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.
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“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)


Basic Squash Drills vs. “Games Approach” – Which is Better?

March 25, 2012

My ESS110 Introduction to Sport Coaching that I teach at Smith College is built around the ASEP (since I am in the U.S. – in Canada it would be built around the NCCP) Coaching Principles Course.  The target audience for the ASEP course is the high school coach.  In a sophisticated sporting country the course would be linked to LTADs – perhaps the “Train to Train” phase – but we are in the U.S. where the  focus is on short term results versus long term development – except for the rare exception.

One of the strengths of Coaching Principles course materials are very well and simply written.  The other major strength, especially useful for squash coaches, is that the course introduces the pedagogical approach know as the Games Approach.  I have blogged on this before, usually using the term ‘Tactics First”.

Unfortunately, most of the squash world, meaning players and coaches are entrenched in an overly technical approach to the game, with a focus on teaching strokes, often stereotypical strokes (e.g., the forehand drive) unrelated to any tactical situation.  For example most squash pros introduce new players with a “forehand” lesson where they feed players a very easy ball and ask the student to hit it straight back to them – progressively moving the player on to “mindless” straight length or boast-drive drills, focusing on the technique of “hitting better length”, in situations where we ingrain the instinct to hit the ball back to our opponents.  My hypothesis is that most squash players do not peak until the age of 27 or 28 since it takes that long to become a smart squash player and undo the effects of stupid drilling!

The problem of course is that squash is a decision-making game, where the choice of shot is of key importance, as a well hit shot directed back to the opponent is of little use. The Games Approach advocated by ASEP is basically the equivalent of the squash “conditioned game” (e.g. a game where is the opponent drops you must redrop or hit a cross-court) , the big difference being that the Games Approach coaching sessions starts with the conditioned game, and all coaching and drilling for the rest of the session targets student  improvement at that particular game tactic.

This preference for simplistic, not thinking drills is somewhat comically reflected in the statistics on my Squash Science YouTube Channel.  My video with the most views is “Basic Squash technical Drills” with 7,865 drills?!? The only reason I posted this video is that I was coming back from my total hip replacement and needed to do some easy moving drills that involved no uncertainty or decision-making.

Two of my better tactical training videos have only got 2,500 and 1,800 views???

In the first video we start the session with a conditioned game that forces player A to make a choice in the front-court. This was the third video session that looked at tactics in the front court, the first being drop or cross-court, and the second being drop or lob. This is classic Games Approach

A key part of winning a point is not only playing a good attacking shot, but also playing the correct follow-up or second shot, a notion that I thought we captured very well with our ball machine video – often difficult to do repetitively in a one-on-one coaching session.

Ball Machine: 

  • “Why did you keep playing that shot instead of ______”,
  • “You had to do a better job adjusting”,
  • “Why did you go for that winner then? ,
  • “You needed to attack more instead of just hitting it to the back”.These are all comments that squash coaches make to players who have been trained with an over emphasis on traditional technical drills.  We cannot expect our players to become smart players if we don’t give them a chance to make decisions in our coaching sessions.


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 (Certified Squash, Tennis & Badminton 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).


Squash Scientist Recertifies NSCA Strength & Conditioning Specialist Credential!

March 21, 2012

As the clock struck 12 midnight on December 31, 2011, I completed the last of the six CEUs (Continuing Education Unit) that I needed to keep my NSCA Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist certification current – updating me until December 31, 2014. A few weeks later I got my certificate in the mail – it’s only my iPhone that makes it look pink – it’s actually a nice blue-tinged parchment color.

Here is a description of the educational activities one needs to complete to stay current.  Recertification is a bit of a money maker for the NSCA, although it is a non-profit institution.  Although one can accumulate a lot of credits by attending NSCA conferences, I used a number of self-directed activities (this blog for example) and online quizzes based on scientific readings.  Here is a link to one of the NSCA Hot Topic readings that could qualify you for the next recertification period – .3 CEU for answering a quiz based on this reading – the topic this month is “minimalist footwear”.  Other quizzes I took were on the topics of:

  • Agility Training for Experienced Athletes
  • Skill Based Conditioning
  • Core Stability
  • The Science & Practice of Periodization
  • Medicine Ball Training Implications for Rotational Power Sports (we could include squash in here).

I think the idea of recertifying or being obliged to stay current is a good one – although it is a bit of a hassle.  Although I have, and have had, a number of certifications (Squash Canada, U.S. Squash, WPSA, Racquetball Canada, Tennis Canada, Canadian Mental Training Registry) except for the NSCA, only Tennis Canada has a recertification policy in place.  One of the difficulties of being a multi-talented coaching consultant is that keeping up with all the professional memberships and professional development can be quite onerous – I finally had to let my Tennis Canada Coach 3 Certification lapse, as I do not actually coach tennis that much any more.  In addition to the racquet sport coaching and strength certifications, I am also a member, and so pay dues to the Association of Applied Sport Psychology  (a charter member since 1987) and FEPSAC (European Federation of Sport Psychology).

One very useful aspect of the CSCS certification is that it means, unlike other U.S. College Squash Coaches (since I am the only coach who has their CSCS), I can strength train my players when they are out of season – a pretty big advantage. Here is a summary of the current NCAA Division III rule changes that describe this advantage.

The odd thing is of course, is that in the squash world, the public, coaches, Athletic Director’s, and employers pay very little attention to educational credentials and tend to prioritize current playing ability and or in the case of coaches, the ability of their athletes.  I am sure John White would not like his coaching to be rated on the ranking of his Drexel University Women’s squash team (his new job), nor would Geoff Hunt appreciate a rating of his coaching based on his current playing ability (let’s be generous and say a “B” level – pretty good for a 65-year old) or the world ranking of his Qatar athletes?  Coaches should actually be rated based on logical, scientifically based criteria – which would usually mean a combination of items including observation by trained observers, and some sort of oral or written exams, as well of course as some sort of athlete input – as well as concrete results.  One of the purposes of this blog is to encourage people to think a little more deeply about coaching – certainly to look a little beyond the current player rankings.

My two favorite videos related to strength training and squash:) :


Happy Birthday Geoff Hunt (and me:)!

March 20, 2012

Source unknown.

  • Geoff Hunt was born on March 11, 1947; I was born on March 11, 1957.
  • Geoff Hunt started playing squash at the age of 12, was at his peak in 1977 – the year I started playing squash (at the age of 19).  In 1977 Canada had three official types of squash: balls, national championships, rules.  We used to play them all – sometimes all three on the same day!
  • Geoff Hunt ran his legendary 26(?) x 400’s @ 75s; I ran 24 x 400’s @ 80-85s for interval training.
  • Geoff Hunt won 6 British Opens and several world Championships; I won the 1986 Canadian National Hardball Championship Consolation in 1986 (Finalist 1987) – I beat the 1988 Open Champion Mark Barber 3-0, coming back from 13-11 down (playing to 15) in three consecutive games.  In softball, I played “A” league until I headed down to the U.S. in 1994, whereupon I took about 10 years off competitive play until the mid 2000’s. Then several Massachusetts 45+ State Championships, and was U.S. Squash 45+ top 10-ranked 2004-2006 (?);
  • Geoff Hunt was Head Coach at the Australian Institute for Sport, leaving High Performance sport to go and coach currently at a much lower level in Qatar; I was Canadian National Jr. Men’s Coach and psychology consultant to the Canadian National Squash Team Programs from 1987 to 2000 (as well as National Tennis and Racquetball Programs)  leaving to coach currently at a much lower level at Smith College.
  • Geoff Hunt has had two hip replacements; I have had one hip replacement (need the other one too!). Note: I personally know more than 30 squash coaches who have had hip replacements, so we were not alone in our belief that high volume training was the way to go!

I actually had my very first squash private lesson in 1978 with another Australian, Heather McKay, at the Toronto Squash Club, one of the few facilities in Toronto that actually had wide international courts. I prepped for the lesson by reading her book, only to be chided “Why are you trying to volley everything?  Two years later I was playing her in an exhibition match – at that point we both worked for the Racquet Sports Group of Canada – I was manager/pro at the Sherbourne Club (11 American/2 International courts), and she was the pro at the Dunfield Club.

But “our” (meaning the “B” and later “A” league players I played squash with) Bible at the time was Geoff’s Book “Geoff Hunt on Squash“.  Typed summaries of his two Chapters “Match Play” and “Tempo and Temperament” could be found on the bulletin boards of nearly every club.  I wholeheartedly embraced the Australian “attritional” , fitness-based approach to squash – although now I realize a much wiser and healthier approach would have been to cultivate the current attacking Egyptian style.

These chapters, as well as being “tactical” were also “mental”.  Phrases such as “play hard from the start” and “never throw a game” reverberated through my head during tough matches.  Later as a very busy mental training consultant, I realized this list of key points or cues was actually a basic “focus Plan” for squash players.  At the time there were only a couple of actual sport psychology books, with the number only increasing dramatically in the late 1980’s.

I actually started coaching squash the summer after I played it for the first time.  My first job that featured coaching squash was Head Instructor at the 1978 JCC Summer Racquets Camp – we taught tennis, squash, badminton, racquetball and ping pong.  My current competitive interest still involves all of the racquet sports:  Racketlon!

I am pretty sure I could take Geoff in a ping pong match – but just to be sure I may wait another 10 years to challenge my hero on his birthday!


Modern Squash Coaching – What does it involve?

February 17, 2012

Notwithstanding the fact that I have a lot of respect for my peer coaches, only a few coaches have advanced degrees in sport science.  My assistant coach Erin Robson at Smith College is one of them – former Head Squash and Tennis Coach at Williams College, she competed her M.Sc. in Coaching here at Smith College in our Graduate program – designed to prepare coaches of college teams.  Pam Saunders,  Associate Head coach at Yale University is another graduate of our program.

An equally small number of coaches have completed the other path that combines squash and sport science – a Level 4 Squash Coaching Certification. Aside from myself, Harvard’s Mike Way is the only other active coach in the U.S.A. (we did out Squash Canada Level 3 together back in Toronto in 1980).

Once a squash coach completes these “squash science” education opportunities, the next step is to stay current with recent developments.  In my current position at Smith College (.5 Athletics/.5 faculty) I am lucky enough to be able to stay up to date though my lecturing activities in sport science and coaching-related courses:

  • ESS 110 Introduction to Sport Coaching
  • ESS 220  Psychology of Sport
  • ESS 130 Stress Management
  • ESS 520 Leadership for Sport Coaches (graduate program).

One of my favorite coaching websites is actually a tennis coaching website – Wayne Elderton’s AceCoach.  I subscribe to his site (and you should to) and today received his February newsletter in my email which contained the article ” Modern Tennis Coaching”.  The short article nicely summarizes my approach to squash coaching – the similarity is not surprising as we have both been trained in the Canadian Sport System’s Theory and Tennis Certification Program.  If you are interested in learning more about how these four pillars apply to squash – just use the “search” function on this site!


Understanding Aerobic Training for Squash

February 12, 2012

Unless you have a sport science degree the complexities of squash training can be somewhat difficult to comprehend.  Squash is a difficult sport to coach as squash athletes need to use all three energy systems, and almost all of the physical qualities also play an important role in squash performance. Many sports only need to emphasize one or two qualities: for example strength and power are primordial for an American Football lineman – whereas aerobic qualities have minimal importance – on the other hand aerobic performance is everything to a 10,000 meter specialist, with power and speed (as commonly defined – not referring to “speed-endurance”) of little significance.  The “Energy Systems Chart (ITF, 2007)” is a commonly used, over simplistic representation of sport physiology, as in most team, dual and combat sports, all three energy systems come into play, often simultaneously, during a competition.

Most squash coaches are aware that the aerobic system can be trained using continuous (e.g., a 3-mile run) or interval methods (e.g., ghosting one minute on and one minute off), but behind the scenes the physiological picture is a bit more complicated.  Here is a chart adapted from Sleamaker & Browning (1996) which provides an excellent picture of the different aspects of aerobic training:

Keeping in mind this is only one of several ways to organize or think about aerobic training, note that the aerobic training levels (I to IV) can be defined by the intensity of effort (percentage of maximum heart rate or percentage of VO2max – the HR method being the most practical one to use for squash coaches), and that at each level there are different physiological adaptations going on behind the scenes.

Translating the levels and related intensities into squash terms can be done by adapting the Borg (nothing to do with the tennis player:) Perceived Effort Scale (Rating of Perceived Exertion).  I prefer the older, simpler 10-point scale (although most physiologists now use the new scale) as the exertion ratings can quickly be converted to approximate hear rate (for an average 20-year old) – so a “4” , somewhat hard, would be equivalent to a HR of 140, a “7”, “very hard”, a heart rate of 170, etc. So for a squash coach to understand Sleamaker & Browning’s chart:

  • Level 1 = Borg 2 = HR 120, fairly light rally (e.g., exchanging high, slow lengths from the back);
  • Level 2 = Borg 3 = HR 130, moderate rally (e.g., length only game, medium pace);
  • Level 3 = Borg 4/5 = HR 140-150, tough rally (e.g., length only emphasizing volleys, cutting ball off);
  • Level 4 = Borg 7 = HR 170, very tough rally (e.g., retrieving against a shot-maker)
  • Level 5 = Borg 10 = HR 190-200, this is that last ditch effort, in the last couple of rallies – you are toast (due to high lactic acid accumulation:).

What to do with this information?  When I helped organize the College Squash Association’s Coaching Conference a few years ago (2006??) I asked John Power (Jonathon Power’s dad – a Squash Canada Level 4 Squash Coach, coaching at Dartmouth College at the time) to do an on-court presentation of squash drills and conditioned games to train each of the aerobic levels in order to show college squash coaches a) that aerobic training can be done effectively on court mixed in with “traditional” drills and games; and b) how the same drill or game can be used to train multiple aerobic levels by simply changing a few parameters.  Here is a summary of the organization John used for his presentation.  Note that there is an ideal progression for developing aerobic qualities, basically less intense to more intense as you move through the season, so we have added in the phase of an annual periodized plan to indicate when the training should be emphasized.

Can you demonstrate your understanding by thinking of an appropriate drill or game for each of the physical qualities listed in column 3 of the chart?

GP = general preparation phase; SP = specific prep.; PC = precompetition.

Application for Squash Coaches:

  1. Aerobic training can be done on court to save time, using standard squash drills and games.
  2. To get specific physiological adaptations important for the aerobic system, certain drill parameters (e.g., HR) must be followed.
  3. “Complicated” physiological measures of intensity (i.e., HR, % of VO2 max) can be replaced with easier, more subjective measures.