Juniors, 3-12 yrs
3-4yrsStart them early! 3-4 year olds are already developing hand-eye co-ordination skills and setting a preference for left or right handedness. They are capable of many of the athletic movements needed to be successful in most sports; they can learn to run, jump, stop, and turn. These physical abilities develop in accordance to the needs of a child, and the stimulation to do certain things - if the stimulation is not there then the abilities are not developed. There are many good ways to develop co-ordination, but the best of them involve fun games and activities built around attempting to catch a moving ball. The mind almost instantly calculates where the ball is going, and sends the signal to the right muscle groups to effect a successful catch. When I teach children of this age a very small segment of each 20 minute session is devoted to squash specific activities - there is rarely a racket involved at this age, and almost all of the skills learned are transferable across other sports.
5-8yrsChildren 5-7 years old continue to develop their fine motor skills. They can handle the weight of a small junior racket and are ready to learn to swing and hit.
At this age they love to hit balls from the Squash Cannon, and with a little practice they can soon direct shots to a specific target area using both forehand
and backhand strokes. Whilst not getting caught up in too much technical instruction they can be introduced to the correct grip, and learn the correct first position of the swing. With the Dunlop beginner ball two of my best six year olds in San Francisco, Jonathan and Henry, produced a half court rally of 28 shots together - and you should have seen their smiles on their faces!
9-12yrsChildren have no muscle memory so ingrained that it cannot be quickly overridden - and the ability to which a stimulated 10 year old can soak up instruction amazes me. I have found children of this age particularly receptive to visual learning and they love to mimic older juniors, their coach, and the top professional players. With less verbal communication, and instead a great deal of correct visual demonstration, they can learn to rally down the side wall with the same swing and footwork patterns that the top players in the world use. The only real limitation is size and strength so consideration must be given to what can be expected physically. Too early on, many coaches make the mistake of over emphasizing the importance of hitting the ball to the back of the court. It's not that this isn't important as of course it is the basis of good squash, but if the strength is not there then the only way a young child can do this is with a lot of wrist, excessive hip rotation and a looped swing; and these bad habits are very difficult to break later on. A young players desire to produce power before they have the strength to do so is the number one impediment to their long term technical proficiency. As coach it is important that I take a long term approach to development and place the emphasis on the process of hitting rather than the outcome of winning - which is most easily achieved in young age group competition by pounding the ball into the back two corners of the court. I am a firm believer in junior sized rackets and only want to see a young child transfer to a full sized racket when they have developed the necessary strength.
"Mark Allen has brought his truly unique talents to play in bringing a love of the game of squash to my 6 year old son, Jonathan.
In my almost 50 years of playing racquet sports at a nationally competitive level, I have never encountered a coach who has the ability to
both make the game fun, as well as provide the technical foundation for future competitive success in the way that Mark does. He has used
his wonderful sense of humor, his ability to encourage my son to make his greatest effort at all times, and his always innovative
instructional techniques to develop both my son's interest in squash as well as a high skill level in his squash game. If I hadn't been
watching many of the small group coaching sessions, I'd be betting on some form of magic by now!"
Chuck Elliott, father of Jonathan Elliott, aged 6.