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).


4 Simple Steps to Practical Mental Training for Squash

September 21, 2016

Since sport psychology exploded onto the world scene with the 1976 Montreal Olympics there have been literally thousands of books and articles published on how to “do mental training”.  My particular approach was adopted by the Coaching Association of Canada and integrated into their 5-Level coaching system – I wrote the sport psychology content for Levels 1,2, and 3 (French version). Here is the original article describing my approach:    Bacon (1989). Periodization of Mental Training.

My approach has been always been very practical (I have never stopped coaching and competing) and simple and continues to be supported by current research and involves 4 steps – which can be 4 one-hour team meetings,  that can be implemented by either a coach or a mental training consultant.  In support of the 24 athletes on the 1988 World Champion Canadian Racquetball Team, I trained the National and Assistant National Coaches to deliver my program via email, telephone, mail, and training camps – very well evaluated by the team members – so you do not actually need a sport psychologist to support your athletes in the mental area:

  1. Introductory meeting (60 min.) To help guide athletes to enquire about and learn lessons from their own best and worst sport performances.  Athletes complete an individual form and we take up some of the answers in a group setting.  I introduce Jim Loehr’s Ideal Performance State (IPS) model – still the simplest out there in 2016 – you can download a copy here:  ipsloehrsports.
  2. Goal-Setting and Introduction to Mental Skills meeting (60 min.) There are a multitude of  goal-setting forms available, but Terry Orlick’s form is still the best with key questions on dream, realistic and specific mental goals.  My mental skills approach involves having the athletes do 1-2 basic 2-3 minute exercises from each of the five categories of skills: relaxation, positive self-talk, activation, visualization and concentration – followed by a 2-3 min. I facilitate a short discussion on how these skills can be used in an actual competition.  Optional additional self-assessment questionnaires (very short or more comprehensive) can be completed by the athletes to help them zone in on specific areas they need to work on.  Orlick also has a short one-page “self-directed interview” the athletes can complete before this meeting.  Here is a link to a YouTube video where I demonstrate the different exercises.
  3. Focus Plan meeting (60 min.).  To help athletes to write a one-page plan on a) how to prepare optimally, both physically and mentally for a competition; b) how to focus their attention at key moments in a competition (e.g., start, in between points, near the end of a game, near the end of a match, etc.).  Here is one of the forms we have used in the past:  Squash Focus Plan Form and a post with more details on how to develop a Focus Plan.
  1. Distraction Control (Refocus) Plan and Competition Evaluation meeting (60 min.).  To help athletes  develop a written list of situations that cause them to play poorly or lose their focus, and though group discussion lead them to find possible solutions to get back on track.  The final step is to introduce an evaluation process – which includes a written form – that they can complete after every competition to speed up their “experience” and development of mental toughness.  Here is one of the forms we have used in the past:  squash-match-evaluation-form.

Psyching for Sport

The meeting format I use closely follows the meeting format recommended by Terry Orlick in his book Psyched for Sport (out of print but available used on Amazon.com) – all Canadian National Team and Olympic coaches have been trained in this approach.  Canada is generally recognized as having one of the top coaching training programs in the world.  in fact you cannot coach on a Canadian National team if you have not obtained your Level 4 Coaching Certification (I got mine way back in 1988 in the first cohort of Squash Canada Level 4 coaches).

Summary

Following the above four-meeting approach above, a coach will meet the needs of about 80% of their athletes (80/20 rule:).  There will always be athletes that need more assistance in developing mental toughness and solving “mental problems”.

If you need help preparing  your mental training program, or would want to engage me to run the meetings for your team drop me a line at squashscience@gmail.com – rates start at $50 U.S. per hour.  Here is a link to my Facebook Page.


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).

 

 


Periodization of Squash Technique & Tactics: General Preparation Phase

April 2, 2015

Periodization Chart

If you are a U.S. College or High School squash coach, your team’s season probably ended about the end of February.  If you use a periodization scientific approach (e.g., Bompa, 2009) to planning your team’s training, most of your athlete’s will have either completed or be near completing  their 4-6 week transition period – so it is time for you to start guiding them for the start of their 2015-2016 season.  This means you will have already completed the chart above with the year’s major training tasks and calendar of competitions – unfortunately there are no published guides for squash – only what you can find here on my blog.  You can use the “search” function and enter the keyword “periodization”.

The biggest mistake coaches and parents make is to invite a world champion or their coach as a guest speaker – the needs of a mature, already developed professional are very different from those of junior or even college players.  The planning of training has to be appropriate to the developmental level of the athlete – you can refer to articles on LTADs for some guidance on this.

To make a long story short, here are some key General Preparation phase points for the older high school or college squash player with respect to the development of technique and tactics:

– If squash courts or good squash coaching is unavailable, do not do any technical/tactical development – save that for the start of the Specific Preparation phase which normally starts in September when players return to their school.  Most college players will not have access to their coaches until mid-October or November 1 – a ridiculous situation that accounts for the general low improvement levels of American college squash players compared to the rest of the world.

– Make use of summer squash camps to improve technique and learn more about good tactics.  It is important to emphasize improvement and not performance and match play at these camps.

– If you do have access to a good squash coach, the General Preparation phase is the time to work on difficult and important technical corrections and improvements. Ideally a player’s technical goals should be set with the use of an objective video analysis – there are now plenty of apps to help with that.  These are best achieved in a low pressure setting, that is when there are not a lot of competitive squash matches.  Note that although technical improvement should be favored in this phase, a Tactics First approach dictates that you should always make sure the player is clear on the tactical context in which the technical skills will be used – don’t just do mindless, repetitive drills.

– If you are in a city where there is a summer squash league, making the technical changes during match play should be emphasized over winning – otherwise most will be unable to make the required technical changes – they will just go back to their old, incorrect ways in order to try and win the match.

– Although techniques is the priority, the Games Approach pedagogy (starting a training session with a conditioned game where the targeted technique will be used frequently) can still be used.

IMG_6323

– If you are coaching squash layers with solid technique, the the General Preparation periodization can be somewhat different.  Preferably using the results of an objective video analysis, the tactical situations a player needs to develop should be organized and put into a priority order, and worked on systematically during this phase (and the following Specific Preparation phase) using a Tactics First, Decision Training or Games Approach – versus the traditional “let’s work on your backhand” approach. Here is an example of how to structure such a technical-tactical training session using the topic of “drop or lob in the front court”.  This is also a great time to develop complex skills such as deception.  In the video below I guide Karim Darwish through a session of teaching deception at a junior summer camp.

So you can see that the planning of technical and tactical improvement in the General Preparation is partly an art (based on coaching or consulting experience) as well as a science, the major factors being the availability of courts, opponents, and good coaching and the developmental level of the athlete.  I would be happy to help any coach, parent of athlete plan out this important phase of the annual plan.


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.

Squash Focus Plan: Adjust for Opponents?

December 2, 2011

The final product (concise practical tool) of an organized and effective season long mental training program for squash players is the Squash Focus Plan.  New visitors to this site (still the #1 squash coaching site in the world according to Google:) can check out this link for an overview of focus plans, and here for an overview of  annual mental training programs for squash.

At the start of the Pre-Competition Phase of the year (which is where I am now with my Smith College Squash Team), squash players should have a “workable” focus plan that they are using and evaluating in match play.  One of the reasons that my team improves more than “similar” teams, is that using and evaluating focus plans forces a critical reflection and self-analysis – something which most players at any level do not do.  Our first opponent in the Wesleyan Invitational this weekend beat us 5-4 two weekends ago – with the same line-ups we are going to reverse that decision and beat them 6-3 – due in large part to my players’ use of focus plans (obviously if we don’t I am going to return to this post and edit this part out;).  You can download the current squash focus plan form we are using here:  Squash Focus Plan Form.

In the video below, I explain the relationship between a player’s Squash Focus Plan and the three levels of familiarity with an opponent:

  1. Know opponent and have played them before;
  2. Know opponent but have not played them before;
  3. Do not know opponent.

Basically, I suggest that in the first two situations where the opponent is known, additional specific goals (tactics) may be set as part of the game plan.  I note however that for some players, the best performances come when they follow a set focus plan (e.g., they get anxious and confused if they think too much, or they are “feel”/intuitive style players). Hopefully, this situation would be a short term, intermediate step to being able to make tactical adjustments based on knowledge of the opponent so some mental training or tactical education may be required for this player).