Squash Back-Court Defence: Nicole David

May 12, 2017

The problem with most published work on notational or performance analysis of squash is that it is stroke or technique centered.  The simplest example of notational analysis would be when a squash coach charts one of their player’s matches by putting a “W” (for winnner) or “E” (for error) on a diagram of a squash court.

Another example of technique-centered performance analysis was our 1987  Squash Canada Level 4 Performance Analysis Task, where we had to chart a video of a match between Dale Styner and John Fleury (both Canadian National Team members), recording every stroke played and the result of the stroke. The output of the analysis was a summary chart of statistics: number of shots played, percentage of winners and errors for each stroke type (forehand drive, backhand drop, etc.).

Information of this type, without a tactical context is not very useful:  for example a player’s technique, and associated success ratio,  in the back of the squash court is very different depending on the difficulty of the received shot, the amount of pressure the player is under, and the characteristics of the opponent (fast vs. slow, retriever vs. shot-maker, etc.).

The best analyses are based on a defined tactical model in order to be able to make precise, specific recommendations to players concerning the improvement of their game.  When I teach the current Level 4 Performance Analysis Task for Squash Canada, the first assignment in the class is for each of the coaches to present the tactical model they use for coaching their players.

In order to demonstrate the usefulness of notational analysis based on a tactical model, I used the Dartfish Tagging  module to analyze the first 25 points of the first game of the  2006 British Open Final (purchase DVD here) between Nicol David (current World #1) and Rachel Grinham.  In this example I restricted the analysis to the backcourt.

The tactical model I used for the example analysis is the “zone” model I developed with the assistance of Princeton’s Gail Ramsay and Bob Callahan in the late 1990’s:  System 3.  The idea for a zone model was based on Jack Fair’s “Traffic Light”  Model (red, amber, and green) for hardball squash, and the tennis tactical model (Methode des actions) used by Tennis Canada starting in the early 1990’s (copied and adapted a few years later by Nick Bolletieri:  System 5). It should be mentioned that the Squash Canada Coaching Program independently adapted Tennis Canada’s Action Method into their own tactical model (less directive and evolved than System 3).

The model functions by dividing the squash court into three zones: front, mid, and back, and using the difficulty of the ball received  by the player (easy, medium, difficult), to determine the tactical objective of the player’s shot (attack, rally, defend).  The player realizes their tactical objective by choosing a particular technique (e.g., attack a loose ball in the mid-court with a cross-court volley nick). We have developed a “System 5” for international level players which features two more tactical objectives (force and counter-attack) as well as the use of deception.

In the first part of the analysis, we focused on what David did on defence (against a difficult ball) in the back-court:

  • out of 25 shots to the back, David was on defence (forced use of wrist only, stretched-leaning back, adapted swing) only eight times – her very quick perception got her into position quickly enabling her to “rally” most of the balls;
  • she was able to hit good drives 5/8 times (4/5 straight), being forced to boast only once, with only 2 “bad” (loose) shots;
  • she needed, and was very good at “adapted” shortened swings (versus the full drives we normally teach) and use of the wrist;
  • although not a direct goal of the analysis, it is clear that against Grinham, David’s high percentage of volleys in the mid-court, dramatically reduced the number of times she had to play the ball off the back of the court.
  • often she is not looking at the ball/opponent as her opponent impacts the ball, perhaps indicating reliance on the tactical knowledge of her opponent’s tendencies -perhaps Rachel should have tried a few more “surprise” shots.

Here are the back-court video clips, with the “bad” shots towards the end of the video.  Pausing the video gives insight into her approach into the back, her hitting position, and her recovery back to the “T”. In our next post we will examine Nicol David “rallying” from the back-court.


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).


How to Evaluate Squash Coaches ‘Scientifically”

April 26, 2017

It’s a funny position to be in – having yourself evaluated by someone who knows very little beyond their own minimal life experience about the subject that you are teaching.  College squash coaches, just like University and College Faculty are evaluated at the end of their annual teaching/coaching cycle.

To muddy the “evaluation” waters even further, those who design and administer the forms used to evaluate coaches have themselves received little if any training in the area, and it is extremely doubtful that they have kept abreast of research in the area – yes – “how to evaluate a coach” is an actual research area usually falling within sport psychology, coaching science, or sport pedagogy.

My recommendation is to use the Coaching Behavior Scale for Sport (CBS-S) an evaluation form that has been validated in several studies and found to be an “effective” tool.  You can download a copy of the questionnaire and scoring instructions here:

http://the-coach-athlete-relationship.wikispaces.com/file/view/CBS-S+Sample.pdf.  Here is a link to a PDF of the original article on the development of the CBS-S (Mallett & Cote, 2006) and a screenshot of several of the questions:

CBS Screenshot

 

There are a few obvious “items that need discussing” ” that only an expert coach/sport scientist would be able to spot, but this instrument has the advantage of directing the athletes attention to key components as opposed to a less structured questionnaire.  My observations on items #8, #13, and #15:

#8 – one could argue a coach should NOT be talking during skill execution as might distract and athlete;

#13 – verbal feedback would have minimal effect on visual and kinaesthetic learning styles;  Better would be “coach gives feedback appropriate to my learning style”:)

#15 – recent research (e.g., Vickers – Decision Training) has found that the most effective feedback is that provided when a coach waits for an athlete to ask for feedback.

In addition to using a satisfactory questionnaire, there is no doubt that an actual observation by an expert in coaching and sport science is the best way to provide feedback about coaching.  I would have to say that I have rarely heard of this being done in the U.S. sports world let alone the squash coaching world.

The assessor would have to be somebody like me and that does not really exist (except for me:):

  • terminal degree in coaching (which is a Master’s for the discipline of sports coaching);
  • experience teaching relevant sport science courses where you regularly assess coaching knowledge and skill – I have taught Sport Pedagogy, Coaching, Sport Psychology, and Sport Leadership at the college level, and have held certifications in sport psychology, strength training (CSCS), and am a Level 4 Squash Coach (and Tutor/Learning Facilitator);
  • experience conducting coach evaluations – these were an integral part of our students’ experience in Graduate Program in Coaching at Smith College – as part of our Coaching Practicum I would be charged with observing and assessing 7-8 graduate students three times every year.

There are other ways of evaluating coaching we haven’t really discussed which might prove useful:  peer coach observation, video self-observation; ongoing professional development taking coaching certification courses where coach evaluation is part of the process (e.g., Coaching Association of Canada).  Whatever the evaluation process – hopefully a fair one for the coach – a very useful outcome would be for a coach to produce a “Personal Improvement Plan” and set goals for the next season of coaching.


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).


Visualizing Squash Tactics

February 1, 2017

How old are the best squash players in the world?  The PSA released the latest rankings today so let’s calculate the average age of the best of the best – the men’s top 5  (in the interest of gender equity we will look at the women’s top 5 in another post):  29.8 years old.

men-feb-2015-top-5-psa

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 – at Wesleyan University we use the Egg Model that I developed and refined.

olympians-use-imagery

Lastly use visualization (imagery) to speed up memory and learning of “good” tactics. According to recent sport psychology research more than 95% of Olympic Medalists and World Champions use visualization regularly to prepare for competition. Visualization procedures are very easy to learn and consist of finding a quiet place and focusing on breathing for 3-5 minutes to get into a state of relaxation – and then simply imagining the situation you want to achieve – 10-15 minutes a day is sufficient: before or after practice as part of warm-up or cool-down, before sleep or right after waking up are usually convenient times.

Here is a list of specific visualization topics that we have asked the Wesleyan Squash Teams to visualize this week:

  • straight volley drops off harder hit balls that pass though the “Yolk” – slower moving balls are killed or volleyed to dying length.
  • quick straight drops off harder, lower boasts from the back-court – hold and snap (to dying length) slower moving boasts – ideally show drop (deception) to drag the opponent forward.
  • lifting the ball higher from outside the Egg especially in the back court and when stretched – avoid “blasting your way out of trouble”.
  • insert “bursts or flurries” of 3-5 rallies of change of pace (slower/faster) or game style (hard hitter/retriever/shot-maker) to disrupt an opponent’s play in a relatively low-risk way.
  • finishing games and matches (when the score reaches about 8-8) with tough percentage play – focusing on hitting good aggressive length and using kills (12″-15″ above the tin) instead of drops and avoiding going short from the back-court when the opponent is on the T – being patient and forcing the opponent to take high risk shots and make mistakes first.

Don’t wait until you are old to play your best squash – change your practice habits, adopt a tactical model, and visualize to speed up the process of being a “smart” player.


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).


College & High School Squash Periodization: The Transition Phase starts now!

March 24, 2015

Periodization Chart

Periodization for a college or high school squash coach involves dividing the training and competitive year into four periods (hence the name periodization or periodisation in the Commonwealth and French-speaking countries) in order to make planning easier easier to understand and implement. The short official seasons – about 18 weeks from mid-October to March 1st – of U.S. colleges and high school present some unique challenges in seeking to optimize athlete performance.  The basics of periodization are outlined in some of my previous posts – if you want an overview of what the content of an annual squash periodized plan would look like you can check out this link..  The purpose of this article is to focus on the final period of the annual plan – the transition phase. Before North American squash coaches learned about periodization, this time of year was called the off-season – it started after the National Championships and ended in the fall a few weeks before the start of the next season’s squash tournaments.  In the U.S., many squash players would play tennis in the summer. The disadvantage of this old fashioned approach was that a player would lose nearly all of their squash-specific conditioning, and recommence the next season back at the same level as the prior season.  I have adapted current periodization theory (e.g., Bompa, 2009) and have developed several key recommendations for squash coaches for the Transition Period – the new functional term for “off-season”. Focus X2i iPad My first recommendations center around doing a thorough analysis of athlete performance:

  • Do a thorough evaluation of your players technical, tactical, physical and mental performance at the end of the season – preferably during key matches and final practices leading up to the final competition of the year.
  • A comprehensive technical-tactical analysis of your players is perhaps the most important thing you can do, as this evaluation will form the foundation of their goal-setting for the next season.  This is best done by analyzing match video using a good game analysis software such as FocusX2i for iPad and a logical tactical framework such as the Zone or Egg Model that I use for my analyses.  If you have not done this before, I offer a consulting service where you can send me your player’s video file and I will do the analysis for you – including improvement recommendations and player goals based on the statistics from the analysis.  Alternatively I can train coaches in the use of the software and show you or your assistants how to do your own analysis.
  • An analysis of your player’s mental performance can be done by examining their post-match evaluation forms (if you have used them) for the last few crucial matches of the season, or via paper and pencil tests such as the TOPS (I can provide questionnaires and scoring instructions).
  • An evaluation of your players’ fitness can be done by using their last few fitness test results (ideally one test for each of the three energy systems) and also by simply asking the players to assess each of the physical qualities essential for squash.  The other way is simply to note their performance level during the last few workouts of the season (before the peaking or unloading phase).

Egg Model for Squash Tactics My second set of recommendations concern general advice for the Transition Phase (adapted from Bompa, 2012):

  • Have your players take 4-6 weeks where they do not play squash, but instead do fun and cross-training activities (ultimate frisbee, swimming, etc.) about three times a week, that allow them to maintain their aerobic fitness and slow down the loss of speed and strength gains.
  • This is the period where they should try and rehab any injuries acquired during the season.
  • There should be limited, formal strength training sessions – and if there are any they should be of lower intensity (think strength-endurance: lighter weights 12-15 reps) and feature a high proportion of complementary exercises.  For example the types of exercises found in Exos’ prehabilitation and movement preparation.  One to two sessions a week should be sufficient to serious significant detraining.
  • Especially in the two weeks following the major competition, 15-20 minutes on an exercise bike followed by foam rolling, tennis ball myofascial release and use of a stretching rope 3-4 times a week will aid in regeneration.
  • If athletes set their goals for the next season in the week after the major competition, there is no need to do any formal technical, tactical, or mental training during the transition phase – they can just chill and relax.
  • After 4-6 weeks of the above, players can start their preparation for the next season by starting on their Preparatory Period training activities – a topic I will address in the coming weeks.

 Application for Squash Coaches

  1. Make sure to plan and schedule a 4-6 week “transition” period following your major squash championship in order to allow your players to fully regenerate for the next season.
  2. Do a thorough evaluation, including match video analysis, in order to set effective and meaningful goals with your players at the end of the season.

Psychological Skills for Squash Coaches???

May 21, 2012

(This is a reprint from my Sports Leadership graduate class that I teach in Smith College’s Department of Exercise & Sport Studies – I think is applies pretty well to the squash environment and summer is a great time for squash coaches to do some professional development:)

This topic could also be entitled:

  • stress management for coaches
  • self-management for coaches
  • mental training for coaches.

The rationale for the necessity of “peak performance” or stress management strategies will be evident after reading the references.  The Canadian National Coaching Certification Program (NCCP) Level 4/5 (i.e., Elite/National Coach) program featured two courses in this area: Task 8: Mental Training for Coaches (which I taught several times at the NCCP National Coaching Conferences – in both English and Francais:) and Task: 16: Enhanced Coaching Performance.

A reminder that this self-paced segment of the course is ungraded, so you may post your “assignment” whenever you wish.  Your assignment is to post a brief summary of:

a) Your current level of “coaching stress” (as opposed to academic or relationship stress).

b) Identify three “mental training” strategies (either ones you use now or from the reference material) that you could use to either improve your “game day” coaching performance or reduce your short term or long term coaching stress.

References (you should read at least two)

Bestsellers in “Success” Self-Help Books

Bradford, S.H., Keshock, C.M.  (2009). Female coaches and job stress:  A review of the literature. College Student Journal, 43, 196-200. (Click here or find on Smith Library’s Sport Discus)

Loehr, J., & Schwartz, T. (2001).  The making of a corporate athlete. Harvard Business Review (January).  Loehr & Schwartz, 2001

Taylor, J. (1992). Coaches are people too:  An applied model of stress management for coaches.  Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 4, 27-50.  Taylor (1992)

Thelwell, R. C., Weston, N. V., Greenlees, I. A., & Hutchings, N. V. (2008). A qualitative exploration of psychological skills use in coaches. Sport Psychologist, 22, 38-53.  PST For Coaches

Other Resources

Stress Map – this was the “text” in my Level 4 Enhanced Coaching Performance course given by Peter

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People – point form summary could be useful – and here is a useful downloadable weekly planner based on the book.


Veteran Squash Coaches: Aging Gracefully & Staying Fit!

April 4, 2012

I am writing this post for squash coaches over the age of 50 who are finding that they are faced with an increasing number of chronic injuries.

I had a total hip replacement in November 2008 (detailed on this and two other videos). Things went pretty well – I was walking perfectly at 10 days, driving at two weeks, teaching four hours a day of tennis at six weeks, and playing length-only games with a blue dot squash ball with a “B: player at 8 weeks.

Unfortunately, about 7 months post-operation, I was feeling great and ready to go 100%. Unfortunately, I did go 100% playing one-hour competitive matches of handball (the “family” ball) and British Racketball with a member of the Princeton university Squash Team (so 30 years younger) four days in a row while coaching at the Princeton University Squash camps – and injured my back. This back injury (arthritis of S-I Joint) resurfaces when I stretch and reach for the ball during a squash match – more of less preventing me from a return to competitive squash play – ironic considering the recent hip replacement.

I just returned from Boston yesterday where I saw one of the U.S.’ top shoulder specialists, and a podiatrist who works with the Boston Celtics. Diagnosis: Posterior shoulder capsule contracture and Hallux Rigidus (basically sore shoulder and arthritic big toe). I got prescribed a new pair of orthotics and was given stretches for the shoulder (most of which I was already doing) – the good news being no operations or cortisone shots needed (yet)!

Although I have not done a lot of research on the topic, here are the adjustments I have made to my squash fitness and playing routines to keep me on court and coaching effectively.

  1. During the school year when I am pressed for time, instead of “working out”, I basically just do the Core Performance movement prep and prehabilitationas my workout – omitting the strength portion, but also doing the post-workout regeneration. Supplementing the movement prep with a set of Bosu Squats and lunges, I end up doing about 70 reps of lunges and squats, three to four times a week – a level of work which has kept my lower extremities uninjured.
  2. Blue dot squash – long tough rallies – without the injuries! I find that playing (three length only games and two regular) for about an hour with a low “B” level player allows me to get a good, squash-specific cardio workout (mean HR of 150 during play) without hurting my back, as playing with a bouncy blue dot effectively reduces the size of the court, which eliminates the emergency defensive reaching and lunging which hurts my back. Some might say that this level of ball bounce is not realistic, but I would argue that I am probably getting the same bounce that the pros get on the tour court under television lights. It is for this same reason that I train my college team (mostly beginner to “B” level players) with blue dots – why should the least skilled players have to deal with the most difficult bounces in the back of the court? My players have noticed no significant differences in transitioning back to the yellow dot, so we will use the blue dot in training right up until the week before our national championships.
  3. I now rest (if possible) two days between various types of workouts instead of ensuring one day of rest. I find that I can still improve with this pattern of training and rest.
  4. My training philosophy has gradually shifted from “intensity” to “balance”. Actually, I find that whenever I “train hard” I get another injury which puts me out of commission for at least a week – so a net training “loss”. I would suggest a 2-3% rule for Masters squash athletes, as opposed to the 10% rule used for athletes in their prime.

Application for Aging Squash Coaches;)

  1. Think “balance” not “more” (2% not 10%!).
  2. More rest between matches and workouts – more regeneration activities.
  3. Think about blue dot squash (or British Racketball) to maintain playing skills and fun – and reduce weer and tear on the body.

“Science of Coaching Squash” E-Book is published!

March 27, 2012

Ummmm…well not really. I would publish a “Science of Coaching Squash” book – if there was a market.  Unfortunately, the tennis market is absolutely huge, but the current squash market, especially the squash coaching part of it is tiny – I probably personally know 80% of certified squash coaches in Canada and the U.S. 🙂

The title for this blog came from a 1989 book published by Human Kinetics: The Science of Coaching Tennis.  The mental training section of the book was excellent – written by Jim Loehr, so practical.  The other sections were not bad, but the book lacked an overall unifying framework – for example periodization, to really assist coaches in implementing the information.  Here is a link to some of the other tennis books I think are worth a read.

One of my goals in writing this blog is for it to act as a resource for squash coaches – so almost like an e-book.  I am going to have a crack at outlining a very rough version of a Science of Coaching Squash E-Book that uses LTADs and Periodization as a framework by using links to “Categories” and search results – organizing them by “chapter”.  This will be imperfect but a fun exercise (for me) and might give squash coaches another way to access the information on this blog.  So here we go:

Chapter 1:  Planning a Squash Athletes Development:  The Framework – LTADs & Periodization

Chapter 2:  Establishing a Positive Learning Environment – Part 1: Understanding Squash Motivation.

Chapter 3: Establishing a Positive Learning & Training Environment – Part 2: Leadership for Squash Coaches.

Chapter 4: Tactics First – The Key to developing Great Players

Chapter 5: Periodization of Technical-Tactical Training (for each phase of the LTAD)

Chapter 6:  Periodization of Physical Training (for each phase of the LTAD)

Chapter 7:  Periodization of Mental Training (for each phase of the LTAD)

Chapter 8:  Evaluating Your Program and Coaching

Appendix

Science of Coaching Squash YouTube Channel

Twitter Squash Science

Smith College Squash Team (more training videos)