Monday, July 28, 2014

Two Week Challenge

Today is my last post before my vacation. I'm going away for about 2 weeks and I would like to pose a challenge for each of you in the meantime.

Set a mini goal/challenge for the next 2 weeks. Maybe it's to do an extra 5 or 10 pushups, an extra minute on a wall sit or the plank, or to get to 100 figure 8 volleys. Before you set this goal you first need to have a benchmark. How many, how long, or how fast can you do this now? And then practice it every day or 2 (depending on the physicality of the exercise). Try increasing the exercise by a small amount each session. So set your 2 week goal into even smaller chunks, into more mentally attainable goals. Maybe you are unsure if you could do an extra 5 or 10 sets but 1 or 2, well yeah if I push myself I could do that. And then each session is a mini goal and you add just a little bit. And the next thing you know is you'll be attaining your 2 week challenge goal. And at the end of the two weeks you may just think, I like this, I'm going to keep this going for another 2 weeks and see how much better I can get.

When we look too far down the road and have our eyes set on goals that seem insurmountable at the moment we may not even attempt to take that first step. When we start building up bit by bit we gain momentum and more importantly belief that we can do this. We also begin to understand that we can do whatever we want if we have a plan, are dedicated, and persistent. This is how I would do some of my training blocks over the years. I would try adding bit by bit each session or each week until a few months later I was actually impressed at how fast or far or how many reps I did. Each session I tried to set a new benchmark for my myself and then I would keep trying to slowly build onto it.

It feels really good to reach goals, to improve at something, to get stronger, fitter, and faster. You feel better about yourself and you start to notice that most of the obstacles in this world are only in your mind. I encourage anyone that tries this challenge to share what they are doing, what your benchmark is now and what your goals are in 2 weeks time. You can remain anonymous in your post if you like. Good luck with your challenge!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Importance of Rest

Todays topic is well timed as I am about to go on vacation. Today I am going to talk about rest. Rest and time away from sport is something that sounds so simple but is quite challenging for many of us. Often our rest times come because we are injured or sick. How often do you intentionally plan not just a rest day but a full week? The toll that sport, especially squash puts on our body and mind is very high. I believe that rest is more important for the mind than our body. When to plan rest and how much time to take is really up to the individual. Here are a few of my philosophies about rest.

Tapering before tournaments: taking a day off or having a light training day prior to competition is important and is much better then having a hard training day. We don't want to be training too hard right before important competitions or we won't fully recover by the start of it. I should also note that you will feel better quicker from workouts if you have an effective recovery routine (stretching, light aerobic activity, rehydrate and refuel properly, and maybe even have an ice bath). You can cut your recovery time in half if you have an effective post match routine.

After tournaments: be careful of what you do on Monday. If you play 4 or 5 hard matches maybe you should take Monday off (or at least keep it very light). If you planned on taking Monday off but didn't play on Sunday maybe you'll train especially since you are motivated to make it to Sunday next time.

Between back to back tournaments: how much you do the week between 2 competitions depends on how many matches and how you worked in the first one. Sometimes begin fresh and having a couple of lighter sessions is better in these scenarios. In these situations I would practice whatever I thought wasn't quite up to par in the first tournament and then maybe have 1 match and do a couple of solo hits.

Take at least 1 day a week off: maybe even another light day (just a solo hit). Our body needs time to recover after tough workouts and you are more prone to injury if you consistently overtrain.

Take at least 1 full week off per year: I suggest 2 or 3 weeks per year, especially for kids. Sometimes we feel like we are losing our fitness and worry about digressing. This may be true for 1 or 2 practices back after a week off, but it is better for you in the long run. Getting good at squash isn't a sprint, it's a journey. Plan your weeks off in the off months and try and limit your physical activity during these weeks as well. At least no hard training sessions.

Rest should be restful: rest days or weeks doesn't mean you need to or should be completely inactive, but I do feel the need to say that a rest week from squash should not be filled with intense training for another sport or to climb some mountain or run or bike a race. You should come back from your rest feeling rejuvenated and raring to go, not in need of another rest week!

Taking too much time off: we all know the consequences of this. And most people worry about taking a week or two off. Especially as kids this is not a problem. If you take of longer you will probably need equal that amount of time to get back to where you were. I think as we get older this actually doubles. If I miss a month it would take me about two to get back to where I was. This is why when I was younger I would try and play at least once a week even if I was doing off court training, I wanted to keep my squash fitness traits and ability up (even though they wouldn't really be improving playing just once per week). When taking a significant amount of time off it is very important to ease your way back into training and squash. I know that this can be difficult to do, but I also know this is when injuries occur. You want to make up for lost time and do too much. Nothing is worse than that happening and then getting injured once again and having to miss more time. So when you're coming back from a layoff set small goals and build yourself back up to the point that you were prior to your break. Use my rule or however much time you missed is how long it will take you to get back to the level. If you're older remember that this timeframe may be double.

Listen to your body: when something is sore or not feeling right, take some time off. I use this as a sign to focus on a different part of my game or training. If my legs are sore, well time to work on my core and maybe do a solo hit. f my wrist is hurting me then I'll work on my cardio and my legs. If my mind is fatigued maybe I need a day off to go golfing or to go for a float.

Rest plays an important role in injury prevention. Although we can't prevent injuries completely we can prevent some by listening to our bodies. And don't feel guilty for having a day or two off. Especially if you've worked hard all you week, you deserve the break. Know that rest is a part of your training programme and is necessary for you to play your best and maintain a high level of play throughout the year.

As I'm about to go on vacation and enjoy some of my own rest time. I will likely not be posting too often while I'm away. I do have a number of topics I want to write about upon my return. Here are a few you can expect. 1) A list of different warm up drills (yes, besides boast drive!) 2) How to train for a unilateral sport 3) Fitness testing 4) Technical testing and 5) Setting goals for the upcoming season. If there is another topic you'd like to hear about I'm always open to suggestions.

Before I go on my break I want to thank everyone that has read my and given me supportive feedback. I've enjoyed writing these and feel that they keep me thinking more about my coaching and the game. As I've said before the main purpose of my blog was for my students to have some more material at their disposal. To anyone else that has stumbled upon this blog I hope you have enjoyed it and will continue to learn more about your squash game.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Fun Junior Squash Camp Activities

So today I thought I would share some of the things I learned from the squash camp I ran this week. I normally work with a little more advanced and older kids so I learned a lot. This week I had beginner to intermediate level players ranging from 10-14 years old. I believe that all or at least most of the kids had a lot of fun and some even improved their squash game a little bit. Thankfully there were no injuries and seeing that the kids had fun I consider the week a success. I was lucky that I had a lot of help from some of the high school kids I work with. I think the younger kids really enjoyed getting on court with them and interacting with them.

Here is a list of some of the game I came up with that the kids enjoyed the most.

Squash baseball: I like baseball and I remember as a kid loving soccer baseball so this was a no brainer. We played with a sponge ball that was still able to be hit a long ways. For the racquet the kids used a 30 year old Unsquashable racquet and we alternated having to use forehand for some innings and backhands for others. There were 6 kids on a team and they would all bat each inning regardless of how many outs there were. The kids enjoyed this but had enough after about 4 innings.

500: this is a game I remember as a kid and I always liked. Sometimes we played it with the sponge ball and the old Unsquashable racquet while others we used frisbees. The person hitting the ball or throwing the frisbee says how much each toss is worth if caught. When someone gets to 500 they switch and are now the tosser. The frisbee toss is a good activity for working on their backhand swing, so I tried to incorporate it into a few activities this week.

Team relay races: I did this a number of ways. Sometimes they had to dribble a soccer ball or basketball through some pylons and then throw some frisbees to a teammate before returning through the pylons with the ball. I would time the team total and then the other team would try and beat them. I also had them go through the pylons bouncing a ball on a racquet. And other times we had relay races with various squash racquet and ball skills: such as balancing the ball on the racquet, bouncing it on the forehand side, or the backhand, or along the sidewall of the court. We also did one where they had to share the racquet and ball so they would have to pass it off to their teammate.

3 people alternating shots with 2 racquets: I've done this before with 1 racquet, but not all of the kids had enough ball control to hit a nice high shot and pass of their racquet to a teammate. They did seem to really enjoy this and had some funny and interesting rallies. The goal was to get the longest rally possible but they always had to hit the ball in the same order. I liked this game because they had to work together, it kept them thinking and on their toes!

Various squash ball games: on one of the days I put each of the kids into groups of 3 and they had to play one another a game with 5 different balls. One was a large Karakal ball with no dots, the other was a slightly smaller blue ball that was quite bouncy, a sponge ball, a green ball that was about equally as bouncy as a one dot, and a white ball that was challenging to see. They kids had fun playing and experimenting with the different types of balls.

Dodgeball: this is always a popular game. We played with the foam squash ball again. Didn't know it would come in handy so much time week. Everyone is at the front of the court and one person hits the foam ball at them from behind the short line. I had the kids still wear their eye protection just to be safe. If you got hit with the foam ball you were out until there was only 1 remaining.

Race to 5 points against the high school kids: I had 3 older and strong squash players help out. I arranged the kids into 3 group. One of each of the helpers were on a court and played against one team at a time. Each team sends 1 player in at a time to play a game to 5. If they won 1 or 2 points their teammate then starts the next game at that score until the get to 5. This also made it fun and challenging for the helpers. After the first team got to 5 we rotated them around so they each got to play the 3 different helpers.

It was a good learning experience for me. I think it was for the kids as well. Although I felt more like a PE instructor than a coach this week it was challenging and fun. I gave some of the kids that seemed eager a coupe of tips about their game, but it was a different role than I'm accustomed to. Overall I'm happy with how the week went. Most of the kids will probably not play squash at competitive level, but if they enjoy it and keep playing that is the important thing. And who knows, maybe a couple of them will make squash their main sport at some point. If I had even a small part to do with that then I feel like that is just a bonus from the week,

Friday, July 25, 2014

Winning & Losing

Today I'm going to discuss a popular sport topic. I'm going to discuss competition; winning and losing. Now I'm the first one to admit that I do not like losing. It is a difficult thing to accept that you are not as good as someone. I didn't play squash when I was 7 because I would win or lose. I played because my whole family did and it was a lot of fun.

It was just by chance that my home club (Pickering Recreation Complex) was hosting the Canadian Junior Nationals in 1991. I didn't have any expectation. I was only 9 playing in the boys under 12. I ended up winning the consolation and got a fancy trophy I still have somewhere. This was the first time I realized I was actually good at squash and if I played more regularly, well maybe I could even win some tournaments. This is what started to happen. Getting a taste of winning at that age was great, but I also hated to lose. It would be hard to imagine if you know me now, but I had a bit of a temper. At one tournament a rep for A Henkel was there and told my parents they wanted to sponsor me. I was already using their red Chris Robertson model. I can't remember what exactly I did, but it was because of my poor court behaviour they didn't sponsor me. And this was an adult tournament when I was about 11 or so.

I did get better at controlling my temper, but never handled losing very well (maybe externally I did but not internally). So what could I have done differently? Would I have had better control of my emotions if I didn't play competitively until I was older? Is this just something that is unavoidable for some kids?

I believe that withholding kids from competition is not the answer. I do however think that all of society praises winners more than those that tried their best but didn't succeed. It is much easier to win a match than to lose and handle defeat with a good attitude. I've used and heard many excuses for why we lose a match...and sometimes theses excuses may even hold some truth. To me that doesn't matter. If a kid wants to impress me, they won't do so by simply winning a match or a tournament. What impresses me most is when someone loses a match and potentially they could have used some excuses, but they don't. They congratulate their opponent and thank the referee.

I've also experienced a different aspect of good sportsmanship. I remember playing a tournament when I was a kid and my parents went out of their way to point how this older kid (Dave Phillips) had overruled the referees decision of a let and gave his opponent a stroke. I could tell this really meant a lot to my parents and in my next match I spent the whole time trying to recreate a similar position so I could overrule the referee and give my opponent another point. Even though this was a kid I would normally beat, I wasn't even competing or concerned that I was losing. I eventually got my chance and overruled the ref and gave my opponent a stroke. That's always stuck with me. It was clear that I wanted to make my parents proud and I believed that winning everything was the best way. When I found out there was another way that seemed to make them ever happier I jumped at it. It was easy to give up a point when I'd already given up the match, so this is clearly not the example I want to see from my athletes. It is when you are in the heat of battle and competing that it can be hard to think straight and call your own shot out or overrule a refs decision to give your opponent a stroke.

This is a generalized example but is one that I'm sure most of you can relate to. We play better against stronger opponents because we don't worry about winning so we can relax and just play. While many of us don't enjoy playing payers that we feel we should beat; as if we have more to lose and nothing to gain. This is a troubling way to think about your opponents. You should be more focused on your own game and the process, playing to the best of your ability and not the outcome. When we start to think about winning a game before it's finished this is often when we let leads slip away.

These are just a few of my examples over the years. I think that even without knowing it we all congratulate and make kids feel better for winning a match and succeeding. If you want them to stick with the sport and be able to handle the outcome it is crucial that we give positive feedback for effectively handing a defeat. And this doesn't mean that I want all my kids to lose just so they can prove they are good sports. I just mean that when they do lose a match they can handle it the same way as if they had won.

Remember that your kids played squash originally because it was fun. When things become about winning and losing, it gets too serious and they no longer have fun. This is when they are more prone to having difficulty handling defeat. Trying their best and competing should make you proud, but your kids may feel like they've let you down.

Kids should also be placed in a proper division for tournaments (especially when starting out). If they are grossly overmatched they may shy away from further competition. Nobody wants to be embarrassed. I also don't like it when kids win games 11-0 or 15-0 and brag about it. That is another example of poor sportsmanship.

Simply avoiding competition is not the answer. Encourage smiles, high fives, and good sportsmanship. If your kid is really misbehaving then of course they shouldn't be playing. But this may be something that you can improve by talking about. Maybe they perceive some pressure from you or their coach to win.

Controlling Your Emotions: When your mind is filled with anger you are no longer in the right mindset for playing your best squash. Here is a little trick I learned from a book called Zen Golf that I've tried in the past. If you are having trouble controlling your emotions when you play. Try a practice match and have an erasable marker at the back door (assuming you have a glass back court). Every time you get angry, just put a tick on the back glass. Don't judge yourself and be honest about this. Repeating this a few times has shown to help people learn to handle their negative emotions without trying to make changes. Often these are just subconscious bad habits that have developed into our game over time. I also feel it's important to always look on the bright side of a rally. Try thinking 'good choice' instead of 'bad error.' If it a really awful rally sometimes all you can is laugh it off.  Keep it light and positive when you play.

On a final note. I like to tell my athletes to imagine that they are coaching themselves when they're playing. Listen to some of the things you are saying to yourself. Would you ever say these things to a person you were coaching or watching play? Of course not. Don't be so hard on yourself. You are only making things harder on yourself.

The emphasis of the outcome is something that is learned from a young age. We praise out kids for getting an A and ask what happened when they receive a B. We celebrate when the Leafs (hey I'm from Toronto!) finally win a game and mock them in defeat. Even though we may not take their results too seriously, our kids pick up on how much importance we place on the outcome. And for young kids I feel that too much winning can be just as dangerous as too much losing. This reminds me of another one of my favourite quotes, 'never let a win go to your head or a loss go to your heart.' Kids need to learn how to handle winning and losing and I truly believe that avoiding competition is not the solution it's about learning how to accept wining and losing. We must learn to acknowledge our effort and your opponent regardless of the outcome. And if you are able still play squash for fun then you probably don't need to worry about any of this.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Target Practice

Today I'm going to talk about using targets. Using targets keeps you more focused on the accuracy of your shots and can also be a lot of fun. When it comes down to it, the top players have precise control to any part of the court from any position. As we get tired or are put under pressure everyone's accuracy suffers. Those that are accurate under pressure, that have the ability to go from being under pressure to applying pressure on a single shot are pretty special. Even though in my last post I discussed the important of using height when under pressure, often when you have less time to hit, your opponent also has less time to return to the T and prepare for your return shot. Deciding to defend or counter attack while under pressure can be a risky proposition. Knowing when to do which depends on the individual and their opponent and I like to think of it all in percentages (high or low).

What to use for targets: I got a little sidetracked there, but back to target talk now. You can use a number of objects as targets. I often use tape to outline an area, or a small pylon, I'll use a shoe. If working with a lower level player use a larger target like a racquet, the service box, the ball machine, or even yourself. Using yourself as a target make sure they are hitting the front wall first. It's important to match the target size to the skill level or the player may get discouraged as they struggle to hit it. Once in a while I will use tape to define a target on the side or front wall. You can do this for practicing boasts, drops, or where you want a serve to hit on the side wall. If you're not the coach at your club I recommend taking the tape off after your practice session.

Where to place targets: It's important to think about where you want to place your targets and why. Are you working on attacking drives or hitting your drives deeper (a rallying/neutral drive)? Depending on which shot you are practicing is where you should place the target. This will also vary depending on how bouncy the ball is and how hard you hit the ball. When practicing drop shots I like to have the target pretty short meaning I would work my opponent far up into the front corner. I find many people hit heavy drops and although I don't want them floating their drops that I like to call a 'lob-drop,' I also don't want them to hit their drops too heavy and deep. When I watch professionals hit drops I always notice how precise they are with their short game and how small of a margin they have over the tin. For this reason I don't emphasize hitting x# of drops in a row without a mistake. I don't want people to become passive with their drop shot and think negatively, such as 'don't hit the tin.'

When to use targets: You can use targets in all types of drills, condition games and just regular matches. At the squash club I work at we have regular 'cup tournaments' where we place 8-10 cups on the court, 4-5 on a side. You play someone for 30 minutes without a break and get 1 point for winning a rally and 5 bonus points if you hit a cup before the 2nd bounce. At the end of the tournament whoever hits the most cups at each level gets a prize. Most people have a lot of fun playing these tournaments. I also find that people tend to volley trying to protect the cups. I have found that volleying and protecting your opponent from hitting a target is another added benefit to using targets. Other times I use targets when doing technical testing. I would give someone 2 minutes of solo hitting and count how many drives they hit within x# of floorboards. Similar but without the time pressure, I give my student a certain # of attempts (e.g., 20) and count how many they hit within the target. If they player is very strong make the target smaller and challenging and have a larger target for lower level players. As the lower level players improve start shrinking the targets. You can do the same thing for drops, volleys, crosscourt drives, boasts, or lobs. I find this is an effective method for measuring improvement in various of areas of your game. And it gives the athlete direct feedback on what they can work on and how much they have improved.

Consequences for hitting a target: A lot of times I'll put a condition when a target is hit. It might mean that the other player has to do 10 pushups or court sprints. Other times I'll let the player that hit the target move the target to wherever they like. Or like in the cup tournaments the player just gets bonus points for hitting a target. I learned using a shoe as a target from Rob Brooks. He would give 3 bonus points for hitting the shoe and 5 for putting the ball inside the shoe. The kids always loved that game. Other times I'll do a drill like rotating drives and go until the first person hits the target 3 times. This improves their concentration for more basic drills. You can use targets in any drill and you can use any consequence when one is hit. Be creative and have fun with it.

Try using some of these tips and introduce targets into your practices. You can do this during solo hitting or your standard drill session. Don't just hit the ball into an area of the court, hit it to a precise location with a purpose. Practicing with targets regularly will increase you ability to do so.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Learning to Pronate & Supinate Your Forearm Under Pressure

It seems nobody is brave enough to post a squash video for me to analyze yet. Or maybe you would like to, but need to line up a game and film it first. So I'll leave that offer up there for as long as it takes. Don't worry...I'll be gentle.

Today I would like to have a short discussion about the importance of being able to pronate and supinate your forearm. Supinate means to rotate the arm so the palm faces upwards whereas to pronate your is to rotate your arm so the plan faces down. I remember back from my university anatomy class the professor told us supinate you can hold soup. Yes, somehow this mental image has stuck and is helpful now in my coaching days.

Recently I've worked with people that don't supinate or pronate their forearm when they need to. You do have some pronation during your forehand downswing and some supination in your backhand downswing, but that's not what I'm going to discuss today as the biomechanics of the swing can be quite dry without images. I should mention that I did a still frame breakdown of my backhand a couple of years ago that I can post at a later date. When I did this I was able to identify each part of the body that is involved in hitting a backhand drive and which motion and sequence the body segments moved.

Today I'm going to talk about when you are under pressure. This can be when the ball gets a bit behind you or when you are under some pressure moving to the front of the court. I've played so much squash that when I'm under pressure I almost intuitively use height on my shot to recover to the T and reset the rally. Supination on the forehand and pronation on the backhand has a major part of me being able to do this.

Let me explain this on my backhand. Say someone has hit a good attacking boast bringing me up to the from backhand corner and I'll be under pressure. I pronate my forearm to open my racquet face up so I can get right under the ball. Most of the time under fair amounts of pressure I will want to lob so as a pronate my arm I can hit higher on the front wall. This is the same things if I decide to counter drop this boast. Especially if the ball I'm hitting as dropped below the height of the tin. I see a lot of people approach these shots without opening up their racquet face enough (which is not pronating their arm) and the result is either a tin or they hit the ball to low and do not have enough time to get back to the T.

The same thing happens as the ball gets behind you. Lets say for example that once again I'm under pressure on my backhand but this time the ball is in the back corner. If I go back without really cocking my wrist and opening up the racquet face you will probably end up having to boast or will it the ball very low on the front wall. To hit this ball higher I pronate and cock my wrist opening up my racquet face.

If you can get out of trouble, especially on the backhand side you will be a much tougher opponent. Here a couple of drills you can do to practice opening up your racquet face (pronating and supination).

Two person drills
For Practicing Lobs Under Pressure
1. Boast, crosscourt lob
2. boast, crosscourt lob, straight drive, straight drive
3. boast, court lob, straight drive
4. Boast, straight or crosscourt lob, straight drive
5. Boast, straight drop or crosscourt lob, crosscourt lob off the drop and boast the lob

For Practicing Counter Drops Under Pressure
1. hand feeding drops moving from the T
2. boat, straight drop, drive
3. boast, straight drop, straight drop, straight drive
4. boast, straight drop, crosscourt length
5. short game (everything has to be hit with no pace and first bounce has to be in front of the short line). serve with a boast

Here are a couple of other drills that I find are good for practicing supinating and pronating.
1. boast, straight drive, straight drive (the drives have to be over the service line)
2. Regular rallies, but every shot has to be over the service line
3. One player has to hit everything over the service line, the other has no restrictions
4. Regular rallies but you have to alternate hitting shots above and below the service line
5. Solo hitting - alternate hitting your drives low and hard to high and soft

I find most people swing with one plane and usually that is low and hard. Around or below the service line. For this reason most club players are vulnerable to a good lob and also don't know how to open up their racquet face to use height on the front wall. If you practice these drills  and learn how to pronate and supinate will you are going to move up your club ladder.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Free Squash Match Analysis For First 3 Submitted Video Links

Today is going to be a fun topic. I'm going to talk briefly about video and why you should film yourself play. I am also going to throw an offer out there for the first 3 people that reply to this with a youtube link to one of their squash games. If you don't mind other people seeing your video and reading my critique, I encourage 3 brave souls to submit a video for me to watch and provide feedback. Just 1 or 2 games will do. Let me know which player you are (what you're wearing), your name, and which game(s) of the match it is. First 3 to respond with a youtube video link get a free video analysis. I will be sharing this with my readers in a future post, so if you don't want everyone to see your video and hear my opinion than do not submit your video. But don't worry, I won't list everything you need to work on. I will limit it to the 3 things I feel are most crucial to improving your game and playing better squash. So post your video link now in the comment section below and then finish readed the rest of today's blog.

I enjoy watching video for a number of reasons. Often we think (perceive) we are doing one thing and playing a certain way, but when we watch it on film it looks much different. There are so many things you can learn from watching yourself play. You can look at your shot selection, your racquet preparation, if you're calling your lets, your body language, where you T is (if you get to it!), how often you volley (or don't), how tight and deep your drives are, how you move around the court, and so on.

I also really enjoy watching professionals play. My favourite players to watch are Ramy Ashour, Greg Gaultier, Amr Shabana, and Mohammed Elshorbagy. As you can guess I like watching attacking players. I like watching Greg because I am around the same size as him and I can appreciate how small he makes the court play. He has an amazing lunging ability and strength across the middle of the court. Ramy is very creative and when he's healthy he's the best player and most fun to watch. Amr is technically and tactically so sound and his drives and drops are so tight. He rarely clips the side wall on these shots as his lines really are the best in the game. He is also very deceptive from the front of the court and seems to have an innate sense for the open court. He really makes the game look easy. Mohammed on the other hand is just the hardest hitting player, at least the most consistently hardest hitting player. He can also get from the T to any ball/corner in the blink of an eye. Even though he holds his racquet so eye and crowds the ball he still had an unbelievable retrieving ability. His fitness for playing this high paced game for long stretches at a time is the best in the game. And I love his deceptive forehand drop where he looks like he's going to crush the ball and drops the racquet face open and hits a tidy cut drop shot. It's such a difficult shot to hit, I wonder how many of these he's hit in practice over the years. Pretty cool to see new shots still being developed. After watching some of these guys before going to the courts I always play better squash. We learn vicariously from watching stronger players. If you enjoy watching the pros play, do so before you play next. And better yet, pick someone that plays similar to you/well how you would like to play. Also watching someone with a similar body type (height, weight, gender) can be even more beneficial.

With the ease of filming devices nowadays it is something every keen squash player should do. You can even film yourself solo hitting, ghosting, or doing drills and learn a lot. The only issue I've encountered with filming is with my team. I have a lot of hours of footage of unwatched film. This is why I encourage people to do their own filming. Almost everyone has a phone with video or an iPad.

After you film yourself play simply watching it is excellent, but you can also do some charting if you want to dig deeper. Try charting where your drives land, or try counting how long each rally is, and this is always a favourite of mine, try charting if you volley the return of serve or not and what the result of that rally is. You can also chart your shot selection from one area of the court. For example, draw a aerial view of a squash court. If you want to track your shot section front right corner, anytime you hit a ball under little to moderate amounts of pressure put a dot where the ball you hit lands (or an x if it's volleyed and use a different coloured pen/pencil for unforced errors). After an entire match you may see a trend developing.

I enjoy watching squash, whether it's myself, my students, or the pros. I enjoy analyzing and seeing improvement from week to week and month to month. The use of video is an excellent method to monitor improvement and to learn more about your game (and your opponents). I believe it also helps with visualization as you'll have a clearer picture of how you look while playing.

Stay tuned for my match analysis of the first 3 submitted youtube squash match video links. I will write this up in a future post and will include their video links and feedback for you to see what I'm talking about and if you agree or not with my diagnosis.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Junior Summer Camp Planning

Today I'm going to talk about organizing a junior squash camp. This week I'm doing a half day camp (1-4pm) for kids 10-14 years old at a beginner to intermediate level. There are 10 kids register and I don't know most of them so it's challenging to plan too far in advance. I do have a couple of overall goals for the week though. #1 is to make sure they have a lot of fun and want to keep playing squash and #2 that they improve and learn a few things about the game. Some of the kids could be brand new to the sport so I may have my hands full. Here is a list of the activities I have planned for the first day.

I start by introducing myself and my assistant and learning all of their names. I want to find out how much/long they've played squash and what other sports they play.

1) Warm up fun activity: on court tag game - here everyone is divided into small lines of 2 to 4 people around the court. one person is starting as it and one is trying to avoid getting tagged. the person being chased has to get to the end of one of the lines of people on the court before they are tagged. If you're tagged before returning to  aline you are now it. If you get safely to the end of one of the lines, the person on the opposite end of that line has to leave and is now being chased. The kids always have fun with this and it's a good warm up game.

2) Assessment: I want to assess the squash skill of the kids. Normally I may do something like 50up or 3 corner court, but since I don't know if all of them can hit a ball I'm going to start a bit slower. So I'm going to give every kid a ball and have them try and copy what I do. I will start by checking everyones grip. Then I will start off just balancing the ball on the forehand side of my racquet and after awhile switch to the backhand side. Then I will bounce the ball consecutively in the air, forehand first and then backhand. Finally I will see if any of them can hit from forehand to backhand and back. I'll then probably separate them into teams and do some relay races where they have to carry the ball on their racquet for a lap and then bounce the ball on their racquet for the next.

After seeing what I have to work with I will split up the kids into 2 groups; I will put the stronger kids on one court and the less experienced on another.

3) Forehand drive drills: First I will explain that we are going to hit some forehands and have my assistant demonstrate some nice forehand drives. Then we will split up and I will take the less experienced kids and try and do some nice easy feeding, possibly some hand feeding. They will likely (fingers crossed!) have the ability to hit a forehand. I'd like to get the drill running consecutively if possible. I will then adapt the drill so that they hit a forehand drive and have to touch the side wall or sit down and get up before they hit the next one...just to keep them active and having fun.

I will always make sure the kids have a nice break in here somewhere. Probably about 25 minutes so they can have some snacks and socialize.

4) Fun activity: now I will do another fun non-squash activity. I have an agility ladder and some cones I will use on some of the days. Today I will split the group in two and play team keep away with a squash ball. This is good for warming them up, having fun, and teamwork.

5) Forehand drive drills: now I want to do some more forehand drives. I will pair up the stronger kids so they can do forehand drives together (into the side walls). The ones that are not capable of doing this yet I will my assistant feed again. To make it fun I may suggest using a target (like the service box) where the group has to get 5 or 10 shots to land in it. Maybe the stronger kids can compete against the weaker kids but I make their target smaller.

6) Rallies: the last 30-45 minutes of each day I want to have rallies and play games. If some of the kids aren't skilled enough to serve I will have the winner return serve and the server gets 2 chances at getting their serve in (or at least close). For the weaker kids I won't have them keep score. I may even have the kids rotate, instead of winner always playing the next rally. I also want to emphasize having long rallies as they are more fun.

You can see the challenges in preparing for a group of unknown kids. I know a few of them can hit the ball, but most I don't know. I need to go in with a plan for the first day and be willing to adapt to the group. Once I assess the kids I can plan better for Tuesday. Whatever the level of the kids are I will make sure they have fun this week. I also plan on getting outside during some of the days to enjoy a bit of nice weather. There are some nice cross training activities for squash (like throwing a ball or a frisbee) so I plan on doing a bit of this as well. I also feel that some kids may not be very good at squash, but may excel at some of these other squash activities and this may mean they leave the camp feeling better about themselves. If I just did 3 hours per day of trying to hit squash balls for someone brand new to the sport it could become quite frustrating.

I am planning to work on forehands Monday and then again for a little bit on Tuesday before focusing on backhands. I will have the kids do a little bit of serve practice each day. Even if some of the group is new I want to practice drop shots later in the week, but would prefer them learning how to hit with a full swing first.

I thought some people may be interested in knowing what I like to do at a squash camp. Normally I know most or all of the kids, and normally the kids doing the camps are all at a decent level. For other camps I would have most if not all of the week already planned out, so this one is a bit of an experiment for me. I will post updates throughout the week to provide feedback for what worked well and what didn't. And hopefully by the end of the week I will have some happy kids that want to continue playing squash over the summer and into the school year.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Improving Your Ability to Flick the Ball

Just a quick note before I get into today's topic. I've created a Facebook page where I will post links to my posts. Check it out at

Today I'm going to talk about the benefits of having a quick wrist and being able to snap the ball. This is an advanced skill and is something all professional male players can do. I know this has a lot to do with strength, but if some of the women playing the WSA tour can learn to do this they will be very successful. Having a quick wrist means you have the ability to rapidly increase (or even decrease) the racquet head late into your downswing, just prior to contact using your forearm and wrist muscles. There are a number of reasons why this is such an important skill to posses. I believe I developed this ability from all the hours I've spent solo hitting over the years. Now I'm going to go over some of the benefits of having a quick wrist and being able to snap the ball.

Deception: As you get better at squash and you play more experienced players they will be able to read your setup and shot earlier and easier. Unless your shot is hit close to perfect, they will retrieve the ball and put you under pressure. Many people don't disguise their intentions at all. For this reason it is important to be able to accelerate your racquet head from an abbreviated backswing to change the direction or pace you strike the ball with. If you can do this well you will be able to set up and show one shot and be able to hit another. If you can do this well your opponent will be slowed down because they cannot anticipate and will be caught flat footed often. When i'm practicing this is drills I really want to sell one shot as best I can. Think about if you actually look the exact same hitting different shots. I also like to try to see how long I can hold the ball. If I get to a lose ball at the front early I can either hit it right away (if you're shaped up to do so) or you can wait wait wait and then hit. Just be cautious you don't delay your shot. I see many good open players hold and flick crosscourt from their forehand in the front corner. This becomes predictable and they would often be better off playing the straight drop or at least hitting the ball earlier.

Retrieving: having the ability to just flick the ball when it is almost out of your reach is another great quality. Often the ball gets just behind me and I can use a short snap of the wrist and get the ball back down the wall. I like practicing this shot when an opponents crosscourt gets by me and they think they can cheat over and cut off my straight drive, but to their surprise I flick the ball from behind be (in an open stance) and hit the ball tight and deep and by them. A quick wrist is also great when you are under a lot of pressure at the front and want to lob the ball. If you aren't balanced and can only barely get your racquet under the ball, having this flick will allow you to get some air under the ball and get back into the point. I think Ramy has the best lob in the game and he probably has the quickest and strongest wrist/flick in the game. Another defensive shot that you can hit with a quick snap of the wrist is the back wall boast. When the ball gets behind you and it is going to die in the back corner you can reach out and with just a quick snap you can generate enough pace to hit a back wall boast. This isn't a shot you want to play unless you need to, but it is always better to get the ball back in play. You never know what will happen in a rally when you make your opponent hit 1 extra shot.

Quick Racquet Preparation: often times a shot is hit and you don't have quite enough time to prepare your racquet for a full backswing. This happens more as you get better at squash. If you have a quick wrist you can still get your wrist cocked which means your racquet head is shaped up to hit even with a limited backswing. So if you watch some of the pros on the T and their racquets don't seem to be up very high, it's because they have the ability to cock their wrist and hit with a very short backswing. With this limited backswing they can still produce a lot of force because their forearm is so strong meaning they still generate great racquet head speed.

So here are some of the advanced skills you can perform if you have a good forearm strength and a quick wrist. If you want to improve this part of your game than you should work on the strength of your forearm and wrist. I suggest building this up slowly or you may hurt yourself. If you're playing weaker opponents you should have lots of time to hit most of your shots, so try and delay and snap the ball. I also recommend doing a lot of short hitting. Stand in front of the short line and hit low and hard drives on the bounce. This will tire out your forearm quickly at first. I also like the hard low kill drives into one of the front corners. Do this on the bounce and hit the ball hard with a short backswing. You can also do some exercises in the gym to further develop the strength in your forearm and wrist. A final note on this, is that I also shave off the bumper guard on my racquet to make it a little more head light which allows me to create more racquet head speed. I play with the Harrow Dread and it originally weighs 140g, but plays significantly lighter when I shave the top part of the bumper guard off. So I suggest a headlight racquet if you want to maximize your ability to snap the ball. Also remember that just flicking the ball isn't the goal, but to generate as much racquet head speed late into your downswing as possible.

I know some badminton players are very good at this because they have many hours of practice with very light racquets and birdies. Badminton players are in their element on a squash court when the ball is up above their head. When this happens a shorter swing and a flick of the wrist is an effective technique for attacking a high ball. The challenge is that they tend to always flick the ball...even when they have sufficient time to prepare a full backswing. Hitting with such a short backswing and flicking the ball all the times mean you are not using your largest muscles and your forearm can only produce a limited amount of strength. It won't take long before your forearm and wrist tire out. A squash racquet and ball are heavier than badminton. So I urge these people to learn how to hit with a nice full swing but also learn how and when to use this flick properly. If they do so they will become very tricky opponents because of their deception, retrieving, and their ability to attack on a high volley.

When you learn how to delay your shot and flick the ball suddenly there are so many more shot options when you play squash. Of course, remember the shot quality must remain high. It's a great feeling to send someone the wrong way and to see their legs almost buckle. Next thing you know is they stop going short or try to attack with less margin at the front of the court because they don't want to leave you up there with time. When this starts to happen it normally means easy points for you!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Blog Talk + Advice For Young Coaches

I wanted to start off today explaining how I write my blogs. Often my ideas come from who I've been working with recently, while others (such as summer training) are just written at an appropriate time of the season. I originally started this blog to reach the athletes I work with and supply them with some extra tools if they want to find out how else they can improve. I've received a lot of positive feedback from people I don't coach and I'm happy that I've been able to reach a wider audience.

When I was young I would do anything to get better at squash, and I thought more was better so I'd spend most my waking hours at the squash club. I would keep a journal and keep track of what I did each day and how many hours I spent hitting balls. I didn't like asking for help and still don't. But it's a long tough road if you try and find out all by yourself (e.g., by trial and error).

I'd also like to say that often I write a post and publish it without editing it. Sometimes I'll have a new thought or drill and go back and add little bits here and there later in the day. Sometimes when I go back to add stuff in I end up editing the whole post. So you may notice some changes if you go back and reread a previous post. They are all evolving articles and hopefully as I continue learning I will continue to reach a wider audience and be of greater assistance to you. I know many of you would like to see some pictures and videos and this is something I will think about when I get a new phone (I still have an old iPhone 3gs and the battery dies 3 or 4 times per day). I know this tools would help with some of my explanations and drills.

Lastly, I'd like to put out a request, if you have a topic you want my opinion on let me know. Or if you have a different opinion than mine feel free to say so. I am not always right and am happy to rethink my opinions and philosophies.

I would like to give some final advice for those young coaches out there. These are different points than I posted in 'Top 10 Things I've Learned About Coaching.' This list is focused about the professionalism and development of a young coaches career. Something I feel is missing from coaching courses. 
Here is my professional development list for young coaches:
1) You may not enjoy having to take coaching clinics and complete the certification process, but just do it. You will always learn something. 
2) Have set days off (1 or 2 a week in the winter and 2 for sure in the summer). I keep a flexible schedule for my athletes, especially the kids I work with as they are so busy. But you need to plan days off and set times where you are unavailable. This will keep you fresh and give your body a needed rest. 
3) If you're on court a lot, you can't train as much or the same as you did when you played. I did this and ended up getting injured. To be the best coach you can be you have to make sacrifices in your own game. 
4) If you do play competitively still, be sure to walk the walk. You are a role model to your athletes and you are responsible for setting a good example on court. If you can't do this, than maybe you shouldn't be playing competitively anymore. 
5) If you can, find a place to coach alongside a more experience coach. This is probably the best advice I can give you. 
6) In your lessons you don't need to run as much as they are. I thought I was being a lazy coach if my athlete did all the running, but when you have a lot of lessons you need to manage your energy and you can only do so many lunges and sprints on a daily basis. 
7) Don't coach just because you are a good player. If you don't enjoy it your athletes won't either. 
8) You need to have good energy while you're coaching. I find fresh air during the day and having lots of small snacks helps keep my energy level up. 
9) Finding a position with health coverage and a decent salary is necessary for your longevity in this field. The last thing you want to have to do when your sick or injured is to continue working to pay the bills. If your income is mainly based on lessons and clinics you will not be able to miss much time at work.
10) Attempt to set up lessons back to back so you stay warm. Also set a limit to how many lessons you will do in a day. This creates demand for you and keeps your body fresh. 

Not on the list, but just a personal preference. If you can develop and motivate some good juniors to me it is the best part of the job. They are the future of our game and it is a great gift to be able to help shape their lives both on and off the court. So I highly recommend investing your time and energy into building a junior programme. 

So that's it. A bit of an all around post today. Some points for squash players and a list for young coaches. If I missed something let me know...because I still consider myself a young coach! 

Friday, July 18, 2014

3 Rules For Playing Your Best Squash

Today I'm going to discuss my three simple rules for playing your best squash. If you feel you play better in practice than in competition you will greatly benefit from this post. It's no secret that many people get angry or frustrated while they play, some actually try too hard, while others get nervous and tense, and we have all suffered from momentary lapses in concentration. These are all psychological areas that we can master if we practice and learn how to control them.

Here are my 3 rules for playing your best squash:
1) Stay positive
2) Keep it simple
3) Stay in the present

They sound simple, but we all know they are not. So let me explain each one and give you some ideas on how you can improve your ability to do each of them.

Stay Positive: negative thoughts, words, and body language means you are not just playing against your opponent but yourself. When I play my best squash I can shrug off mistakes quite easily. I may look at an error I think, 'good choice,' or 'good point,' even though I lost the battle I am focusing on the bigger picture...which is putting together well constructed points. The more mistakes you make the more challenging this can be to do. But this is how you have to view these situations, as challenges. Accept them as they come and no matter how you feel, tell yourself, 'I can do this', or something positive. Many people get worked up about things out of their control. Things like referee decisions, their opponents behaviour, or even what has already happened are all out of your control. You cannot change these things and focusing on them means that your focus cannot be in the 'zone.' In your optimal squash playing zone you are in the present. Squash is a game and it's meant to be fun. When we are kids we just played sports or games like tag for fun, we didn't get angry at ourselves. Picture yourself as your own private coach when you're on court and listen to some of the things you say and think. Would your coach ever say these things to you? Probably not, so try and stay positive regardless of the scenario. Positive self talk look will help you not just play better squash, but enjoy it more too.

Keep it Simple: I have to admit I saw the acronym KISS (keep it simple stupid) in a squash magazine. The article was written by Trinity's head coach, Paul Assaiante. He talked about how he fears his players overthinking and psyching themselves out, he coined the term 'paralysis by analysis.' At a high level of squash we should already intuitively know what to do, so keep your mind out of the way and let your body do the work. This doesn't mean to play absent minded. It means to have a single goal or strategy in mind and it could be something like finding your length. Remember less is more when thinking about a strategy. I want my athletes to know their style of play and how they play best. I play my best squash when I.... There are a lot of potential answers. It could be that you hit the ball tight, or deep, or volley a lot. So whatever your answer is to that question, try having that singular thought going into a match. If you feel like during your match you are deviating from this and not playing well, remember to 'keep it simple' and get back to your original game plan.

Stay in the Present: this is certainly a challenging goal for most people. We relive the past and anticipate what may or may not happen next. When this happens our mind is not in the present anymore and our performance deteriorates. Everyone has these lapses in concentration and the key is to limit the damage and refocus quickly. Here are a couple of ways I do this. When I'm playing I have a very consistent between rally routine. If serving I wait until I get to the service box and bounce the ball 5 times. I also never start the next point until I have forgotten about the previous point. As you practice this your ability to do so gets much faster. I also like to focus on my breathing between points. As part of my routine I take a deep breath, maybe 2 if I feel like I need to regroup. I make sure my breath is deep and not rushed. This is also a skill you can practice at anytime. During a test, doing your homework, at work, or reading this blog, whatever you're doing if you start daydreaming and need to refocus try and take a deep breath and feel your stomach rise, listen to the sound of the breath. When focusing on the sound or feeling of a deep breath we put our attention back into the present. Lastly, as part of a between point routine try looking at the dots on the ball (if you're serving) or a mark on your racquet, or maybe a spot on your on your hand, or a ball mark on the side wall. This helps to narrow your focus from a wandering mind to something narrow and in the present. In squash our focus cannot be too narrow and internal, but it is also very damaging if our focus is too broad and external. Finding this balance is the key to being in the zone and playing your best squash.

So here are my 3 rules for improving your psychological strength and playing your best squash. I have read a number of books about the zone and on zen. As you get better at squash the importance of the mental game increases. You need to spend time developing this part of your game if you want to be your best on a consistent basis. Stay positive, keep it simple, and stay in the present and you'll be one tough opponent!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Speed Accuracy Trade Off

Today's post is about the speed-accuracy trade off in squash. This reminds me back to a 4th year kinesiology class I took at Western called Strategy & Tactics in Sport. I found this course quite interesting and I remember this speed-accuracy term being defined and explained very well. In target sports such as squash our accuracy deteriorates as we hit the ball harder. That probably isn't much of a surprise to anyone, but what is also a fact is that our accuracy deteriorates once our speed falls too low. What that point is I can't say and is probably different for everyone. But you can test this out by hitting a variety of drives. Have someone feed you from the back and start by hitting a hard and low drive, then aim for medium height and high to medium pace (just below the service line), then aim for the service line hitting medium pace, then hit half way between the service line and the out of court line, and then finally right up just below the out of court line with the least amount of pace. Ask yourself which shot was most difficult (or were you the most inaccurate with), interestingly enough it will not always be the hardest struck ball, but for many it will be the slowest and highest one.

When playing a game, if under pressure most people have heard the term, 'lift the ball.' This will give you time to get back to the T before your opponent hits the next shot. I agree that this is a tremendous asset, but unfortunately with the rules of speed-accuracy we are asking someone to play the most delicate and challenging shot under pressure. Plus most people don't practice hitting lobs. This combination is what makes it so difficult to hit a good lob. On the other hand if you just hit the ball hard under pressure than if the shot isn't accurate enough you will not have enough time to regain the T and your opponent will have a lot of space to hit a winning shot into. So what can you do?

I recommend practicing a lot of drills/condition games using the lob. Most people practice their short game much more than they do lifting the ball. Here is a list of some of my favourite lob drills/condition games. You will see some require that you must lob, while others give you the option to lob, as it is not just about learning to lob, but learning when to do so.

1. boast, crosscourt lob, straight drive
2. boast, crosscourt (lob or drive), straight drive
3. boast, straight or crosscourt lob, straight drive
4. boast, straight or crosscourt (lob or length), straight drive
5. boast, straight or crosscourt (lob or length), straight drive (if you can volley the straight drive you can hit straight drop instead of boasting)
6. drive (over the service line), drive (over the service line), boast
7. length game with the option to boast (lob off of boast)
8. length game with option to boast (straight or crosscourt length or lob off of boast)
9. boast, straight drive or crosscourt lob, straight drive to self and then boast
10. normal rallies but every shot has to be over the service line (can put this condition on 1 or both players).
11. normal rallies, but you are allowed to hit only 1 shot per rally under the service line

So there are some of my favourite drills and condition games for practicing your lob. If you are doing a repetitive drill, try and wait back at the T longer before your opponent boast so you put yourself under a little bit of pressure to hit your lob.

Here are some tips for hitting a good lob.
1. picture where you are hitting the ball. get right underneath it so you are contacting the bottom part of the ball
2. doing #1 well requires you to get low and get under the ball
3. follow through high towards your target
4. in practice think 'high and soft' or getting lots of 'air under the ball'. In practice I want the ball to have as much air time as possible. I'm not concerned about hitting the ball out. In fact I try and keep the ball in on the front wall aiming for the lights/ceiling while the ball would still land before the back wall.
5. Use a flick of the wrist when you don't have the balance or time to hold a nice follow through
6. The most important characteristic of a good lob is height, not hitting the side wall, so get the ball high and soft fist, when you can do this well then sure, now try and hit the side wall. If you can do this consistently you can go from defence to offence in 1 shot.

So take some time to practice your lob and also learn when to play it. This will allow you to reset yourself in points and it will make it difficult for your opponent to keep you under pressure for multiple shots in a row.

Here are my final thoughts about the speed-accuracy trade off. I prefer attacking squash and when learning I want someone to err on the side of being too aggressive as opposed to being too passive. So I like to encourage people to hit it with pace and attack when they have time. If you are inaccurate when you hit with pace you may be setting up late and not have the time allowed to execute this type of swing. From my experience when people try and swing harder their backswings get longer which means they are normally late hitting the ball. So if you want to hit it hard, try doing so without exaggerating your backswing or if you do this try shaping up (getting your racquet prepared and your shoulders rotated) earlier than normal. Just like needing to practice the lob, if you want to be accurate at hitting it hard than you need to practice hitting with pace. You may get away with poor accuracy when you hit hard against some players, but try playing some stronger opponents or practice using some targets to see how accurate you really are when you hit the ball hard. These tips should improve your accuracy when hitting with pace.

And lastly, try practicing various speeds and heights of swings. If you hit one plane and speed most often you are grooving that swing and it will become more consistent, but to be an all around player you need to be able to have a larger variety of 'pitches.' Yes, like a baseball pitcher that can mix locations and vary speeds well. Some pitchers are very good at this and don't need to have a blazing fastball to get out batters. While other pitchers that have the ability to throw hard yet like to throw every pitch at the same speed are often a little wild and get hit even with their tremendous velocity. Even if your fast paced game works most of the time, you will eventually play someone that hits it harder or is very fast and can handle your pace. When this happen as you hit the ball harder it is actually putting more pressure on yourself not your opponent.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Off Season Off Court Training

This topic reminds me of the sign at my old squash club when I was a kid that read, 'don't play squash to get fit, get fit to play squash.' And squash is a whole lot more enjoyable when you are feeling strong and light on your feet. There are numerous ways that you can train in the off season to prepare you for the upcoming season. Depending on what areas you want to improve is where you should concentrate your training. When I was in university I always enjoyed doing more strength training along with some aerobic based workouts. I would go to the gym about 3 days per week and do exercises like the bench press, push ups, pull ups, chin ups, dead lifts, squats, lunges and many core exercises.

I always enjoyed trying to vary my reps or sets or the method for doing some of these exercises. Our bodies adapt after a few workouts and to maximize the benefit of training I feel it is best to slightly alter either the order or which exercises you do. And sometimes I would just do 1 rep and do my max for each exercise. Other times I would change how I was doing my pushups, for example using a medicine ball under 1 hand, or putting my feet up on a bench. Also remember to train your antagonist muscles. For example, when doing a chin up you are using your biceps and triceps (which are muscles that oppose one another and perform opposite movement). Many people focus on biceps or are abdominals and forget about the triceps and our back muscles. I also enjoy working the muscles concentrically, eccentrically, and isometrically. Concentric means the muscle if contracting, like your bicep when doing a chin-up. While lowering yourself down slowly from that chin-up your biceps are resisting the force of gravity as the muscles are exerting eccentric forces. While isometric exercises include a plank, a wall sit, or holding yourself at a specific height on a chin-up bar. With an isometric contraction the muscle is not lengthening (eccentric) or shortening (concentric). When you think about working different muscles groups and the various methods you can work each muscle you can become quite creative with very little or no equipment whatsoever.

I find it difficult to make time for strength work (and the recovery time) when I was on court practicing most of the time and competing a lot during the season so I tried doing more of this in the off season and I would attempt to maintain my strength (do 1x per week) once the season began. Some exercises like squats and lunges I find can take longer to recover from, so learning when to fit them in during the season can be tricky. Also remember when a squash player is doing weight training you don't want to add too much bulk/muscle because this will slow you down on the court. You want to be strong, but more importantly focus on your strength endurance. As a rule, if you can only do under 1-4 reps of a weight/exercise you are training maximum strength and not strength endurance. I liked doing reps of 7-20 per set depending on the exercise. So use a little less weight and be sure you are using the proper technique! Don't worry about impressing anyone at the gym. If you are unsure of how to do an exercise correctly or what type of routine would be beneficial for you, sign up for a personal training session or two and learn.

On top of my gym strength training sessions I would run 2 or 3x per week. I would run trails, or do some interval work, and sometimes I would run stairs or include some large hills in my runs. I found shorter and tougher runs were better on my body than the pounding a long run had. I think because of how a squash players body becomes unbalanced over the years it makes long runs demanding if your stride is inconsistent. I never had a good bike back then, but I wish I had done more biking. Between my runs and my strength routines this was the base of my university summer training. On court I would still play a little bit. I would play maybe one match per week/or king of the court and solo hit once or twice and maybe do drills once as well.

I found what I liked doing and what worked for me. This won't be the same for everyone. So think about what fitness characteristics you would like to improve. Is it your aerobic or anaerobic fitness? Maybe you need to improve your speed, or the strength endurance in your legs or your core strength? Perhaps it's your agility or your flexibility? There are a lot of things you can improve and the offseason if the best time to focus your training on these areas. During the season when you spend most of your time on court, especially if you're a student you may be limited to how much off court training you can do, so take the time to do this now and try and maintain your improved fitness levels during the season. You will go into the year feel stronger and fitter and this makes squash a lot more enjoyable. I also really enjoy outdoor offseason training. We spend many months inside on a squash court during the fall and winter months, so it is quite a nice change to get outside and train.

If you want to really maximize your training set yourself some goals. Doing this also means you need to take some baseline measurements. If you want to improve your aerobic fitness try timing yourself for a 5 or 10k run, or for running a hill or set of stairs multiple times. Record this now and then little by little try improving this time. I would also record my heart rate as I'm doing this. I feel that the more I train with a heart rate monitor the better I know it without even looking. When you get fitter your heart rate recovers faster and you also know what precise heart rate you can continue working at and where it gets a little too high (which means you are near or at your VO2max).

At advanced level and evenly match squash matches we work near or at our VO2max frequently so this is an area you can train and increase in the offseason. In later stages of the offseason I would start doing more interval work and training at higher intensities. While doing this I am trying to improve both my anaerobic and aerobic fitness along with my strength and my mental toughness. Making it through these vigorous training days create that belief in yourself when you get back on court. You know you've pushed yourself when you were tired and that you can still perform at a high level. I also felt really good at a high intensity training. Sometimes I would do just hill sprints or run stairs with short breaks. Other times I would do wind sprints, sometimes do 50, 100, 200 or 400 meters sprints with an equal rest time. Other times I would do these sprints and then slowly jog back to my starting point. I would begin mixing in this type of training about 4-6 weeks prior to the season and I would keep it going 1 or 2x per week at the beginning of the season.

I feel the most important part of this training is to build slowly. You don't get fit in a day. So don't overdo it the first few times out and get injured. Listen to your body, especially if you haven't done this type of training before. Build up your fitness little by little and try and reach your goals. This will make you enjoy training more and pushing yourself physically and mentally.

These are just some of the ways that I use to train a lot. What I do these days as a coach is much different. I've tried training a lot while coaching and find this a challenging balance. So this summer what I do is every second day I spend about 30 minutes on various core exercises and every other day I do 200-250 pushups (no not at once). I also try and get on a bike for 30min-1 hour 1-2x per week. I find the balance of aerobic training and strength work challenging as a coach. I'm not playing competitively or training for anything in particular, just to stay strong and in shape and be able to stay healthy for coaching. So whether you are training to coach, play varsity squash, professionally, or just recreationally, find what offseason training works best for you. What areas can improve your game next season? This is the time of year to get in better shape to play better squash next season.

I'll leave you with a few charts I designed when I was at university. You can use these or make your own. They were made to monitor my progress through various interval sprint work. The first ones below I had a chart for different distances of sprints and the number of successful repetitions. I then put a level (1-5) and as you did more reps within the allotted time you finished at a higher level. So you may start at level 1 and try and work your way up during the offseason. (see below these charts for various distance interval chart and explanation).

50 Meter Interval Run: Levels
Distance (meters)
Successful Repetitions (within 20 seconds)

100 Meter Interval Run: Levels
Distance (meters)
Successful Repetitions (within 30 seconds)

200 Meter Interval Run: Levels
Distance (meters)
Successful Repetitions (within 1 minute)

400 Meter Interval Run: Levels
Distance (meters)
Successful Repetitions (within 2 minutes)

Lastly, here is a chart I designed for doing outdoor sprints. You run run 5 meters and back, then 10 meters and back, and finally 15 meters and back. As your time increase your level increased. I used a 90 second recovery time, but you can lower the work rest ratio to 1:1 if working with a group or in pairs. I also have a section for recording the heart rate and heart rate recovery. You will also notice a section for your goal before starting the session. I think this is very important because this can motivate you to push on when you feel like giving in. A final note, if doing this on grass, be careful as it can be slippery. Good luck and enjoy your summer training! 

Result Table for Outdoor Suicides of 5,10, and 15 Meters
Name: Date:
Goal: Total Consecutive Suicides: Previous/Latest Result:
3 Markers (meters)
Time per Repetition (seconds)
Heart Rate (right when finished suicides)
Heart Rate (after a 90 second recovery period)
Your Level (as compared to the chart)
5, 10, 15

5, 10, & 15 Meter Outdoor Suicides: Levels
Successful Repetitions (count)
Time per Suicide (seconds) does not include rest period

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Summer Junior Squash Camp July 21-25 @ SMUS

Last chance to register your child (10-14 years old) for the half day beginner/intermediate squash camp next week (July 21-25) at St. Michaels University School in Victoria. The camp is Monday to Friday from 1pm-4pm. I will be the head coach and will have an assistant. As of today there are 9 kids registered and space for 6 more. The camp is a great deal at just $120 for the week. The camp is open to kids from any school. To register your child please go to the following link:
If you have any questions regarding this camp please contact me at

I will also be assisting Stuart Dixon once again with his junior summer camps at the Victoria Squash Club. We will be running 2 weeks of full day (approx. 9:00-3:30) camps. The first is starting on August 11th and the 2nd week starts on the 18th. The cost for a week is $500 and the skill level will comprise both intermediate and advanced juniors. Billets are available for out of town kids. Space is limited, if you would like to register please contact Stuart at

Monday, July 14, 2014

How & Why to Disguise Your Shots

This post is going to be about one of my favourite topics in's about how to disguise your shot, or as Roger Flynn calls it 'coupling.' Disguising or coupling a shot is shaping up/preparing the same way for 2 or more shots. You could couple your straight and crosscut drives, or you straight drive and straight drop, or your straight drive and attacking boast, etc. There are lots of shots you can couple. If you can disguise/couple your shots well you will benefit greatly and your opponent will have to work much harder.

Let's start off by discussing why coupling a shot is beneficial for your game. I find many recreational players very easy to read, they just set up for a shot and hit it. When this happens I will move or at least be leaning my weight to one food and getting my racquet prepared to pounce on their next shot. Whereas coupling a shot well would mean that I would be uncertain about which shot is coming. If this happens I have to wait until later in their swing to move (or if they are really good at this until after the ball is hit). This makes the court play bigger and also makes your opponent have less time allowed when and if they retrieve your shot. This tires out your opponents legs quite quickly and also increases the intensity of the rallies.

So now you know why I like disguising/coupling my shots so much. How do you do it? I practiced a lot of option drills to get good at this. Here are a few I really enjoy.

1) the front player hits straight or crosscourt length, the back player just boasts (trying to volley or at least hit before the ball hits the back wall). This allows the front player to coupe their straight and crosscourt attacking drives. They also receive immediate feedback if they are doing this successfully.
2) the front player hits straight drive or straight drop. the back player either counter drops or boasts the drive. you can also have the option for the back player to drive the drop so they switch. This is an effective drill for coupling the straight drive and the drop (which I find much more challenging than coupling the direction).

3) the back player boast, the front player hits straight or crosscourt drop, the back player has to play a straight counter drop, the front player hits straight (or if you're really mean straight or crosscourt drive). this allows the front player to couple their straight and crosscourt drops.

4) both players play rotating drives and one or both have the option to boast. if your focus is to coupe the attacking boast, you need to get to the ball early enough to prepare and shape up like a drive.

Here is a twist I do with some of my students and you can do this with any of the above mentioned drills. The coach calls out a '1' or '2' for which shot the player has to hit. The later the number is called out the more challenging it will be for the player to hit the called out shot. This forces the player to keep their body in a good position to be able to hit either shot. For people that have done this drill and get good at it I try and wait until the ball hits the floor before calling out the number. You can also add in a 3rd option if you have a really talented may need a ball machine for this, but it can be a very effective exercise. For example, the player is in the front right and has to hit a straight drive if you call out '1', a crosscourt drive if you call out '2' a drop if you call out '3' and even a trickle boast if you call out '4'. You can have fun with this one.

Using video can help a person see how similar they are at preparing for their shots. Often people have a tell, like in poker. Most often it is where their racquet is or how they approach the ball. I've found I usually can't even pick it up during a match, but I just know they aren't the same. So you need to really work at this one to make them the same for as late into the swing as possible. This is also a skill that can be enhanced by having a strong wrist/forearm as you can accelerate later in your swing to get enough power to drive the ball deep. Disguise can also be obstructing your opponent from viewing you actually contact the ball. Often this happens by accidence, especially against larger opponents, but is something that is taught at a higher level. If your opponent can't see the ball hit the strings it is difficult for them to anticipate and leave the T with proper timing. Lastly, remember that to couple a shot well you need to actually play the 2nd or 3rd shot from time to time. Even if you disguise your shot really well if you always hit the same shot your opponent will probably (or at least should) pick up on this.

I hope you're eager to try some of these drills and see if you can disguise your shot. This is a great way to slow down an opponent that is leaving slightly early that appears to be on your shots very fast. In a later post one day I'll talk about another one of my favourite topics, deception. Deception you are trying to set up for one shot and hit another, or you can deceive your opponent about when you are going to strike the ball. If you can learn to disguise your shots and add in some deception you will be moving up on your club ladder and your national ranking list quickly.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Top 10 Things I've Learned About Coaching

So yesterday my post was about the coaching advice I would give to my younger self if I could travel back in time. Today is based around the same idea, but instead I will be focusing on what I would tell a younger me who has just started coaching. I go over my top 10 ah-ha moments I've had while coaching, and although I know I still have a lot to learn, this is some advice that other coaches may find insightful.

#1) Less is more and keep it simple! Doesn't matter if it's giving a lesson or coaching someone in-between games. When I was a younger coach I gave too much advice and this just confused them. Sometimes this can be difficult to do because you want to help your pupil, but you have to remember this simple rule, less is more and if you're unsure about how much feedback to give keep it simple and minimal.

#2) Don't just focus on areas that the person is struggling with. Be sure to point out areas that they are doing well and improving. This keeps the student motivated. Learning to read your athlete will let you know when you can work a little longer on these challenging areas and when to ease up and have some fun and do something they are already good at and enjoy. I don't coach by this philosophy, but this reminds me of a statement I heard Roger Federer make a few years back when he said something along the lines of, 'in practice I focus on my strengths because this is why I'm successful. My opponents play to my weaknesses enough that they will improve and become stronger without extra practice.' This is paraphrased, but it was something along these lines. And if your technique is correct than ya sure, this philosophy could work, but avoiding working on a weaker area if the technique is wrong will only improve so much unless you make a change in practice.

#3) Studying and researching sport and squash is one thing, but it's about how you apply it and the practicality of it. When I did my masters I had a prof teach sport physiology and he was great, but very academic. I remember him saying that when he worked with professional hockey teams he had designed the best hockey fitness programme in the word, but nobody on the team did it. They all had personal trainers and were already set in their way. So a great idea or programme has to be practical with the group you are working with.

#4) Practice should be fun. I use to and still do want practice to be effective and help kids improve, but use variety and play lots of games. If kids play squash for fun I believe they will stick with squash long term and will be better able to put winning and losing in perspective.

#5) Rob Brooks told me this one and I've always liked it. In a group practice if the top and weakest player both had a good practice than you can be pretty confident that the middle benefit too. It's easy to focus on the best player or the one that needs the most help, but if you can find a balance to make sure the best and weakest players both have a good practice than likely the whole group will be happy.

#6) Appreciate and encourage creativity. I believe it is important to be humble and offer advice, but also to keep an open mind. There is more than one way to hammer a nail..not sure if that's the right saying, but you know what I mean. There are a lot of ways to play squash and win rallies. Just because you have a preferred way of playing or practicing, it doesn't mean that you need to force your kids to play the same way. I like running a lot of condition games so the kids learn how to think outside of the box. This also keeps their brain engaged in what they are doing. Most kids can only stay focused so long doing boast drive or rotating drives. Some kids don't like being always told what to do and how to do it. I know I didn't. So give them a drill or condition with options and let them figure out how they want to do it on their own. Also along this line is to be able to adapt your practices. You may go in with a great practice plan and have a goal for the practice, but if it isn't working out like you had envisioned, or the personnel is different than your expect, or if the group wants to do something else, being able to accept this adapt on the fly is a great skill. I think most of my best practices have been impromptu style.

#7) Help your athletes achieve their goals, not yours. Do you even know what goals your athletes have? Do you set goals for them? I believe it's our role as coaches to help our athletes achieve whatever their goals are. I think it's also vital that we help our athletes set not just outcome goals. There are too many things out of our control in competition, so although we may set high yet attainable goals for competition we may fall short and feel like failures. Here's another paraphrased quote I've heard, 'don't let a win go to your head and a loss go to your heart.' If you read my post yesterday you'll know how damaging this obsession can be to a young athlete.

#8) Don't just do drills (especially the same few) all the time without a focus. What are they trying to do with each drill? Keeping score or using targets always makes it interesting, even just playing a 1 point winner takes all drill or condition game makes the athlete try harder, keep focused, and have fun.

#9) To be the best you can be keep learning. I like reading books about coaching, training, etc. I like listening and working with other coaches. I'm lucky I've been around some great coaches over the years (Rob Brooks, Jack Fairs, and now Stuart Dixon). Any young coach that has the opportunity to be around an experienced coach will learn way more from them than any book.

#10) Motivate your athletes. Although every person is different if you can learn how to motivate your athletes your job will be easy and they will have more fun. I like making sure they can see themselves improving. Doing some goal setting with a baseline measurement and monitoring minimal increments over a short time period can be inspiring. It's also important that your athletes can tell that you are motivated and inspired by their commitment and improvement.

And lastly, remember that kids will be kids. You can't hold grudges with them. We were all kids once before and made mistakes and we turned out ok. If someone is having a tough time at home or in school maybe they need a break or maybe they just need someone to talk with. Keep squash in perspective. There is a lot more to life than their squash game. If they have a tough loss it's happens to everyone. If you as a coach still compete this is where you need to set good examples. Be humble in defeat and in victory. You should do as you preach.

So there you have it. Another top 10 list! There are many other things I've learned and there are even many more lessons for me to learn. Many of the lessons are taught by the kids themselves!