NEIL ABOUT HIS
As a coach, do you have a role model?
No one really, I sort of put the package together myself!
What are the qualities required to be a good coach?
You've got to be very patient. Also, the player has got to come first, and
you must forget about your ego. You must be really careful and choose your
moment to make remarks to the players. Sometimes, if I want to make a point,
I will make the remark in front of the group. Other times, I'll wait and
talk to him one to one. I think you've got to be tough. You've got to have a
firm conviction in your beliefs with technique, with how hard you have to
I don't compromise on that. What I learnt, over the years, is maybe
to explain it a bit better, to explain it in different ways for different
people. You've got to find the way that works for a particular player, what
motivates him, what makes him tick, what are his weaknesses. I give him the
tools, and teach him how to use them. You know, a lot of coaches just want
to keep talking. What I try to do is to show the player, put him in a
certain situation, and let him feel it. Because he is grasping it, he
understands much quicker. All that takes time.
Let's talk about training intensity ...
What happens with all players, for the first year or two, they need quantity
AND quality, because their legs can't take too much intensity. After a
couple of years, they are able to take that intensity. You know, all the
players can play all the shots, each of them can play the ball at his own
speed, each at his own level. So, if I take the example of Ritwik, he is
ranked 90 to 100 and he just won a tournament in New-Zealand. Last month,
I just made his training much tougher, a little bit shorter, so when he
comes to his matches, he can work much harder to beat the players more
easily. So instead of winning 3/1 in an hour and forty minutes, he will win
in an hour and ten minutes. The intensity will be harder, but he will be
less tired for the following match.
Once again, you are re-evaluating the training…
I'm always trying to give them an edge on their opponent now, and also to
give them the taste of what is to come. Once a player gets used to that pace,
once again a re-evaluation, he is going to say, well actually, I can play
the next pace now. If you said to someone, look, now, you could play at
Peter Nicol's pace, he just couldn't do it, he couldn't control the ball.
But if you show him the next level, and he gets there, and the next level…
that's how we go through it.
All your players talk about the "mental strength"
you give them. What is it
I actually believe it's very difficult for an individual player to get to
the top. I think you need a very strong support staff. When Peter started
his career, he only had me as a support, and I only had him. That made it
very difficult for both of us, because he lived with us as well. It was a
big strain on my personal life and everything else, but then again, I was
prepared to make that sacrifice because I had a player that I genuinely
thought could be the best player in the word. Then he met his girlfriend,
and it was the time my daughter was born so we drifted away for a while then
he came back again, but he had found another outlet for his emotions which
was good, and necessary.
Nowadays, I try and step in when I think it's
necessary. I try and give them the information, but I try now to let the
players do as much as possible, because the quicker they learn the lesson,
the better. But it is really about the confidence they get from knowing the
work that they have done will actually make a big difference, attention to
details, intensity, the way it's done, the way they organise themselves, the
From a mental preparation point of view, what do
you recommend to your
players before a match?
I try and keep them as relaxed as possible. I try not to make one match more
important than another. I try to get them into the frame of mind that they
are going to do their very best. Most of the time, they have a sort of
routine that allows them to switch off from the outside world. They have a
sort of mental check list: the opponent, the courts, the conditions… Also,
visualisation of the way they want to hit the ball, and the kind of rallies
they want to play. Everything has got to be extremely positive. I normally
speak with my player on the phone one or two hours before the match, and he
will tell me about the conditions, so I'll advise him to play a bit more
height, for example. And the reason is just to give him more focus and avoid
any distraction. Once he is in the rallies, into the match, he is OK.
What do you say to a player before a match?
A good example for Peter is when he was playing with Barada, Rodney Eyles
and Jansher, I felt the key was not only the length, but the width. So I
just kept reminding him: how much you want to hit the ball cross court, how
wide you want to hit it, hit it a bit wider. That would prevent those great
players from volleying, therefore giving him more time to come back. So I
would keep it simple and I would pick up on one aspect I wanted him to focus
on, and if his own game was not working, he could immediately switch to
that. If I'm there, I say to him before hand, look, and it's not going well
in the first game, don't worry, just play it out as hard as you can, and we
will fix it between the games.
And during the interval?
My reaction will vary: I'll shout, or I'll talk quietly, I'll make a joke,
I'll talk only tactically, whatever is necessary for that moment. And if I'm
not there, 9 times out of 10, there is another player of my group who knows
roughly what to say.
We've seen Serena Williams reading notes between games. What would you write
for your players?
I would always make sure they are moving forwards. If they lose the first
game, mentally, they've got to step forwards. You never win a game of squash
from behind someone. And if somebody is spending time in front of you, it means
your length is not good enough. Then I would give them a little mental check
list: are my length and my width good enough, am I volleying enough, am I
moving up the court enough, normally that's enough to readjust.
You are considered by many as the best
reader of the game. What is your
People. I read people. I read the game. The game is very complicated, but it
is people who play it. I read people's body languages, I watch how people
handle themselves in situations. But for that, you've got to spend a lot of
time on the circuit, observing them.
You use an exercise originally designed by Joe Shaw, called the 120. What is
It consists in 120 continuous strokes using footwork patterns to different
corners. Joe showed me his version of this exercise, which I modified to
suit different parameters. So to go to the front right, you use three
strides moving on the sideways basis.
I worked out you could move more quickly going forwards in sideways and
coming back sideways, than if you come back backwards. The other thing is if
you move sideways in, you arrive much more to the side of the ball, which
gives you an option to hit straight. Now, the most difficult corner to play
in and out on a squash court for a right-hander is the forehand front. The
120 movement to each of the corners helps certain patterns of shots that are
happening a lot in a game: a lot of drop shots and lengths balls. So I have
developed a kind of a pattern that brings you round the ball, and by coming
round the ball, not directly to it, you keep the racket face much more open
So you improved the exercise?
Joe didn't look at it in that particular way, he just did the movements. And
I have been able to work out the movement in great detail to help players
move in and out. It's one of the main problems on those front corners, left
When you go straight to the ball, you can't get back down the wall, because
there is no space to hit into. So, by bringing the player round a little
bit, he's got the choice. And the game of squash is all about choice. So I
try and give the players as much choice by giving them that movement
Does the 120 help in other ways as well?
If you keep looking at the way the players move, you will notice that a lot
of them don't have control over their upper body. So the legs move, and the
upper body is actually quite off centre, off balance. The way I treated the
120 helps the players control their bodyweight, with their upper body as
well as with their legs. So the body is moving in tandem rather than just
moving the legs, and then hitting the ball. For that, a lot of the players'
strength training is focused on court strength training, like a lot of work
on the ball, a lot of sit ups, a lot of work on the lower back, to reinforce
the stability of the upper body. That is how I have modified the 120, it's
now a whole body experience, not just you going up and down the court. When
you can do it really well, it shouldn't be a fitness exercise; it should be
a movement exercise.
What do you think of Joe Shaw?
Joe has had some revolutionary ideas over the years. I actually worked under
Joe for a short period as a player. The objective was to get you as fit and
as strong as possible, and play the longest and the hardest first game as
possible, and that was it. I don't think that Joe was that good tactically,
he is a very good trainer. His philosophy in those days was: here is Geoff
Hunt's program, here is what Jonah did, what Jahangir did, if you do most of
that, you'll be the best player in the world. But I have to say that his
off-court influence was probably much more important than his on-court
influence. He has some good training ideas, like the 120, things like that.
And his heart was so big, he also shared a lot of his personal experience
with me, and showed me how hard you must be if you want to succeed.
How much does it cost to work with you?
I do a set fee, accordingly what my players can afford. If someone is
being sponsored by a federation or a private individual (family for
example), if they are quite wealthy, then I charge them more money. Their
money will subsidise the players who don't have any. Well actually, I'm
testing the players who've got the money to see if they are really keen. If
they stay, I lower the fee. If someone came for 3 months, had all the group sessions,
about three individual sessions with me a week, it would be around £100 a
week. If the player is a pro, he would be paying about £90 a month, £20 a
week, and then I take a percentage on their prize money. It's not a fixed
percentage, it's an average figure based on whether they paying a lower fee or
a higher fee. For those who are paying a higher fee, they are probably not going
to win tournaments, so they are of no value to me percentage wise.
Do you have an example?
Beng Hee used to pay me a lower fee a month, and I took small percentage of his
prize money. He had a special status, because he had a sponsor, The Olympic
Committee, who paid for his flat. Peter, I never touched his prize
money, but I've negotiated a good contract with Prince, and I get a small
percentage of that. Basically, the purpose is to give someone a chance, I do
as much as I can to help the player get through it. I remember a situation with
Tim, he really wanted to come back to Colombia for a tournament, but the
flight was £800! So I told him to keep all the prize money, to ease the
What is your general attitude towards money?
Overall, I think I'm pretty fair. I'm also trying to be as generous as I can
be. I believe that a lot of the work is actually done off court, it means
that you have to spend time with them, and there is nothing like sitting
down and have lunch with them. Something will come up. If something has been
bothering them, if I want to talk with them, but need to find the
appropriate moment, if you are sitting and relaxing having lunch, things
will sort themselves out. I make a point at least once a week of taking one
or two players out to lunch, so it can happen three times in a week, and
their fee probably doesn't even cover the price of the meal, especially at
that age, they need to eat!
|A Day At Chingford
with Tim Garner
Tim Garner - Trained with Neil for years - now the main coach at
Lamb's, plays league for a number of teams including St Georges during
the season and he is also the tour director of the BSPA. But with his
best friend Peter Nicol and Angus Kirkland, he has created Eventis
Sports Marketing, a new company to promote sports events who took on
the English Open at the Crucible in Sheffield and the Canary Wharf
Classic in London.
How does a day go?
In my days, you had a session in the morning, starting at 10.30 sharp,
Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday (though now it is 10.00 and on
Wednesday as well!). You were expected to arrive early, to stretch and
warm up to be ready to go on court at 10.30. For every minute you were
late, you had to do 10 court sprints so trust me, you did NOT arrive
late! And if unfortunately, one player would arrive late, the rest of
the group would go "hooooo, this is going to be painful…".
That was a good way to teach discipline to squash players, who are
renowned for their lack of it. The sessions would last around 1.30-2
hours. I know that, nowadays, the sessions are more likely to last an
hour to an hour and an half of more intense activity.
During those morning group sessions, do you do normal routines or
A lot of it is based on routines around boasts and drives. Neil will
pair players up into twos or threes on the court. As there are 4
courts, you would have a maximum of 12 players per session. Then Neil
would walk around from court to court, picking up on points that you
want to be thinking about when you are doing those routines.
The movements are quite strict and precise. You really put yourself
under pressure while you are doing the exercises, so when you are
actually in a game, you feel relatively comfortable. You would also
have conditioned games, with little competitions, with for example,
the bottom court and a top court, and you would work your way up or
down the court, depending on how you went on.
How does the rest
of the day go?
In the afternoon, you would arrange for a practice game with the other
players, or you could have an individual session with Neil. Those
individual sessions would be the toughest part of the training. It's
very intense feeding where you would hit the ball back to him, he
would be working you around the court and you would have to get back
in the right position. A lot of Neil's work is very much on
positioning and getting in the right position, so you can hit a wider
range of shots.
What about the physical preparation?
Particularly in the summer, Neil would sit down with you and work up a
training schedule, for whatever period of time you would have before
an event you would wanted to start playing again, you would have eight
weeks until the next tournament for example. So together, you would
plan what you were going to do, you would start by things like longer
runs, three weight sessions a week, more base fitness sessions…
Then, you would start getting ready more specifically for the event,
and that would include more ghosting sessions. Neil uses a movement
pattern called "the 120" that was developed by the Australian coach
Joe Shaw, who coaches David Palmer and John White. This exercise helps
you moving immensely, it gets you into very strong positions on the
How is the atmosphere between the players?
Generally, the guys get on pretty well together, but whenever you
play, there is always a bit more of an edge to a match, because
everybody in the group will know who has beaten whom!
It's not just training, is it?
No, it's not. Sometimes, there are some frictions between them, but
the next day, everything is forgotten. They are quite good at getting
on with it! You are allowed to have a bad day, but it's never more
What about the accommodations for the players?
Neil will always try and help players who come to the club to train.
There is a real infrastructure to help them, to make them feel at
home. I'm surprised how well a lot of them have coped, they are away
from their home country, they are very young, and the way they cope
with the situation will actually dictate how they'll do as
professional squash players.
"Well, in my instance, I gave him a fee to be based at the club and I would
pay him a percentage of the prize money that I earn, which I think is a very
fair idea. If I was doing very well in the tournaments, he was getting more
money, whereas if I was doing badly, he was getting less!
it's not common practice in Squash yet, and I'm always a bit surprised by
people's attitude and reaction to it. When you set something up for somebody
else, and you help him getting there, why shouldn't get a financial reward
"I think that, if we want squash to get bigger as a sport, we have
got to cease that narrow attitude and help people who work hard to get a
reward for their efforts".