Saturday, June 28, 2014

Long Term Tactical Development

I believe that most juniors don't think about what style/type of player they want to become. I believe this is important to discuss with kids early in their development. How do they enjoy playing? How does their coach play or like you to play? How do the top players at their club/school and other role models play? Which shots are they have success with will also influence how they develop. The challenge here is that winning and losing often interferes with how a kid is learning to play. Kids make mistakes on a specific shot and avoid it. Making mistakes is an essential part of learning and I feel it's how these mistakes are interpreted that mould the future of the athlete playing style.

When I play I don't get upset when I make a mistake if I feel it was the correct shot to play. I tell myself something positive like 'good choice' or 'stay aggressive' meanwhile I get more upset at myself for making a poor decision even if it results in winning the rally. And I know with the number of decisions one makes in a match you are bound to make a number of good and and so good choices, so understanding and accepting this is important. Just learn from it and refocus before the next point.

So here is where I believe is the 'fork in the road' in the development of any squash player. If they make a mistake on a shot, for example a straight forehand volley drop should they not go back to it again? Does it depend on the 'importance' of the competition they are in? For junior players I don't believe that it should and I know this can sometimes result in a few more errors and even a loss in that match. But what the athlete will learn is that they are more focused on their own development and playing the right shot at the right time. In my humble opinion coaching someone to avoid playing a shot is limiting their creativity and development. I understand coaches, parents, and yes of course the athletes all want success now, and that doesn't mean you can't have it, but I would never want success now at the cost of success down the road and limiting the ceiling of my potential as a squash player.

If a player is missing a certain shot and doesn't have an efficient technique to hit it then this is something that should be taken into consideration. Also if a player is missing a certain shot numerous times in a match and is getting upset then what can you do? You could have a strategy for getting back on track, say playing a long hard next rally after this mistake occurs and then after that point get right back to your game plan. Also it is important to discuss strategies for 'big points,' up or down game or match ball, or tied in over points, do you still go for the same shots you normally do or do you play a bit safer? What about when your opponent is self destructing? Do you still go for the same shots you normally would or do you let them keep handing you points? This is up for debate, but I believe it is all about the players focus. If you are focused (in the zone) then you play your shots almost instinctively and I believe that a focused and confident player wouldn't pass up a good attacking opportunity regardless of the score.

As a coach, parents, or fellow squash player it is not up to us to tell a kid how to play this game. There are after all many ways to be successful and win rallies, games, matches, and tournaments in squash. We can offer suggestions, but I feel that the athlete needs to figure this out on their own. Look to role models that have similar body types, or styles that you admire and watch how they play.

Remember that squash is a game and if you don't enjoy the style of squash you are being taught you likely won't enjoy it and are more likely to drop out of the sport. As a coach we are in a position to help the athlete choose how they will develop and what style of squash player they will become. Even though it doesn't seem like a big decision at the time, it's a fork in the road as I believe it is difficult to change the style you play later on in your squash career. As much as I want my athletes to have success now I would never compromise their long term development for short term outcome gains.

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