Due to two of our players being injured, we've recently had a new player join my home club's first team at number five in the order. He's a junior player aged 16 and is very keen on improving his squash which is really good to see.
He's played a few matches for us now and has been doing great considering it's his first time playing in the premier division of our local league. There are a lot of pretty strong players in our league, even at number five, so he's had to face a bunch of tough new opponents who he's never played before.
He played last week against someone who was undoubtedly better than him and lost 3-1 (sometimes that's just how it goes), however, after the game, he came off and told me that he played terribly.
This is something I see pretty often from players of all ages and all standards (and I'm definitely guilty of it too). Sometimes after a match, if you're not happy with your performance, it's easy to put yourself down and blame the loss on your own bad performance, but that doesn't get you anywhere!
It's a tale as old as time, but it's much more helpful to focus on positive points and constructive criticisms rather than just writing off your defeat as a poor performance.
I asked him three specific questions after his loss that changed his tune a little and I wanted to write about them in a blog post...
I'll not go into any more detail on the particular player mentioned in the introduction as he may be a reader of the On The 'T' Newsletter and I don't want to embarrass him!
Anyway, before I dive into the three questions, I think it's important to note that we do indeed all have off days. There are definitely times when you perform worse than usual and there are also times when you perform better than usual.
So many factors come into play when it comes to performance. You might have had a long day at work, you might have issues going on in your personal life, you may be coming back from an injury, it could be anything really!
But, generally, these things are out of your control so it's important not to dwell on them too much as the defining reasons for your loss.
Defeat is nearly always an opportunity to learn so, as I mentioned in the introduction, the best way to improve your game following a defeat is to be constructively critical and also think about some positives if possible as well.
This leads me onto the first question...
What did you do well?
This is a good place to start because it can help you push those negative thoughts out of your head before you get into the more critical side of things.
Unless you lost 11-0, 11-0, 11-0, chances are you did something right during your match and it can be really helpful to think about what you did that worked. Ask yourself what you were doing when you were winning points.
Were you winning when taking the ball into the front corners and taking it early, were you winning more of your points during the longer length-orientated rallies, or were you winning by moving your opponent around the court by changing up the pace?
If you're going to end up playing the same player again in the future, this can help you produce a game plan in preparation for that next match.
If you took a game off of your opponent, try to work out what you did right in that game in comparison to other games. Maybe you changed up your own strategy a bit and your opponent didn't adapt to it in time.
There are so many things that can be taken into account here and it can be very helpful to identify your own strengths in squash. Knowing your own game can help you construct a game plan against almost any opponent in the future.
If you know you're particularly fit, then you can work to extend the length of rallies and tire your opponent out. If you're good at hitting winners, then you can try to put pressure on your opponent in those back corners and create your own opportunities to attack.
It's worth noting that thinking about the positive elements of your own game straight after a loss is actually very hard to do. Often it's easier to just beat yourself up and try to dismiss your loss as a one-off, but that won't get you anywhere!
What did your opponent do better?
This one is especially important if your opponent is a better player than you.
It can sometimes be difficult to identify whether you 'should' or 'shouldn't' beat a certain player if you've never played them before, but generally, you'll know before going on court whether a player is better than you or not.
Of course, it can be dangerous to get it into your head that your opponent is better than you and that you're going to lose, however, it also means that there is less pressure on you to win (but these are topics for other newsletters).
Anyway, your best opportunity to learn and progress is by playing players who are better than you. You will be learning and improving during the match (even if you're not aware of it), however, you can benefit from that experience even more by reflecting on the match after it's finished.
Think about what your opponent was doing that was working against you. Where were they winning points? Where were you losing points?
They may just be fitter than you, or perhaps they're more accurate, more patient, or just more experienced tactically. Whatever it is, if you can pick up on it and think about it for a while, then you can take steps in your training and future matches to incorporate it into your own game.
Perhaps this strength is something that you need to practice to take your game to the next level.
The alternative to the aforementioned is a harder pill to swallow... perhaps you are a better player than your opponent but you still lost the match. If so, then it can be quite frustrating to think about what your opponent did that worked against you.
But unfortunately, you've got to force yourself to do it, after all, they must have done something right.
Sometimes it can feel like there's a lot of pressure if you're playing against someone who may be a slightly lower standard than you, and this can impact your own game quite significantly, and perhaps, your opponent capitalised on that.
Whatever it is, you can learn from it!
What could you have done better?
This is the age-old question, and, realistically, it should be the easiest one to answer if you're being self-critical! It's just important not to get too negative as you then risk falling into the trap of being too dismissive.
Just telling yourself 'my drives were terrible' or 'I made way too many mistakes' isn't going to help at all. You need to ask yourself 'how were my drives terrible?' and 'why did I make so many mistakes?'.
Once you can identify specifically what your shortcomings were, only then can you begin to work on them.
This point is quite cut and dry really, but it's also arguably the most important if you're looking to progress.
I think that, on the surface, this topic of reflection after defeat can look like quite a simple generic one, however, I don't think many people (myself included) actually make an active effort to go into much depth following a defeat.
More often than not you just want to forget about it and move in, which makes a lot of sense, but it isn't going to help you improve and beat that player next time!
I'd say that the take home message from this week's newsletter is: don't be too hard on yourself following a loss. You can't win em all, and squash wouldn't be fun if you did.
I'd assume that you're keen to improve your game, otherwise you wouldn't be reading our amazing, articulate, informative content!
In order to do so, reflection is key, and when reflecting I would advise asking yourself those the three simple questions mentioned in this week's article following a loss.
This article was taken from our On The 'T' Newsletter, if you're interested in receiving more content like this, please feel free to sign up using the subscribe section located at the bottom left of this page (or underneath the article if you're on mobile), thanks!