Although spring time usually marks the end of squash season and beginning of activities not confined to four white walls, the schedule this year has worked out such that I will be playing my biggest string of tournaments in these warmer months. There were no PSA tournaments I could realistically play during the winter; my last tournaments were in Saskatoon and Edmonton back in November. There have been other tournaments in between, but frankly they were a string of disappointments for me. However, the last 10 weeks have been a good training period, fueled by the motivation of this upcoming tour.
My first event is the PSA in Sudbury. I was born and raised there, and the tournament is played at my home club. It’s the only time I get to play a competitive match in front of the local squash community who I grew up learning from. I look forward to it all year. I am drawn to play Canadian champ Shahier Razik, which is clearly a tough prospect. However, I will be extremely amped up for the match and have nothing to lose. After that, there is a PSA in Rochester NY, followed by the Canadian Nationals in Niagara. From there I am heading south to Atlanta for another PSA, and then (way) further south to Argentina and possibly Paraguay.
So much time off from competition has given me ample chance to think about my matches, visualize what might happen, and imagine the potential wins or losses. Training hard is clearly necessary, but everything rides on playing well when it actually matters. All the bike sprints, length drills and ghosting in the world amount to nothing if you fail to capitalize on these opportunities. The idea of flying 10 hours to South America to possibly play one match can be rattling. But these doubts do nothing to further your cause, which is to win matches. Based on my relatively few PSA experiences, desperation can take over in these high-pressure situations. For me, that sort of life-or-death mentality usually leads to a better performance. The other possibility is being so afraid to lose that you forget to play positive squash.
I am indeed very excited to kick off this 6 week roadtrip. It will be my longest series of consecutive events ever, so there will surely be some ups and downs. I will keep the blog updated, likely one post from each city with a quick synopsis of my time there.
One of the more frustrating elements of training full time for me has been the slow rate of improvement. It would seem logical to think that doubling the amount of time you train (which is essentially what happens when you go from juniors to pro) will double your rate of improvement. Andre Agassi touched on this in his autobiography; his father had him hit one million balls a year, thinking that any 10 year-old who hits a million balls would be unbeatable. I think there is some merit to this theory, but overall increased volume does not equate to faster improvement. For a while I fell into this trap, thinking that I would naturally improve just by playing more squash. I quickly realized though that drilling and playing unconsciously does nothing to help you improve and can even be detrimental to your game. You have to be constantly aware of what is happening on court, what you are doing and why you are doing it. If you are trying to change something, be aware of it and make a conscious effort to improve it.
I have four or five bad habits (technical and tactical) that have stuck with me over the years. Too long and boring to explain, but they have stayed firmly in place even as I have improved all the other areas of my game. I am getting to the point where these deficiencies are the main things preventing me from getting to the next level. Many years of mindlessly hitting and practicing have firmly ingrained these habits and they are now very hard to break. All those drill sessions and practice matches where I was not entirely focused on improving have led to this negative side effect. No matter how fit I am, how tight my length is, etc., I will be limited by these habits until I start leaving my comfort zone often enough to develop new skills.
There are a few main points to take from this. Most importantly: quality over quantity. Hitting 30 straight drives with complete focus and awareness is better than hitting 300 with a wandering mind. Famed coach Mike Way often says “Practice does not make perfect. Practice makes permanent.” The second point is to be aware of your weaknesses and make a conscious effort to improve them in your matches. It will be difficult and frustrating initially, but you have to do the right things poorly before you can do them well. If you feel like you have stagnated for a period of time, force yourself to strengthen a weak aspect of your game. Take an active role in your own improvement instead of hoping to get better at the same things; it’s much more rewarding.