One of the hardest things to take is criticism – of yourself or other people - especially when it is justified. The fear of failure and actually admitting failure is counter to so many defence mechanisms we have and are needed to achieve success in sport. I found myself being fully open to any constructive criticism during my training periods but then closer to my tournaments and during those events; I would be fully focused on my strengths and (most of the time) ignore any criticism.

Of course, I would be thinking of areas I could improve between matches but in essence I would not let any negative thoughts penetrate during those periods. Even if I did something negative to my cause whether it be eat the wrong food, not stretch, or something else perceived detrimental to playing my best squash, I would turn it into a positive action to increase my confidence.

I made that switch by clearly creating blocks of time:

  • Analyse my game and make decisions on what and how to improve
  • Break everything down to achieve those changes
  • Build up those newly changed areas to a level where they could be incorporated into my tournament play
  • Go into gameplay mode where my game plan was set around my own understanding of my abilities

By being able to accept criticism and be honest about my abilities and therefore, my failings as a player, was the main reason I succeeded. That was by far my best quality, allowing me to learn and improve continuously.

My recommendation to all players is leave your ego at the door of the court, accept yourself as the player you are. Only then can you make fundamental changes to improve your game. These changes can be made with clarity and purpose, without any baggage that will only be making those changes harder along the way and maybe even impossible.

Is it scary? Absolutely. I felt like a beginner so often during my training, learning new techniques or relearning old ones that needed to be completely overhauled. But, as I went through my career the learning curve accelerated and my ability to quickly absorb information and integrate into my game improved.

The only times in my career I felt blocked and unable to improve or adapt to new players, conditions or styles of play was when I was either unfocussed or not willing to accept something was missing or even wrong with me and my game. Whether that is technically, mentally, emotionally, physically, or any other factor that affected my ability to perform.

To end on a really positive note (of course!) the feeling of adapting a technique or movement and then having that moment of triumph is simply wonderful. Each little success is so enjoyable it makes the entire journey manageable and worthwhile. So, accept from others (and give yourself) some constructive criticism at the next appropriate moment in your squash life and then follow through by working on improving that area with clarity and purpose. It’s 100% worth the effort!

Good luck!

Peter Nicol

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