Having learned the sport in a relatively “rural” squash area, and now living in the biggest hotbed for junior squash in Canada, the topic of junior development is very interesting to me. I often think about the best ways to groom young players into stars, and try to figure out what key elements make or break a junior’s development. Hopefully there are some juniors or parents of juniors reading this!
I have definitely talked about mental confidence before but wanted to discuss from a little different perspective this time. I am sure we have all played against someone that is young, new to the game and really fit and can seemingly chase down any ball. Even when they can’t quite get it they often exclaim how close they were to getting the ball. They run all over the court and have a smile on their face while doing it. They look like they are actually having fun chasing the ball around the court. Why do they look this way? The obvious answer is more often than not the right one. They are having fun!
Mental confidence is critical in a squash match. Confidence can be fickle. It can come and go if you let it. What do you do if you are losing confidence?
The most important thing I believe to start is to be aware of your loss of confidence and the negativity that is associated with it. There will be days that you are not hitting the ball as well as you expect. That can definitely lead to a loss of confidence. Be aware of it and take mental action once you start to feel negative about your squash game. What mental action should you take though? There are a number of options and some will work better for some than others.
Focusing on something positive is one method that can often work. Thinking of a match or even a good practice session where you were hitting the ball really purely can help regain confidence. Think about what you were doing right at that time and have that positive memory replace the negative one can help a great deal.
Another method that I have seen work for people is having something in particular to focus on. The two yellow dots on the squash ball can work. A logo on your racquet can work as well. It doesn’t even have to be something physical it can be just a thought. Between each point stop and focus for a few seconds on your object or thought. It can really help keep you calm focused and also help to get rid of negative thoughts.
One of my favourite ways to try and keep mental focus positive is to not focus on what has already transpired in the match it is to focus on what is coming next. Focus on making your next shot be the best it can possibly be. It doesn’t matter if you are in a defensive position or an offensive position focus on hitting the shot you are about to play and make it the best you can. Once you have hit it, that shot is done and you have to focus on preparing for next shot and make that one the best it can be.
What do you find works helping maintain a positive mental outlook during a match? We would love your comments!
I have been in the unfortunate situation of dealing with some physical limitations recently that have caused me not to be able to play as often as I like and when I do play it has been at a much slower pace. I have a swollen foot which some days is worse than others. When it is bad I can barely play, most days I can tolerate the pain enough to play although I am not as mobile as I would normally be.
When this first started I found it very disheartening. I was not able to play the game I normally play and was finding myself not being competitive against people that I should be and was very frustrated by that. I came to a few conclusions from this though. The first being that I would have to accept that my movement was compromised and not worry about the results so much. The second was that I was going to have to finish points faster than I normally would. The third was that I needed more time to recover back to the ‘T’ than I normally would.
The first conclusion was a tough one to swallow. I am a competitive person and not being able to play at my normal level was really frustrating. When I am playing my best squash I am pretty quick on court and am on the ball quickly giving myself options. I am getting balls back that my opponent does not think I will and forcing them to try and hit better and better shots often causing them to increase their error count. I very simply had to accept that while I could force myself to do this sometimes and deal with the pain it caused I could not do it all the time.
The second conclusion took some revision to get right. I am not a shooter by nature in squash and I went overboard on this approach of trying to end points early. I was not working the point at all I was immediately trying to hit winners and take the ball short. This worked a little bit against weaker players but definitely not against better players. They were reading my shots and I had not worked them out of position before attacking short. I adjusted and tried to establish a good length game and tried to wait for better opportunities to take the ball short. This has proven to be more effective.
The third conclusion was for me to slow the game down. I was finding movement after the shot the hardest. I was not recovering back to the ‘T’ quickly and was often out of position. In particular I was very susceptible to being taken short. Using more height and a slower pace to my shots in to the back court has definitely helped. It gives me more time to recover to the ‘T’ and get in position to cover the whole court.
While nobody enjoys being injured I am now working on staying positive about this. While my movement is not nearly what I would like it to be currently it will improve. What I will take from this is a better attacking game as I have been working very hard at trying to work my opponent out of position and then taking the ball short. I have also definitely improved my high and soft ball to the back of the court. While my squash game is not what I would really like now it will be better in the future.
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.
People often wonder why there are so few upsets at the very highest levels of pro squash. It is considered a major upset when someone outside the top 10 beats one from the top five, and seeing someone outside the top 20 take out one of the top boys happens only once or twice a year. Contrast this with tennis, where it is not uncommon to have several of the top 10 crash out early in a tournament. Even the dominant trio of Djokovic, Nadal and Federer fall victim to up and comers barely inside the top 30 from time to time. In my opinion, there are a few different explanations for this difference in dramatic upsets.
To begin, it is much harder to win a point quickly in squash than tennis. A big server can steal two or three points per game, and the rallies are less drawn out. Outright winners and unforced errors happen more frequently. In squash, the serve is really not an advantage at all, and the nature of the game makes it more difficult to score a cheap point with an aggressive attack. Most balls are returned and rallies are much more structured. Opportunities to win the rally must be earned with good length. If the squash serve were changed to a high boast, or even a backwall boast, one player would have a distinct advantage at the start of each rally.
Another possible explanation is the fact that a tennis player can “hit his opponent off the court” on a given day. Due to the dimensions of the court and lack of walls, all-out attacking can pay off and even the best defense can’t stop it, as long as unforced errors are kept to a minimum. If a player can maintain accuracy fore a whole match, the opponent will be overwhelmed and unable to settle. This was how Robin Soderling beat Nadal at the French Open in 2009, handing Nadal his first ever loss at that tournament. This approach can be effective in squash too, but as mentioned above, it is much harder to maintain such pinpoint accuracy if your opponent is getting every ball back. Although tennis matches last longer, the actual playing time is similar to a pro squash match, sometimes shorter. There are more balls hit in squash, which gives more time for the “better” player to show their class over their opponent. The longer the match goes, the more likely the better player is to win.
This is one of many differences between the two sports. Some might complain that the lack of upsets in squash is boring, and the same players are making the later rounds of every tournament. But from a player’s perspective, I love the fact that squash is a complete meritocracy. You can’t fake your way to a good win. Whoever is more talented and works harder will ultimately prevail in a match. It can be reassuring to know that the likelihood of succumbing to a lesser player is low; but the reverse effect can also hamper your confidence when going up against someone ranked higher than you. Just another item to add to the list of why squash is such an interesting game!
Congratulations to Nick on achieving the #1 spot in the world. This last year of squash from Nick has been very impressive. He has steadily moved up the rankings from the middle to bottom of the top 10 to being the top player in the world. Since coming back from injury he has seemed more focused. He has always played at a really hard pace but he has really become more clinical in finishing since his return.
What is also impressive is that he has reached #1 just before turning 30. Ramy reaching #1 was almost expected. He is young and so full of natural talent. It has been believed by many for the last couple of years that Ramy reaching #1 was just a matter of time. I am not sure too many people would have picked Nick a couple of years ago to reach the top spot in the game. It is great to see such a good work ethic and focus on a goal be rewarded.
Nick’s rise to the top of the squash world is something we should all take note of – hard work and focus pays off.
Control the ‘T’ Sports