When training, many players do drills without any concise objective in mind. Players tend to “rinse and repeat” a drill without focusing on important things such as footwork or shot accuracy. Whenever a player is about to start a drill, they should always have an objective in mind, concentrate on it, and works towards as they do the exercise. This is very important since it will help the player develop better muscle memory as well as improve their game more significantly.
This week I was training one-on-one with my coach, and we decided to improve my game at the front court by working on: taking my time, starting my swing from the same position every time, making a shorter swing, and using my wrist more. The reason he told me I needed to do this was to incorporate deception on every shot, as well as increase my accuracy while retaining the same amount of power as before. Surprisingly enough, by the end of practice I was hitting better shots at the front with a shorter swing that always started from the same spot. It was very helpful and I believe it’s worth discussing so that other players can try it out as well.
I recently read a book entitled "Talent is Overrated" by Geoff Colvin. Clearly this is an attention-grabbing headline, and flies in the face of many people's beliefs about world-class performers in all fields. The notion of the book is that natural talent/gifts don't necessarily exist. Rather, greatness is a product of many factors conspiring to provide an opportunity for someone who is willing to dedicate almost their whole life to this task. The book goes to great lengths to dispel the myth that greats such as Mozart and Tiger Woods were simply gifted in music and golf respectively. The author explains that to become world-class, a person needs to complete a minimum of 10 000 hours of deliberate practice at their chosen activity (more on this number later). Even "child prodigies" like the two mentioned above had put in far more than 10 000 hours of study and practice before the age of 16; they weren't simply better than the rest by nature.
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.
Practicing with a purpose in squash is vital to achieving good results and to improving your game. All to often when players play practice matches they don't set objectives. They just get on court and play. It is very helpful to focus on a particular part of your game. Do this before you even step on court and then remind yourself of it throughout the game. It could be movement, watching the ball and your opponent, your front court game or any number of other things. The key is to remember to focus on what you have decided to practice on and to stick with it. This will help keep you focused during your practice match and help establish good habits. Over time those good habits will make it in to your game even when you are under severe pressure.
I have not been playing as much squash as I normally do this summer. Work is keeping me busy and as mentioned in my last post I have played tennis a few times too. The last couple of times I have played I have noticed that I am not as match fit as I normally am. That is okay and to be expected as I have not been playing or really training either. That has been a bit of a blessing in disguise for me as it turns out!