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.

A Progressive Approach to Teaching Racquet Sports – Part 3

September 7, 2009

In parts one and two of our three part series on Teaching Racquet Sports (such as squash) to Large Groups we covered the rationale for using adapted or modified (“mini”) racquets, balls and court size to enhance the learning of the very young or non-athletic adults or youths.  We also covered the importance of using a “Rallying” versus “instructor feed” program so that the learning is relatively “open” and realistic so that players can fruitfully practice with each other outside of clinics and lessons (not possible if their only experience is a perfect coach-fed ball).

We suggested that early learning could be split into three units based on the distance from the wall or partner: 6′, 12′ and 18′ – the objective being for the student to be able to consistently rally 10 in a row with a partner at each distance before moving on to the next.  In our last post we covered Unit 1 from 6′ – and here are Unit 2 (12′) and Unit 3 (18′ ) explained in video.

Unit 2 – Rallying From 12 feet

Unit 3 – Rallying from 18 Feet

Summary for Coaches

  1. The learning of a correct grip is a fundamental that cannot be overlooked – a progressive program starting with minimal rallying distance is the only approach that quickly stabilizes a correct grip with large groups of unathletic learners.  If the grip is not correct then it is impossible for the learner to develop other  fundamentals (such as balance, correct swing paths, etc.).
  2. Optimal learning occurs when tasks are challenging (success ratio between 50-90% – made more difficult once 10 in a row is attained) and students learn by progression not correction (starting full court with a regular ball and racquet having to make frequent corrections to an “ideal’ swing).
  3. All of the most advanced tennis countries have now made the progressive approach their official pedagogy – it is time for squash (and other racquet sport) coaches to do the same.

Wimbledon 2009: Psychological & Tactical Lessons for Squash Coaches

July 5, 2009

My prediction for the Gentlemen’s Singles was wrong – I was sure Andy Murray (with his big biceps) was ready to take Wimbledon and Federer with Nadal out of the way.  With Federer appearing to suffer some doubts and lack of confidence recently (obviously alleviated somewhat by his French Open win), I thought Murray’s increasing confidence would carry him through the pressure of the British press – apparently not.

The ability to keep pressure off in both squash and tennis is key.  I just finished two weeks of squash camp with Mike Johnson (former coach of Fitzgerald, Eyles and Ricketts amongst others) and he reckons this ability is the most important for players to acquire.  According to Johnson,  the inability to keep pressure off  (“I must win this match”) is the number one reason players underperform.

It was very clear in the Wimbledon women’s final that the William’s sisters are the dominant force in women’s tennis today (check the video!).  Their father played the key role in keeping the pressure off them in their formative years – forbidding them to play in junior tennis tournaments from the age of 12-14.  My hypothesis is that this allowed them to develop that “go for it” attitude which obviously has become a habit.  The lack of tournament pressure also allowed them to develop a variety of skills unhindered by the need to “win that match today”.  My two weeks with 70 of the U.S.’ top junior squash players has reconfirmed my belief that the “need to win” is the number one barrier to making necessary changes in one’s squash technique and tactics.  Many junior squash players are unwilling to accept the temporary drop in performance that would come with a grip change for example.  Since accepting a temporary performance decrement in exchange for future gains is logical, there must be external forces (parents, coach, tournament environment) acting on the junior.

Squash is much more tactical than singles tennis, especially tennis played on grass (with an average of less than three shots per rally).  Doubles tennis on the other hand, is at least as tactical and perhaps more so: the addition of the net game, poaching and faking, variety in positioning (both up, both back, Australian), use of the lob (rarely seen in singles), etc.  It was great to see the Canadian Nestor come through for the second year in a row.  I never worked with Nestor but did work with Canadian Sebastien Lareau (Olympic Doubles Medalist), and last week at Princeton ran into Canadian and former world number 1 doubles Glenn Michibata (with Grant Connell) – now coaching the men’s tennis team at Princeton.  Why has Canada produced so many top-ranked doubles players over the last 10-15 years?  It has to do with Tennis Canada’s Tactics First Approach to training their tennis coaches.  Their tactics first approach has been the official coaching method in Canada since at least 1985.  Although the Canadian tennis players are too few and not talented enough to regularly break into the top 100 in singles – in a sport which prioritizes tactics, they have dominated (per capita) the top ranking spots over the last 15 years. Smart play can overcome a lack of physical talent – a great lesson for sqush coaches.  in order to develop this “squash intelligence” coaches need to use a Tactics First Approach.

Application for Squash Coaches:

  1. Help keep the pressure off your junior squash players through proper goal setting (task not win goals) and an emphasis on longterm development.
  2. Use a Tactics First Approach to develop squash intelligence in your players

Happy Holidays Squash Coaches! (Squash Vacations & 15% off sport science books)

December 20, 2008

We are off to Jamaica tomorrow for a tennis teaching vacation – after 32 days of rehab, my new right hip is ready to get on court and teach (tennis not squash)!  At this point I do not intend to return to squash competition and regain my #4, 45+ U.S. ranking, preferring instead to get back  our #3 spot in the World Racketlon Mixed Doubles Championship , which will probably be enough squash for my hips (they always hit to the woman:).

Fitpro Travel also offers squash teaching vacations, as done my friend and former Canadian Jr. National Coach Rene Denis’ organization, Sportausoleil – all you need is a basic squash coaching certification.  At the start of post-op week five, my physiotherapist has just started me on bodyweight squats and lunges, in addition to a multitude of other intricate exercises, so my return to the squash court is imminent (although I have done stationary drilling already) – I hope give it a try down in Puerto Vallarta at the start of January.  I will be training at the same club and time as Jonathon Power’s (my former pupil) Fantasy Squash Club.  At this point I can enthusiastically recommend my orthopedic surgeon, Stephen Murphy, M.D., if you have access to the U.S., and need a new hip! Obviously there are many alternative surgical approaches out there and you need to do your research very carefully.

For most of us squash coaches the holidays can be a great time to catch up on our sport science reading – so I would like to pass on a 15% savings on Human Kinetics (largest sport book publisher in the world) products – just enter promo code E5031 (details below – not sure it will work for non-U.S. coaches but give it a try).

Upcoming January and February posts on this site for squash coaches will include:  Nicol David rallying in the back-court, Neil Harvey on mental toughness, CSA 2006 Coaching Conference highlights, more biomechanics of squash examples, and “physiological” on-court squash drills.

All the best in 2009!

Tim Bacon

In Appreciation of You from Human Kinetics

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