Coaching: Developing Young Athletes

28th August 2013

We’re fortunate to have a tremendously diverse membership, and included in that are a large number of coaches working with young players 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/national level and above.

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

It’s debatable whether or not there is a clear ‘correct’ model to develop a young athlete, 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 methods that they’ve come through.

Every coach’s approach to working with and developing young athletes is different, and there are numerous different views and methods as to the ‘best’ pathway to sporting success. Beyond the standard practice and reinforcement of the technical, tactical and physical skills however, there is the 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 given emphasis in any youth coaching or training programme.

With this in mind, providing 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 and not just becoming a good sportsperson, should be held paramount – these attributes are universal, and would be the same for any sporting pursuit, not just squash.

The specifics may vary, but the basic foundations will generally be the same, looking to instil qualities such as:

  • 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 lives 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 we should consider ourselves very fortunate to have such a physically and mentally challenging game 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 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. An excellent article 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 practices’ 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’d recommend that anybody who 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. While you may not necessarily agree with all of the points he raises, 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