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
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A Practical Squash-Specific Speed & Agility Test

February 18, 2010

One of the challenging things about coaching squash is that it is a sport that involves many different athletic abilities – easy way to remember is to think about the “S’s”:  speed, strength, stamina, suppleness.

The average length of a squash rally is about 10 seconds – however 20% of rallies fall into the 20 second plus range – and some of these may occur at crucial times in a match – so as squash coaches we need to assess our player’s ability to perform well in this time range.

The USTA has been using the Spider Test to assess anaerobic power (the technical name for anaerobic efforts in the 15-30 second range – for example a 200m race – longer than 30 seconds – for example a 400m race –  is often referred to as anaerobic endurance).  The advantage of standardized (used by many people in many locations) tests that are easy to implement (all you need is a court and balls) is that it makes comparison to a standard and between groups easy – if knowledge of others tests scores are readily available.

Results of physical tests are probably best used to monitor player progress as opposed to comparing to a standard or norm.  The reason being is that the research support for  relating performance on single physical tests to overall ability are mixed:

  • Here is an example of a study that supports the use of tests: “The results yielded an accurate prediction of 95.5, 91.3, and 85.7% for National Team, DC, and ATC players, respectively, based on personal fitness variables, without including either gender or age.
  • And here is one that found a low correlation between the Spider Test and tennis ability:  “The correlation between rank from the results of the USTA Fitness Test and tennis ability was low (rs=.039)”.

For this reason, a squash coach does not want to waste a lot of time on complicated, involved tests.  In this video I take my team through both the tennis Spider Test and a similar six-point test on a squash court in order to assess anaerobic power (ability to perform physically in a long tough rally lasting about 20 seconds).

Results from the two test showed that while they were not exactly equivalent, the squash test was close enough to the Spider Test to be used for the same purpose.  My #1 player (Shanita) got a time of 16.38 seconds on the squash 6-point, and 16.45 seconds on the Spider Test.  Squash balls were placed 1m out from the side walls, and 1 m out diagonally from the corners.  Note that I would change the protocol to use tennis or racketballs to take finger dexterity (dropping or fumbling with the small squash balls) out of the equation.  I would recommend giving a player three attempts to get their best time, with a rest of about three minutes between efforts (eliminate lactic acid).


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 »


Do Squash Coaches Need a Nutritionist’s Help?

September 12, 2008
USDA My Pyramid

USDA My Pyramid

I have attended at least 20 nutrition for sport workshops over the years, and have found that the concepts behind good sports nutrition are very similar to those of nutrition for the general populace. I have taught sports nutrition to coaches and college students in my courses since 1992, so I rely mostly on the Food Pyramid to guide my educational efforts. But as the coach of a women’s squash team, I also include a mini-lecture on iron every season (and I also keep an eye out for signs of disordered eating). The Canada Food Guide is also a great free resource for squash players – and it is available in more than 10 languages. Read the rest of this entry »


Psychological Priorities for Squash – On-Court Mental Skills

August 30, 2008

In general, the principles of sport psychology apply to all sports.  However, in the same way that a squash-specific physical training program (e.g., lunges, twisting core exercises, med ball side throws) will improve your athletes more than a general one (e.g., squats, bench press, biceps curl), a program designed specifically to meet the needs of squash is better than a general one.

Although there are a quite a few books on mental training for tennis, I know of none for squash.  Having designed psychology programs for world champions in both tennis and squash I can say that there are important differences.  Due to the lack of published resources for squash we need to rely on knowledge from three areas to guide our interventions.

Examples of subjective and professional practice experience can be found in squash books published by top players in the 1970’s and 1980’s heyday of squash.

Another example of using professional practice knowledge involves summarizing the opinions of knowledgeable coaches. I asked national squash coaches from around the world attending the 2007 WSF Coaching Conference in Calgary the question:  “What is the most important thing you know about mental training for squash”.  Their answers are contained in this document: wsf-coaches-answer-the-question-1Read the rest of this entry »


High School & Junior Squash Coaches: You Need to Know about LTADs!

August 5, 2008

One of the most challenging problems for U.S. Squash (and all of U.S. sport for that matter) is that the training and competition schedules of younger athletes are based on inappropriate Professional Sport Models (little preparation and too much competition) or chance factors such as availability of courts or how many private lessons parents want or are willing to pay for for their child. High school (and college) seasons are too short, and too competition-focussed for any significant athletic development to occur.

Complicating matters is the fact that the dominant model for hiring squash coaches (and in fact most Division I college coaches) is still the “Ex-top-player” model – if they were a good player, then they must be a good coach! Even a casual glance at any list of coaching standards will reveal the necessity of the extensive training and education needed to coach competently in any context other that an adult club recreational setting.  Read the rest of this entry »


Evaluate Every Competitive Opportunity!

January 13, 2008

What is the quickest and simplest way to get your athletes to be mentally tougher? The answer lies in helping them track and then compare their best and worst squash performances on a regular basis – and learning from this comparison.

After every game have your athletes answer, in writing, 3-4 simple questions:

  1. What was your level of activation before the match.
  2. What was your level of anxiety before the match.
  3. What were you saying to yourself shortly before the match.
  4. When you were playing your best, what were you focussing on or paying attention to.

After every tournament, or every 4-5 matches have them sit down and spread the evaluation sheets out and try an pick out patterns and similarities for good versus bad performances.

What they are likely to find is that best matches occur with:

  1. High levels of activation prior to the match.
  2. Medium levels of anxiety.
  3. Self-talk before the match focussing on strategy, effort, or having fun.
  4. Focussing on the task during – meaning tactics or strategy, or effort, or something simple like watching the ball which allows an automatic focus.

But instead of telling them this – let them discover it for themselves – much more efective!

Note: This approach forms the basis for the Canandian approach to mental training initiated by Brent Rushall and Terry Orlick in a number of their publications – and refined by later generations of mental training consultants like myself.