Coaching: Developing young athletes

28th August 2013

We’re fortunate to have a tremendously diverse membership here on SquashSkills, and included in that are a large number of coaches from all across the globe. We’re often asked to feature more content specific to coaches looking for help with their skills development programmes and in particular, those that do a lot of work with junior squash players – from fun and ‘mini squash’ level, right up to regional and national level and above. It’s always great to hear of the obvious time and dedication so many of you out there are putting into the young athletes you work with, and it’s an area we hope to feature from time to time here on the site.

We had a great response to our recent blog post on ‘Early Stage Development for Junior Players’, so thought it would be good to follow up on the topic, and take another look at junior development from a slightly different angle this time.

Everyone’s approach to working with and developing young athletes is different, and there are numerous different views and methods as to the ‘right’ way to do it. Beyond the practise and reinforcement of the technical/tactical and all the more physical-based skills, there is a crucial backdrop of the overall development of the young person as an individual in their own right, and this is something that should always be considered in any youth coaching or training programme.

I’m not sure I believe that there is a clearly defined ‘correct’ model to develop a young sports enthusiast, as for as many different players’ development you look at you’ll equally see just as many different environments, timelines, and exposures to different coach/parent personalities and approaches.

That said, I do personally believe that there are certain guidelines that provide a solid framework within which a youth athlete can be given the best opportunity to develop all of the many attributes that go into forming a truly well-rounded young adult – I believe that these attributes would be the same for any sporting pursuit, not just squash.

The specific details may vary, but for me, the basic foundations should always be the same, of looking to instil the qualities of:

  •  Positive attitude
  • Accountability
  • Discipline and work ethic
  • Strong intrinsic motivation
  • Respect for others
  • Good social skills
  • Awareness of the ‘bigger picture’

Having been fortunate to have worked with a number of young athletes from a variety of sports and also alongside some fantastic coaches, all these are qualities that I strongly believe serve young people well in life, and not just in sport. Make no mistake about it – as a coach, you serve an important role in the life of the children you regularly work with, and the lessons they learn from you can (and will) be carried into other areas of their lives.

Obviously most that are reading this will be squash enthusiasts, and I think that we’re very fortunate to have such a physically and mentally challenging game such as squash to use as our sport of choice for developing both the specific sporting and more general life skills of the young people we work with, that perhaps other slightly less demanding sports might lack.

Of course, all the talk of creeds and ethos’ are fine, but there has to be something tangible to back it up. One of my favourite articles that covers many of these topics and includes some practical examples to reinforce it, was one written by esteemed American Sports Performance Coach and S&C guru Eric Cressey.

In his article ‘20 Ways to Prepare Young Athletes for Success in Sports and in Life‘, Eric talks about his experiences working with a huge number of very talented young athletes, and his recommendations for some of the ‘best practice’ he’s seen in the raising and development of these emerging young sportspeople, and also (crucially) how he goes about instilling these favourable qualities.

It’s a great read, and I really recommend that anybody that does any work with young athletes (from squash, or any other sport) should check it out – Cressey is a very well regarded figure within sports performance in the US, and has a huge amount of experience in the field. You may not agree with all of the points he raises, but for those of you that work regularly with young athletes, they should certainly help stimulate some thought and reflection as to your own philosophy and approach to the development of the juniors in your care.


Gary Nisbet

B.Sc.(Hons), CSCS, NSCA-CPT, Dip. FTST
SquashSkills Fitness & Performance Director

Learn more about developing juniors

Check out this series, Dave Pearson talks about how to develop successful juniors and his own experiences teaching them through the years.

Watch now