Coaching an all-Girl Varsity Team

Coaching an all girl High School Varsity squash team: My experience, by Celia Allamargot …

Coaching an all girl High School Varsity squash team: My experience.         Open story in new window

During the 2014/15 squash season, I got the opportunity to be the Head Coach of the Convent of Sacred Heart varsity team. Sacred Heart is based in Greenwich, CT. It’s an all girl day school, which is more recognizable for their strong academic reputation rather than their squash honours. The school didn’t have their own courts which is something of a rarity these days amongst private schools on the East Coast.

David and Goliath

Have you ever heard the story of David and Goliath? The story where adversity is overcome and the underdog triumphs …

SH14249Have you ever heard the story of David and Goliath? The story where adversity is overcome and the underdog triumphs.

In a book written by Malcolm Gladwell the celebrated author outlines how this result, and many others like it, were not upsets but actually truly deserved wins, calculated to perfection to place the perceived underdog, in the public’s eye, into a position of strength.

So let’s turn to squash. This Wednesday just gone was a fine example of how to do just that.

The scene is Nottingham University Men’s Firsts vs Loughborough University Men’s Firsts, Quarter Finals of the BUCS Championship, the pinnacle of university squash in the UK.

Unlike most sports Loughborough were firm underdogs: a small coaching budget, 20 times less than Nottingham’s, facilities that have seen better days, and a recent record not comparable to that of the success Nottingham have seen.

So how did it go ? A hugely unexpected 3/2 victory to Loughborough!

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Every Loughborough player performed above their normal capabilities, whilst showing an increase in playing standard from the start of the year. Now link back to David and Goliath, how did Loughborough overcome these odds, just like David did in turning the battle into a match in which he could succeed?

The art of planning, mentoring and coaching is how. Go back to the start of the season my goals as a coach were simple and that was to gain rapport with the players. This is the only way you can get them to buy in to new ideas and trust their skills when it counts, under match pressure. The way I personally aim to do this isn’t from above, prescribing or dictating a regime, it’s from on the same level. The art of building rapport is being able to be at the same level as your players, have a laugh, join in at times, and fundamentally be seen as human. From there you can lead them not as an external motivator but in fostering internal drive and desire in your players to succeed for themselves and their peers. It is possible to help create a close knit environment where each player cares and works for each other, as a team.

Once you’re there it is possible to know your players, their personalities, and motivators. When you know this you can afford to try things as a coach, as you know when you can throw the spanner in the works and take a calculated risk received by an open mindset to change.

So what in terms of the nitty gritty of the training for high pressured environments and getting them ready for the big game? Loughborough needed to build a team of big game players, ones capable of a big task. The approach we adopted as a team was to use something called punishment training. This has recently been researched in the academic world with the sport of cricket, and made aware to me on England Squash and Racketball workshops. The principle is that the use of punishments such as fitness exercises, forfeits, and being placed on the spot can recreate this real life tense atmosphere in the big game. We used this regularly for a period of time in order to prep our players to deal with pressure and learn to handle it when it came.

As a team the boys had become more able to deal with pressure and it was now a case of planning for the event. As soon as the draw came out we realised when we would need to peak to succeed in the tournament. We used the match as the drive for the training and peaking for the event. Using the budget we had as a coach I carefully crafted the coaching, fitness, and match play schedules to give us the best chance.

On the day it was case of controlling the team’s emotions. A subtle morning text to each player was sent with a rough game plan and reminder of the motivators for each of them, to get them pumped up and looking forward to it. Before the game we had a team meeting where each player could give input to each other’s game plans and a reminder of key aspects as a team in terms of the momentum and support they can give one another throughout. From there, time to reflect was built in, and brief chats to each player were given to remind, settle or pump up the player dependent on the person.

During the match most of the real work is done, and as a coach it was now about rolling the dice and seeing how it unfolded, and not being afraid to ask more of the players you are working with between games. But really when it came down to it, it was the players on court that counted and the work that they had done before to get them to that point.

And it worked for us! Now I am not saying this is the way to do things or the best way but it worked for us as a team. Equally so, it wouldn’t have worked for every match we had played as that emotional buy-in has to be invested where it is most needed and it isn’t infinite.

The true test now is crafting the response from this, and seeing if we as a team can do what your giant killers of the past have failed to do and back up one big result with another. It’s fair to say this is a team, and club as a whole that have developed a great drive, and it would be interesting to see what would be possible with parity of funding for the club as a whole.

Next up for the Men’s firsts is the toughest task of all in the shape of UWE of Bristol, meanwhile the Men’s 2’s take on Nottingham seconds in the cup and the Men’s thirds fight for promotion alongside the seconds. Wish us luck!

By Josh Taylor

Loughborough University Head Coach,
ESR East Midlands Regional Lead Coach

Lee Drew – my 5 Coaching Principles

Here are my 5 Current Coaching Principles – I say current, as I am continuously looking for and learning new ideas from various sources …

Here are my 5 Current Coaching Principles – I say current, as I am continuously looking for and learning new ideas from various sources …    open article in new window

CWG 2014 – A Scottish View

Harry Leitch’s CWG diary – all about the life in the Village, the atmosphere during the Ceremonies, the Joys and Heartbreaks …

Extracts from Harry Leitch’s CWG diary that he shared with his family and friends – read on and you’ll learn all about the life in the Village, the atmosphere during the Ceremonies, the Joys and Heartbreaks … 

Danny Lee – my 5 Coaching Principles

Danny Lee surprises himself with his 5 coaching principles that he didn’t realise he was using until he thought about it …

I’ve had such a blast coaching this game and met so many unbelievable people that words such as method and principles seemed more akin to teaching Latin than squash.

Now I realise that’s not true and there was method and principle in what I thought was an effective, albeit slightly whacky approach to passing on my knowledge

Back to School…

Lee Drew: “Who would have thought back in 1993, when I was leaving school, that I would be so pleased and relishing the opportunity to be back in the educational system?”

carteblanceLeeby Lee Drew

Who would have thought back in 1993, when I was leaving school, that I would be so pleased and relishing the opportunity to be back in the educational system? This time, I am a mature student enrolled with Gloucester University taking a Post Graduate Degree that is England Squash and Racketball’s new coaching qualification, the “High Performance Award”.

The course can be made into a Masters Degree with an additional year and completed dissertation. My time in coaching has been a bit of a whirlwind and England Squash have certainly helped to provide me with many continued learning opportunities and a pathway for me to work hard and thrive within. The HPA award is certainly one example of this.

The course, which has attracted 14 of England’s elite coaches, is the brainchild of Paul Carter, head of England’s Elite Coach Development team. Paul, along with many of his coaching and performance colleagues, have worked hard to offer this high spec course, which has replaced the old Level 4 qualification.

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It is designed to be recognised as the pinnacle of the coaching model, which is dedicated to creating a network of coaches across the country, who share ideas and philosophy with each other. The coaching programme is very much aimed towards being inclusive rather than exclusive and the shared knowledge will help to spread a consistent message throughout the land. The High Performance Award is the flagship of the coaching course programme within a structure that now features 14-15 coaching workshops across the country every season.

The detail and quality offered on the High Performance Award is having an affect throughout the entire coach qualification structure, in order to align England Squash and Racketball qualifications, the current Level 3, award, which is a stepping stone towards the High Performance Award, has been modified to become a slightly less detailed version; the Level 3 is now underpinned by many of the HPA subjects and also features many of the highly regarded and specialised tutors from the flagship course.

SH6625Paul Carter confirmed this recently: “The information provided at the new Level 3 is very current and has been adapted to suit the demands of the modern game. There is lots of new and fresh information on offer that did not feature in the old Level 4. I believe that the new Level 3 is a very effective course.”

What has been great so far is how the course challenges conventional thinking and really makes me think. Independent experts have been brought in to shed more light on each aspect of the course. Some of the subjects included have been, Skill Acquisition, Myers Briggs Type Indicator, Bio-mechanics, Nutrition, Critical Thinking, Psychology, Reflective Thinking, Analysis, Chris Robertson’s Squash Pillars and Strength & Conditioning with England’s Keith Barker to name just a few.

The intention of the course is to develop coaches that can operate effectively on the world stage, to be able to work with international teams and individuals.

Paul also explained:” The HPA is special because of the level of expertise involved. For example, Chris Robertson, the England National Coach tutors for a number of days, as well as former England cricket psychologist David Young, who currently also works with the elite squash players on the Academy programme, as well as Worcestershire and Middlesex county cricket. The course has been specially designed to meet the needs of the individual coach and is specific to the demands of squash.”

SH6626I am now in the process of putting together my final portfolio after 15 months of the course. The work is 11-12,000 words long and features; coaching philosophy, reflections and work with two players that includes the Performance Pillars, Talent Development, Psychology, S&C, Performance analysis and Sport Science. I must admit the whole referencing process is very alien to me and a whole new challenge.

The course has been very informative and challenging and I would highly recommend it to anyone who gets the opportunity to take it in the future.

Lee Drew

Refereeing Consistency

Should referees always accept players calls on their own pickups, asks Phillip Marlowe

Something that has always bothered me from a refereeing perspective is the inconsistency regarding accepting players’ calls, says Phillip Marlowe.

When a player calls his or her shot down, we applaud their honesty and accept the call without question – at least I’ve never seen any referee not accept a player’s call except me once and that caused a shit storm in that match, I can tell you.

Switching from Narrow to Broad Focus

Sports psychologists talk about “Broad” and “Narrow” focus and I thought it might be helpful if I described how this could relate to squash …

Sports psychologists talk about “Broad” and “Narrow” focus and I thought it might be helpful if I described how this could relate to squash …

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