Thursday, December 1, 2011

How far will you go to win?

The title says it all really..where do you draw the line on winning? Many athletes will do anything they can get away with to win. Why is it so difficult to accept that someone is performing better on a given day? The rules are often not enough and in squash, the referee can be vital to ensuring that both players behave fairly. But we don't always have a ref, let alone a good one. And even when someone is technically playing within the rules, some people can get into an opponents head by stalling, talking, arguing calls, being physical and so on.

As terrible as I have seen some people behave, I don't necessarily blame them. I think society overemphasizes winning and losing in sport. Also coaches are usually paid to get results and people that win get sponsorships, more attention, make provincial or national teams, get into colleges, etc. So how can we possibly tell someone that they should play within the rules no matter what..if they're match point down would you still call your ball down if the ref didn't see it or would you offer a 'let'?

It's a very fine line between being competitive, playing hard and fair and doing anything to win. I think the main thing to do is to focus on an athlete's process and how they are playing. I also believe that winning and the benefits of being an elite player will come to those who deserve it. By playing hard, yet fair, you might not win a match that you could have if you cheated, but you will always have someone to practice and play with. And by focusing on your own performance and process, winning will follow as a byproduct.

I also believe that psychologically it will be easier focusing on the process of your performance (as opposed to winning). Worrying about an outcome puts pressure on you by thinking about something that is in the future that isn't under your control. So does that mean I don't like winning? Of course I do, but I'm not satisfied with just winning, nor am I upset just because I lost. I always try and focus on what I did well and what I could have done better..where can I improve to become the best I can be.

On a final note, focusing on winning means that people tense up when things get close and they start thinking about what could be or might (or might not) happen. This thinking takes you away from what they should be doing and concentrating on. far will you go to win?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Paying Coaches for Olympic Medals

Not that it effects squash coaches (at least not yet!), but this is interesting..not sure what I make of it. $10,000 for the coach of a gold medalist..what about the hockey teams, does that coach get the bonus for each player? And there is rarely (if ever) a single coach that helps an athlete win an olympic medal.
here's the link

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Controlling the 'T'

In my opinion this is the most important part of controlling and winning squash..It sounds so easy..stay near and control the 'T'. If you can do this you will likely be successful.

How do top players make it look so easy? But when they play someone just a little better everything changes..clearly the pace of play, quality of shots (especially length), volleying ability, anticipation and you need to be pretty fit to maintain it for a full match. There is a lot that goes into controlling the middle part of the court.

It can be difficult to get an opponent who volleys well off the 'T' and difficult to stay near it against someone who hits the ball hard or has tight length. But the real question we all want to know is how can we improve our ability to control the 'T'? It can help a lot by just watching yourself play on video. How often did you let balls go to the back that you could have volleyed? You don't need to attack the ball just because you are volleying it. A lot of players also have trouble timing a volley meaning that they tend to avoid trying to play the shot altogether. But nobody gets better by not trying. So my first bit of advice would be to not worry about the result of the volley, just that you are volleying.

It takes a lot of practice to play a delicate volley drop shot. Make sure your racquet is prepared early and keep going got them. If you lose confidence in the drop you can always try a volley boast. If you aren't going short on the volley then your opponent will not feel worried when you volley the ball right back to them or cross-court.

Outside of games, focus on volleying everything when you're doing drills and practice your volleys with a ball machine or while solo hitting.

Not only does controlling the 'T' mean less running for you, but it takes time away from your opponent. Keep fine tuning these shots and one day you will notice that you rarely visit a back corner..until you play a stronger player..and then try to figure out how they're doing this better than you.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Warming Up and Cooling Down

Everyone has heard and been told to warm up before a match. And yet still many squash players do not prepare themselves properly. So what exactly does warming up do? In an article i recently read (A Functional Approach to Warm-up and Flexibility, Swanson 2006) it listed some of the physiological reasons why an athlete should warmup. The reasons they listed are;
'An active warm-up that increases the athlete's core temperature will improve performance by improving range of motion, producing a higher oxygen uptake, lowering lactate accumulations, increasing muscle pH, improving the speed and force of muscle contractions, and increasing the speed of transmission of nerve impulses.'

So for anyone who needed some valid reasons to make warming up a part of their routine, they now have it. And these are just the physiological reasons. When warming up an athlete can also prepare psychologically for the game. It would be a good idea to focus and review your strategy for the match and some athletes like to use imagery as well. A warmup needs to be rehearsed and is specific to the individual. A lot of this is accomplished from trial and error and will depend on the facility you are at, how much time you have, etc. But for anyone that wants to perform to the best of their ability on a consistent basis should be making a warm-up a part of their routine (for both practice and competition).

Lastly, when warming up there is little current research that says stretching is an effective way to warm-up and prevent injuries. I recommend biking, jogging, ghosting or even some light hitting followed by some dynamic stretches. How long and at what intensity is up to the individual. I like to have a light sweat and a good warm-up for me takes about 20-25 minutes. For a playing professional they might be spending much longer getting physically and psychologically prepared.

Cool Down
So the match/practice is over. Sometimes you get stuck reffing, you might have lost and not care about recovering quickly, or maybe you don't see the benefit of a proper cool down. To increase the recovery rate from training or any exercise, light aerobic activity is recommended. Again, I like to spend about 10 minutes on the bike and then do some static stretching. I also try and rehydrate as soon as possible. Light aerobic exercise increases blood flow and can cut your recovery time in half!

Now you need to ask yourself a couple of questions. If you are serious about your squash game and want to be the best you can be, recover faster, perform better, be able to practice and train more often then ask yourself the following questions. Do you warm-up and cool down properly? Before and after competition and practice? Could you improve your routine? How so? How do you make sure you stick to your new routine?

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Focusing on the Process of Performance and Personal Improvement

It's a tough dilemma..we all want to be successful but not everyone can be..or can we? What exactly is success and how do you define it? If someone performs to the best of their ability is it possible that they can be unsuccessful regardless of the outcome?

Most people measure the current level and progression of an athletes skill by results and outcomes (such as win/loss, points or games won or lost, ranking or being selected to a team). These outcome based measurements of skill level are all inaccurate. This is an inefficient and improper process for measuring the current level and progression of an athletes development. There are a number of variables that influence the outcome of winning and losing that are not under the control of the athlete involved. Not only this, but measuring the skill level of any athlete by the outcome of a competition has many negative implications on their psychological well being and long term development. This is why I believe on focusing on an athletes process of performance regardless of outcome.

If we do this is there any reason we can't all be successful? Can we learn to achieve personal satisfaction from a performance after defeat? I believe this is crucial for long term athlete development. The question I have is how exactly can we do this and how do we get athletes and parents to buy into this philosophy?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Pit Crew vs. the Innovators (of sport)

I was at an interesting seminar today, Applied Research in High Performance Sport. The presenter discussed the difficulties with the lack of funding for sport research scientists. And he was discussing main stream, Olympic events. So what does that mean for squash? Well unfortunately it isn't an easy solution. Because there is little to no money in scientific research in squash it means there is a lot of potential for it..but who is going to do it?

After the presentation I asked for the thoughts on innovating new technologies in a non-funded sport and the presenter had a couple of suggestions:
1) Try and find out what other countries are doing. For squash he suggested the U.K., and I'm sure Australia would be good too.
2) Look at the university level research by graduate students for squash specific research
3) Look what other sports are doing and have done. Even if the sport is different, it might have an idea or training method that can be applied to squash

What's the problem with all of these? I assume it's quite obvious..for any coach! Who is going to do this and keep up with it? As a coach are more of a service provider and don't have the time or resources to keep up with these areas. And another problem is, would other countries and coaches be willing to hand over their hard earned (and funded) research? Why would they? We didn't help them, and our athletes are competing against theirs for world rankings, sponsors and money. And as coaches we are also competing for athletes and jobs. So I don't see an easy, positive conclusion.

Maybe one day Squash Canada will have the resources. Although it doesn't sound like just being an Olympic event will bring enough financial resources anyways..but I'm sure it would help a lot! So for the sake of Canadian Squash, let's hope for 2020!!

Friday, October 14, 2011

Some Inspiring Quotes

I'm reading a chapter on goal setting and I found a couple of great quotes.

'The direction we're heading is more important than individual results. If we continue to head in the right direction, we may not only achieve the goals we're pursuing but a lot more!'

'The only limit to what you can have in your life is the size of your imagination and the level of commitment to making it real.'

'The most important key to goal setting is to find a goal big enough to inspire you.'

'The way I usually know I've set the right goal is when it seems impossible but at the same time it's giving me a sense of crazed excitement just to think about the possibility of achieving it.'

All of these are from Awaken the Giant Within - Tony Robbins and basically he is saying that obstacles are created in our minds. If you want to do something no matter how challenging it may seem, you can do it if you believe in yourself.

Here are some other quotes that I like.

This one is paraphrased, but when I was a kid I remember a sign at my squash club that read something like this, 'get fit to play squash, don't play squash to get fit.' Don't know who said it or wrote it, but I like it!

This one is also paraphrased and it was about went something like this, 'when you think you cannot go on, you are on the verge of doing something special.'

This one is posted inside the San Antonio Spurs locker room. 'When nothing seems to help, I go and look at a stonecutter hammering away at his rock perhaps a hundred times without as much as a crack showing in it. Yet at the hundred and first blow it will split in two, and I know it was not from that blow that did it -- but all that had gone before.' - Jacob Riss

Friday, October 7, 2011

Developing a Coaching Philosophy

Why a Coaching Philosophy?
Even if you have never verbally stated to your athletes, they probably have an idea of your coaching philosophy. The value you place on winning, effort, teamwork, punctuality and your love for the sport are all things that are often implicitly learned. It is important to determine your beliefs and expectations not only for your athletes, but also for your assistant coaches, trainers, parents and for yourself. Before anyone else can know what is expected from you, you need to decide what is important and what your expectations are. As a leader, the coach is a resemblance of the athletes and their behaviours. If any of your athletes don't agree with your coaching philosophies then it is better they know early in the season to avoid disagreements further down the road.

How to Develop a Coaching Philosophy?
It is important to write down what you expect from your athletes and what you value in your sport; sportsmanship, winning/losing, teamwork, anti-doping/fair play, personal growth, roles on the team, behaviours accepted vs. not accepted, etc. After you have defined what you value and what you expect from the athletes, it is important to let them know. Even if you think it might be obvious, your athletes should still be told. Let your athletes know early in the season. A good way is to have the athletes sign an 'Athlete Guarantee' form and to sit down and talk with them about your beliefs and goals for the year and your expectations of them as members of the team.

Some Questions to Ask Yourself When Developing a Coaching Philosophy
How important is winning?

How important is fair play (what if it might lead to an unsuccessful performance?)

Is it how they play the game or the result that matters most?

How do you value their personal growth (on and off the field/court)?

What is your stance on doping/drugs in sport?

Importance of you and your athletes being punctual?

The effort that you, your coaching staff and your athletes give at practice?

Are your practices and games all serious or do you want them to have fun?

If a referee is involved? Do you questions calls and argue? Do you let your athletes? Is this a double standard?

Is it more important that your athlete is improving or getting results?

Would you sacrifice the well being of an athlete to win?

If your athletes are in school, what is your opinion of them missing school or exams?

What if one (or more) of your athletes have a temper?

Do you treat your athletes the same regardless of skill level, age, sex, race, religion, etc? (Do your athletes?)

Does your beahviour as a coach reflect your beliefs (coaching philosophy)?

Do you adjust your coaching style and beliefs to the athletes you have or do you make them adjust to you? Is there a compromise both ways?

Do your beliefs hold any of your athletes back? Do you challenge them to be better athletes and people? To work harder?

How hard are you going to work/push them? Do your athletes understand and agree with this? Do they know why this is/isn't important to you and them?

How much say do the athletes have in the play calling/design of practice? Do they run set plays? Do you allow for creativity? View on athlete empowerment - decision making?

Do you want what's best for them or you? Or both?

Do your actions reflect what you preach?

Do you have a policy if an athlete goes against your beliefs and expectations? Is this known ahead of time?

Know what you stand for and believe in so your athletes do!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

The Intrinsic Value Attached to a Goal

We've all had some experience with goal setting. And I believe it is still an overlooked and often very misunderstood tool. As a coach we see the few kids that do everything we tell them, no questions asked and they achieve great results and we focus on them and think to ourselves, why can't more of the kids be like Billy or Jane?

After doing some reading and reflection, I believe that in general, people don't weight enough importance to their goal. Think about it this way..even though someone knows that training will make them fitter and they would really like to be fitter and a better squash player, they aren't going to stick to the program unless they're desire to improve outweighs their current comfort (and lack of pain) level for not training hard. The negative association to exerting themselves at such a high and uncomfortable level is difficult for some people to comprehend and hence make it a habit. People often say, it's too hard, they can't do this or that, they don't enjoy doing sprints or the beep test. We think of ultramarathon runners as crazy and a rare breed. But they are no different then the rest of us. So how did this happen? Could it be you running 100 miles through the bush? I believe it's because they are unable to rest without knowing what they are truly capable of. They can't sleep at night or sit still if they know they didn't give it their all and push themselves to the extreme.

Here's from a different point of view..from a diet perspective. What point in a life does someone reach where they are unhappy with their body? What about to the point that unhappy turns into repulsive and completely disgusted? What is the exact sign..a certain body weight? Clothes aren't fitting? A comment from someone? A doctor? No matter what the sign is, here is my point. If that person highly values and links a lot of pleasure to being in decent/good/great shape, compared to the pleasure they get from eating unhealthy and not working out..then this person will likely stick to their goal and lose that extra weight. Those that have tried many diets and keeps failing are different. They link a lot of pain to the effort required to lose the weight. People like this will inevitably try every diet in the book and continually fail...until they find something that really hits home hard. Maybe it's a serious health issue, their partner leaves them, they have a baby..or maybe it will never happen because they get so much pleasure from being lazy and eating poorly. How do we link enough pain to being unhealthy and more pleasure to exercising and eating healthy?

So what does this have to do with squash?

We teach squash players to set goals and how to set effective goals? Sometimes we even help people set their goals? And they might truly intend on working hard to achieve that goal. But often they don't. Do we blame this on the goal being too difficult? Or does someone get sick, injured, or maybe they think they need more matter the excuse or explanation, one thing is important. How does that person intrinsically value that goal? Are they willing to make sacrifices to achieve something that will bring them great pleasure? Is it possible that the hard work becomes pleasurable to this person because they understand they are working towards a larger/long term goal? If they set challenging, yet attainable goals, they should be able to achieve them more often than not. So my interest is in finding a way to increase the pure motivation and drive of each individual. To find a way to let that person see that they can take control of their destiny by finding leverage for them to commit and achieve their goals. Like I said, we might have the best intentions, but what we really need is to attach such meaning (pleasure) to our goals that not achieving them or at least giving up on our goals is painful...and so we keep persisting and never give up!

Think about what you really want and what's preventing you from getting it? How much pain do you associate to making the changes necessary to get what you really want? If there wasn't a sacrifice involved (pain) you would already be getting the results you want. Maybe if you can get a taste of the results it will help you stop procrastinating and living in the present with the intention of setting yourself up for a better tomorrow.

Our lives are what we make of them. What do you want to change? And how can you create leverage to change the negative thoughts you currently attribute to working towards your goals.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Have you stopped improving? I can help

Before I get to my topic, I'd like to start by saying once again that I had intended this blog as not just a personal tool but also for the Moncton Squash Club. And as I mentioned I decided to continue with my blog even though I left the club last spring. So I am going to start updating this on a regular basis. If you want to find out more or have a point I haven't considered I would love to hear it. Feedback is always welcomed!

Alright...maximizing learning and practice. What are your strength and weaknesses?

I'm reading a Tony Robbins book at the moment and he got me asking myself some questions. I feel that a lot of this can be applied to improving how we practice and getting better. The main idea is that we get stuck in limiting patterns. When I practice my squash game, even when I'm working on a weakness, I am practicing the same ways over and over. You have a problem with this, do that. After a certain point it's only natural to lose out focus and we will not be able to do it any more effectively (and this means I will stop improving or at a very slow rate).

So my revelation is to completely change how I'm practicing. Say for example that I want to work on my footwork. After how many times of doing the same footwork drills am I going to max out and have no more room for improvement? Yes they can still maintain or improve my fitness, but I believe there is a better way(S)! making it more challenging.

What if we change where the 'T' is and where we go back to after each shot? What if we randomize the time we're working? Or what if you have to balance something on your head or your racquet while your moving around the court? My theory is that this breaks us from out regular comfort zone and it challenges us to do something we aren't able too. And if there is an area of weakness in my footwork that the normal routine hasn't solved yet, try something different.

An added benefit is of course psychologically, I am more likely to be consumed with the challenge of the new court movement because it isn't the same old thing. And this philosophy can be done for anything...after years I have a developed a similar solo might not be set in stone, but the minor variations are minimal. So the last time I went out to hit some balls I didn't hit a single ball from the back of the court or on the bounce. I didn't do any drill for more than a minute or two at a time and I was able to find numerous ways to challenge myself and find things I was not able to do. Usually we try and avoid the things we can't I found the dirtiest spot on the wall and did some vollies. It was difficult to see and I struggles at the beginning..but it got better, but still has room for improvement. Then I picked out 2 spots close to one another on the wall and aimed for one and then the next and tried to focus on hitting them on each shot. Was I able too? Sometimes, but not often enough. And when I get better at it, I would step back or hit it faster.

So my challenge to you is to find what challenges you? What needs improvement? What do you usually do? What can you try differently? What patterns have you got stuck in? How can you break the bad ones and make them more positive?

Thoughts? Opinions? Confused? Understand? Interested? Let me know what you think.


Saturday, August 27, 2011

It's Been a Long Time

This blog was initially designed in part for the members at the Moncton Squash Club. After leaving, I thought about shutting it down...but clearly I haven't. Not that I feel I'm special and deserve my own blog, but for those that wonder about how school is going, if I made the right decision going back to school, what's squash like in Victoria, and where am I going from here..well this is that update.

To start with, school this summer was great (a younger me would be shocked to hear that!). Anyways, I had 4 courses. Two courses ran at the same time and went for 3 weeks. I thought it was going to be hard spending 25 hours a week (in the summer no less) in a classroom..but that was just the beginning. Especially for the first 3 weeks, the days were very long. In 3 weeks I had designed a fitness guide for advanced squash players and I am well on the way of completing my main project on anticipation and deception in squash. I also did a sport audit for squash which lists all of the key performance indicators, completed a project on motivation and another on team building in an individual sport. On top of this I also learned a lot about (sport) psychology. I've begun working on tools to help players refocus between points and prior to matches. So basically I've learned a lot. I've also learned that I already knew a lot, but organizing it and knowing how, when and why to apply it is also very important.

So where do I go from here..I'm still working on my main project along with some other tools for coaching. I'll be doing some coop, likely here in Victoria and working part time. And I am currently looking into building a website for squash. The idea behind the site is to organize all of my knowledge (from when I started playing squash 22 years ago up to this very moment) and create a lot of high quality resources not only for myself, but for other coaches, juniors, adults, parents, sponsors, and tournament organizers. This way I can help not only those that I am working with, but those across the country and the world.

I will be searching for corporate sponsor(s) to help get the site off an running. If you or someone you know is interested please contact me for further details. Otherwise, once it's finished I hope you won't be disappointed!

Friday, February 25, 2011

2011 College Squash Associatin: Men's Team Finals

The College Squash Association is streaming matches live for the Men's Team Finals from Harvard this weekend. Should be plenty of great matches. Copy and paste the link below to watch.

Not sure if any of the Western matches will be streamed..but good luck UWO!