Autumn is in sight, and the squash season here in the northern hemisphere is now underway, with tournaments and league competition of all levels starting to kick back into full swing.
Motivation and ambition is high at this time of year, so after our article last week on piecing together your preparatory pre-season checklist, this week we'll be looking ahead and introducing our SquashSkills guide for how you can have the PERFECT season:
P.repare, E.valuate, R.ecover, F.ocus, E.njoy, C.hallenge, T.rain!
To be at your best for every match you play, it’s important that you prepare accordingly. An old adage that applies very much to the squash player, is to ‘control the controllables’ – you can’t control the bounce of the ball, your opponent’s performance, or the referees’ decisions, but you CAN control a lot of the other things in and around the game, and how you choose to approach it.
One important aspect of optimal preparation for players of all sports, is the development of a pre-performance routine that you use before every match. As part of this, a well-stocked, well-organised squash bag is a very important consideration for the player looking to control each and every one of those crucial 'controllable' factors.
Another key area to consider in preparation for any game or training session, is your nutrition. It’s difficult to perform at your best without adequate fuel in your body, so what you eat on both a day to day basis and particularly in the hours leading up to your games/training, can be a very important factor. Being well-hydrated and well stocked with appropriate fuels (mainly complex carbs), can give you a real edge in a close battle.
Every match you play, whether you win 3-0 or lose 3-0, will contain lessons for you to take away and think about in respect to your game. Getting into the habit of evaluating your performance after you play, and taking the time to make a few notes while the game is fresh in your mind (positive AND negative), is a great way to ensure that are constantly developing as a player. It’s easy to head straight to the bar to toast victory (or drown sorrows after a defeat!), but taking that extra 5mins to jot down a few key points can really pay dividends over time.
To help provide a structure for this, keeping a training diary is a great idea for the squash player – recording a simple log of all your training sessions and match performances allows you to reflect back and assess your what works best for you, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and to help you think a little more about where exactly you should be focusing your training time.
Squash is an incredibly physically demanding sport, and it’s crucially important to factor in appropriate recovery from all of those tough games and training sessions that you undertake over the course of a season. Recovery is a key part of the performance puzzle for the squash player, and neglecting it can leave a big dent in your physical condition.
We’ve looked at some of the key factors relating to recovery for the squash here on the site before, and there are a number of different methods and modalities that can be used. Recent research has looked at recovery for the athlete in more depth, and has confirmed what many coaches and sportspeople had already long believed – recovery is a very individualised process, with no exact ‘right way’ to do it.
As long as you’re eating well and sleeping well as a foundation, take time to experiment with different approaches to recovery such as massage, foam rolling, cryotherapy, and light cardio (active recovery), to see exactly what works best for you.
Everybody wants to improve, and to succeed in their squash. What does that mean specifically to you though? As a player, it’s important to have a focus – a goal or objective(s) that you’re working towards achieving with your game.
Goal setting is a big part of the psychological approach to the game at the elite level, and it can be an extremely useful process to the club player as well. Vague goals of ‘wanting to get a bit better’ most often lead to vague results – sitting down and actually plotting out some concrete goals that you’re looking to achieve over the course of the season however, can really help focus and guide your efforts appropriately.
Goals are relative to the individual of course – for Nick Matthew they might revolve around winning certain PSA Super Series events, whereas for the club player they might be more based around reaching a certain box league division, or beating a certain player that they’ve never beaten before. Whatever your goals might be for this season though, take the time to think them through clearly and precisely, write them down, and start plotting your course towards your next great personal squash achievement.
As much as winning is a big part of any sport, you’ll very soon burn out and lose your motivation to play if that’s all you’re concerned with. To play at your best, you need at some level to really enjoy the game.
Everyone has different specific needs as regards ideal mood and arousal levels to really get themselves into the zone to play their very best, but research points generally to more positive, upbeat, confident body language being the best route to optimum performance.
So learn to play the game with a smile on your face – don’t be too uptight and serious, enjoy the process of training and improving, and relish the challenge of competition. Long-term, the results will take care of themselves!
It can be easy to stay in a comfort zone with your squash, playing the same familiar people, attending your same familiar club night, and competing in the same familiar club ladders. If you really want to take your game to the next level however, challenging yourself to step outside of that and expose yourself to something new can be a great way to push yourself on as a player.
It might mean entering a tournament for the first time (or stepping up a grade in the ones you already play in), it might mean trying out to play for the club team, or it might mean simply challenging one of the stronger players at your club that you’ve never played before to a match. You won’t know how well you'll perform until you try, and sometimes you’ll surprise yourself – improving at anything is a constant process of pushing and challenging and not allowing yourself to stay still and stagnate, or to always remain too secure and comfortable.
And we’ll be with you every step of the way here at SquashSkills of course, giving you access to training tips from the very best in the world, along with all of our weekly squash technique and physical conditioning content throughout the season!
Gary Nisbet - B.Sc.(Hons), CSCS, NSCA-CPT, Dip. FTST
SquashSkills Fitness & Performance Director
Have you got a performance-related question you'd like answered here on the blog? Email me with your suggestions by clicking here, and see YOUR question featured on the site!