All too often I see players not getting into the right frame of mind when looking to return the serve. I believe this moment, right before the ball goes into play, is a key few seconds that players need to try and be more mindful about.
When I ask athletes and coaches to make a list of mental skills they often look at me in shock as they usually don’t know what to put on it. It’s easy to list the shots you can play in squash, the types of physical training required and what you are meant to do as part of your recovery. Listing the mental skills in sport and in squash, in particular, is likely something you haven’t done before.
Most squash players whether amateur or professional, can recall having at some point played a match where everything just seemed to come together; where winners were rolling off the racket, movement was smooth and effortless, and the mind was free and clear. This state of ‘flow’ is actually a widely studied psychological concept and, while difficult to harness, is something that if embraced can be hugely beneficial not just to your sporting performance, but – if the psychologist behind the theory is to be believed – also to your general happiness and satisfaction in life.
Elite performers in sports such as squash are often lauded for their ability to play the right shot at the right time. While what is deemed the ‘correct’ shot may differ from player to player or coach to coach, it is certainly a key indicator of high level players that they have good decision making skills, that consistently result in a successful outcome. For those trying to improve their squash the ability to improve their decision making is thus an important factor, yet many players find it a difficult area of their game to consciously develop.
Squash is a tough enough sport as it is, never mind when your evening game/training session has been preceded by a long day at the office.
Just about every player at every level will have at one time or another blamed a loss on work/social/family stresses while lamenting their poor performance, but is there any actual real evidence to support the validity of this oft-used ‘excuse’?
When you watch top-level squash, or any sport, executed with grace, flow, timing, rhythm and skill do you ever wonder “how are they able to do that time and time again so effortlessly?”
We’ve already been treated to some outstanding early season matches on the PSA tour in China, France, and Hong Kong. With Autumn creeping in it’s now the turn of dedicated club players up and down the country to start getting back into the swing of things, as club box leagues and county league team squash begin kicking into gear for the new season.
To make sure you’re prepped for the coming season and ready to hit the ground running, check out our 5 point pre-season checklist:
I’m still asked about whether I miss playing professionally and most people who ask, have a preconceived idea that I do. To their disappointment, I usually explain how happy I am and how fortunate I’ve been to play the sport I love but am also completely content never to play competitively again. I feel this satisfaction stems from the fact I’ve made mistakes throughout my career but always managed to work through them and learn more from the struggle – I have no regrets.
Watching the Olympics this week, it struck me again just how fine the margins can be between winning and losing in competitive sport.
When two opponents are so evenly matched, it can come down to the minutest of factors that give a player that crucial edge that carries them to victory – surprisingly, there is research to suggest that this may even include something as seemingly trivial as the colour of the clothes that you wear!
In Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on body language: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are, I discovered some impressive statistics to support the “fake it ’till you make it” concept of physiology. It’s been long known that not only does your mental or emotional state affect your body language, but the reverse is also true. You can choose to change the way you feel by assuming a different posture, pose or facial expression.
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.
It can often be difficult for people to let go of closely held beliefs as regards technique, training and fitness, as new ideas can challenge people’s comfort zone and (perceived) knowledge of what can be pretty dogmatic subjects. This rigidity however, can often be detrimental to progress.
If you speak to most top athletes in any sport, you’ll find that they (or their coaches) will keep a record of all of their training sessions they’ve completed, as well as a schedule for their workouts planned days, weeks, and even months in advance. While it may be difficult to be that detailed and specific with your records as an amateur player, getting into the habit of keeping a simple training diary can be a great way to provide some clarity to your programme and keep you engaged. It can also give you a useful mental advantage in regards to your preparation for matches, when you reflect back on the work you’ve put in.
We all know improving fitness is an easy way of becoming a better squash player. However, one area and element of the game that we forget about that can also dramatically improve your standard is mental agility and strength. You have to remember that the person who gets the ball up on the front wall last in a rally wins the point. Therefore, if you’re stubborn, strong enough physically and technically, then you’ll be able to win more points in this manner and thus win more often. I know this from the early part of my career when I had a very limited game and relied heavily on physical and mental strength. So how can you get mentally tougher?
Blame it on Chris Evans
It’s all Chris Evans’s fault. It’s thanks to that notorious radio DJ that my relationship with James Willstrop is so acrimonious.
My Greatest Match
Why Nick Matthew Hides Any Nerves Behind A Poker Face..
The process of ‘goal-setting’ is an extremely useful mental training technique, that can help focus attention and effort when working toward a targeted personal goal.
Used by high achievers across a range of fields from business high-flyers to elite athletes, goal-setting is an excellent tool to enhance adherence and motivation along the way when working toward a desired outcome – for the squash player it’s a great way to formulate long-term targets for their game, and to consider the necessary steps that are needed to get there.
To play sport competitively at any level requires a range of different skills and abilities to succeed. To really excel though, it’s necessary to garner a deeper understanding of the major elements that blend together to make-up that sport.
While each sport has its own unique set of attributes required for success, particularly one so multi-faceted as squash, all competitive athletic pursuits can be generally divided into four main components: Technical, Tactical, Physical, and Mental.