Three Absolutely Useless Strength Exercises for Squash!

August 9, 2009

We have blogged about appropriate physical training for squash before – both for juniors and adults. Just to punctuate the point, here is a video demonstrating three not so good strength training exercises, along with a brief review of the three  Core Performance books and other product offerings.  In my travels I am still observing a bit too much old-style training for racquets sports.  I think part of the problem is that most of the NSCA’s Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialists (I am one myself) prescribing strength programs for the racquet sports have a football or basketball background.  Despite being up to date on the latest functional training and the demands of sports like squash, they cannot get their heads around leaving out exercises that have been a key part of all strength programs.

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Squash Scientist Takes Vacation!

May 29, 2009

What does a squash sport scientist do for a vacation?

Well, first he (or she) looks for a conference, course or workshop related to one of the racquet sports or sport science disciplines near a tropical beach, so that his (or her:) employer can pay for the vacation with professional development money. Last year I went to London to attend the British LTA Sport Science ConferenceRead the rest of this entry »


The Psychology of Squash: Staying Focused Between Points

March 2, 2009

What is great about squash in comparison to many other sports is that each of the four performance elements are important:  technique, tactics, physical and psychology.  Unlike team sports, once the match is underway, there is no coaching allowed during actual play, and minimal pauses allowed for reflection and mental preparation.  This places the utmost importance on a player controlling their mental state between rallies – the average between point break being about 10 seconds – even more important since the switch this year to point-a-rally (PAR) scoring  for both men and women.  Players cannot afford to lose their focus for even a minute now, since it is so easy now to let a match get away, and so difficult to work your way back from a big deficit.

The importance of using the between-point time in racquet sports to control an athlete’s mental state was first recognized by well known sport psychologist Jim Loehr.  Although I have found some of his material and talks (he now charges $35,000 to top companies for speaking engagements on Energy Management) to be overly dramatic, Loehr pioneered the development of many practical, easy to use mental tools for tennis, which is an important accomplishment in a field which can get a little too ethereal.

I first ran into Loehr when he was the guest speaker at the 1984 World Professional Squash Association (WPSA) Teaching Pro Conference in 1984.  I was so intrigued by his dismissal of my mention of  Tutko and Tosi’s book Sport Psyching that I had just reread (purchased and read originally in 1976) that I went back to school to get a Master’s in Sport Psychology and Coaching.  I used his book Mental Toughness Training for Sports as the training manual for my first consulting job (hired by National Coach Tony Swift)  in 1986 at Squash Canada’s National Training Center in Toronto.

16-Second Cure Video

16-Second Cure Video

In response to the McEnroe influenced mid-eighties tennis trend of out of control behavior between points, Loehr produced a video entitled “The 16-Second Cure” which detailed a four-step, between point, on-court routine (that took 16 of the allowed 25 seconds) whose purpose was to maintain the ideal performance state of relaxation, positiveness, activation and focus – mostly through the use of breathing and serve and return rituals.

It did not take me very long to develop the squash-specific adaptation of Loehr’s idea:  The 10-Second Solution.  Soon several generations of Canadian Junior National Teams, and thousands of U.S. juniors passing through the USSRA National Training Center (later Princeton Squash Camps) were being rated and trained on their between-point behavior – even playing conditioned games where the winner was the player who displayed the best focus.

I remember doing a “mental” charting of one Canadian Junior back in the late 80’s who had an astounding 36 negative between-point behaviors or vocalizations in the first game we charted.  I think he reduced it down to a dozen or so after being presented with the hard evidence (a standard scoring sheet with (+) or (-) notations along with comments in the columns).  Here is an example of another rating form we used to chart players – it could be completed by either the squash coach or a fellow player.

Between Point Behavior Rating Form

Between Point Behavior Rating Form

And here is a short video of a player who is not following the four steps:

Application for Squash Coaches

  1. You can use notational analysis (charting) of a squash players between-point behavior to help evaluate their mental performance.
  2. The four steps of the 10-Second Solution provides a simple framework to analyze and teach players to stay relaxed and focused during their matches – lots of good (and a few bad) examples on YouTube.
  3. Loehr’s  books provide many useful tools that can be adapted for squash.

Happy Holidays Squash Coaches! (Squash Vacations & 15% off sport science books)

December 20, 2008

We are off to Jamaica tomorrow for a tennis teaching vacation – after 32 days of rehab, my new right hip is ready to get on court and teach (tennis not squash)!  At this point I do not intend to return to squash competition and regain my #4, 45+ U.S. ranking, preferring instead to get back  our #3 spot in the World Racketlon Mixed Doubles Championship , which will probably be enough squash for my hips (they always hit to the woman:).

Fitpro Travel also offers squash teaching vacations, as done my friend and former Canadian Jr. National Coach Rene Denis’ organization, Sportausoleil – all you need is a basic squash coaching certification.  At the start of post-op week five, my physiotherapist has just started me on bodyweight squats and lunges, in addition to a multitude of other intricate exercises, so my return to the squash court is imminent (although I have done stationary drilling already) – I hope give it a try down in Puerto Vallarta at the start of January.  I will be training at the same club and time as Jonathon Power’s (my former pupil) Fantasy Squash Club.  At this point I can enthusiastically recommend my orthopedic surgeon, Stephen Murphy, M.D., if you have access to the U.S., and need a new hip! Obviously there are many alternative surgical approaches out there and you need to do your research very carefully.

For most of us squash coaches the holidays can be a great time to catch up on our sport science reading – so I would like to pass on a 15% savings on Human Kinetics (largest sport book publisher in the world) products – just enter promo code E5031 (details below – not sure it will work for non-U.S. coaches but give it a try).

Upcoming January and February posts on this site for squash coaches will include:  Nicol David rallying in the back-court, Neil Harvey on mental toughness, CSA 2006 Coaching Conference highlights, more biomechanics of squash examples, and “physiological” on-court squash drills.

All the best in 2009!

Tim Bacon

In Appreciation of You from Human Kinetics

Special savings for our clients

We do appreciate the business you’ve shared with us over the past year, and in recognition we’re offering you a 15% discount on purchases made through the ASEP and Human Kinetics Web sites through January 1, 2009. Below is just a sampling of the thousands of resources available to coaches, administrators, athletes, fitness and recreation enthusiasts, educators, students – you name it. The offer ends January 1, so don’t delay – order today! Shop at www.HumanKinetics.com or www.ASEP.com. (Cannot be combined with any other offers and excludes ASEP Coaching Principles, Sport First Aid, Coaching [Sport] Technical and Tactical Skills, and Coaching Orientation courses.)
To receive your 15% discount, enter the promo code E5031 on your shopping cart page at checkout.

How Many Minutes Should a Squash Drill Last?

December 1, 2008

Well of course it depends on the objective of the drill! If the drill is a techno-physiological drill (i.e., a drill whose purpose is both technical and physiological), the drill could be structured around the requirements of the targeted physical ability. So a drill targeting speed, agility or power should be organized around 10 to 15, maximal, 5-10 second efforts, with plenty of rest (work:rest ratio of at least 1:3) between efforts to maintain the required high quality of work, as might be the case when working on retrieving drops in the front (with either a lob or counter-drop?). With one coach and 3-4 players per court, if you do the math, this will take 20-25 minutes if you work efficiently. Drills targeting other physical abilities important to squash such as aerobic power or lactic acid tolerance will need to be structured differently.

Attention Span is a Cognitive (Brain) Function

Attention Span is a Cognitive (Brain) Function

Most of the drills we see in squash have a primarily technical emphasis, for example hitting better length, or hitting tighter drop shots. How long should these drills last? We have two sources of evidence, one scientific and the other empirical to guide good squash coaching practice.

The first evidence comes from pedagogical research into classroom learning. Researchers have found that the learner’s interest and attention start to fall shortly after a lecture begins, with interest declining rapidly about the 20-minute mark as depicted in the graph below:

Learner Interest in the Classrom

Learner Interest in the Classrom

I learned about this at a Coaching Association of Canada conference for Coaching Certification Course Conductors. It was recommended that we follow the 7-20-40 rule when training coaches: involve participants at least every 7 minutes by asking a question; change the mode of instruction every 20 minutes if possible (e.g., lecture to small group discussion); and give students a short break every 40 minutes (quick stretch, toilet, etc.).

One way of adapting this rule to our on-court squash sessions would be to rotate partners every 7 minutes, changing the drill slightly every 20 minutes, and give a short water break cum mini-feedback/discussion every 40 minutes.

Empirical (i.e., based on experience) evidence concerning length of drilling comes from the German Tennis Association (coaches of Graf, Becker, Stich), who recommend drilling periods of 20-25 minutes, consisting of 150-200 strokes (in groups of 10-15 or 15-25 strokes depending on the purpose of drilling) when learning or stabilizing technique. They recommend this be followed by a 2-5 minute recuperation break before moving on to the next exercise.

Obviously, individual differences such as age of the athlete and an individual’s attention span need to be taken into account. U.S. Soccer has published a document which is an excellent example of applying these principles. The document summarizes different countries approaches to modifyng adult soccer rules for youth – notice that nearly all the countries use short game periods for the younger athletes: 206_international_associations_programs

Application for Squash Coaches

  1. Know the objectives of your drills to set an appropriate time.
  2. Keep technical drills to 20-25 minutes, with 150-200 repetitions.
  3. Take individual differences, especially athlete developmental level, into account when setting drill length.

Skype Coaching for Squash!

November 22, 2008

skype_logo_online

We posted a few months ago about how new Web 2.0 tools can help a squash coach do an exemplary job.  Here is another concrete Skype example that would work for either youth development  or elite coaches of WISPA or PSA Tour athletes.

**Update Nov. 24/08 – Skype picked up this article and interviews me on use of Skype here .**

Last week I went on medical  leave from my job as Head Coach of Squash of the Smith College Squash Team in order to have my right hip replaced (joining my squash idols Jonah Barrington and Geoff Hunt in having run too many miles, run too many 24 X 400’s, and played too many attritional matches, albeit at a much lower level:).  Although my replacement Erin Robson has quickly stepped in and done an outstanding job, 13 of my team entered a flight tournament this weekend, which means that Erin needed some help with the coaching, as they each played a minimum of three matches!

Travel to Smith was out of the question, so we resolved our problem with  the help of Skype as depicted in the video below:

If you are totally new to Skype, here is a quick, fun intro:


Three More Great E-Newsletters for Squash Coaches!

October 3, 2008

The more teaching and research I do the more I am convinced that printed books are going the way of the Dodo bird.  More and more in my Introduction to Exercise & Sport Studies class at Smith College I am using YouTube videos, podcasts and links to websites as first exposure to sport science topics such as biomechanics, physiology and sport psychology.  We then follow this up by directing students to more scholarly work using the SportDiscus database for which there is no charge at Smith College.  We are lucky enough to be the only Liberal Arts College in the U.S.A. with both a Graduate Program in Exercise & Sport Studies (ESS) and a Minor at the undergraduate level.  As an aside, we have graduated seven women with M.Sc.’s who have trained with me as assistant coaches in our varsity team program in the last 15 years.  Read the rest of this entry »