Watching some of the fabulous live matches at the fantastic Canary Wharf Classic tournament the other week, it was great to see a full house of squash-enthusiasts there every night, and particularly pleasing to see so many youngsters there taking in the action.
It often strikes me the relatively small number of squash players who actually watch elite level squash however, despite the potential benefits of doing so – particularly for juniors still learning the game, or adult players who are engaged in coaching/training and looking to improve their abilities.
When learning or developing any physical skill, it is always going to be advantageous to watch experts in that field perform. Within sport in particular, it can be a great benefit to watch an elite ‘model' displaying all of the different techniques and tactics, to help really clarify what best practice should look like.
Taking football as the obvious example, you can almost guarantee that all 22 players on the local Sunday league pitch in the morning (junior or senior) will have watched ‘Match of the Day', or will be sitting down to enjoy that afternoon's ‘Super Sunday' Premier League match. In comparison, relatively few recreational players at a weekend Club Night for example, will actually watch much (if any) top level professional squash over the course of their week.
Working within football as well as squash, it is always much easier for me to illustrate a concept when coaching the former by making reference to a top football player to provide a ‘real world' example. Whether it be discussing the technique of controlling and dribbling a ball and referring to Lionel Messi, or discussing the incredible all-around athleticism advantages possessed by Cristiano Ronaldo, the mental strength and focus of a top goalkeeper such as David de Gea, or the superb tactical structure of a team like Barcelona, giving a specific example which 99% of players will be familiar with makes it much easier to reinforce a teaching point.
Taking a squash coaching session on the other hand, it's far less likely the majority of the players will be able to identify with the example of say James Willstrop's clinical backhand drop, or the mental strength of Nick Matthew in closing out a close game, or anything similar. Any coaching/learning or self-development process is generally going to be made easier with specific best-practice examples to follow, whatever the sport.
Of course, when attempting to develop any technically challenging physical skill, a good coach is always the best starting point. Having close personal tuition and direct feedback from an appropriately qualified expert is going to be extremely valuable in raising proficiency in a sport such as squash. Videos and articles from expert performers such as those we run here on Squashskills will also go hand-in-hand with direct coaching to provide a great advantage in learning and development. It is my opinion that seeing elite level players perform can only enhance this overall development though, and it's unfortunate that more recreational and club level players in particular don't do this – especially so younger players.
We're in a fantastic age to watch top-level squash right now, thanks to the accessibility of resources such as SquashTV, EuroSport, YouTube, and BTsport, and the massive strength in depth at the top of the men's game at the moment especially means there are a lot of great matches out there to view. As a player looking to learn the game, watching more top-level squash and becoming a student of the sport can really help in your development process. Similarly, as a coach, encouraging your players to watch more top-level squash can be a great aid in the learning of the game, particularly so in the development of young players – really encouraging them to focus in on things like the footwork, racket preparation, and rally structure of the top players.
So whether you're a player aiming to improve and develop your game, or a coach guiding players through the learning process of cultivating their skills and technique, watching more top level squash and/or encouraging your pupils to do the same, can be a great aid to furthering knowledge and understanding.
Gary Nisbet - B.Sc.(Hons), CSCS, NSCA-CPT, Dip. FTST
Squashskills Fitness & Performance Director