Spending 4 days in Northern Italy can never be a bad thing in June. Riccione, home to the National centre for squash is an interesting combination of holiday resort and elite training environment for various sports. A clever move by the local council to keep the town ticking over out of holiday season and bring top athletes into the community.
Sun, sea and squash will always be a winner for players and viewers as events like El Gouna in Egypt have proved. So when National coach Marcus Berrett asked if I could run camp for his top juniors and professional players it wasn’t a long thought process before replying; of course, I’d love to!
Part of the schedule included bringing one of our best professional players from Bristol to act as inspiration, example and coach to the local players and Youssef Solimon fitting that role perfectly. One of the most difficult aspects of developing a smaller squash nation is providing a reality that helps all ages develop towards the bigger vision rather that focusing on successes at a local level. Watching Youssef’s demonstrations and talking to him about his experiences from junior into professional squash proved extremely valuable in pushing across our core theme for the week: Be the best you can be, through process focused training and competing.
Over the intensive 3 day camp we covered the fundamentals of the elitesquash method through movement rhythm and timing, feel and skill development into creative thinking a freedom of play. With an overarching focus on developing the optimum learning culture by avoiding outcome based thinking and instead using the challenges in practice and competition to be the best version of you possible. Fortunately for the players they have Marcus in charge of the program who also coaches with this outlook and is a fantastic progressive coach.
With player’s ages ranging from 14 to 23 there we many different responses to the challenges of avoiding thoughts of failure, winning, losing and right and wrong. Often the lower ranked players found process focused training easier to maintain, pointing towards the fact that more success and higher rankings brings more expectation and therefore a bigger challenge to stick with a long-term vision. As we moved through each session I pushed the players to speak up, share their experiences with the group whether good or bad. Initially this was not easy but as the days moved on the culture began to change and some excellent insights from individuals started positive discussions in the group and collective sense of purpose.
In the evenings we were treated to excellent Italian food eaten outside and an opportunity for the junior to socialise and coaches to review the day. Comparisons between coaching styles in different nations threw up all sorts of questions about the most effective learning environment. ‘In Egypt the coaches tell you want they want you to do, but rarely tell you how’ Said Youssef one evening. ‘They just keep asking you to work it out, find a way’. For many coaching environments this is pretty much the opposite way round. The desire the teach, give the answers, lead from the top can often cause a culture of players who reproduce the given method to order, rather than finding their own way and growing into an independent free thinker. This is something to ponder on given the current dominance in the Egyptian players and their expressive and crafty playing styles.
Marcus and I both grew up in the British system and we were fortunate to have had access to many great coaches and mentors including Jonah Barrington, Dardir, Malcolm Willstrop, Bryan Patterson and Paul Wright to name a few. Often National squad training would include many of these names at the same time and I have strong memories of the very different ways each coach communicated their specialist areas of the game and how this would impact my game in such different ways. The views were diverse and inspiring and I’m sure those coaches also spent many fun evenings bouncing ideas, arguing, agreeing and pushing their knowledge of the game forward.
Many years later now we are coaches (and parents) and sharing our stories and experiences is a special thing and another reminder of the communities within squash being so valuable and inspiring. So thank you again to Marcus for and everyone at the Italian squash federation for the invitation and hospitality. Hope to see you again nest year.
For more examples for Bespoke coaching offered at elitesquash please visit: Bespoke coaching