Learning from the Best

By Peter Nicol MBE, www.squashskills.com

I am in the lucky position of dealing with the best coaches and players in the world while arranging and filming content for Squashskills.com. Prior to filming, I go through the content the coaches/players want to convey and package these into segments that work best for the platform.

During this process I get to hear (and feel) the underlying thoughts each of those experts believe in and have learned through their career to date. To be involved in this process is to see behind the actual philosophies and listen to their beliefs broken down and raw. It is really special and a place I’m always excited and enthused to be in.

It has its challenges, especially when the principles being explained are somewhat contrary to my own teaching methods. Recently I went to Trinity College to work with Paul Assaiante and Chelsea Piers in Stamford to work with Natalie Grainger.

Paul focused mostly on the mental aspect of the game and Natalie more on the technical. Several of the topics they covered made me think hard about how I teach the game and what I could be doing differently—and better.

Let me give you two examples from both, as they are ones that still resonate with me as I sit here and write this article. Two areas Paul covered that specifically engaged me were 100% effort in practice, and as a coach, helping a player around match situations.

I loved the fact Paul was so strict on the need for good practice. If his players are not engaged, working hard enough, or just simply having an unproductive session—he will take them off. Practice in itself does not make for improvements, but good practice does. This is a hard thing to manage, but even short breaks and mentally resetting can help make any practice improve.

Coach Paul Assaiante understands that the mental aspect of squash is often ore important than the technical.
Coach Paul Assaiante understands that the mental aspect of squash is often ore important than the technical.

There were several methods in how Paul deals with players that I learned from. The most important for me was to always recognize a player’s effort directly after a lost match by tapping them on the shoulder while walking by, as opposed to immediately engaging in conversation. It is so simple, but yet psychologically perfect. Let them know you are there for them, that you are their teammate and coach, but that there is no pressure to communicate until they are ready.

The two topics with Natalie were about the particular way of striking the ball and coaching young juniors.

Natalie’s primary focus is striking the ball in the most effective way. She has so many angles in which she strikes the ball and importantly, understands exactly how to execute hitting that angle of the ball. Even more importantly in her position as a coach, she knows so well how to teach hitting the ball from all angles. I had never considered this technique to be so important but understood thereafter why I need to implement it in my coaching. To practice and allow for multiple shot selections from the same position only broadens your options and flexibility as a player.

Natalie’s second topic that resonated with me was to put myself in the shoes of the young player I am coaching. Get down on your knees and see the world from their perspective on the court. It is such a simple concept but makes so much sense! This has already started to help me understand their position and choice shot selection better than I have ever before.

These are examples from the best coaches in the world, and I feel very lucky to be getting these nuggets first hand. Join Squashskills.com and hear all of them for yourself!