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’?
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.
As we now approach the end of the year, whether you’re continuing to play and train over Christmas or whether you’re taking some time out to rest and recuperate, it can be a useful process to take a look back over the past 12 months and take some time to evaluate your overall game and performance levels, to gauge where you are now and to assess where you would ideally like to be at this same time next year.
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:
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!
It can often be difficult for people to let go of closely held beliefs as regards training and fitness, as new ideas can challenge people’s comfort zone and (perceived) knowledge of what can be a pretty dogmatic subject. This rigidity however, can often be detrimental to progress.
It can often feel fairly easy to maintain motivation for training in the first few weeks of a new year, as there is that tangible feeling of fresh opportunity and optimism with all the prospects a new calendar year offers. That positivity and those good intentions unfortunately have a tendency though to wain a little as our schedules again start to fill up, and work commitments begin to take over again. It can be difficult sometimes to keep sight of your training targets as January turns to February, and Spring inches it way in behind Winter. One great way to maintain that crucial structure and motivation within your training and overcome these challenges however, is through the use of a training diary.
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.
New year, new you! This is the time of year when mood is good and motivation high, with many players setting themselves commitments and targets for the coming 12 months.