WSF coaching conference Poland

This year the WSF coaching conference was held in the beautiful city of Krakow in Poland. The Polish team finals also ran alongside the conference meaning coaches could enjoy matches in the evening on the glass court featuring greats like James Willstrop and Gregory Gaultier and Alison Waters. It was a perfect combination.

Before I boarded the plane I was unsure how the conference would work, as some aspects seemed a bit disorganized. This was the case to some extent but I still felt the course was a triumph and I am sure it will be fine tuned for the future.

Meeting coaches from so many different countries who are doing such amazing work was simply inspirational and sometimes emotional. Bryan Patterson talked about the Urban squash program in the Bronx, New York and the single mothers and their children who rely on him and his team to build a future. As Bryan told one story in particular tears welled up in his eyes, a poignant reminder squash can make a huge difference way beyond the court. There were coaches from Alaska, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Argentina and many more countries from the far reaches of the globe, all had a story to tell and where exceptionally passionate about the sport and how they can bring more players to the courts. We even had the fortune of Marcus Berret, former world top 40 player and now National coach for Italy. Next time it would be great to have him presenting as well as adding his extensive knowldege to the discussions.

Among the energetic and enthusiastic coaches attending the conference to learn where the presenters (who certainly will have learned a lot). Maclom Willstrop talked about his working relationship with James and Renan Lavigne, French National coach, his with Greg Gualtier. This was very interesting for all involved if for no other reason than the different beliefs and ways of working. Malcom with the focus on control of emotion and the ball, creating a Son whose skill and temperament are something to be admired and Greg with the raw speed, extreme movement and agressive tempo that dominates the world rankings today. James and Greg are very different people, bodies and personalities, important aspects to consider in a coaching environment.  We had presentaions on player pathways from John Milton, biomechanics by Ignacio Parma from Argentina, workshops on teaching beginners from Peter Hirst and a demonstration of deception from Zainal Abidin from Singapore, all fascinating and useful.

Michelle Martin talked through her journey from junior to 6 times British open champion and world number 1. The incredible family also produced Rodney and Bret who made world number 2 rankings. This talk gave an insight into the ‘go make it happen’ mentality present in all the worlds best and also the power of the working relationships and coaches who enabled Michelle to find her pathway through the ups and downs of professional squash to be the best.  From Geoff Hunt to Dardir El Bakary to her Uncle then to Brother Rodney, a fascinating mix of styles and influences.

My first presentation was about player development and talent identification with Malcom and although we had different views in some areas this only added to the value of the discussion I felt. Different environments can be successful in different ways that’s part of the interest of coaching.  While I believe in a multi sport approach for young players until at least 16 years old, in Pontefract where Malcom coaches the view is more pure squash. We also talked around the question of ‘what is junior squash for?’ I think if the answer includes longevity of career and optimum physical development then a multi sport environment should be considered.

The following day I presented on movement fluency and function, which involved a demonstration from 14 year old Karina Tyma, one of our promising juniors from Bristol who was competing in the Polish teams and went on to win the women’s title. The plan for the presentation was to articulate that movement fluency directly affects swing, feel and shot selection as well as helping reduce injuries. Karina whizzed through the movement drills under controlled ease and then into a feed for drop shots where she showed what is possible with a relaxed but switched on body in front of a big crowd of inquisitive coaches! The conference finished with all participants trying our footwork patterns to music across the two courts, this was great to see and I hope for all involved they had as much fun as I did.

Conferences for me were always a place for boring speeches from people in suits but this trip showed how much amazing knowledge and understanding can be shared and enjoyed in such a relatively short time. Bring on the next one!


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