A couple of years ago I wrote a post about what I would do if I could go back and coach myself now knowing all that I know. I mentioned a number of things, but there is something I would add to that list. One are I would definitely like to go back and do is work with a personal trainer and even take some group fitness classes. When I was young I had a treadmill, stationary bike and a weight machine in my basement. Even though it was great to be able to do some cross training and certainly something is better than nothing, I really I had no idea what I was doing or how much to do of everything.
Even as I got to university I generally ran our team practices along with the off court training. I would often take the team to run hills and do wind sprints by the squash club. On court we would do random drills and often finish with some court sprints. When I was a kid I just don't think any junior worked with personal trainers. Parents already invest enough money into lessons, camps and tournaments so what's the point of a personal trainer, especially on a weekly basis? At the university level we all knew the importance of off court training, but again we weren't specialist so we just did what we thought we should do. The idea of working with a personal trainer never even crossed my mind. At university I was on a very tight budget on I couldn't afford such luxuries. I always worked hard, but to get the most out of it that effort needs to be guided into the right direction.
Now that I'm 35 and have had 1 knee surgery and many years of coaching under my belt, I've finally come to a realization that I have to regularly work with a trainer, see a physiotherapist and get a massage. It helps now that I can write off a portion of these expenses through my work medical coverage, but still it is a difficult concept spending a few hundred dollars per month of these luxuries. The difference now is that they are all essential, especially trying to deal with the decades of playing and coaching.
If I could go back to a child and coach myself I would very much like to work with a personal trainer and have someone help set up a training program for me. As a squash player you're never quite sure how much of what to do and parents are always cautious about their kids lifting weights. Squash is such a 1 sided sport so it's an essential part of self care and not only will it help your squash game it also will help you avoid long term overuse injuries which I have been dealing with the past few years.
I know from taking the level 3 coaching courses in Canada that squash coaches are expected to be able to plan out an athletes physical training. To me this is absolutely ridiculous because this is not our area of expertise. I never had an annual training plan when I played and I've worked with some pros that don't use one. I think they can help some people, but are not necessary. And what good is an annual training plan if we don't know when to mark up which type of training? I mean sure I know we need lots of cardio and agility and I can help improve your court movement. I know strength training is important, but not too frequently during the season. But how am I supposed to tell a pupil how often to do which exercises and which types of training are best at certain times of the year? They have people who are specifically trained to do this so why in the world would someone expect me to know how to do this as well as a trained expert on the subject? Surely I should I only be expected to know how to coach?
Most squash coaches can get you fitter. We can run you through some ghosting an court sprints and circuits. But knowing the specifics of the technique for each movement, duration, intensity and frequency is something personal trainers should handle. Learning how to lunge and squat properly is critical in training and for squash training. I don't know any professional sport in the world where the coach runs the conditioning part of an athletes training. I heard awhile back that the fitness and conditioning coaches in football are the most important parts of the coaching staff.
I believe that our kids would be better off with a personal trainer working on this part of their game and the coaches focusing on the squash side of it. This is the beginning of building a team around an athlete. Being a well rounded athlete is essential to playing at a high level of squash and avoiding injury. The only way we will optimize the hours we spend off court training is learning how to do it properly, so I am all for personal trainers/strength and conditioning coaches.
How young should kids begin working with a trainer? My trainer says around grade 8-9 is when a kid is most trainable and is a great age to start working with a trainer. Kids bodies adapt so quickly if they are working on the right areas with proper technique. I wish I had this opportunity when I was a kid, because I had the shots and racquet skill, but was quite small compared to the other kids so would get overpowered. I also dealt with some knee problems on and off. These are things no squash coach I had could have fixed. These are areas I believe that a quality personal trainer could have helped me with though.
It's so hard maintaining a high level of every type of fitness trait throughout an entire season. We shouldn't worry about slightly lapses in 1 area if we are concentrating on another area. I know I often stopped strength training during the season because I was on court so much, but this is another area i wish I had stuck with even just to maintain my strength and off season training gains. Being young and not having the money to fund proper training was a real issue for me. So how could I have changed this? I could have tried to get a group of 3 or 4 of my peers together and work in a group setting with a trainer. I could have also signed up for some group classes like a spin class or yoga. Sometimes in squash we think we can do it all by ourselves because it's an individual sport, but the sooner you realize you can't and shouldn't the better off you'll be.
If you fortunate enough to have a great trainer in your corner you'll know how much they're helping you for your game. Even now when I play a strong player, I normally have the shots to contend with someone, but it's the physicality of the squash at this level which I have trouble with. I know it's not genetics, it's simply a matter of proper training. Look no further than Paul Coll or Fares Dessouky to see how important off court training is. The way they can move on court and for how long is because of the off court training. As you get better in squash you should be spending more and more of your time training off court. Not only are you trying to get fitter, stronger and faster, but also avoid injuries. You've got to be healthy to compete and handle the physical demands to play at the highest level.
Looking back at the old sign posted up in my squash club as a child, 'Get Fit To Play Squash, Don't Play Squash To Get Fit' holds more and more truth to me now. Back when I was a kid it was more about the endurance, Jonah Barrington insane level of endurance. I don't know how many of the top players lose these days because of aerobic endurance, it's more the intensity and pressure of the rallies, or even injuries. In hindsight it's easy now to say that Ramy is probably dealing with his injuries from major overuse, which is also a necessity to becoming a top squash player. How would things have been different for him if he had a top personal trainer working with him as a child? We rarely do proper training to prevent injuries until they begin to occur, but that doesn't have to be the case with squash.
How much of what you need to do off court to train for your level of squash depends a lot on your body type, genetics, your style of squash and your training history. I feel it takes an extremely experienced personal trainer to know exactly what is best for each person. There's simply too many individual differences one must take into account that it's unrealistic to expect a squash coach to have this wealth of knowledge. Training people in large groups as a squash coach can offer some overall strength or fitness benefits, but if you have lofty goals for playing at the highest levels you must seek beyond your coach for the strength and conditioning compartment. It takes a team of special individuals to allow 1 person to succeed. They likely charge as much or more than you squash coach will and unless you understand just how important they can be to your success I doubt you will invest in one. Hopefully I've given you a few reasons to reconsider this.
Let the coaches coach and the trainers train. Coaches should be able to help you with your technical, tactical, mental and squash specific movement patterns, but the off court training does not fall under our realm of expertise. Squash Canada, like most other countries should change their coaching curriculum accordingly. I believe they should include more mental skills training and discuss about how to build a team and program to allow kids to succeed from the grassroots to pro level. I think they should also want coaches about doing too much physical training with their athletes when they are unqualified and their students could get injured. The challenge here is that if many of our athletes aren't already doing some fitness training outside of squash we feel we must include some in our practices. It's simple to include fitness training into a group session, but if it is exercises are done without the knowledge or ability to correct form there is not much good coming from these sessions.
Check out the new full length solo hitting film available for purchase at SeriousSquashShop.com/collections/coaching-videos The Secrets of Solo Hitting is a 64 minute instructional video on what I know best, coaching/solo hitting. This includes 30 of the best solo drills with tips on how to best perform each drill. The sections are divided into 1) Straight Drives 2) Midcourt and 3) The Short Game. There is also a Technical Testing section and a Bonus Tips one. Stream or download your copy today. To date there are over 60 copies sold to keen squashers from all over the planet. Here's an in depth preview video about it from my youtube channel: