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Alex Robertson
By Alex Robertson on January 16, 2024

Beyond Friendlies: The Transformative Benefits Of Competitive Squash

I recently got back from a season of travelling, so, I'd actually been pretty much off court for around four months. I did manage to play every now and then, but, no more than once per month so I'm not really counting it.

Anyway, I got back about a month ago and was very keen to get back training for squash as fast as possible. Thankfully, since I was back over the Christmas break, there were no team matches or tournaments for about four weeks, so, I had a bit of time to get back into the swing of things.

As expected, after the first couple of hits my body was in pieces, but, that was to be expected. The soreness lasted a few days then I kept playing every two or three days until my body was used to being back on court again.

I was mainly doing light drills and routines with the odd friendly match, then, as my body got back used to it, I did more full matches (rather than routines).

Anyway, how does this link to the purpose of this article?

Well, my first team match back was midweek last week and I also played two matches in a small local tournament over the weekend, and, despite feeling incredibly ready to be back playing competitive matches again, it was a massive shock to my system.

It got me thinking about the differences between friendly matches and real competitive squash matches, and, I think the differences are pretty big. So, this week, I'm going to be talking about the benefits of playing tournaments and for a team in comparison to just training and playing friendlies...

Before I dive into these benefits, I just wanted to clarify what I'm talking about when I mention competitive matches.

Generally, I would say that friendly squash matches are competitive, but, not in the same way that tournament and team matches are. So, for the purpose of this blog post, when I refer to competitive matches, I'm not talking about friendlies.

I have nothing against playing friendly matches, they are a great way to train without anything big riding on the match result. They're also a great way to practice more specific elements of your game without 

However, I know that many of our readers will have regular friendlies with players who they still have a close rivalry with, so, I guess you could say that there is still something riding on the result of those matches (pride and a sense of improvement or achievement).

But, there are many key differences that make tournaments and team matches very different to friendlies (which is what I'll be discussing further down)...

So, the purpose of this article isn't to try to convince you to stop playing friendlies, it's to convince you to enter a tournament or join a local team if you haven't tried either of these already.

Some of the benefits are the same whether you're playing a tournament or a team match, but, perhaps the benefit is the same for a different reason, so make sure to read each point.

The Benefits Of Playing Tournaments

There are a bunch of different types of tournaments in the world of squash. Whether it's a round robin at your local club or an official PSA event, you've got the chance to enter and join in.

Many PSA events have graded draws, meaning that you can enter within a group of people who are a similar standard to yourself, plus, you get to watch the top guys in action as well!

With regards to more local tournaments, events such as club championships are also great options for getting involved in tournament play.

But, why is it such a good thing to do?

It Boosts Your Mental Toughness

I wanted to start with this one because, originally, I was going to focus the whole blog post on this, but, I didn't think I'd have enough to write about.

However, referring back to the story of my first competitive matches back after travelling, this was the main difference I noticed between competitive matches and friendly matches.

In my first match back, my shots weren't too bad. Since I'd been practicing and drilling for the month before the match, my shots were more or less back up to scratch.

Where I really struggled was putting rallies together and playing the right shots, especially in the latter stages of each game.

I found that I was going ahead, but then, my mind would start wandering. It felt almost like mental fatigue and it was as though I didn't know what to do to win a rally any more, I just ended up going for silly shots and conceding points through unforced errors instead, which frustrated me a lot.

Generally, I'm a pretty calm player on the court, I don't often shout at myself and would never hit my racquet off of the floor or wall, however, in my mind during this particular match I felt like I was falling to pieces.

It was like I didn't know what to do, so I was just playing any old shot and then getting frustrated when it didn't work.

I'd never experienced frustration like this and I'm certain it's due to the amount of time I've had away from competitive squash.

In the tournament over the weekend, I had another two matches and it gave me the chance to build and put together rallies again. My mentality felt as though it got a little better so I believe my mind's toughness is improving again, but, I need to be playing more and more competitive squash to keep that going.

I won my first match and lost my second, but both were against players I'd played before so I was able to construct a rough game plan in my head before each game.

In contrast, when I was playing friendlies during that Christmas break, I didn't really feel like I was being mentally pushed. Even when I was losing, I wasn't too worried or frustrated because nothing was riding on the match.

This is why you don't get as mentally strong from friendly matches as you would if you were playing in tournaments.

It's Social

Although this is perhaps more applicable to team squash, tournaments are still very social events.

Even if you're like me and wouldn't go and talk to a stranger off-court, I find that every time I play a new player, I will then say hi to them and chat to them every time I see them after the match (not just during the same tournament, but, any other time I encounter them for the foreseeable future).

When playing a new player in a tournament, you have to interact with them. That's just the way squash is.

No matter what happens, you're going to shake their hand at the end of the match, and that usually creates some kind of friendly bond between you both that you can take off of the court.

Also, depending on the size and vibe of the tournament, if you stick around for the presentation, there is often a bit of a social gathering following this where players get together to have some food or a couple of drinks, which is another great opportunity to meet some new people.

If you attend a tournament with a friend or two, then perhaps they know some players that you don't already know who they can introduce you to too.

Friendly squash matches are of course social, but, you don't often meet new people and make new friends from playing one-on-one friendly matches at your local club.

You Have To Make It Count

Depending on where the tournament is and the format, you often only get one chance to play this player, so you have to make it count. This is very often the case if you travel a little further afield for the event in question.

Playing new players is a great benefit in and of itself, but, the reason playing new players is so good is because you have to give it your all, because you may not have another opportunity to face this opponent.

In contrast, in a friendly with a regular local, you know that you'll have another chance next week (or whenever you arrange to play them next).

For this reason, you have to make the experience count. Even if you're playing someone better than yourself, it's important to take everything you can from the experience and treat it as something to learn from.

It's A Learning Environment

In a tournament, as well as playing new players, you often get to watch other players as well.

Even if it's a knockout event and you lose your first round, you will still learn something by sticking around and watching a few matches, I promise, especially if it's a high standard of play!

In comparison, when playing the same one or two players in friendly matches every week, it's easy to settle into a routine and not take anything away from those matches.

Watching players who are better than you and making an active effort to take note of what they do well and what they do differently to you (and perhaps even what they're doing wrong) can give you a lot to think about regarding your own game.

It's a lot easier to take note of things like tactics, techniques, styles, shot selection, movement, and more when you're not actually playing in the match yourself.

Having that third-person point of view allows you to concentrate fully on what each player is doing without getting sucked into the stressful, distracting mental side of the match.

There's a lot to be learned from players of all standards, but especially those better than you!

Unless You Win, You Will Lose

When I say 'unless you win', I'm talking about the entire tournament. Unless you win the tournament, then you have to lose a match.

Chances are you will come up against someone better than you in a tournament, this is a great learning opportunity (especially if you've never played them before).

Of course, you may beat them, but, you also may not. Either way, you'll be learning.

However, this point focuses on the fact that a lot is riding on every match in a tournament, especially if it's a knockout tournament.

Any match loss means you either can't reach the final (if it's a monrad event), that you're going to the plate or that you don't have any more matches left (if it's a knockout event).

This factor will encourage you to put everything you've got into every match. Again, in a friendly, there isn't a lot riding on a potential loss, whereas in a tournament, it's all or nothing.

You have to play as best you can for every single match, there are no second chances in a tournament!

It's Character Building

This is something that's rarely mentioned when tournaments are discussed, but, it can be pretty daunting to enter and attend a squash tournament if you've never done so before, especially if you're doing it on your own.

It's quite a big leap going from general club play to travelling to a new club with new players for a tournament.

This experience is different for different personality types, however, I don't think I'd be comfortable just going to a tournament on my own if I didn't already know someone else playing in it.

I'm lucky enough to have a group of friends who also love to play tournaments, so, we usually travel as a group to different events.

If you can convince some other local players or friends who you already know to come to a tournament with you, it'll be a lot less daunting!

Then, when you arrive there, I guarantee you'll meet some new people and make some new friends. It'll put you out of your comfort zone a little, but, the reward for this is new experiences, new players, and new friends, which is definitely worth it in my book.

I've made plenty of new friends at squash tournaments, even if they don't live too closeby, I keep in touch with many of them via social media and we let each other know if we're playing any upcoming tournaments in case the other is also attending.

I've found that this has helped me build my confidence in the squash world a bit. I know this isn't necessarily an issue for lots of players, but, I do know many more introverted players like myself who have found entering tournaments to work wonders for building their character.

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The Benefits Of Playing For A Team

I've played team squash since I was a junior, and, it has always been my favourite part of the sport.

I currently play for two teams in two different leagues. I play for a team in Durham League (the next city along from my home city of Newcastle), and I play for Northern RFC in my local league (which has been my home club in Newcastle since I started squash).

That's two nights of competitive squash almost every week and I love it. I look forward to every single match.

It comes with an abundance of benefits, for example...

It Boosts Your Mental Toughness

Again, as I mentioned in the tournament section, this is the main reason I'm writing this week's article.

There's a massive difference between the mental challenges you face during a regular friendly match in comparison to a team match in which there is potentially a lot riding on the result.

I'll not spend too long going on about this since I did talk about it further up, but, when there's the team element added in to a competitive match, it's just another factor that will be in your head while you're playing.

You can't let little slips happen that might costs points, games, and even matches which affects the overall result for the team.

Letting yourself down with a poor result is one thing, but, letting your team down is even more painful in my opinion.

For that reason, you have to be as mentally tough and sharp as possible for every team match, and, the more you play these team matches, the better you'll become at staying strong.

Community, Comradery, & Support

As I mentioned above, I play for my home club, Northern RFC, and have actually been playing for them for probably over 10 years now.

This isn't necessarily that normal as players often move from club to club which isn't a bad thing at all!

However, when you've been at a club for a little while (let's say anything over two seasons), you begin to develop a bit of an attachment to it. I now feel great pride when playing for Northern, and, when this proud feeling is shared by other members of the team, that's when team spirit becomes a big factor!

Even if you've just joined your team and don't really know the other players, I'd give it one or two matches before you feel completely comfortable with them.

But, the friendship with teammates often becomes quite a strong one, we've had a similar team at Northern for four or five years now and we're all very good friends.

We go for meals and nights out together pretty often, especially around Christmas time and at the end of the season.

So, at tournaments you might make friends and acquaintances, but, I would say that, when playing for a team, there's a good chance you'll form some lasting friendships.

Then there's the home fans!

Often, for team squash matches, other members and local players will come to watch team matches and support the players even if they're not playing.

If you get a good crowd during a home match, it really helps give you some motivation and can even affect the outcome of games and matches.

This is one of the most fun parts of playing regularly for a squash team and it really gives you a great feeling of community and support.

It's Not Just About You

If there's one thing that's very different about playing team squash, it's the fact that you're accountable for the team's success or failure.

Even in tournaments, if you're the type of player that has the potential to lose their head, then you might let this happen in a tournament.

However, when it comes to team squash, there's more riding on the match result than your own pride. It's also about the progress of the team.

There's something about this fact that means that you're much less likely to drop your head or give up hope, regardless of the score.

You've got other players relying on you and you don't want to let them down!

This gives players extra motivation to come back from a deficit, improve their game plan, or keep fighting for every point until the bitter end (especially since winning individual games often counts towards the final result, even if you're going to lose the match).

I actually played a match last night for Northern that was a good example of this. Our format is five players per team and, although we were hoping for a relatively strong win, things started out a little bumpy.

Our first player (number 5) won his match 3-0, however, our numbers 3 and 4 both went 2-1 down in their matches.

Both of them put in huge shifts to come back and win 3-2, which won our team the match, however, I know these two players very well and I think, if the rest of the team wasn't relying on them, then their chances of winning would have certainly been lower.

I play at number 2 for our team and I thankfully won my match 3-0, then, our number 1 played out of his skin, losing 3-2 (11-9 in the fifth).

He was exhausted but he was still fighting for every point just to get us those extra games because, even though our team had won the match, winning extra games still gave us more points in the league.

We often go down and give each other tips in between matches, but sometimes, it can just be a bit more of a motivational chat. Often, this motivational chat revolves around the fact that the Northern team needs them to get as many games as they can, even if they feel as though they can't win the match.

Final Thoughts

Hopefully, this article has given you a bit of inspiration to sign up for some tournaments or join your local club's team.

I will note that I am aware that these options (especially tournaments) are a lot easier and more accessible for me, which I'm very grateful for.

I live in England so everywhere is pretty closeby via car and there are a lot of opportunities for local tournaments and lots of teams that you can join.

Since most of our readers are based in Canada, I imagine that travelling to tournaments may be a bit further and more difficult.

But, if you see one that you would be able to participate in, then I urge you to give it a go, or, if you fancy a bit more of a challenge, you could always try to organise one of your own at your home club.

Anyway, thanks for reading, see you all next week!

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!

Published by Alex Robertson January 16, 2024
Alex Robertson