CONCEPTS ON COACHING JUNIORS
Coaching junior squash players have always been a big challenge, especially here in Asia where in most cases funding is from the government. Because of this reason, it is often that a coach has to sacrifice the gradual progress of a player just to get the results needed to support why the funding should continue for his or her squash programs. For the professional coaches who earn from every session they conduct, pressure from the parents contributes to his or her reason to push for the results to be obtained to enable to continue having a steady income. Also the education system here has made parents prefer the paper chase instead of a holistic approach in their children’s upbringing. With these points in mind, the concepts of coaching juniors can be and are different from other regions of the world. My concepts on coaching junior are a combination of information and things that I have learned over the last 10 years coaching and having discussions with many coaches. These concepts may not be new and you may have heard about it, but the way I interpret it may differ from others and it is specifically for Malaysia and maybe Asia. My concepts are divided into development and high performance junior players as both need to be handled differently. I will start by giving an overview of the general concepts that I use to plan and coach players in my program as to enable you to get a clearer picture of how I view things. Then only will you understand how we handle coaching juniors and its concepts. The journey to produce high performance squash players begins with the understanding of these concepts.
General Coaching Concepts
I have used the Balyi and Hamilton model for my program to develop a squash player from the day I learned it from my coaching coach. I owe him a lot for opening my eyes to what coaching is. To be coached and trained are two very different things. Unfortunately for me, I was only trained from the beginning and not coached. My progress was so fast in the initial stages but could not get anywhere after a few years. Only when I was coached did I realized what was wrong and opened my eyes to a new world, the world behind the making of a squash player.
The model consists of 5 phases of an athlete’s development from the day they start to the day they retire from their sport. They are:
- Training to train (TT)
- Training to compete (TC)
- Training to win (TW)
In this concept, we have to take into consideration the human growth and development stages in both the physical and mental aspects. As such, I split the Fundamental and Training to Train phase as development players. Those in Training to Compete and Training to Win would be high performance players.
I have added another phase to that model, Introduction, which is to allow the kids to come and try the sport as I believe it is for them to like the sport and not forced upon them. Introduction also serves as a filtering phase before they or even the coaches embark on the high performance road of development. My model is as follows:
- Training to train (TT)
- Training to compete (TC)
- Training to win (TW)
Stages of Development
In this phase, I’d like to just introduce squash to the kids that want to play. Teaching them the basic rules and the serve, forehand drives and backhand drives are enough. What is important is for them to play some sort of squash game, be it a modified version of squash for the younger kids to the full court version. I have seen that kids who join a program usually are just testing out the game and are not really interested in being competitive players. They want to just play squash to maybe fill up their free time or meet new friends. This also serves a purpose of learning to interact with other kids and socializing.
The reason for this is because I want to promote the game and expand the playing numbers, and from there look to pick out if there are any kids who really decide to play a little more competitive squash such as the local tournaments or the junior leagues, or even if they come on their own and play with other kids when they are free. Kids here range from ages 6 to 12 years. We need to remember that there are slow developers that we don’t want to miss out on.
From here we move on to the next phase.
The way I put the heading says it all, fun and mental. Here, I prefer to put ideas and motivate the kids to think big and think out of the box. “Nothing is impossible” is the motto here, within context that is. Because kids nowadays are more at home than out playing, the focus here is also on multilateral development. It focuses on coordination and basic movements needed for all sports. The duration for them to learn a new skill that looks easy to us can be long due to the fact that they will be using muscles and feeling their body movements for the first time other than the normal walk, run or jump. Continual building of movement activities which develops hand and eye, leg and hand, leg and eye and leg, hand and eye coordination is an important step and need to be maintained throughout the career of a squash player. Movements which include forward, backward, lateral and combinations of these movements are vital to the development of a squash player. Basic stability exercises are also incorporated into the sessions at improving the general strength.
Squash is still very basic, developing the swing to be efficient coupled with improving the timing when striking the ball. Movements to the ball and the timing are also being developed. Simple condition games or modified games are used to help the mind to focus on the objectives of each shot and it’s target areas. The kids here also take part in tournaments not for winning but just for the experience of being there, watching better players play and getting a feel of what it is to be on court with referees and crowds. In short, experience is the key here as then we have visual cues for us to use if we need to relate a certain situation to them. Kids her still take part in other sports to help enhance the motor skills that have been learned. It also enriches the mind of the uses of the movement and coordination skills that maybe useful in squash later.
Here, communicating with the players would require visual cues or showing the action required for them to learn new skills. It is very difficult to get the correct wordings for the kids to understand what you require of them. Showing them helps but we also need to figure out what visual cues each kid can relate to. Not all of them see things the same way, so that is the difficult part. Keeping notes on the cues that has been used is a great help for future references as I have found that if a kid can relate to a certain cue, there will be big improvements. Copying from a model that is influential also helps, like good squash players.
The age group here is anything from 8 to 14 years old depending on their progress to grasp the teachings of the coaches. Plus, again we have to consider the late developers.
Training to Train (TT)
Once I see that the kids in the fundamental phase have learned the required multilateral skills, squash skill and complemented with the focus, drive and hunger to play better squash, only then will I progress them to this phase. I have learned that it is of no use to move them to this phase unless they are ready mentally or they themselves want it. It usually is they want to improve but again the need to gradually ease them into a regime is important. When they reach this phase, I will start to prepare them for some serious training in their later years, as the heading says.
The training to train phase focuses on training the physical and mental aspects of the player as well as now getting the squash technical skills consistent and dependable for each player. Basic tactic and patterns are introduced to help the perceptual motor skill develop and react faster. The physical focus will be focused on injury prevention and assisting the growth of the player. Improving of general strength in the core section and flexibility is also emphasized. The mental aspects will introduce new but important skills needed for squash like focusing, motivating and relaxation. This is due to the fact that they will now start a more regimented type of training and so those mental skills will get them through the tough times to come.
Also here, they start to take part in tournaments which are planned for them to do well. I set about 2 to 3 tournaments for them to peak for depending on their age and ability. The emphasis on peaking is not the result but the performances that they produce in that tournament. As long as the performances are what were expected of them, or if the players say it’s their best matches, it would mean it is a success. They would also take part in other tournaments during the year but they are more of taking part and for evaluation or to see how effective the program is till that point. Taking part in these non-peaking tournaments, it is essential to make sure that the player knows the objectives that they are looking to achieve and not the results or best performances.
Kids here range from 10 to about 17 depending again on the growth and ability to grasp the objectives that are needed to be achieved.
Training to Compete (TC)
It is here that I start emphasizing on high performance for squash. The mental aspect here is the key area of focus together with the tactical aspect of squash. As the phase states, training to compete, so it means training to compete with the best and learning how compete tactically and learning the ropes of being a high performance squash player. Here the players are aged between 16 to 24 depending on sex, with the girls being younger than the boys due to the nature of maturity and less competition in the women’s event. The physical growth of both sexes matures at about 19 to 21 years of age but the brain still continues to grow till about the age of 24. That means the learning process and decision making of a player is still unstable in this phase and they would need to still go through a trial and error process to enable the brains database to continually fill up with information. Here experiential type of activities helps the information gathering process of the brain. Experiential is a combination of the coaches experience put into an experimental situation for a player to find the best solution in certain situations that helps accelerate the decision making process rather than the traditional method of trial and error.
Players here are usually playing the highest junior level of squash and trying to make the transition into the senior category or on the start of their professional career. They will also learn new experience of how to plan their traveling, making a budget and sticking to it, planning which tournaments to play in and how to progress in the rankings with the help of the coach. In short, it means learning the life skills of an adult in a guided environment. Tournaments here are in successions of 3 or 4 in the span of 6 to 8 weeks, where they will be away practicing and sparring with other professionals and taking part in the tournaments before returning to home for a discussion with the coach and resuming training for the next round of tournaments.
There will be players who will no longer be juniors when they enter this phase, but that only means that they are just late developers or having to juggle and balance studies with squash all this time. As such, they should not be forsaken but given some attention to enable them to develop as a squash player.
Training to Win (TW)
When a player reaches this stage, they have already completed all the necessary training and are ready for performing at the highest level. This is when the players and the people who fund the programs can seriously look into getting the results to justify the spending of money to support the programs. Players here range from 22 years of age till about 35 at this moment in time. But with the amount of scientific knowledge that is being discovered, the age of 35 maybe extended further.
The training here is divided into 3 main areas, Pre-season, In-season and Transition. In Pre-season, the player will be doing more off court work like cardiovascular training, strength training and some goal setting to prepare for the In-season. The In-season training would consist of tactical training and perfection of shots coupled with speed agility training for the physical component. The mental aspect would focus on the concentration and relaxation of the player.
Tournaments here are similar to the Training to Compete phase which is in clusters of 2 to 4 in a row. This means that players would be training to peak and play to win the events they enter all the time or surpass their best performances all the time. Then they would return to their base and train again before going off for another round of tournaments. Players here play about 18 tournaments a year in the In-season. These includes all the PSA/WISPA tournaments, WSF sanctioned tournaments and national level as well.
The Transition is very important in this phase, as it allows a player to rest and recharge their batteries. The rest can help alleviate the stress and pressures that they have to face as professionals like getting the results to justify funding and making an income. It is also the time to meet up with family and friends after the grind of traveling during the In-season. Even though it is rest, the rest will be active or otherwise all training effects during the past season will be lost due to reversibility.
This is the final phase that a squash player has to go through in their squash life. This area is often neglected by a lot of coaches and officials in Malaysia as they always want to associate themselves with current and successful players. But when a player has committed their life to squash, it is only fair that the coaches and authorities help assist a player in this aspect. Preparation for this phase can be done early as in balancing the players squash and studies in both the Training to Train and Training to Compete phases. That will give them a base of education for them to return to complete their studies when they retire from the sport. This balance is what is not being encouraged at the moment by many countries and by the paper chase mentality of the Asian countries.
The other way is to help stream these retiring players back into the sport as coaches, administrators, trainers and officials of the sport. There are many areas of employment nowadays in the sports industry and these players can be eventually absorbed into these positions provided they can attain the necessary qualifications.
Helping our squash players to be just as successful after squash is just as important as when they are in squash because it can raise the profile of the game by generating the image of successful people associating with the sport. In turn with a higher profile, greater funding can be obtained in future.