College Squash Players: It’s June 1! Go!

June 1, 2017

February 15, 2018 seems a long way off – but your performance in the CSA national Championships will be largely determined by what you do starting today.  Most squash players – especially juniors and college players do not appreciate the long term nature (months not weeks or days) of optimal improvement of athletic performance.

Periodization Chart

The key concept is that in order to peak in February 2018, we start by planning backwards:

  • 2 weeks before our desired peak (so Feb. 1) we to cut our practice and playing volume in half – so 60-90 minutes of practice a day instead of 12–180 – this will allow a ‘supercompensation” and physical and mental peak to occur on the court.
  • it takes at least minimum of 2 months of intense competition without significant technical (strokes & shots) or tactical (overall game plan/style of play) changes for match performance to become automatic – a prerequisite of peaking – so all changes need to be completed by December 1, 2017.  this more or less coincides with exams and winter break by college squash players.
  • related to the above, in order to have a high level of tactics and match play, the volume of physical and technical training must drop to a maintenance level – so only 1-2 sessions a week in December, January and February to allow for an increase in volume of match play and training (five sessions of conditioned games or match play per week – each session lasting the expected duration of matches at Nationals – so 60 to 90 minutes).
  • it takes at least 4-6 weeks to optimally develop sport-specific power, speed and agility related athletic qualities though training three sessions a week – so this type of training must start by November 1, 2017 at the latest.  This is the date at which many college athletes (e.g., NESCAC) have access to on-court training with their coach.  Note that to accomplish the above, strength training sessions are limited to 1-2 times per week for about 30 minutes once the season starts.
  • this means that the foundation for high intensity squash play and training must be completed by the college player in the June 1 to November 1 period – five months, which seems like a long time until you take a close look at the time period required to develop the physical qualities required for squash, while staying injury free.

Working backwards here are the physical training priorities broken down into four week monthly cycles:

Oct. 1 – Nov. 1: 

  1.  Aerobic Interval training  (preferably a mix of on-court squash specific movement and bike intervals (to reduce stress on the joints – knees/back) three times a week, the last week featuring work periods of 15-30 seconds at 85% effort with about 10 seconds rest between intervals, for a total of about 20 minutes high intensity work.
  2. For returning players with a considerable strength training background (preferably under supervision) this is the time to work maximum strength (high loads/fewer reps).  Injury prone and less experienced athletes should continue to work strength-endurance (medium loads/higher reps).
  3. Enough general power/speed/agility (e.g., low bounce plyos) should be done about twice a week to prepare the joints for more squash-specific explosive loads.

Sept. 1 – Oct. 1:

  1. Continuous aerobic training can be done 3-4 times a week (20 to 30 minutes) at different training zones from 60-85% to induce the necessary physiological adaptations to lay the foundation for the aerobic interval training to follow.
  2. Squash-specific, strength-endurance training (12-15 reps. with medium resistance) can be done three times a week.
  3. Upon arriving on campus, return to on-court squash play should be progressive in terms of number and length of sessions per week to avoid a pre-season injury (e.g., 2-3 sessions of 30-45 minutes in week 1;  3-4 sessions of 45 – 60 minutes in week 4.).

June 1 – Sept. 1:

  1. The priority in this period is to do general types of training for 5-10 hours a week, with an emphasis on  prehabilitation and movement preparation for strength training (using a strength-endurance approach in the 12-15 rep range) to improve any physically weak areas and ensure full recovery from any prior injuries.  So three aerobic and three strength sessions a week of about 60-90 minutes.  This training does not have to be squash-specific, so soccer, yoga, Pilates, cycling, basketball, etc. all work.  most students work, so activities will often be determined by location and work situation.
  2. This is also the time, before the return to campus to correct and improve any basic squash technical areas: grips, wrist, strokes, etc.  This is the major flaw in the U.S. sporting system – squash coaches are not allowed to do this type of coaching outside of the NCAA designated seasons – players are left on their own, and the private squash lessons that are required to make these technical changes can be costly.

Summary

Most college squash players wait until the official start of the season to start physical training in a systematic way – they do not realize that most physical training must be accomplished before Nov. 1 – and that coach-run squash practices are for on-court conditioned games, drills, and match play – not for physical training, except for 1-2 30 minute maintenance sessions per week.

Breaking down the numbers for a typical college practice  can make the above more clear:

4:30-4:50  Movement prep and prehab

4:50-5:05  Basic squash drills or play to allow players to “warm-up” motor skill system.

6:15 – 6:30  Regeneration and cool-down

That leaves the 5:05 to 6:15 period – so 70 minutes  – actually only 60 minutes once you take out time for demonstrations, explanations (even if they are extremely short), transitions between games/drills, and water breaks.

Cognitive-motor learning research indicates that 20-minutes is an ideal amount for time (law of diminishing returns) for a conditioned game or drill – which means an ideal practice should feature only three themes – and with only four to five weeks before December exams and winter break – these should be tactical and game situations themes with very little time for technical instruction (as it slows down match-like training).

Most CSA Head Coaches now coach both the women’s and men’s team with an minimum squad size of 12 for both men and women; the implication being 60/12 means only 5 min. per player for the coach to observe, encourage, correct, interact during the on-court part of practice.  This means a very high priority on the coach using “task teaching” (the “rules” of the conditioned game or drill) as their primary pedagogical tool to improve their athletes’ play.

Experienced coaches with recognize that the above simplification is based on Bompa’s periodization theory:)

Periodization (Bompa, 2009)


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).


Squash Science Related Job Opening: Performance Director for Squash Canada!

July 12, 2011

Danny Dacosta, Executive Director for Squash Canada, has asked me to post a newly opened position for Performance Director for Squash Canada.  Here is the link to the announcement on their website and you can download a PDF of the job description here:  Performance Director Job Posting – Squash Canada – Final June 23, 2011.  Obviously, if squash becomes an Olympic sport, this position would be even more exciting!

This position is a great opportunity for an experienced coach to use the sport science knowledge and applications that we post on this blog.  If you are going to apply for the job, here are some of our best posts which target the key areas identified by the job description:

  • Following up on the above point, the Performance Director will need to assist in re-orienting the Coaching Certification system around LTADs.  Key post to read:  Rethinking Squash Coaching Education.
  • One of the keys in Tennis Canada’s success was implementing an effective “tactics first” approach for their both their coaching certification program and the actual programs used in National Training Centers.  Squash Canada has a “tactics first” approach to certification, but is short on specifics and direction to coaches on what exactly to implement.  Tennis Canada had a detailed training manual for U11, U14 and U18 – which spelled out the program week by week.  Key post to read:  Tactics First.
  • Understanding trends in International Squash and being able to swiftly implement changes in coaching education and athlete training:  Developing Deceptive Players.

The most effective National Sport Governing Body (NSO) that I have been involved with (consulting work) was Tennis Canada.  Backed by a supportive Executive Board – and this is the key part – a small team of three people each with strong expertise in a particular area, were able to implement continual dramatic change over a twenty-year period – with great current results.  Pierre Lamarche provided the initial strong drive and energy, Ari Novick the administrative excellence and communication between all stakeholders and Louis Cayer the coaching expertise. They also did a great job integrating ex-players into their coaching and administration. Canadian tennis players are now over-excelling at all levels – male and female, junior and adult!  Often with NSOs it’s a case of “too many cooks spoil the broth”!


Coaching Squash Front-Court Tactics with a Ball Machine

December 19, 2010

Most squash coaches use a squash ball machine solely for technical training – often working with their players to groove one particular shot – or hitting several shots from the same, identical feed.  This training, although it can be valuable, is “closed” training and does not improve a player’s “squash intelligence”.

Ideally, we should try and improve our player’s technique within a  “tactical context” – where our player is forced to “read” the situation and make a decision – preferably training a) their movement to the ball to play the shot; b) the shot (s) itself – hopefully the most frequent or common tactical response(s); c) their recovery and the next (or follow-up) shot.  This is an example of a  “tactics first” approach to squash training.

Nearly all of “normal” squash drilling is “non-tactical” – there are no decisions to be made, and often the patterns being drilled may get you into trouble in a real game – the boast-drive drill (and variations) being a perfect example of this.  Rarely will either male or female pro players drive straight from the front off an opponent’s boast (especially from the front right) due to the danger of a stroke being called if their drive is loose. They usually will play a cross-court drive or lob, or a straight drop.  I put together the a few “front-court” points from the last five minutes of a WISPA Grainger-Grinham match – they only drive straight from the front twice in the entire five minutes – twice a stroke against Grainger (at :20 and 1:58), and once against Grinham (forehand side).

Even some of the world’s smartest players insist on this type of closed, boast-drive drill, as we see in this Jonathon Power video clip example below. Admittedly there are constraints when drilling in pairs (you have to hit to a known, convenient location for the drill to continue), and this type of non-tactical drilling can be great physical training (versus doing your aerobic training on a bike).

A squash ball machine, in combination with a drilling partner can overcome the drawbacks of the two types of “closed” training described above – allowing both tactical improvement along with continuous, game-like physical efforts.  Wesleyan’s University’s Shona Kerr and I put together a video demonstrating another approach to training drops and drives in the front court with the ball machine as an example of a “tactics first” approach.  Here are the six steps (we see the first four involving the ball machine in the video):

  1. Train the most common tactical situation.
  2. Train the second most likely tactical choice.
  3. Alternate the two shot choices.
  4. Randomize the two choices.
  5. Train the two choices in a conditioned game (where the game “rules” force the tactical patterns to occur more frequently than n a real match)
  6. Use and evaluate the tactics and shots in a real match.

Squash Deception: Knowledge into Reality!

December 9, 2010

Knowing something about squash does not necessarily translate into being able to do it – squash deception is a good example of this.  A good squash coach is able to turn knowledge into reality with a solid pedagogical approach.

Knowledge + Appropriate Pedagogy = Action

I have always been interested (being an attritional grinder myself) in the topic of how to teach squash deception, since most people consider it to be an innate talent (which it definitely is not!). Back in the early 1990’s, I hired a young, low-ranked,  18-year old Jonathon Power (one of the most deceptive male players ever) to come to my club in Montreal to give a workshop (I think we paid him $300?) on “Deception” to my “C” and “B” teams (only 4-5 of them signed up!?!).

Last summer I had a chance to coach alongside Karim Darwish – another former world #1 and and very deceptive player.  At our PPS Squash Camp I got Karim to demonstrate the use of a “deceptive wrist” to our campers and videotaped him doing it:

A year earlier, I had videotaped an example of the Games Approach pedagogical method of teaching deception – through the use of conditioned games.  One of the “models” in this video example is Wesleyan University’s Head Men’s and Women’s Coach Shona Kerr – she benefited from early coaching by Hiddy Jahan in the use of the “Pakistani” wrist.  I trained and competed alongside Shona during a period (2006-08) where she went undefeated through six straight women’s national championships (Howe Cup Teams, U.S. Nationals, etc.), defeating several members of the U.S. National Squad along the way – she has a great wrist – a rare attribute in the women’s game.

The main point here is that a squash coach needs to use a systematic approach in order to get his or her player to implement deception effectively in a game situation.  It is the rare athlete that can simply be told or shown what to do, and put it into practice immediately.  And deception is not just for the best players, as you can see in this video taken at the PPS Camp (that is Engy Kheirallah coaching).


Why I Purchased a Ping Pong Robot but Won’t Buy a Squash Ball Machine!

September 7, 2010

I’ll preface my post by saying that I did in fact own a squash ball machine – the first one that came out (1989??).  I co-purchased it when I was the “squash director” at the now defunct Rockland Sport (actually there to train/mentor their squash pro Denis Favreau who was converting from tennis – little known fact – Jonathon Power got his start here with great junior coach Robby Cannot Recall his name now – will later…) with my buddy, Yvon Provencal, recently named Canadian National Squash Coach.  I don’t recall ever actually using it (Yvon kept it at his club!) since I had already been indoctrinated into a “tactics first” approach through my exposure to Tennis Canada’s “Methode des actions” (read “Tactics First”).

Why did I just purchase a Newgy Robo-Pong when I will not buy a squash ball machine?

Reasons not to use a ball machine:

  • squash is an open sport, where anticipation (reliance on pre-impact cues – mostly from reading the opponent’s shoulder and arm position according to Abernethy) is critical (as is tactical awareness – or game sense:  knowledge of the effect of your previous shot, opponent’s position and tactical tendencies, etc.) – none of these cues are available when using the squash ball machine;
  • without supervision (in which case a ball machine could be redundant) most players for not respect the shot-cycle (every shot in squash involves four steps:  1. watching 2. movement to the ball 3. striking the ball 4. recovery to the appropriate spot on the court) and could easily (as in the video example above) practice in a way that is not game-like at all – thereby actually hurting performance;

Reasons Why I Bought a Pong Robot

  • Demonstration purposes – as the only decent player around my college (except for a Japanese woman who apparently is very good, so I have been avoiding;) it is the only way (except for self-feed or shadowing) to adequately demonstrate ping pong strokes in my upcoming Introduction to Racquet Sports course at Smith College;
  • Although we do not get pre-impact cues with the Robot – we must read the spin of the ball – so we are actually working a critical component of anticipation not important (or available) in squash;
  • The Squash court is ideal for solo practice – you can simulate a wide variety of shots – not possible with many ping pong tables – and only possible in a limited way in those that can convert one half to a backboard.

Having said all this, I will be publishing 2-3 videos/posts on using a squash ball machine for tactical drills.  My Racketlon partner Shona Kerr is preparing for a WISPA event in Arizona, and we will be training/reinforcing several tactical patterns that she will be using in that event.  Each drill using the ball machine will have a tactical theme (e.g., deception in the front court), and will involve the entire shot cycle as I will be providing the feed for the follow-up shot (that the machine will be unable to provide).  For example the machine will boast, Shona will straight drop, and I will re-drop or drive cross – and she will respond appropriately (having to make a perception and decision, which is what makes this tactical and not just technical training).  Shona and I will come up with 4-5 commonly used patterns of play that require either a third training partner – or a ball machine.  Unfortunately, many squash drills are dictated by convenience (i.e., what two players can do without stopping the drill) rather than solid tactics – perhaps an explanation as to why squash players peak so late compared to other sports:)

Application for Squash Coaches:

  1. Be wary of potential bad technical (not observing the shot cycle) habits developing with squash ball machines.
  2. Be sure to give your player a tactical context or at least a basic tactical explanation for the shots they practice with a ball machine.
  3. Play ping pong!

Squash Coaches: Train “Situations” not “Strokes”

July 7, 2009

We have published quite a few posts on the current Tactics First approach to developing thinking, smart squash players.  The key concept is that teaching technique alone (e.g., backhand lesson, forehand lesson) and leaving the match play and tactics to the student (laissez-faire approach) in their formative years does not encourage squash intelligence.  Squash is much more than striking the ball well. It is one of the most tactical individual sports and involves considerable perception, anticipation (reading the opponent) and decision-making (attacking weaknesses not strengths) on every point.  I would wager that squash is the most tactical of the individual sports – with more individual player decisions per minute of play than any other sport (in team sports like football it is the coach making most of the tactical decisions).  Our coaching needs to reflect this priority and we need to start training situations not strokes right from the very beginning of a player’s career.

How does a squash coach go about actually planning a Tactics First lesson or training session?  Here is a template that  coaches can use to plan a lesson around a particular tactical situation:

Tactics First Squash Lesson Template

Look for some video examples of Tactics First training in the coming weeks (maybe even days:).  In the meantime, here is some brief background reading from the ACE Coaching site – the leading proponent of a tactics first approach for tennis:

Game Based Approach for Tennis


Designing the Ultimate Summer 2017 Squash Camp

June 27, 2009
Princeton Squash Campers July 2009

Princeton Squash Campers June 2009

Obviously, for squash campers whether young or old, the squash coach’s priority is to ensure they 1) have fun; and 2) learn something – and we all know “there is more than one way to skin a cat” (apologies to cat lovers).

Having said that, due to the usual compressed time frame of a one-week squash camp it is easy to throw established sport science principles out the window – in a desire to teach the campers “everything possible”.  In this post we will discuss  a few guidelines based on the latest sport science research to ensure that your camper benefit optimally from your coaching program.

Volume, Intensity and Organization of  the Week’s Training. Since one of the primary purposes of a summer camp (versus national camp prior to World’s for example) is to teach new squash skills, care must be taken to not overfatigue the campers as this will hurt learning. A L-M-H-L-H (L=low, M=medium, H=high) distribution of  the daily training load over the week will help accomplish this.  This will produce more and better quality work that a L-H-L-H-L periodization for example.  Obviously, most of us will be violating the rule of thumb not to increase training volume more than 10% from week to week – as most summer campers will not be playing much sqaush or training very hard.

Planning the Daily Training Sessions. There is actually a theoretically optimal order in which to train the different components needed to play better squash (which I have adapted for squash from  Tudor Bompa – the North America Father of Periodization):

  1. Train new technical skills first while the athlete is fresh.
  2. Train speed and agility second, as improving these qualities require a fresh and unfatigued CNS.  If you save your sprinting to the end of the day you will be training your athlete to move at sub-maximal speeds in a fatigued state (actually not that unimportant in squash – but not speed work).
  3. Practice well-learned technical drills or do match play or conditioned games third as they can be accomplished well with some fatigue (may even be desirable).
  4. Train strength-endurance fourth, after most of the on-court work has been done as this does not require a fresh CNS to benefit the athlete. A camp is a great time to focus on functional or core training (e.g., CorePerformance.com to avoid making the prime squash movers (e.g. quads) overly sore.  Another focus would be to avoid heavy loads and focus on the athlete executing good technique – i.e., the actual training is symbolic, and secondary to learning about training.  There probably is no place for plyometrics or maximum strength training at a summer camp – although demonstrations are fine.
  5. Lactic work (intense court sprints with efforts of 15+ seconds) should be training second last, since quality work is very difficult to do after a workout of this type, due to the long recovery period required to eliminate lactic acid from the muscles (at least an hour for partial clearance of LA).
  6. Aerobic endurance training should be performed last, since little coordination is required, and if the intensity is around 60-70% it will in fact aid regeneration for the next day.
  7. Mental and flexibility training and video analysis/tactical discussions can be interspersed with other training factors to help aid recovery and help provide adequate rest.
  8. If you really want to help your squash campers learn how to train properly you can model your physical training sessions after an actual periodized training year:  Day 1 do General Prep training, Day 2 to Specific Prep training, etc.). With handouts, this will provide them with a template to help them plan their own year.
Princeton Squash Camp Coaches - June 2009

Princeton Squash Camp Coaches – June 2009

Pedagogical Approach to Coaching Technical-Tactical Skills. Doing our basic length and boast and drive drills, followed by match play will definitely improve our players, although to a much lesser extent that than a Tactics First Approach using Games Approach and Decision Training methodology and tools. This involves choosing a tactical model (e.g., Zone or Egg) to organize the week’s sessions, and then starting each session with a conditioned game related to the sessions theme (e.g., 2 pts. for a winning volley if the session topic is volleying) game  (not lecture and drills) in order to evaluate the players and motivate them to change in a fun way – everyone loves to play games!  Players trained with the traditional methods will definitely perform better in practice – but those training with a Tactics First approach will perform better later (weeks or months) in match situations – basically because their training has been more game-like – which is just common sense.

I will be working at several camps this summer of 2017 at Wesleyan University and Princeton University, and of course I offer individual and small group 1-4 day mini-camps for those unable to attend one of the many camp offerings here in the U.S. – just drop me a line at squashscience@gmail.com for more information.

Application for Squash Coaches:

  1. Take advantage of recent advances in sport science to enhance the learning at your squash camps.
  2. Where possible use a Tactics First Approach (versus traditional drilling) to introduce and coach new squash skills.
  3. Be careful not to over fatigue your squash campers if you really want to improve learning.

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).