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.