As anyone will know who has played squash it is an extremely demanding sport for the body. It requires physical capabilities that can hold together during the continuous challenges presented in solving the high-speed puzzle, often while exhausted, against varying players and styles.
Players who make this look easy are functioning at the highest level, and the multitude of physical movements and adaptations are occurring constantly and vary from the smallest muscle activations that occur at lightening speed, to much more powerful movements and positions that demand extremely efficient power and strength. Not to mention the critical elements of rhythm and timing that bind it all together. These physical attributes have been trained and honed over many years and some of the worlds best are blessed with higher levels of physical mastery than others and its often this which carries them further into the careers than others resulting in more titles and successes.
Our coaching team work with many different levels of player who have very different goals, abilities and aspirations. Some are just starting squash at a young age, others returning after a 10 year lay-off having started a family and some are aiming for world number 1. All require very different physical needs at their various stages and aspirations of squash, so the question for all of these is how do we give them the most accurate and effective physical ingredients to meet each of their individual needs. This means often very different training methods and levels of delivery but all the while the goal remains the same for all: To move as easily and efficiently around the court as possible.
There are huge amounts of systems and opinions out there on what to do to physically to become a better squash player. The Internet allows all of us the amazing opportunity to access the latest ideas and techniques on how to move better, be fitter, stronger, faster and so on. There are also a lot of gadgets on the market many of which are not necessary but often help to make the players feel more secure. Considering the demands of the sport and the reality that it is played, often ferociously competitively at all levels and ages, a crucial start point should be: What are the most effective environments and training methods which can empower bodies to sustain this demanding game for a whole season and remain injury free? Modern life does not help this challenge, especially in the younger generations where less time is spent outside running, jumping and climbing to build versatile, capable bodies and has all to often been replaced with ‘safe’ sporting environments with little or no variety for the body to adapt. Meanwhile adults are spending more time sitting at desks and on various forms of transport allowing the nervous system and muscles to lie dormant for long periods.
An effective fitness program will include a detailed bodily assessment. This could include balance, detailed control of the core muscles, patterns and timing, proprioception all these needing a relaxed and patient environment from all parties to allow the body of the player to settle and show itself. The physical capabilities necessary for the movements in the sport need to explored, tested and understood. A focus on sensation and ease in each movement is vital to point towards the end goal of overall movement fluency on the court. We apply these same foundational steps on the court when hitting the ball, not jumping to what we think the outcome needs to look like before the essentials of feel, rhythm and timing are natural and working for the player. It simply creates a more successful mid and long-term situation.
So the environment we create to help all players sustain and enjoy squash at their highest levels will involve a team of people, particularly coach and traine. There are many terminologies to the physical trainer and terms like; the trainer/fitness coach/strength and conditioning coach/functional movement coach are common to name a few. For me the label is not what is important, instead the philosophy and attitude of the individual, their outlook on their role and also their own physical experiences and abilities. These all contribute to the potential for working magic with the athlete. When the coach and trainer share the same vision and philosophy are in constant communication it becomes extremely powerful. It becomes a complete partnership with ideas and experiences being shared and developed all for the good of the players. In my experience this is often where the chain often becomes broken as the athlete receives blocks of information from various sources – squash coaches, S and C coaches, physiotherapists and psychologists and has the difficult task of understanding how it all fits together. The most effective training environments are built around an athlete-centered environment listening to their needs first and being guided by them. For this to be at its most effective requires very highly skilled, intelligent and sensitive coaches who are without ego and always ready to learn, adapt, improve, listen and progress. This may seem like an elite environment but actually its not, it’s for all levels. We have many club level players who enjoy a combination of coach and trainer both working towards a common goal and communication certainly plays a huge part in this.
Training is so much more than a sequence of exercises delivered on a repetitive basis. It is a journey that will include highs and lows and a constant need to adapt and learn for the whole team. The physical development of any athlete is inextricably linked to what happens on the court and coach and trainer need to know this inside out. Sometimes extreme changes in tack are needed to make progress and that requires confidence and a buy-in from all parties and often periods of rebuilding the relationships between mind and body is crucial to the process. Listening to worries, unravelling stresses and being a friend can often be the ultimate gift towards a better functioning body. But vitally, trainers and coaches are not plodding along doing the same thing in their own environments with their own personal interests at the center waiting for results to come.
I believe it is very important to question all training and coaching systems and intuitively take what makes sense and discard what feels wrong. Follow your instincts with training for squash, look at the most successful and long lasting athletes in all sports and see how efficient their movement is. Seek out great coaches and trainers who are conscientious and grounded. Keep the training environment as varied and random as in the context of squash. Run, jump, land, twist, turn, stop, start, catch, throw and have fun in all of these as this helps ease of learning and skill development. Multi sport wherever possible at a young age, this is vital for longevity of the body and mind. Lastly be aware of quality of form and technique when you train and make it look and feel as easy as possible, even if the exercise is very tough. Don’t fight the body, work with it.