free excellent instructional downloads here.  Apparently, the ubiquitous U.S. racquetball is also a good choice for beginning players.

Here are some pretty good players playing doubles at a local park:


Rethinking Squash Coaching Education

March 9, 2009

Currently, most Squash Coaching Education programs are organized based on a hierarchy of technique:

Level 1 Coaching Course – coaches learn how to teach the basic shots.
Level 2 Coaching Course – coaches learn how to teach the intermediate shots.
Level 3 Coaching Course – coaches learn how to teach advanced shots.

The problem with this approach is that there is so much more to good squash coaching than simply “teaching shots”.  Depending on the actual function the squash coach is fufilling (e.g., Assistant Pro in a club responsible for junior clinics or Part-time National Coach for a World Championship 2-year cycle) the skill set that the coach needs to acquire and demonstrate are very different.  The “clients” (i.e., athletes) of these two different types of coaches also have very different expectations about the person guiding their efforts to improve.

Stages and Ages of an LTAD

Read the rest of this entry »


What should a squash player visualize?

February 17, 2009

The good thing about many self-help books on sport psychology is that they often have visualization scripts that a squash coach could read aloud to his or her athletes, or many general suggestions (e.g., “imagine yourself playing well”) for what to visualize.

The bad thing is that these set scripts and general suggestions are too vague to be of real help to our squash athletes.  Imagine the similar situation of coaching our players on court with the feedback: “get your racquet back earlier” or “bend your knees” or “follow-through”.  Unlikely to be of help to the serious, thoughtful player who already has the basics.  As squash coaches, we are also hampered by the fact that there are no “Mental Training for Squash” books out there that directly address our needs.

So what should we tell our players to visualize?  Based on my 22 years of sport psychology consulting there are three practical sources of visualization content that squash coaches can use.  I have outlined them in the chart below.

Sources of visualization content for squash players.

Sources of visualization content for squash players.

Player’s Goals

If your squash player’s three main goals are to:  1) Improve quickness; 2) Be tougher on key points; and 3) Play tighter length court of the back-court – then these scenarios are exactly what they should be visualizing.  The more specific the squash coach can be with visualization instructions, the more benefit the player will get from doing the mental training.  For each goal the coach could develop three visualization scenarios to reinforce the accomplishment of the player’s goals – in the example here scenes that support goal #2.

2.a.  Visualize playing from 8-8 in the 5th.

2.b.  Visualize playing from 0-0 in the 5th.

2.c. Visualize coming back from down 7-2.

Training Phase

For those squash coaches who use periodized (periodised for you non-North American Commonwealth natives:) annual training plans, visualization content will change as you move through the year to support the main training goals of each phase.  The main directives for each phase are contained in the above chart.  You can read about periodized mental training programs in my article here.

Focus Plan

A Squash Focus Plan is a written plan with three parts that a player uses to stay totally focussed during a squash match:

1) Pre-match:  The list of activities, physical (jogging, stretching, etc.) and mental (breathing, visualization, etc.), that a player does to get warmed up and into the “zone” in the 60 minutes prior to a match.

2) Match Focus: List of reminders (technical, tactical, mental) that a player needs to focus optimally during a match.

3) Distraction Control or Focus Plan:  list of problematic situations or distractors that might cause a player to lose focus – and a specific solution for each (e.g., cue words, breathing, etc.).

An important part of using a Focus Plans is to have your athlete visualize each part of the plan being carried out under different conditions (different tournaments, opponents, styles of play, etc.).  A highly recommended resource for Focus Plans is Terry Orlick’s Coaches Training Manual to Psyching for Sport – out of print but still available used on the internet.

Application for Squash Coaches

  1. Provide individualized, squash-specific visualization workouts for your players.
  2. Help your players develop a written Squash Focus Plan.

Squash Practice: The Correct Sequence of Training Components

October 9, 2008

One of the most important things I learned during the the Periodization (Annual Planning) task of my Squash Canada Level 4 Course in 1987, was the importance of sequencing training activities within a practice according to the principle of “fatiguability of the Central Nervous System (CNS)” (Bompa, 1999). This principle states that activities that require a fresh well-rested athlete should be performed first, while those activities that can have a good training effect when performed in a fatigued state should be carried out later in the practice.

If you look at the practice plan for the Smith College Squash Team’s fourth day of practice, in the first week of the season you can see a specific application of this principle. Read the rest of this entry »