By Damon Leedale-Brown, Sports Scientist & Conditioning Specialist
For most junior and adult players in the United States who play tournament squash the competition season has finished or is close to ending. If you review the U.S. SQUASH tournament calendar, the last National Championship event is the Junior Bronze Nationals at the end of April. At this point the tournament calendar gets quieter, though interestingly there are now more and more opportunities to continue playing events year round, especially for junior players with a reasonable number of Bronze, Silver and Gold level events from May-August, along with trips to European Junior events in the summer.
Rest & Reflection:
Once the main tournament season has finished most players welcome the opportunity to take some time away from the court, allowing their bodies and minds to refresh from the challenges and demands of consistent training and competition. For any level of athlete and squash player this period of recovery at least once a year is a crucial part of the training process. The World’s best squash players will typically look for a period of 2-3 weeks after the competitive season where they completely rest, or engage in light physical activities as part of an active recovery and regeneration phase.
This is the time of year when many of the self-motivated players I work with begin to ask for advice on developing a training plan to start preparing for next season. A small group of the top junior players in the USA will be working to a shorter time frame as they prepare for the World Junior Championships which is being held in Qatar July 7-18, and some of the keener adult players out there will be preparing for the World Masters, which is being played in England, July 20-27.
Phase 1 of putting together your training plan should start by reflecting on the season just finished and considering where you made progress as a player and the areas of the game that presented more of a challenge to you:
Progression: In training and competition where do you feel you made the most progress? This should span across a number of areas. For example:
• The overall quality and discipline in my training sessions improved.
• I did a better job of controlling my emotions during difficult situations in tournaments.
• The tactical developments I made helped me achieve a higher level of consistency in my matches.
• The improvements I made physically definitely helped me win a number of tough matches in the later stages of events.
Challenges: Now consider those areas of your game that you were not as confident with, and that you believe are vital parts of your continued improvement as a player going into next season. For example:
• I need to be more consistent with my quality of length hitting to create pressure on my opponent, and increase attacking opportunities through mid court.
• I need to work technically on my ability to volley short and deep, and tactically improve my understanding of timing and choice of volley during rallies.
• I need to get fitter! I really struggle in hard matches that go beyond three games and have difficulty backing up a series of tough matches in a competition.
• I need to improve my strength and mobility so I can move with greater effi- ciency, speed and control, and place less stress on my body so I don’t break down as often with injury.
• I need to work harder to sustain my focus and concentration during training so this becomes easier in matches.
Integrating the observations you have made as part of the reflection process, I believe it is a good idea to break your game down into its component parts—physical/mental/tactical/technical—and give yourself a rating in each area. This could be a score out of 10, or a percentage (%). I would also provide a brief explanation behind the rating you have given yourself. As an example:
Tactical: Rating 70%
The area where I feel I could get the biggest improvement. I play a basic game very well but, against the better players, I need to add variety into my game to make it more multi-dimensional rather than simply a high pace pressure length game. I need to work on tactical use of the attacking boast and softer volley drop’s to extend the court, and use of height variations on the front wall to change tempo of the rally and recover under pressure.
For more information on performance profiling refer back to one of the early articles on ‘Training for Squash Part 2—Profiling’ (April/May 2009).
Phase 3 – Training Goals:
Using the profiling information and your reflections on the past season, you should now be able to develop process goals across the different aspects of your game to help provide focus and direction to your training over the coming weeks and months.
When setting process goals it is useful to refer to the SMART acronym—wherever possible goals should be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound. I would also add that your goals while Attainable should be Challenging—it should require hard work and a commitment to a period of consistent and purposeful training and practice to reach your goals.
So at this stage you should, hopefully, be well rested!, and through a period of reflection and profiling should have been able to produce a good set of training goals across each component of your perfor- mance as a squash player and athlete.
In the next issue we will look at the process behind building a weekly and monthly training plan, along with techniques for evaluating and monitoring your progression through your training phases.