Periodization of Squash “Speed”?

September 11, 2017

I have “speed” in quotes and a “question mark” at the end of this post’s title because the world’s best players take a maximum of 2-3 steps before slowing down to hit the ball…that’s right.  Go to https://psaworldtour.com/tv and download any video – even Miguel Rodrigues’ – and count the number of steps a player takes before striking the ball when leaving from the T area…

WSF Court Measurement

When we think of speed events in athletics we think of 100m – for training and tests we even think of the 40- or 20-yard dash…the furthest a squash player would ever run for a single stroke would be the 1665mm diagonal (about 12 yards) if their nose was touching a back corner and then they went and touch their nose to the opposite front corner:)  But in reality, since the overwhelming majority of movements to to the ball for advanced players start from the T, that maximum distance is halved to about 6 yards, less the rebound of the average drop (three feet to second bounce on floor), yielding about 5 yards (or metres) or 15′ as the furthest a squash player has to move.  Keep in mind that deceleration in order to be relatively stable as the ball is struck needs to occur at about the halfway point if there is any chance of recovering to the T and resuming the rally.

Miguel diving.PNG

In conclusion, squash players need to train for 2-3m sprints, which is why I do not like to use the word “speed”, but rather explosiveness or power (speed-strength being the more common European Term), as it really is just a split-step, and one to two powerful steps that is required to be trained.  The training movements should be as squash-specific as possible as research has showed that strength, power and speed development occurs at specific muscle joint angles and speeds.

Here is the annual periodized physical conditioning sequence to become a “faster” squash player.

  1.  Anatomical adaptation (General Preparation Phase):  2 weeks of strength endurance at 12-15 reps (always assuming three workouts a week and use of a load resulting in failure at the last couple of reps).
  2. Strength- Endurance (General Preparation Phase):  4-6 weeks of 10-12 reps.
  3. Maximum strength (Specific Preparation Phase):  4-6 weeks of 5-8 reps for post-pubescent and “not injured easily” athletes with 3-4 ears of strength training experience – otherwise just skip over this step.  Similarly, if you have been strength training for years and do not lose a lot of strength in transition phases it may not be worth your while to go through this phase.
  4. Speed-strength/explosiveness/power (Specific or Pre-Competitive Phase depending on context):  4-6 weeks of plyometrics and short bursts of court movement.  Energy for this quality is provided by the anaerobic alactic (ATP_CP or Phosphagen) system which is most powerful in the 0-10 second range and by the lactic system when repeated bursts are required with a single rally or series of 2-3 rallies – after 45-60 seconds of these bursts within 2-3 minutes of play, a player will be forced to reduce their efforts due to accumulating lactic acid in the bloodstream and muscles (see blog post on “How to Lob” effectively:).  Most programs recommend about three sets of five reps of 5-10 seconds of work (followed by 6 times that amount of rest in between reps) as a good volume for supplementary speed training – obviously a lot of “training” occurs during matches and practices.
  5. Maintenance (Competitive Phase):  Most “speed” gains will occur within 4-6 weeks of speed-strength training, at which point most players enter a phase of competitions with league and tournament play and have a reduced amount of time for supplementary training outside of on court practice.  Improvements can be maintained with 1-2 supplementary sessions a week at the same volume and intensity of the last week of training.

I really like the EXOS approach to training movement, especially in the first few weeks of a program, with the last few weeks being conducted on court “live” (with realistic situations and feeds):  http://www.coreperformance.com/multidirectional-movement/.  This is a great bank of exercises to inject some variety into your program.


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 is a Charter Member of  the Association of Applied Sport Psychology and 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).


Evaluating Mental Skills for Squash

September 6, 2017

I have been doing sport psychology consulting with professional and national team squash and other racquet sport athletes since 1987 – including nearly 100% of the top U.S. juniors (thanks to Princeton Squash Camps:) and 100% of the Canadian National Jr. and Sr. teams until my move to the U.S. in the late 1990’s.

Here are the different ways players, coaches and consultants can evaluate a player’s mental skills:

  1.   The most practical and immediate way for a player to consistently assess their squash mental skills is to complete a Match Evaluation form after every match – even more useful if they develop and use a Focus Plan, and even better if they discuss the results of the analysis with a coach who saw the match.
  2. Not quite as useful is having a coach watch the match and TELL the athlete “what happened mentally” as this does not improve an athlete’s autonomy.
  3. One of my favorites is to “chart” a match (either live or taped) using a standard score sheet with “mental notes” about between point behavior (body language, facial expressions, under breath comments, etc.) so that mental performance can be correlated with the score and match momentum.
  4. Simply asking the athlete to rate themselves on a 0 (needs work) to 10 (very good) scale for each mental skill is very quick – and in my opinion quite accurate – usually, given the chance, athletes can be honest and forthcoming about their mental strengths and weaknesses.
  5. “Psychometric instruments” is an academic way of saying psychological questionnaires used in research – these can be useful but can often involve obtaining permission to use and more involved scoring procedures.
  6. Comprehensive questionnaires, with and without psychometric properties, that cover a wide range of mental qualities and skills are best used in the initial “educational” phase of a mental training program, to help introduce athletes to the scope and potential of doing sport psychology.
  7. If I had to choose only one method to help athletes assess their mental performance it would be a “best versus worst” analysis: ask them to reflect on their best and worst performances and contrast them on key factors such as activation, anxiety, and focus before and during the match.  This comparison makes strengths and weaknesses evident and points the way to appropriate goals for a mental training program.

The next step after evaluating mental skills is to set goals and objectives to improve mental performance.  Ideally these goals should be integrated and related to a player’s technical, tactical and physical goals – a topic for another day!

Further Reading for players and coaches:

iCRAP –  the five basic mental skills:

  • relaxation
  • positive self-talk
  • activation
  • imagery (or visualization)
  • concentration

Here is a video of Tim and Wesleyan Coach Shona Kerr demonstrating the five mental skills in a quiet setting   and on-court .

Best & Worst Ever Match Analysis form – to help you play your best and learn from your experiences:  Squash Reflections Form

Squash Match Focus Plan form – to make sure you are organized and well prepared for your matches:  Squash Plan Form.

Squash Match Evaluation form – to help you analyze your matches and learn from your experiences:  squash-match-evaluation-form

 


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 is a Charter Member of  the Association of Applied Sport Psychology and 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).


Squash Coach Mike Johnson on the Psychology of Squash

August 10, 2009

I was lucky enough to work alongside Mike Johnson during Princeton Squash Camp’s Junior Elite weeks earlier this summer at the start of June.  Mike has a very simple approach to the game of squash, including the mental side.  As part of the camp’s Sunday evening program, I work with the lead coach of the camp to give a 45-minute workshop/lecture on the Psychological Aspects of Squash.  I have been doing this since 1987  (so about 5,500 junior camper-units – although there are some repeats in there:), and usually we help the campers analyze and compare their best and worst squash performances.

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